Fiona O’Brien speaks to David Igoe about how his Over 40s Masters team are getting way more out of playing football than just training and competition
They had a ‘tough’ outing according to manager David Igoe, but so far his side are enjoying more than the football side of things.
“We came up across a very tough Sligo team, who had ten or eleven ex-inter county stars. When I saw their teamsheet on the Thursday before I knew we would be in trouble!” he joked afterwards.
David’s father Sean, a Sligo native, was the last manager of the London Masters team two decades ago, so David was well aware of the challenge facing him when he recognised some of the stars he grew up watching.
“We had a big squad of 25 that travelled over, but six of them were carrying injuries and then we lost four players to injury within the first ten minutes!
“But we are ready for Kildare now in our next round on the 29th of July and will be in a stronger position for that hopefully. Sligo look that good that they could go on and win the whole thing out right.
“They only came back into the Masters fold last year and got a bit of a trouncing by Galway so they’ve come back stronger now this year. Hopefully that’s what we’ll be like, it’ll be like Del Boy in Only Fools And Horses.
“Instead of this time next year we’ll be millionaires, maybe it will be this time next year we’ll be All-Ireland winners!”
David put the shout out for players willing to join the team at the beginning of the year and there was a huge interest immediately from current and former players from both London and Hertfordshire.
“Loads of players came out to our first meeting and we have had good numbers at training ever since. The Masters All-Ireland championship is as much about keeping people fit and having a shared sense of community then the games themselves.
“And we have had so much support from everyone. Bernie McManamon, who played the whole of the game against Sligo at corner-forward at the age of 57, helped with sponsorship, as did our main sponsor Finbar Holian of the Claddagh Ring.
“Tir Chonaill Gaels have given us access to a pitch to train on every Monday evening, and the London senior football manager Ciaran Deely and Nigel McDermott from North London Shamrocks have been down to help us in training too.”
The Masters competition has been running since 1990, but the GAA stopped managing it in 2009. The GMA took it over in 2012 as recognised, according to David, that there was a lot of more meaningful reasons to keep the competition going, from mental health benefits to fundraising.
“It is giving these lads a chance to train and get fitter and get a game. They are socialising now in a group that wasn’t there last year, and are really putting themselves under pressure to up fitness levels with some doing yoga and swimming away from training to.”
And so far the London team have been able to do some fundraising of their own. Alan Murray is part of the team, and as the Irish World reported earlier this year, is trying to raise money to build a palliative care suite in his home so that his terminally ill child can be treated there.
“Alan was a part of the squad since the beginning. He used to play with St Brendan’s and now trains the underage at St Colmcille’s in Hertfordshire where his daughters play.
“When we found out that his son had a terminal illness we wanted to show our support for his ‘Build for Shay’ campaign. Bernie Mac purchased our travelling kit and bags.
“So we all 30 of us paid £50 each for the kit to donate £1,500 to Shay’s cause. We presented him with the cheque last week at our kit and sponsor launch in the Claddagh Ring.
“That is the beauty of this. All of the lads paid for their own flights to Ireland for the game because they want to play. Because they are over 40 and settled here we can do that. And between us and the other 15 counties competing we want to show Croke Park that this is a really worthwhile code of football.”
But while the squad are enjoying being a part of the social side of things, David is well aware that their competitive nature will have them rearing to go over the next few rounds of the competition.
“There is a bit of a carrot at the end of it, in that the Mayo team will be travelling to play us later on in the championship. Everyone will be so up for playing in that.”
The squad features Aidan Dillane, who is still playing at the highest level in London for his club Kingdom Kerry Gaels at senior level and who also appeared in their dramatic extra-time cup final win last week, just three days before the Sligo game, and 2016 county championship winning manager Chris Byrne.
“Chris is our captain and him and Dillane got injured early on against Sligo. I like to say that it’s about the taking part and not the winning, but I know Chris would kill me! And Noel Dunning!
“Because of the age of the squad I’ve got about 20 lads from GAA clubs’ management so they are a competitive bunch.”
Training for the Masters team continues at Tir Chonaill Gaels, Greenford every Monday night at 7:15pm. Anyone who wishes to join up or find out more can just turn up.