By Damian Dolan
London manager Fergus McMahon clearly did his homework before asking Kilburn Gaels’ Brian Regan to be his captain.
The Exiles contest their first Croke Park final in six years on Saturday when they face Kildare in the Christy Ring Cup final (throw in 2pm), and if one is searching for omens then a Kilburn man wearing the London captain’s armband at Croker is as good as any.
In 2012, Colm Quinn lifted the Christy Ring Cup when Eamonn Phelan’s side beat Wicklow, while a year earlier Niall Forde had done the honours when the Exiles enjoyed Nicky Rackard success. Both Kilburn Gaels men.
It may be a tentative, but so to can be the difference between winning and losing when it comes to finals.
“We’ve got a great bunch of lads this year and it’s an honour to captain them,” Regan told the Irish World. “Hopefully we can do the business.
“It’s all about performance for us on Saturday and that’s what we’re focusing on. It’s great to get to a final, but people only remember the winners.
“Kildare is going to be a huge battle. We’ve a big 70 minutes hurling ahead of us. Obviously, it’s going to be a great occasion, but we’ve a day’s work to do.”
For Regan, it’s already been a more successful second spell as London captain, than his first.
Having capped his first year in London in 2013 by helping the Exiles to victory over Meath in the Division 2B final – the last piece of silverware won by the county’s hurlers – he was given the captain’s armband for 2014.
However, a broken foot picked up after the league campaign ruled him out of all of the championship, aside from an appearance off the bench in London’s final game – a defeat to Westmeath which saw them relegated from Leinster.
“It didn’t work out great [in 2014]. Thankfully it’s gone a bit better this year,” said Regan, who was a spectator at Croke Park in 2011 to see his fellow Gort-native Niall Forde lift the Nicky Rackard.
Little did Regan realise then that he’d be back at Croker seven years later as London captain.
This London team has come a long way since been hammered by 20 points by Kerry in Round 1 of the league in January, and then by 12 points by Meath and by 17 points at the hands Carlow.
Westmeath marked the first tangible sign of progress, as the Exiles lost by just five, before their relegation decider with Kildare, which the Exiles came out on the right side of.
It’s testament to the strength of Division 2A that Westmeath and Carlow will contest the first Joe McDonagh final.
“When people don’t know the London scene they’ll look at the results on a Monday morning and they’ll say ‘London got hammered again’,” said Regan.
“But anyone in London knows it doesn’t work like that. Guys who’ve been there for a couple of years realise that.
“The important thing at the start of the year was to emphasis to the new lads not to be too downhearted, and that we were trying to build towards the Christy Ring.
“The league was all about improving as we went along and keeping lads on board.”
That improvement manifested itself in the opening round of the Christy Ring, when the Exiles came from behind in Ballinascreen to grind out a two-point win over Derry.
London led by seven at the break, only for the Oakleafers to fight back to lead 1-18 to 1-16 in the 68th minute. The Exiles, though, dug deep to land four unanswered injury-time points to snatch victory. For Regan, it was a turning point.
He said. “Maybe in other years London would have fallen away, but there’s definitely something different this year. All the players just stood up and said “No, we’re not going to get beaten’.
“That was a good sign of a team, that we didn’t drop the heads and stayed fighting till the end. There was huge belief in the group after that, that we could go on and do something.”
London have continued to improve, despite losing at home to Down. The manner of their victories over Armagh and Wicklow suggest a side at ease with itself. The Exiles are peaking at just the right time.
“Confidence is high. It’s good that the hard work is coming to fruition,” said Regan.
“It’s not that pretty on a rainy night in January, so it makes all the sacrifice for the lads worthwhile. Hopefully we can now just get over that final hurdle.”
By 4pm on Saturday afternoon, messers Colm Quinn and Niall Forde could have company.