By Damian Dolan
Reigning Division 2 champions South London have enjoyed considerable success at Féile and this year will be aiming for a sixth win in the last eight tournaments – an unprecedented level of consistent success for a British team at the competition.
Last year, South London defeated Dublin county champions Clontarf in their Division 2 semi-final, before going on to edge out St Gabriel’s of Ballinasloe by two points in an exciting final.
The work of St Paul’s Academy, in South-East London, in developing a conveyor belt of talented players has provided the corner stone to the South London success story.
But Michael Donnelly, who has been part of South London’s management team since 2010, is keen to acknowledge the excellent partnership between three clubs; Dulwich Harps, Round Towers and Thomas McCurtains.
While there will be no representation from Round Towers this time around, with the club having provided two players to last year’s success, Thomas McCurtains have provided five “very, very good players” to the 2018 panel.
“We could not be successful without Thomas McCurtains and Round Towers – it just wouldn’t happen,” Donnelly told the Irish World.
“It takes more than St Paul’s Academy and Dulwich Harps – it takes the three clubs working together.”
Also key has been the work of the likes of Michael Maher and Martin McGrath in local primary schools, ensuring that before children arrive at St Paul’s they’ve already had “some exposure” to Gaelic football.
It serves to instil an “appetite” for the game and allow the coaches to identify talent early.
Once at St Paul’s, their Gaelic skills are developed over the next few years, as well as identifying children with transferrable skills from soccer or athletics, with experience gained in the London under 14 league with Dulwich Harps.
By the time it comes to Féile, those on the panel who’ve come through St Paul’s have been developed over a four-year cycle. It’s a formula which has worked well.
“It’s a lot of work; since February we’ve been coaching at school every Friday night religiously,” said Donnelly, who is part of a management team of Michael Donnelly, Michael Maher, Tim O’Sullivan and Sam Lingwood.
Another important component is the school’s annual trip to Ireland in May, where they’ll test themselves against some “top class teams”.
Donnelly said: “We got really hammered in a good few of those games, so they’ve had exposure to really good teams. They’ve had close up experience of marking someone who might be a county player for Tyrone.
“The tour to Ireland is massive, it’s a real carrot. It gives them something to aim towards and it’s a chance for us to develop them into better players.”
May’s trip was a reality check, from which the boys returned to win the All Britain Féile at Pairc na hEireann.
“They just got better and better that day in Birmingham, and at this stage they boys are confident in their own ability. They’ve seen themselves improve week-on-week,” said Donnelly.
“They’re excited and they now just want to get out there and play.”
And despite returning to Féile with only three of last year’s successful team, and finding themselves drawn against three very strong sides in Division 2, Group A, in Mayobridge and Warrenpoint from Co. Down and Portlaoise from Co. Laois, Donnelly is optimistic South London can again make a mark.
“I’m happy that we’ll be able to compete with the teams that we’ll be up against,” said Donnelly.
“We may not win, winning a cup or plate is not easy to do, but we’ve got a team again this year that will be able to compete with the very best and will not be found wanting.
“If you’re able to say that before you leave, you know you’re doing ok.”
South London’s Féile Peile na nÓg Record
2017: Division 2 Winners
2016: Division 3 Winners
2015: Division 3 Semi-Final
2014: Division 3 Winners
2013: Division 4 Winners
2012: Division 4 Quarter-Final
2011: Division 4 Semi-Final
2010: Division 5 Winners
2009: Division 5 Semi-Final
2008: Division 5 Finalists
2007: Division 5 Quarter-Final
South London Panel:
Jack Lavin, Kieran Williams, Kian O’Neill, Jamie Moran, Fergus O’Sullivan (all Thomas McCurtains), Oluwagbotemi Adetula, Emmanuel Ananzo-Chie, Chinedum Anienwelu, Antonio Dos Santos, Owen Eghi-Guobadia, Ryan Freitas, Joe McCormack, Tadiwanashe Nago, Michael-Emmanuel Odesanmi, Luke Ogodo, Michael Parker, Marcelo Rossi, Clinton Taiwo, Ezequiel Uwaifo and Avarni Wilcox (all Dulwich Harps).