By Damian Dolan
All roads lead to Dublin for London Masters on Saturday and a showdown with Mayo, as the Exiles look to keep their season alive and reach the knock-out stages for the first time.
London must beat 2017 and 2016 All-Ireland champions Mayo in Saturday’s play-off, to set up a further play-off date with Kildare on 24 August. The winner of that match will progress to the Plate semi-finals.
This is unchartered territory for London since re-entering the over 40s competition in 2017.
Mayo will present a formidable opposition, despite having a poor campaign this time around by their high standards.
London Masters joint manager Liam Brennan, told the Irish World: “There’s no doubt it’s going to be a big challenge, but we’ve both ended up on the same points so there can’t be a lot between us.
“We’ll respect Mayo and what they’ve achieved in the competition, and they’ll start as hot favourites, but we’ll be confident and we’ll give it our best shot.”
When the sides met at Greenford in 2017, London pushed the eventual All-Ireland champions all the way, before going down by 1-9 to 1-7, having led for much of the game.
Already they can reflect on their best campaign so far, with victory over Clare and a last-gasp draw with Kildare giving them their best points tally to date, but the chance is there to go further than ever before.
London’s play-off fate was sealed with a 1-15 to 0-10 defeats to Down at Castlewellan GAC last time out. That left London, Mayo and Kildare all on three points.
A victory, or a draw, against Down would have taken London straight into the semi-finals.
London’s cause wasn’t helped by the loss of Denis Connolly before thrown in and Chris Byrne after just ten minutes. Their departures tested an already severely depleted Exiles panel.
Brennan is “very hopeful” that both will make the trip to Dublin, and that the Exiles will have a “strong panel” available for the game.
He said: “It’s holiday time so we are going to be short a few, but it’s looking fairly good. Chris is having treatment, but he’s a strong old character and it would be a shame if he didn’t make it.”
Byrne is one of the few London survivors from that meeting with Mayo two years ago, scoring 1-2 in the game.
If London can make it through to the Plate semi-finals, Brennan says it would do “wonders” not just for the current team, but for the London Masters going forwards.
“It will show people we’re serious. We’re having a little bit of success at the moment and I can only see more and more lads wanting to get involved,” added Brennan.
If London don’t get past Mayo and Kildare, they’ll rue their fixture with Cavan at McGovern Park, when Connolly’s second half goal put London in a winning position, but it was the visitors who finished the stronger.
Cavan and Clare are already through to the Plate semi-finals, where they’ll also be joined by the loser of Down vs Westmeath. The winner of that game will go into the Shield semi-finals.