By Damian Dolan
London are on the hunt for victories in this year’s Gaelic Masters series, says full back Damien McKenna.
London open their over 40s campaign against Galway on Saturday (5pm) at Tir Chonaill Park, Greenford, in a curtain raiser to the counties’ Connacht Championship clash 24 hours later in Ruislip.
The Masters has caught the imagination since the Exiles re-joined the tournament 2017, and it promises to be another fantastic occasion, but it’s wins that the team wants now.
McKenna was part of the London side which beat Roscommon two years ago – thanks to two late Chris Byrne points – and pushed Mayo close, but they were unable to register a victory in 2018.
“We want wins; it was great to beat Roscommon – it’s a great buzz win a game. That’s what you’re chasing,” McKenna told the Irish World.
“As much as the Masters is a good laugh and we all love the social side of it, to keep the interest and attract boys out we don’t want to be taking hammerings. It’s not just a case of getting out for a runabout.
“The fixtures haven’t been too unkind to us, except for Galway, and we should be looking at teams thinking we can nick a result.”
Galway present a tough opener for London, in what will be the sides’ first-ever meeting in the Masters.
Galway won the senior Masters competition three times between 2012-14 as well as losing to Mayo in the 2015 final. They also reached the Shield final two years ago, where they lost to Tyrone.
“They’re obviously going to be pretty handy. But we’ve loads of players, we started our fitness earlier this year and if we can get our full-strength team out we shouldn’t be too bad,” said McKenna.
London’s preparations included taking on the NYPD Gaelic Football team at Gaelic Park in New York. London won 0-11 to 0-7.
This year, Maurice Carr and Liam Brennan have both been added to the management team, and McKenna believes they’re going into the tournament “hitting the ground” running more so than in any other year.
Four of London’s six group games this year are also at home – something McKenna hopes will “stand to them”.
Of their away trips, they travel to Westmeath who dished out a 4-13 to 1-6 hammering on the Exiles in 2017 at Springfield.
London won’t be short of motivation when the sides meet again in Round 3, but some of their other opponents might offer a more realistic chance of a victory.
Cavan, who won a Shield in 2013, Clare and Kildare all make the journey to London, and the Exiles have every reason to think they can snatch a win or two.
There was only six points between Clare and London when they met last year, while Kildare only just edged out London in both 2018 (by one-point) and 2017 (by three points).
“The boys were kicking themselves after both of those games [vs Clare and Kildare in 2018]. I think we were down to 15 players travelling with boys injured and unavailable, and lads who were injured had to stay on,” said McKenna.
“We could have won them both if circumstances had been different. But both games are in London this time and we should have a far better spread of players and more options.”
Their final opponents, Down, beat Kildare in last year’s Plate final. London make the trip to Belfast in Round 6.
Saturday’s clash with Galway is sure to bring back a few Connacht Championship memories for McKenna, who lined out at full back against Galway in 2004 at Ruislip.
On a “stinker of a day” for London, the hosts were unceremoniously put to the sword, 8-14 to 0-8.
McKenna had the unenviable task of marking Pádraic Joyce. Joyce finished with 2-3 and Michael Donnellan and John Bergin 2-1 a piece.
“They got the hop on us from the word go and the goals were raining in. They killed the game off within 15 minutes,” recalled McKenna.
“It was a brilliant Galway team, they had top class players and household names in a lot of positions.
“Aside from Pádraic Joyce you had Michael Meehan and Michael Donnellan. And their midfield was just huge.”
McKenna remembers it being a “cobbled together” London team, with lads brought in who hadn’t featured in the league. McKenna being one of them.
The year before he’d been part of the Monaghan team which had stunned reigning All-Ireland champions Armagh in the preliminary round of Ulster in front of 18,629 in Clones.
London drew Dublin in the qualifiers and with morale already low were beaten 3-24 to 0-6 at Parnell Park.
“We got a point just before half-time to open our scoring and the Dublin fans were cheering,” said McKenna.
2005 would provide a better memory for McKenna as he was then part of Noel Dunning’s London team which pushed Roscommon close.
While a win on Saturday over Galway won’t wipe the events of 2004 at Ruislip from the memory, it would be a nice place to start.