Round Towers manager Michael Maher is revelling at the chance to shape the Exiles’ fortunes in 2019
By Damian Dolan
To play inter-county for London can be to discover a new meaning to the word commitment, such are the logistical difficulties the city throws up on a daily basis. The London county team’s management and support staff are not immune to the challenges.
By the time Michael Maher walks in his front door of an evening and throws his kit bag down, the newest member of Ciaran Deely’s management set-up will have racked up a good few hours and miles in his car.
Having battled the North Circular to make it to training, whether it be Ealing Trailfinders or Greenford, from his job at St Paul’s Academy in Greenwich – a journey that some nights can take him “a couple of hours” – it’s a sling-shot around the M25 to his home in Wallington in Surrey.
One could be forgiven for asking, why? But getting involved with London is something that Maher had always “aspired” to.
“When you want to do something and your heart is in it the travelling goes on the back burner. It’s not a problem,” he told the Irish World.
“You’ve just got to get on with it. I want to be involved and I’m delighted to be involved.”
Approached by Deely to help fill the void in his management team left by the departures of Noel Dunning and Chris Byrne, Maher had no hesitation in signing up.
Fresh from having helped Round Towers to back-to-back senior championship semi-final appearances, he describes it as a “big challenge”, but one he’s “delighted” to be part of.
“I was thrilled when Ciaran got in contact and it was a no-brainer for me to get involved,” said Maher, who is the first-ever London-born coach of the men’s senior team.
“I met up with Ciaran and we had a good chat and I was very impressed. There have been a lot of very positive messages about the London set-up from our clubmen who’ve been involved with London.
“The set-up is outstanding – it’s very professional. The players have got access to everything they could possibly want. I don’t think they could ask for any more, from an inter-county set-up in London.”
For Maher, it was validation that both he and Towers have clearly been doing something right over the past couple of years, and that their efforts south of the water haven’t gone unnoticed.
“I suppose it means you’re doing something right with your club team,” he said.
Maher took over the managerial reins at Towers for the 2016 campaign, on the back of a hiding at the hands of St Kiernan’s, and with “confidence at an all-time low”.
Over the last three years he’s helped to re-establish them as a force, and for consecutive years they’ve given Fulham Irish a run for their money in the semi-finals. They’re now in a “good place”.
He said: “Towers is a team which has always found itself battling survival at senior football, and the aim was to make them competitive.
“To get the group to believe in themselves a bit more and to try and challenge at the business end of the season, which we’ve done.
“It’s been challenging because you are up against some very well-established clubs in Tir Chonaill Gaels, Fulham Irish, St Kiernan’s and North London Shamrocks.
“The aim was always to get Round Towers to try and compete with those sides, and I think we’ve done very well to do that in the last couple of years with such a thin squad of senior players.
“We’ve probably exceeded expectations by reaching two semi-finals in a row.”
Through and through
Round Towers through and through from the age of seven, Maher went on to represent the club at senior level.
His first step into management, however, came in soccer, at Redhill Football Club, which took a “front seat” for six years.
He’d made his mark as the club’s youth team manager before being appointed first-team boss in March 2012.
In his first year he steered the club to promotion to the Ryman League – its most successful season for 30 years. The team included former London senior footballers Sean Kelly and Niall Egan.
Within a week of leaving Redhill in 2015, he got the call from Tom Fitzgerald at Towers.
“I learnt a lot from being involved with Redhill. My management skills improved dramatically. Being able to interact with a group of players is just as important as your ability to coach,” he said.
GAA didn’t entirely take a back seat during that time, though, with Maher part of the South London Féile team’s success story – six All-Irelands in the past 11 years. This year, they won Division 2 for the second year in a row.
“It’s been fantastic success. We’ve got a really blue print in place and the kids have had a fantastic time and a great opportunity,” said Maher.
“Obviously the aim is for them to stay involved and end up playing senior football for London.”
It will fall upon Deely, Maher and Joe Coulter to steer London through the Division 4 National League campaign, which gets underway with the visit of Limerick to McGovern Park on 27 January.
Although the door has been left ajar by Deely should the London boss want to augment his management team further.
A hands-on coach with a commitment to reinforcing the positive, Maher’s philosophy is about learning, not losing.
And he’s now focused on bringing his ethos and beliefs, as well as all of those years of experience in soccer and Gaelic football, to the table for the benefit of London.
“It’s going to be a very challenging year, but we’ve got a good group. It’s quite a young group, but they’ve got very good attitudes,” he said.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us as a management team to get these guys competing with every team in Division 4 – that’s our first goal.
“Galway in the Connacht Championship is the carrot at the end of the season, but we’ll take it one game at a time because each game is going to throw up different scenarios and situations for the group and management to learn [from] together.”
A challenge indeed, but the prospect of which Maher is revelling in.