By Damian Dolan
Whatever happens at McGovern Park on Saturday (12.15pm), Round Towers’ focus this year is unashamedly on going at least one step further in the All-Britain.
Semi-final place assured, by reaching London’s intermediate final, the south London club’s learning curve since its formation in 2017 has been a steep one.
Soundly beaten in that year’s final by Parnells by 17 points, they were then “blown out of the water” by Liverpool’s John Mitchel’s in the provincial semi-finals.
They returned last year to hold off Kingdom Kerry Gaels in a thriller, and be crowned London intermediate champions for the first time, although the All-Britain would again prove a step too far.
Their challenge was this time ended by Edinburgh’s Dunedin Connolly’s – but only after a second half Towers rally. Connolly’s went on to beat KKG in the final.
It’s the provincial they want and that’s what they’re “aiming to peak for” says manager Michael Maher.
“That’s something we’ve discussed as a group and agreed from the outset,” he told the Irish World.
“We want to jump that hurdle and I’m really confident that the girls can make the final this year.
“Of course, we’d love to win on Saturday, but we’re really aiming to peak for 21 September. That’s the date in everyone’s mind at Round Towers ladies.”
That said, to get back to the final for a third consecutive year is a “great achievement” says Maher. Towers are a growing force in the ladies game.
“We’ve more than 30 girls registered to the club and they train hard, and they’re so committed,” he said.
“The club means a lot to them, and I think that shows in getting to three county finals in a row. They really care about their football.”
Towers’ confidence and ambition isn’t miss-placed. Maher’s charges really did “knock on the door” against seasoned All-Britain campaigners Connolly’s in that semi-final.
The Edinburgh side had threatened to blow the south Londoners away in the opening 30 minutes, opening up a 1-10 to 0-3 lead. Maher putting Towers’ below-par first half showing down to “nerves” and “panic”.
But they clawed their way back into it, hitting 2-5, to get to within just three, only to hit the crossbar in the game’s dying moments.
Confidence also comes from arriving at Saturday’s final unbeaten in all competitions – played seven, won seven is Towers record. That’s put them on course for the league final as well.
“We’re going well; we’ve got a really good group of girls. We’ve retained 90 per cent of last year’s team and added a couple.
“They’re training well and we’re in a good vein of form going into what’s going to be an extremely tough game.
“Parnells are a very, very strong side and it should make for a great final.”
With last weekend’s Round 5 championship meeting between the sides deemed null and void, as both had already confirmed their place in Saturday’s final, and Parnells having gifted Towers a walkover in the league earlier in the year, there is no recent meeting between the sides to dissect over for pointers.
Towers’ appearance in the 2017 final, in their debut year, ended in a comprehensive defeat to Parnells by 3-13 to 1-2.
Last year, the sides met three times with Parnells winning twice. One of those came in the intermediate league final, with Parnells storming to a 3-15 to 0-3 victory, having seen off KKG in the league semi-final.
Parnells wanted to make a point in the league says manager Tommie Donohue, after controversy had surrounded his side’s exit from the championship.
Their group stage defeat to Kingdom Kerry Gaels proved crucial, with Parnells fielding a depleted side. The club, though, was unhappy at the scheduling of the fixture.
The episode continues to be a “strong motivation” says Donohue, who has questioned the timing of the final for the week before London’s opening All-Ireland JFC fixture with Louth, calling it “ridiculous”.
While Towers have no players on the county panel, Parnells currently have eight in Paddy Bowles’ team, and three of those are now “touch and go” for Saturday having been injured while training with the county.
“It’s a ridiculous situation…there was no need for it to clash,” said Donohue.
“It’s also going to severely disrupt the county, because none of our players will be out this week [training with London] and they have a crucial game with Louth the following week.”
The Parnells physio will be working hard with the three players to try and get them fit for Saturday says Donohue.
“The three girls are all massive players for London. Hopefully they will make it, but if they don’t I wouldn’t give us much chance,” said Donohue, who says Towers are a “different team” to the one they beat in last year’s league final.
“It will be a good final, but I couldn’t tell you who’s going to win it,” he added.
“They’ve concentrated on their club and they’re unbeaten this year – that’s a fair challenge for us. And if Towers beat us, we’ll be the first to congratulate them.”
Saturday’s final pits last year’s winners, Round Towers, against the 2017 and 2016 champions, Parnells. Both are unbeaten in this year’s championship.
It’s London’s best two ladies teams going head-to-head, and is truly one not to be missed.