By David Hennessy
Christy Ring Cup, Round 2A, Derry v London, 2pm Owenbeg
London’s hurlers hope to secure their place in the Christy Ring semi-final with victory over Derry this Saturday. If Fergus McMahon’s team come out on top in their clash in Owenbeg, they will have earned a rest on the weekend of May 23/24 after playing on three consecutive weeks. After travelling to Kildare and then Owenbeg, they should also be rewarded for victory with a home semi-final.
Despite having to play Kildare a second time, the Exiles remain on course for capturing the trophy they took in 2012 unbeaten.
Speaking at the launch of the new London jersey this week, sponsored by Clayton Hotels, manager Fergus McMahon told The Irish World: “We’ve always said we want to win the thing out and not just gain moral victories or put up good performances. To win the thing out, you just have to take it as it comes and definitely the other day, we did that.
“It’s only one step in the four steps we have to take. I told them that there the other day. There was no roaring or shouting after the game. Going forward again, that’s all we’re doing, just taking it one match at a time.
“To win next Saturday against Derry gives us a great opportunity because it gives us two weeks off so we can get a look at all the injuries, get everything sorted out. It couldn’t have worked out better. If you wrote it down with pen and paper, who you wanted to play and how you wanted to play, it’s kind of lining up like that for us. It’s up to ourselves to take it.”
London captain Enda Cooney, also talking at the launch, added: “Win this game, we get a week off and you’re straight into the semi-final. Lose the game, you have another game which doesn’t give any time for injuries. Injuries are being picked up. It’s something you can’t avoid. It’s a massive, massive game at the weekend.”
Derry beat London by one point when they met in the league this year but London were without many of their first team. Fergus says: “They got a goal into the breeze against the run of play, that won the game for them. We would like to think that we’ve improved a lot since then. We’ve had all the Kilburn lads back. We were missing a couple of them that day and we’re definitely in a stronger position than we were then. I know Derry will have improved as well. I would be confident going back there.”
Enda adds: “We know we should have the beating of them. We’ll be going into that game confident but also not taking anything for granted. We are travelling into their backyard and from years gone by we never got anything easy in Derry.”
Kilburn Gaels forward Martin Duggan was London’s star of their victory with 3-3. “He hurled well again, the same as the week before,” said the London manager. “He took his chances and the keeper made more fantastic saves. He probably could have had five or six goals. That’s the influence he has when he gets the ball one on one, close to goal: Very hard to stop.”
London led Kildare in their first outing, only for a late goal to force extra-time. Then when London fell behind, a late and dramatic Luke Hands goal rescued a replay for London.
Fergus says: “We spoke just before extra-time and we said, ‘look, we didn’t lose this game. It’s still there for us if we want it’. The way we responded and got the goal in the last minute, I think that definitely gave us a big buzz going back over to Kildare, we definitely knew that we were good enough.”
Captain Enda Cooney told his team before extra-time in the drawn game that it was now that the questions were being asked and London had to show what type of men they were.
The captain says: “I suppose that day we should have finished it off, being seven points up but they robbed us at the end. To get a draw at the end (of extra-time), it showed great character. Then to come back to Kildare the following week and to beat them in their own backyard shows the quality that is in the squad.
“We have the squad there (to go all the way). It’s a squad, it’s not a team because no fifteen is going to win a Christy Ring. With the turnover of games week after week, you need a full squad so it’s by no means fifteen guys. No matter how we do this year, it’s a squad effort.
“There’s great competition in the squad and that’s pushing everyone on so a massive effort from everyone is needed.”
McMahon told The Irish World directly after the match in Newbridge that his team were confident they had the beating of any team in the Christy Ring having come down from Liam McCarthy last year: “We always said at the very start, it would be Kerry, Kildare, Meath, ourselves, we would be thinking would be the top four. That’s no disrespect to Derry or the other teams, that’s just looking at league performances and how lads were going. We played Kerry down there and for 45, 50 minutes we hurled as good as we got. We just faded a lot in the last 20 minutes and they got a run on us and finished 9 or 10 points up. Our fitness has definitely improved since then so if we get another crack at them later on, I think we’ll be able to take them.
Asked if his squad is peaking at the right time, Fergus says: “Definitely because the Kilburn lads didn’t have much of a break and when they came back, they were a bit stale. Now we notice them training the last couple of weeks: Their touch is back, their hunger is back. They have a chance to get back to Croke Park if they want it so it’s definitely all coming together at the right time.”
Asked if any injuries have been sustained, Fergus said: “We have a couple of lads with niggles. Bernard (Gaffney) hurt his back the first game, he struggled the other day. Stephen Lambert is still struggling with injury. There’s a couple of lads just with little niggles but nothing to write home about but just have to watched all the same.”