By Damian Dolan
London hurling manager Kevin McMullan says the Exiles’ lack of games heading into the start of the league could come back to “bite” them, but says promotion still remains the target.
London travel to Newbridge on Sunday having managed to squeeze in just one challenge game – against Kanturk as part of the team’s recent training camp – while opponents Kildare have four games under their belt.
It’s left London’s new hurling manager concerned that Sunday’s opener could be coming too soon for his side.
While McMullan says getting off to a winning start in Newbridge would be “massive”, he’s also “realistic”. He acknowledges that London are facing an “uphill battle” on Sunday.
“We’re miles away from Kildare at the minute unfortunately. It’s not the way we want it, but it’s just the way it’s worked out,” McMullan told the Irish World.
“I’m as happy as we can be – it’s just the logistics of being in London. Ideally, I’d like two or three games under our belt, but we just have to get on with it.”
The Lilywhites have the edge in the sides’ recent meetings. They’ve locked horns three times in the last two years in both league and championship – Kildare coming out on top on two occasions, including in the 2018 Christy Ring Cup final.
Earlier that year, London’s victory at Ruislip sent the Lilywhites down to Div 2B
London’s preparations also haven’t been helped by the recent wet weather, which has made both Ruislip and Greenford unavailable, and forced them to switch from Grasshopper’s RFC in Ealing to Harrow School.
“We haven’t even had a chance to get a 13-a-side game between ourselves. I can’t get a pitch,” added McMullan.
Add to that, London also go into battle in Newbridge without their captain from last year, Killian Burke.
The Cork star has been unable to commit due to work, and also won’t feature for Robert Emmetts this summer. He’s opted to instead play for his hometown club Midleton.
It’s a loss for London and McMullan, who is also resigned to losing Jesse Kennedy. The St Jude’s and Trinity College star was approached, but has so far not committed to the panel.
There is some good for McMullan with Fergal Collins of Emmetts expected to join up at the end of the month.
In addition, Tir Chonaill Gaels did open up its second pitch last Sunday for a preliminary round senior championship fixture between Robert Emmetts and St Gabriel’s, to allow up to five new players to quality to play for London’s hurlers.
The players include Kerry’s Jack Goulding, Liam Martin (Castlemartyr, Cork), Mark Lawless (brother of London’s Shane) and Sean Casserly (Ballinteer St Johns, Dublin),
They’ll augment a panel which McMullan says should still be targeting promotion, despite the team’s less than ideal preparations.
“The squad is good enough – I totally believe in it – it’s just the lack of hurling,” he said.
“The standard is still very high. We’re not going into the league thinking we’re there just to take part, we’re in it to try and get back up to Division 2A.”
And while London may be facing an uphill task this weekend, if they can conjure a victory it would set them up very nicely for the rest of the campaign.
“There’s great team morale and I can’t fault the effort. We’re getting 27 or 28 lads at training every night,” said McMullan, who took 25 to Cork for the team’s training weekend.
“There’s lads carrying a few injuries who are still coming to training, and they’re doing their bit, whether it’s press ups or whatever. They’re showing a willingness that they want to be part of it.”
After Kildare, Derry are up next at Ruislip in Round 2, with Down, Roscommon and Warwickshire completing Division 2B.
On route to the Ring final in 2018, London enjoyed a two-point victory over Derry in Ballinascreen before being edged out by Down at McGovern Park.
In last year’s Ring campaign, Roscommon stunned the Exiles at Ruislip to win by ten points.
London’s trip to Pairc na hEireann in Round 5 will be the sides’ first competitive meeting since 2005.