The Irish World Senior Football Championship Semi-Final Preview
By Damian Dolan
North London Shamrocks v Tir Chonaill Gaels
Sunday 7th October
McGovern Park, Ruislip, 3:30pm
Adrian Hanlon, Mark Gottsche, Anthony McDermott and London skipper Liam Gavaghan all sat out the Gaels’ Round 3 loss to Fulham Irish, while Ryan Elliott came off the bench. All are expected to return to the starting line up on Sunday.
While Paul Coggins wouldn’t allow TCG thoughts to drift beyond the Shamrocks, the Greenford outfit’s target from the get-go this year has been to deliver the senior trophy back Tir Chonaill Park, having lost out in the last two senior finals.
The Shamrocks are the next side standing in the way of that.
The Conway and Tipperary cups are already in the TCG trophy cabinet, as is the League Division 1 trophy. But it’s the senior championship trophy they want, even more so after the recent success of the club’s juniors.
A championship-double would be a unique achievement.
Hanlon has been on fire for the Gaels in front of goal this year, while Killian Butler has looked incredibly sharp. Throw in Elliott, and they have an especially dangerous forward line.
They amassed 12 goals in their wins over Kingdom Kerry Gaels and Parnells, so it was a surprise to see them limited to just 1-5 against Fulham, and to a solitary Adam Askin strike in the second half. Conditions and absentees permitted, Fulham suffocated them in the second half.
Gottsche, Gavaghan, Askin and Eoin Murray will be expected to provide the ammunition, while behind them, Brendan Friel is still capable of winning plenty of ball.
What they also have is a tremendous strength in depth. Coggins has a galaxy of riches on the bench to choose from and the likes of John McGrath and Eoin Mageean are a case in point.
In terms of senior championship history, the contrast couldn’t be greater between the Gaels and the Shamrocks.
While the Gaels are targeting London senior title number 17, and have contested the last six finals (winning three and losing three), the Shamrocks have yet to appear in a senior final.
Four years after winning intermediate, the club has established itself at the top table. But only once in that time has it previously graced the semi-final stage, in 2016, when they went down 3-4 to 0-7 to eventual champions St Kiernans.
Cormac Coyne, Daryl Roberts, Dualtach Molloy, Eddie Kelly, Denis O’Regan and Niall Costello are among the survivors from that day.
They’ve augmented this year with some high-profile former inter-county players, in the likes of Liam Irwin, (Mayo) Eoin Culligan (Dublin), James Hynes (Sligo), Peter Witherow (Donegal), Eoin Flanagan and Gareth Ryan (both Sligo).
Shamrocks topped Group 2, but their performances suggest there’s more to come. They have the talent, it’s whether they can unleash it. Their best performance came in the Round 1 win over Towers in Greenford – Irwin, Hynes and Molloy to the fore as they pulled away to win impressively, by 1-16 to 0-7.
But they then conceded four goals to Cuchulainns, although scoring four of their own in a ten-point win, and then struggled to break down Kiernans as they suffered a two-point loss.
They’ve yet to really fire. Sunday at McGovern Park would be the ideal time and place.
An over-reliance Irwin for scores is a slight concern, but thankfully for them the two-time All-Ireland winner has produced.
However, after finding the net in the opening minute he was subsequently given little look-in by the Gaels in the sides’ Tipperary Cup final meeting. The Gaels went on to win by 2-16 to 3-7.
Enda McHugh, who has been a consistent performer for the Shamrocks all year, just as he was in 2017, scored his side’s other two goals that day.
That was in May. When the sides met in League Division 1 in July, the Gaels again came out on top, by 3-8 to 0-8.
It remains to be seen if Finbarr O’Mara will be fit to play a part after picking up leg injury in the defeat to Kiernans, which saw him stretched off the field.
The Gaels have the players and, fuelled by last year’s defeat to Fulham, the motivation. If the Shamrocks are to progress to a first-ever senior championship final, they’ll need to produce something special on Sunday.