By Damian Dolan
London’s hurlers have been told to play Saturday’s Christy Ring Cup final against Kildare (throw in 2pm) as if it’s their last game by Exiles manager Fergus McMahon.
McMahon was at the peak of his playing powers as a player when he suffered a serious knee injury in London’s 2009 Nicky Rackard Cup final defeat his native Meath.
Not only did he fracture the top of his tibia and ruptured the meniscus – a small capsule inside the knee – but he’d torn from the bone both his hamstring and the ligament on the outside of his knee.
Told he wouldn’t be able to work again, let alone hurl, McMahon battled back over the next two years to help Ballivor reach an All-Ireland Club JFC Semi-Final and Kildalkey’s hurlers clinch a third Meath senior title in a row.
McMahon now hopes that his own painful experience at Croker in 2009 can help this generation of London hurlers to Christy Ring success.
Like your last
“I’m trying to get it through to the lads to play it [the final] like it’s your last game, because one day it will be,” McMahon told the Irish World.
“What I can take from it (2009), and what I’ve told the lads, is you go for every ball like it’s your last. And if they all do that hopefully we’ll have enough to carry us over the line.
“Leave it all on the field is the message we’ve given them the last couple of matches, and it seems to have worked.”
McMahon has been back to Croke Park several times since that fateful day, but only as a spectator. Saturday will be the first time that he’ll set foot on the pitch since suffering the injury.
When he looks back, he talks of “regrets”, but surprisingly not over the injury. On that, he’s philosophical.
“It was unlucky and could have happened to anyone. It just happened to be me,” said McMahon, who’ll be telling the players to savour the occasion.
“Instead of having good memories of the day, I have a lot of regrets that I didn’t enjoy it [the day] more.
“I was coming towards the end of my inter-county career, but I still thought I’d have a lot more days like it. Maybe I was a bit tensed up. I got my injury and that was the finish.
“It [the final] is just another game, but I’ll be telling them [the players] to enjoy it all because days like this don’t come around very often. It was 2012 that London were last involved in a Croke Park final, and that’s long time ago for hurling in London.”
McMahon, though, also knows the sweet taste of victory at Croke Park, having captained London to inaugural Nicky Rackard success in 2005, and Robert Emmetts to club championship glory two years later.
And now in his fourth year as London hurling manager, McMahon and his management team of Mick O’Dwyer and Mick Gordon are 70 minutes away from another Croker success, and emulating the county’s Christy Ring success of six years ago.
“Nothing beats the thrill of being inside the line, catching a high ball or making a pull or a block, but we love hurling and if we can do something that gets London success then we’ll do it,” he said.
Few would have predicted London’s place in Saturday final with supreme confidence, given the Exiles’ start to Division 2A – three heavy defeats to Kerry, Carlow and Meath.
But they showed signs of turning the corner against Westmeath, before beating Kildare 1-19 to 0-15 to secure their Div 2A status and condemn the Lilywhites to the drop. An interesting sub-plot to Saturday’s clash.
After winning by two points in Derry and losing at home to Derry by the same margin, the Exiles have found some real form championship of late. After thumping Armagh by 28 points, they racked up a tally of 2-28 in their semi-final win over Wicklow.
The Exiles’ curve is most definitely an upward one, with London hitting form at just the right time it seems.
“We’ve a big panel and lads are spurring each other on and everyone wants to play. Everyone wants that jersey and that’s great,” said McMahon.
“But Kildare will be tough competition and we’ll have to be in top of our game.
“They’re a really fit team, and while the [league] win was good we won’t be thinking that Saturday’s game is going to be in any way similar.
“A bit like Kildare, our goal has always been the Christy Ring. On Saturday we go head-to-head and it should be great.”
Hopefully McMahon, and London, will be left with no regrets.