By Damian Dolan
In helping Fulham Irish to senior county final success, Peader Friel became part of a very exclusive club indeed in London GAA circles.
A member also of the Neasden Gaels side crowned champions in 2010, the corner forward from Barna in Galway has now won London’s senior title with two different clubs.
In doing so, he joins the likes of Dave McGreevey (Kingdom Kerry Gaels 2013, Tir Chonaill Gaels 2012), Declan Traynor (Tir Chonaill Gaels 2014 and 2015, Fulham Irish 2011) and Stephen Lynch (Neasden Gaels 2010 and Tara 2003) in recent times, as members of a very exclusive group indeed.
“Liam Barry told me after the game, but I hadn’t a clue beforehand. It didn’t cross my mind,” said Friel, who at the age of 36 didn’t think he would again get his hands on the senior trophy.
“I wasn’t sure I had many chances left, so it was such a relief. 2010 was very different, there was a lot more excitement and you then think you’ll push on and win one or two more.
“I didn’t think I’d have to wait another seven years to win one. “So getting one at 36 and the chance to play in another All Ireland quarter-final is amazing.”
For Friel, last week’s victory over Tir Chonaill Gaels to secure the club’s second-ever senior county title (six years after the first) was borne out of the disappointment of Fulham’s 2016 campaign.
“It was a big disappointment not to even get out of the group stage, and that was something we really wanted to crack this year,” he said.
“We knew we had good footballers [in 2016], but to go out the way we did was shocking. “Getting hurt so badly definitely helped us push on this year.
“We also got some really good additions, Muggsy (Owen Mulligan) being one, and Liam Staunton is an excellent footballer.
“The big thing for us this year was to be a lot more focused, get our heads right and prove what we could do. And we did.”
Even with those new additions and with former Down All Ireland winner Gregory McCartan as manager, Friel says Fulham were up against it to emerge from a group containing 2016 winners St Kiernans and the year’s early season form horse, North London Shamrocks.
But armed with “good solid footballers with a good approach” Fulham saw off Kiernans by eight points and the Shamrocks by four, before securing top spot with a comfortable victory over Neasden.
They then beat Round Towers by five points in the semi-finals to set up a much-anticipated final meeting with Tir Chonaill Gaels.
“They’re an excellent side, they’re tough to break down, and they don’t lose too many finals,” said Friel.
“We knew we weren’t going to get to play our game, and we had to counteract them and stop them. They were going to drop sweepers back and slow the whole thing down. They like to hold possession. “We knew it was going to be a tight game, but thankfully we came out on top.”
Pedigree Mulligan’s injury-time winning free at McGovern Park was the first time Fulham had led in the game, and secured a 0-15 to 1-11 victory to set up an All Ireland quarter-final against the Connacht provincial champions.
It remains to be seen who Fulham’s opponents will be in December, but any of Tourlestrane (Sligo champions 2016 and 2017), St Brigid’s (Roscommon champions 2016 and 2017), Castlebar Mitchels (Mayo champions 2015-2017) Mohill (Leitrim champions 2015 and 2017) or Corofin (Galway champions 2013- 2017) will pose a mighty challenge.
First training back as County Champions… It’s a while since we were still training at Halloween.🖤💚 pic.twitter.com/VxQtFTN7SX
— Fulham Irish GAA (@FulhamIrish) October 31, 2017
Corofin, Castlebar Mitchels and St Brigid’s have monopolised the Connacht provincial title in recent years, sharing the last nine titles between them.
Corofin are the holders and as a Barna-man Friel would love the opportunity to get “one last crack at them”.
If that wasn’t enough, Corofin went on to win the All Ireland senior club in 2014/15, a feat St Brigid’s achieved in 2012/13, while Castlebar Mitchels were runners up in 2015/16 and 2013/14.
These three sides, in particular, have serious pedigree at club level. But whoever Fulham face, the experience is sure to bring back memories for Friel of his previous dalliance with the All Ireland Club Championship with Neasden, when Oisin McConville’s Crossmaglen were the visitors to Ruislip. The Cross prevailing 1-8 to 0-5 on their way to winning the All Ireland in 2010/11.
“It was a dirty rotten day. I thought we played very well. We went in at half-time only a point or two down. We showed up on the day. I’m sure they thought it was going to be a walkover but we did very well,” recalled Friel.
December’s clash at Ruislip also offers the chance for Fulham to create history, by becoming the first and only London champions to taste victory in the fixture, with London’s senior winners set to instead go into the Connacht Provincial Championship from 2018. The chance to create a little bit of history is not lost on Friel.
He says: “What a way to go out, but we’ll think about that closer to the time. We just want to get back into training again. After a well-deserved few days off, the Fulham players return to training on Thursday (2 November), from when it will be heads-down all the way to the second weekend in December.
“It’s something you’ve got to look forward to and these six weeks will fly.” he said. “We’ll try as hard as we can and leave everything out on the pitch, that’s all you can do.”