By Damian Dolan
New London Ladies football manager Paddy Bowles has made forging an identity for the team a main priority, as he looks to steer the Exiles to a first All Ireland title in ten years.
The St Mary’s University Ladies boss takes over the reins from Tommie Donohue and wants to establish an ethos that all of the county’s clubs and players can buy into.
And Bowles believes the ladies team need only look as far as the London men’s senior team for an example of that.
“We need to get them all [the clubs] on board to give London an identity, as one,” Bowles told the Irish World.
“They’re [London men’s senior team] a really good unit. They’ve got a really good identity, ‘We are London’.
“We all play for different clubs but we can bring our different club traits, and we can feed off the success last year of KKG coming through the club championship and other teams that have had success, and all come together as one unit.
“I want to bring together the experiences of all of the different clubs and players. There’s a huge amount of experience within the squad and the potential is very exciting.”
London reached the All-Ireland Ladies junior football championship semi-finals last year, losing out to Fermanagh in an extra-time thriller by one-point, and Bowles is confident that the talent is there to enable the side to surpass that.
“If they played that game over again, nine times out of ten they’d probably beat Fermanagh,” he said.
“The players are there and I just want to build on the good work done by previous managements, and hopefully take another step further.
“We want to get ourselves into an All Ireland final and be competing for that trophy. As long as we’ve prepared properly and we’re at our peak, we’ll definitely have a major say in where the trophy will end up. I’ve no doubt about that.”
In his sixth year as manager of St Mary’s, split over three spells, Bowles has helped the Twickenham university to two British University Championship titles, including last year’s triumph.
As a player, he won four British Championship in a row with St Mary’s and was part of the side and recorded an historic Trench Cup victory in 2004.
He joined St Brendan’s in 2003 and three years later helped the club win its last senior title when they beat Tara in the final, 0-9 to 1-4.
“I’ve always had a massive interest in Ladies Gaelic football. The passion really developed when I got involved with St Mary’s and it just progressed from there,” said Bowles, who comes from Oola and played U21 for Limerick and whose brother, Richard, was a coach with the Galway Ladies team which claimed the county’s one and only All Ireland senior title in 2004.
“This year I just really fancied it. There’s a huge opportunity because there’s so much potential within the London scene.
“I couldn’t really turn down the opportunity to put my name forward, and I’m lucky enough to have been given the chance.”
Bowles will be reaching out to all of the clubs in London over the coming weeks and also plans to attend training sessions.
Watching as many games as he can will also be a priority, which would have started with last Saturday’s delayed 2017 league final between KKG and Dulwich Harps, but for the snow.
Through St Mary’s, Bowles already has a good understanding of the talent within the London club scene, but plans to hold several days of open trials in April for players to stake a claim to a place in the squad.
“I want to give every player and club an opportunity to throw their hat in and see if they’re good enough,” he said.
“I’ll be getting out as much as I can, speaking to individuals, and I’ll be contacting the people who we involved last year.
“I want [the trials] to be wide open. It will be an open invitation. I want to get a good look at the players and from that we’ll get a squad together and move forwards, but we’ll keep an eye on any new players coming in and the club scene.
“The biggest thing is getting the girls and all the clubs on board. I’ve spoken with some clubs already and they’ve said they’ll support me in getting girls out for the trials, so that’s a positive.”
Bowles is also keen to make sure that there is a pathway for homegrown younger London talent to come through, and has already discussed with the ladies’ board about a development plan.
The county’s senior men’s footballers fielded seven London born players against Carlow for their National Football League opener in January, and Bowles would love the ladies team to one day be able to emulate that.
“We can’t always just rely on players coming over from Ireland. It might not impact this year, but it’s something we’ll have to look at as we go along,” he said.
“You look at the men’s senior team and there’s seven or eight English-born players in the squad, and the ladies need to start developing that aspect.
“The U18 Development girls squad went back to Ireland last year and did very well. It’s trying to make sure there’s a pathway for those girls.”
Bowles cites Hannah Noonan as a prime example and believes that there are ‘other potential Hannah Noonan’s out there’.
Noonan, who does not come from an Irish background, won an All Ireland junior winner with London in 2008, an All Ireland intermediate club championship with Parnells in 2012 and played in an All Ireland senior final with Dublin in 2015.
“It’s been a big gap, but there’s some serious talent out there. But long-term you’d like to see a development plan set up,” said Bowles.