By Damian Dolan
Aidan Dillane is enjoying a “new lease of life” thanks to the Gaelic Masters, and on Saturday the Kingdom/Kerry Gaels man and his fellow band of London over 40s will look to strike a physiological blow against Sligo, when they face their Yeats county counterparts at Tir Chonaill Park, Greenford, (throw in 5pm).
The appetiser to Sunday’s Connacht Championship quarter-final clash at McGovern Park, the opportunity is there for Dillane and Co to set the tone for the weekend.
It’s a fact not lost on the Elennerville, Co Kerry, native, who was London’s stand-out performer in last year’s Masters.
“We fight for London and we support London, so I’m sure they’ll be delighted if we won…and they’d be saying we can go out and do the same as well,” Dillane told the Irish World.
“It [to beat Sligo] does give you a nice boost; a lot of us have been in London a long time and the GAA is a community – London is one club when we get together.”
“From what I’ve seen of the London senior team this year they’re fit and strong, and they’re well trained by Ciaran Deely and his back-room team.
— the Irish World (@theirishworld) September 2, 2017
“They’ll definitely put in a fantastic performance and with a bit of luck they’ll come out with the victory.”
The Peter Pan of the London team, Dillane’s dynamic displays inspired the Exiles to a thrilling one-point victory over Roscommon last summer. They also pushed eventual champions Mayo all the way and put it up to Kildare and Offaly.
In doing so, they captured the imagination of the county’s GAA lovers, as London returned to the Masters arena after a prolonged absence.
Their performances, and the sizeable and vocal turnout which cheered them on at Greenford, more than vindicated David Igoe’s decision to try and resurrect a London Masters team. Dillane has nothing but praise for Igoe.
“It’s lovely to play at home and hear the boys shouting for London, when we’re out there running our hearts out to get a victory,” said Dillane, who won a senior title with the Kingdom Kerry in 2013, lost out in the final in 2012, 2007, 2000 and 1996.
“I was taken aback by the number of people who came out.
“It was all the old boys that used to come out to Ruislip many years ago and watched us play when we were younger. They all enjoyed it and it was lovey to see.”
Victory over Roscommon was achieved thanks to two late Chris Byrne strikes, added to Noel Dunning’s first half goal, on a glorious Greenford afternoon.
“That [Roscommon] was a really enjoyable game to play in. The crowd was really encouraging, and everyone wanted to play better,” recalled Dillane, who made his London senior debut in 1998.
“Roscommon gave us a good platform and Mayo was fantastic, we just came up short.”
Roscommon was in stark contrast to London’s opener against Sligo, when the Exiles were handed a harsh reintroduction to the Gaelic Masters in Swinford. Any preconceived notions of nice socialble game were firmly dispelled as the Exiles were put to the sword 4-19 to 0-1.
“I suppose a few lads going over were expecting that Sligo hadn’t been playing for a while and they were just putting their boots on for a kickaround,” said Dillane, who turns 42 later this month.
“That wasn’t the case. These boys were serious about winning….you wouldn’t win a ball without getting a clattering. They can play and they kept on hammering us, and we couldn’t do anything about it.”
Dillane concedes the heavy loss was something of a wake-up call.
“It could have been demoralising. We had to train better and harder to get fitter. The handling and ball skills that we had when we younger, we had to get better. And it did develop.”
The wake-up call was heard loud and clear. Although Westmeath proved too good, the Exiles otherwise more than held their own.
“We went from stride-to-stride and we got stronger. It’s been great for all the lads who played many years ago, who are now a bit older, a bit greyer and with shorter hair,” Dillane added.
“These are people I’d played with and against years ago, but we’d all gone our separate ways. So it’s been great to reconnect with these boys again, and old friendships and rivalries.
“Everyone loves it; it’s great for the players and great for the older fellas to come out and watch us play. It’s given us a new lease of life.
“I find it [the GAA] so hard to give up. I’m so used to it since….it’s a part of my life. I still have it in me. The GAA and playing football with a team is great.”