By Damian Dolan
New London junior football team manager Stephen Lynch says he’s relishing the “challenge” of trying to guide the county to a first All-Britain Inter-County Junior Football Championship title for ten years.
From Rathvilly in Co Carlow, Lynch takes over as London boss from Vinny Sullivan, who stepped down after one year in the job to take on the managerial role as St Kiernan’s.
Last year, Lynch took St Josephs to an intermediate championship final – where they lost out to Neasden Gaels – and to Sean Sheils Cup success. It was his first season with the club.
“That’s the challenge; it’s ten years and that doesn’t lie,” Lynch told the Irish World.
“But if we get the backing of the clubs and get in all the players that are available, I think we can have a good crack at it.”
In 2009, a London junior side managed by the late Kevin Kelly defeated Lancashire in the final.
Since then, however, London has reached the final on just three occasions, in 2016, 2012 and 2011. Each time losing out to Lancashire.
Despite only being able to pick from intermediate and junior players, Lynch believes London will still be able to put together a “strong team”.
Lynch isn’t the only thing that’s new this year. A change in the format will see two groups of four teams.
London have been grouped with Lancashire, Kilkenny and Warwickshire.
The top three teams in Group A will advance to the semi-finals, where they’ll be joined by the winners of Group B. One win for London might be enough to book a semi-final place.
“If you can get a result in the first game it builds confidence,” said Lynch, who wants his London team to adopt the free flowing ‘easy-on-the-eye” style displayed by Joes last year.
He said: “When you’re playing attacking football, players enjoy it a lot more.
“The more games the Joes played last year, we got across what we wanted to do and it started to come together. With the players we had, that style suited them better.
“If everyone’s enjoying it, it’s a lot easier to work with the players. People buy into it a lot quicker, than if you’re playing negative stuff.”
As a player, Lynch represented Carlow and London, and won senior London county titles with Neasden Gaels in 2010 and Tara (2003). He went on to win an All-Britain with Tara the same year.
Defending champions Kilkenny will be going for three-in-a-row this year. Their dismantling of Warwickshire in last year’s final sees them firm favourites to hold on to their crown.
Indeed, Kilkenny defeats since they entered this competition in 2014 have been a very rare thing.
While it was the Cats who ended Lancashire’s ‘drive for five’ at the quarter-final stage that year, they then succumbed to Scotland (0-16 to 0-8) in the semi-finals.
Scotland also did for Kilkenny in 2016 – beating them by two points. The Cats have turned the tide on the Scots since then, however, and got the better of them twice last year.
Scotland will be favourites to emerge from Group B, especially with the Dunedin Connollys boys back on board.
They opted out in 2018 due to their exploits with the Edinburgh club, and their addition will only strengthen Diarmuid McNulty’s Scotland side.
“We want to put a bit of pride back in the Scotland jersey – we want all clubs to be represented. We’ve got a great committee who are really pushing the county scene,” said McNulty, who is in his second year.
“We’ve been in talks with Connolly’s and I believe they’ll have a few players available this year. John Dolan [Dunedin Connolly’s manager] is very keen for his players to get involved.”
He added: “We gave Kilkenny a fair crack in Glasgow (in Rnd 2) so much so that we feel that’s the reason why they refused to come back to Scotland for the semi-final. So we had to go to Leeds on consecutive weekends, which is quite a journey.
“Kilkenny will definitely be favourites, but somebody’s going to have to try and take Kilkenny down. They’ve some seriously talented players and some big physical men.”
Perennial bridesmaids Warwickshire haven’t enjoyed provincial championship success since 2006 – and have lost in five of the last 11 finals.
Eamon Hanlon’s side remain, arguably, the biggest challengers to the Cats, and the manner of their defeat in last year’s final will have hurt.
Lancashire, the dominant force before the Cats joined the party, had a poor 2018 by their high standards. Well-beaten by Scotland, they then handed Herts in walkover in their quarter-final.
2018 was clearly a ‘blip’, as it came on the back of winning four-in-a-row between 2010-13 and another title in 2016.
They were dethroned by Kilkenny in 2017, but only after a titanic semi-final clash which the Cats edged by two points at Old Bedians. Lancashire had led by six at the break.
So expect Lancashire to rise again this year under new manager James Wray, and be the force we’ve come to know.
Rd1 Junior Football C/Ship.
Sat. 11th. May
Scotland Vs Yorkshire
Kilkenny Vs Warwickshire
Gloucestershire Vs Hertfordshire
London Vs Lancashire
— Britain GAA (@BPCGAA) May 8, 2019
It’s 11 years since Gloucestershire won their one and only provincial title, in 2008. This year, a concerted effort seems to have been made to put up a strong challenge.
County champions St Judes have thrown their weight behind that push, and certainly impressed when they put it up to London intermediate champions Neasden Gaels at McGovern Park last year.
Gloucestershire did reach the semi-finals in 2014, only to lose out to Warwickshire in Bristol.
Arguably the surprise package of last year was Hertfordshire, who last reached the final in 2013. The county made great strides under new manager Kevin Devlin in 2018, twice pushing Warwickshire close.
It’s a while since Yorkshire caused waves in this competition, but new manager Ciaran Miley, from Cuchulainns in Newcastle, is looking forward to the challenge.
“We’ll have players from every club in the county and that’s great, and a good mix between players who’ve been there for years and some new ones,” he said.
“We’ve a strong panel, we’ve got a lot of lads coming up from Leeds, along with the Newcastle lads, hopefully we can give Scotland a run. I don’t see it being as one-sided as people may think. We’ll give it a bash.”
It promises to be an intriguing few weeks, not least because of the new format. Group A will serve up some sumptuous clashes.
But going by last year, the chasing pack all have a good bit of ground to make up on Kilkenny.