By David Hennessy
The London county champions in both codes have to overcome tough opposition if they are to progress in their respective All-Ireland tournaments. Barney Breen, manager of Tir Chonaill Gaels, admits that Corofin of Galway, who have been in unstoppable, appear to have no “chink in their armour”.
London’s champion hurlers Kilburn Gaels will face Mullinavat of Kilkenny who claimed the Leinster Intermediate title who boast the predatory instincts of John Walsh whose 2-5 in the Croke Park final put Kilkenny well on their way to a minor All-Ireland this year.
Having both won their titles in August, the London teams could be lacking a bit of match practice while facing champions who come straight from winning provincial crowns.
Both Tir Chonaill Gaels and Kilburn Gaels will have home advantage with Mullinavat and Corofin travelling to Ruislip for the games set for the first and second weekends of December.
Corofin have scored 18 goals in their campaign so far, including an impressive seven against Aughawilliam of Leitrim, with Galway county footballer Michael Lundy especially prolific.
Tir Chonaills Gaels manager Barney Breen was in Ireland to see Corofin make sure of a 2-13 to 1-7 Connacht final victory over Ballintubber of Mayo at the weekend and is under no illusion of the huge challenge that lies ahead.
Barney told The Irish World: “They’re a slick outfit. They really destroyed Ballintubber. That’s what we’re going up against. They look to be a team really on a mission for an All-Ireland this year but they won’t relish at all coming over to see us in Ruislip and we have to put ourselves in a position that if they have an off day, we’re ready to pounce on them. That’s basically how we have to look at it.
“Looking at how they’ve demolished every team so far in Galway and everywhere else- They haven’t beaten every team, they have demolished every team- Our own chances, we have to look at them realistically.
“I was looking to find a chink in their armour yesterday, I couldn’t even find one. We’re relishing the game, we’re relishing them coming over and it’s a stage our lads want to be at on a yearly basis but I think it’s hard to see how the teams compare.”
On the disadvantage of having their last competitive games months ago, Barney says: “We played a county final at the end of august, we played the league final the following weekend and we have had maybe one competitive game since. Our fellas are training away, putting in a huge effort but we haven’t had the campaign that any team in Ireland has had never mind Corofin.
“Also, the whole structure of the clubs set up is different over in London. You have guys in Corofin who have played together years and years, from the age of 12. There’s family members playing together as well, they all come from the one parish.
“We have guys from all over the country. Some joined this year, some are there a couple of years. The oldest player we have got is probably playing three or four years. It’s very hard but we’ve done our best to recreate kind of a club ethos but it’s a thing in London that’s very very hard to do because players are travelling from all over the city to get to training.
“We’re not making excuses. That’s the fact of life. Everyone knows about that, that’s what every London club has to put up with, the same as London county. We’re glad that we’re in it, we’re glad to get an opportunity to play at the big stage. The lads are relishing the opportunity and we’re looking forward to it.”
Kilburn Gaels manager Tom Bergin knows his team must be equally weary of a Mullinavat team who fended off a resolute challenge from Kiltale of Meath at the weekend: “They’ll all be good hurlers. There are a couple of players that played in the Kilkenny minors that won the All-Ireland, one is corner forward John Walsh who scored 2-5 in the final.
“They have been going well enough. I think early on in Kilkenny, they were lucky in a game or two but they have been impressive enough from the semi-final on. They’re obviously a good side. They will be very strong and competitive, typical of Kilkenny hurling.
“They will have plenty of games on us as well. That’s going to be kind of our downfall: Lack of game time. Whether it goes against us or not, I don’t know but we’ll see anyway.
“It’s hard because we only had two games, the league final and the Ryan Cup final and then we got three walkovers. We’re going to be seriously lacking in match practice while Mullinavat have had the Kilkenny championship and two games in Leinster. They’ve probably had six or seven games in the time that we’ve only been playing two. Hopefully it doesn’t count against us too much.
“We’ll see, we’ll give it our best shot and hopefully it’s good enough. If it’s not, it’s not. We’ll see after that.”