By Damian Dolan
New London hurling manager Shane Kelly has set his sights on winning the Christy Ring Cup in 2019.
Kelly, who trained Brothers Pearse to intermediate championship and All-Britain success in 2017, takes over the role from Fergus McMahon.
McMahon stepped down last month after four years in charge, having this year guided the Exiles to a Christy Ring Cup final appearance.
Kelly wants to “carry on the good work” of McMahon and his management team, and believes the talent is there to enable London to go one step further next year.
“I don’t see anything in the way of us being able to win the Christy Ring this year,” Kelly told the Irish World. “You can see the potential.
“It’s been seriously exciting for us as a management team seeing the championship unfold. It’s good for hurling and it’s good for London that the teams are so strong.
“London is a bit of a revolving door so obviously there will be a couple of players move over and we’ll be keeping an eye out. We’ll be monitoring everything and we’ll be talking to the clubs.”
Kelly is an ex-Galway minor and played in goal during the young Tribesmen’s All-Ireland MHC semi-final defeat to Kilkenny in 2010. His hometown club is Tommie Larkins.
He joined Brothers Pearse in 2015 and was in goal for the club’s IHC final defeat to Fr Murphy’s in 2016.
A second serious knee injury – picked up in 2016 while playing for the Pearses’ football team – saw him “throw his lot in with the coaching” for 2017 and the club’s hurlers.
At just 26, Kelly heads a youthful looking London management team, made up of Eoin Kelly (30), Henry Vaughan (30) and Stephen Frawley (33).
A young leadership group it may be in terms of age, but it’s also a vastly experienced.
Eoin Kelly coached St Gabriels to this year’s senior county title and Vaughan guided Kilburn Gaels to senior championship last year, while Kelly credits Frawley as one of the driving forces behind the Pearses’ run in 2017.
As players, Vaughan lined out for London in this year’s Christy Ring final defeat to Kildare, having won the competition with the Exiles in 2012, and all three of them hurled for London in the Leinster championship.
Shane sees their youthfulness as a “big positive” and that they are all “in tune with the game”.
“These opportunities don’t come up every day – we had to jump at it and take the chance to stamp our mark on things. We said we’d go for it,” said Kelly, who has a background in business and sports management and did a placement as a soccer coach with QPR.
“We see something in the group that’s there in London at the moment, and we hope to nurture that and bring it forward.”
Winning the Christy Ring won’t be easy though. They’ll face stiff competition from Meath, who were relegated from the Joe McDonagh, and last year’s Christy Ring winner’s Kildare. The Lilywhites then lost out to Antrim by 12 points in the promotion/relegation play-off.
Donegal have been promoted from the Nicky Rackard, and last year’s beaten Christy Ring semi-finalists, Derry and Wicklow, will both hope to have a say.
Before that, the Exiles face another tough league campaign in Division 2A, and they won’t have home advantage for all of their games, as they did last year.
The Exiles beat Kildare in a ‘winner-takes-all’ Round 5 clash at McGovern Park earlier this year to preserve their Div 2A status.
Of their rivals, Antrim, Kerry and Westmeath all hurl in the Joe McDonagh. Meath were relegated to the Christy Ring for 2019, while Mayo have dropped down to the Nicky Rackard.
Kelly, who hopes to have a lot of last year’s panel back on board, says they’ll give it “a real good crack”.
“They’re all good teams but we won’t fear any of them. We’ll give a good account of ourselves, and there’s a few games there we’ll definitely be looking to win,” he said.
“We’ll be well-prepared and we’ll have plenty of training done. We’ll be going hell for leather.”
Kelly intends to get the panel together in mid-November, but expects to be without captain Brian Regan following his collapse on the pitch at McGovern Park on 29 September while playing for Kilburn Gaels.
Kelly, though, is keen to leave the door open for the experienced and long-serving London full back, to have some involvement.
“Brian’s going to be very hard to replace; he’s the team’s leader,” said Kelly.
“Hopefully he’ll be there to support us. And if all is going well may be come in during the year, get involved with us and be in and around the lads again. That would be great.”
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