By Damian Dolan
London’s hurlers must dig deep against Donegal on Saturday if they are to avoid suffering a double relegation in the same year, after last weekend’s 2-19 to 2-16 defeat to Kildare.
Already consigned to Div 2B hurling in 2020, Shane Kelly’s Exiles face last year’s Nicky Rackard Cup champions in (Crossmaglen, 1pm) in a battle for Christy Ring survival.
Donegal are in the same boat, having already lost one relegation play-off this year – to Warwickshire in Div 2B. Donegal were hammered last weekend by Down, by 22 points.
It’s ten years since the sides last met, in the league in 2009. The Exiles victorious on that occasion on their way to winning Div 3B.
Not that history will matter one jot on Saturday – it will all be about nerve, composure and a will to win.
London, though, are still searching for a first victory in 2019 after last weekend’s defeat to a Jack Sheridan inspired Kildare prolonged the Exiles’ season for one more (unwelcome) game.
The chance to put an immediate end a frustrating year was London’s for the taking at McGovern Park – Diarmuid Cahill’s ninth minute straight red card looked like it might be the slice of good fortune the Exiles have been craving.
And for a time it was; Benny McCarry’s early second half goal helping the Exiles open up a five-point lead. It gave London daylight, but they couldn’t build on it, or rather Kildare wouldn’t let them.
Defying their numerical disadvantage, they harried, chased and harassed London at every opportunity, displaying a will to win some of which the Exiles will hope has rubbed off for Saturday.
Not that Kelly could have asked much more from his troops. They worked tirelessly and hurled well – Shane Lawless, Mark O’Dwyer, Fergal Collins and Kevin Reid epitomising that effort.
The loss of the experienced Reid to injury just before half-time – having been imperious – was undoubtedly a blow.
There could be no questioning London’s commitment or desire. But when Sheridan drilled a shot past Padraig Buckley 66th minute, they struggled to find a response.
Without a win in their previous eight matches, stretching back to last year’s Christy Ring final, London’s baggage suddenly appeared to catch up with them.
It was Kildare – back at the scene of their relegation to Div 2B a little over 12 months ago – that settled the better. Kevin Whelan and Brian Byrne opening the scoring.
But London, who’d had eight players sent off in their seven previous games, then found themselves on the right end for once of a potentially match-changing moment.
Diarmuid Cahill seeing a straight red for unceremoniously taking out O’Dwyer, with O’Dwyer in full flight.
That settled the home side and O’Dwyer drew two men before finding the unmarked run of Stephen Lohan, who finished with aplomb. London led 1-2 to 0-3.
Kildare were back in front a minute later, though. Mark Delaney did the hard work, sucking in London defenders, before squaring to the unmarked Sheridan to find the net.
The Lilywhites’ response to the red card had been impressive and they even moved into a 1-5 to 1-2 lead, before London riposted through Lohan, O’Dwyer and Aaron Sheehan.
Collins edged London back in front in the 33rd minute (1-7 to 1-6) before Reid was forced from the fray with an arm injury. London will sweat on his fitness for Saturday.
London still took a 1-9 to 1-7 lead into the break, only for Kildare to start the second half like men possessed, harrying London at every turn.
Padraig Buckley’s puck-out was read by Whelan and he fed Sheridan to point.
But the first time the Exiles managed to break out, they found the net. McCarry finishing well. Sheehan added a free and London led 2-10 to 1-8 after seven second half minutes.
That should have been the moment for London to pull away. Instead, the 14-men of Kildare out-scored the Exiles by 1-11 to 0-6 in the time that remained.
London were never quite able to make their extra man tell, and put the match to bed.
However, when O’Dwyer blasted over the lead was still five points (2-14 to 1-12) with the game now inside the final 15 minutes.
Sheridan then came to the fore, forcing a good save from Buckley in between landing a huge free and a ’65. Kildare momentum was building.
Having dragged his teammates to within three points, Sheridan then found space on the right and drilled low and hard past Buckley.
Belief poured through Kildare veins and they outscored London by 0-4 to 0-1 down the home stretch.
London have little time to dwell, however. Donegal await and this time there is no second chance.
Kildare: Paddy McKenna; Diarmuid Cahill, John Doran, Rian Boran; Niall O’Muineachain, Ross Kelly, Aran Kelly; Jack Travers (0-1), Paul Divilly; Kevin Whelan (01-), Brian Byrne (0-4, 1f), James Burke (0-3); Martin Fitzgerald (0-1), Mark Delaney, Jack Sheridan (2-9, 5f, 1’65). Subs: Conor Gordon for Kelly (48min), Conor Dowling for Delaney (51min).
London: Padraig Buckley; Christopher McAlinden, Padraig Muldoon, Fergal Collins (0-2); Jesse Kennedy, Kevin Reid (0-1f), Lee Murphy; Killian Burke, Colin Nelson (0-1); Shane Lawless (0-1), Mark O’Dwyer (0-2), Stephen Lohan (1-2); David Nolan, Benny McCarry (1-0), Aaron Sheehan (0-7, 6f). Subs: Sean Conlon for Nolan (31min), Cillian McSweeney for Reid (35+1min), Oisin Royston for McSweeney (63min),
Referee: Nathan Wall (Cork).