By Damian Dolan
London football manager Ciaran Deely has welcomed the sweeping change to the GAA season which from 2018 will see the Exiles play their Connacht Senior Football Championship quarter-final on the first Bank Holiday weekend in May.
Traditionally the fixture has taken place on the second Bank Holiday weekend of May, but in line with Croke Park’s move to condense the season, the Exiles will next year welcome to Sligo to McGovern Park on the weekend of 5/6 May.
It’s a change which Deely believes will aid London’s championship preparations by shortening the gap between the Exiles’ final Division 4 league fixture and the Connacht SFC quarter-final.
This year, the Exiles played their last league fixture on 2 April before entertaining Leitrim on 28 May. A gap of eight weeks.
From 2018, that gap will shorten to six weeks between London’s final Division 4 fixture against Waterford on 25 March (assuming they don’t make the final) and the visit of Sligo.
“It’s a positive because that period seems to drag between the end of the league and the championship and it’s unnecessary. So we’re happy,” said Deely.
“It [the gap] was just too long. You’re in the games programme of the league and then all of a sudden it goes a bit flat for a few weeks, and then it has to be built back up again. Next year we will be able to continue on at the same level.”
Part of Croke Park’s changes will also see the month of April given over exclusively to the clubs. However, Deely has already had a positive meeting with London fixtures secretary John Doyle and doesn’t foresee any issues with getting access to London’s county players for some part of the month of April in order to prepare for Sligo.
“I would foresee them [London’s players] playing two club games the first two weekends of April and then going on a training camp with us for the final two weekends. I think that would be fair enough for both the clubs and the county, as well as the players,” said Deely.
“Over the last two years the players have been available to their clubs whenever they’re needed. I don’t think they’ve missed a league game for their clubs. That’s fairly unique nowadays within the GAA.
“We believe the players should be available to their clubs as much as possible. I hope the clubs recognise that and will continue to work with us.”
With the Exiles’ preparations for Sligo further aided by all seven of their league fixtures being played at McGovern Park (the reverse of 2017 during the ground’s construction), there is reason to be optimistic.
Fitness testing has already begun with 20 of this year’s panel back on board, augmented by 20-25 new faces, including the likes of Tomas Hill (Round Towers), Noel Maher (both Round Towers), James Moran, Patrick Begley and Shane McManus (all St Kiernans).
That number will be whittled down to a ‘manageable squad” of 25-30 in due course, although Deely is keen to stress that the door will remain open.
“The lads have been great, they’re mad to get back at it. It’s a good mix of lads who’ve been here a few years but couldn’t commit, and then a few coming into London,” said Deely.
“We’re happy with where we are in regards to last year’s squad, and we’ve got a quality new crop of players to come in as well.”
Off the field, Deely has strengthened his management team with Chris Byrne joining Noel Dunning and Joe Coulter as selectors. Byrne managed St Kiernans to a first-ever senior county title in 2016 and for Deely the change was an important part of “freshening it up”.
“It’s good to bring in some new ideas and fresh voices. Chris will work on the defenders, Noel works a lot on opposition analysis and Joe works with the forwards,” he said.
For Deely, the game plan has been established over the past two years, as well as the spirit of the group and the environment. It’s now about “pushing on”.
“We’ve consolidated the group that we have, developed and improved, and we like to think we can start competing even more in games and have a really good league campaign,” he said.
“We’re really excited about the league and what the players and I would love to see is a real core of supporters out for every league game, and then on championship day.
“Every little bit of support we get makes a huge difference. “It’s our home ground and we need to create more of a ‘home’ at Ruislip.”