By Damian Dolan
Holders Tir Chonaill Gaels go into Sunday’s semi-final with St Kiernans knowing that only their best will do, if they are to maintain the club’s proud record of reaching every senior county final since 2012.
No mean feat in a town as changeable as London, even with a thriving underage system.
After completing a clean sweep last year, Paul Coggins’ side already have the Conway and Tipperary Cups in the bag, thanks to wins over title rivals Fulham Irish and Neasden Gaels.
The only blot on the copybook this year is that two-point defeat to Neasden Gaels in Greenford in the league. It still irks one senses.
Minus Mark Gottsche, who has returned home to Galway, TCG have looked more this year to London skipper Liam Gavaghan, who has been operating more around the middle of the park.
Others have also needed to step up a bit more.
Matt Moynihan is fast becoming a rock in the side and like, Philip Butler, has this year shown his versatility to venture up field with good effect. They can both play.
Moynihan pointed twice in the draw with Neasden, and at one point looked like being the match-winner.
It was Butler’s goal which turned TCG’s Round 1 win against North London Shamrocks in his side’s favour. TCG had trailed by a point at the break, but went on to win handsomely.
Liam Gavaghan racked up 1-9 (5f) in the win over Shamrocks, with Brendan McGarvey then hitting 2-4 (4f) against Neasden Gaels in the sides’ drawn Round 2 game.
Parnells gifted TCG a walkover in Round 3, with TCG winning a coin toss between themselves and Neasden to set up Sunday’s clash with St Kiernans.
Anthony McDermott and Kevin Rafferty have also been excellent – the former as solid as ever in midfield and Kevin Rafferty linking up play superbly, and the instigator of much good work for TCG.
It will be a big test for some of the club’s homegrown players, who made the step up this year after helping the club to junior championship success in 2018. The likes of Aidan McGarvey and Liam Gallagher.
So far, though, they’ve not been found wanting.
Under Coggins, the Greenford side are exceptionally well drilled and motivated, and their thirst for silverware shows no signs of being quenched.
Last year’s title (the club’s seventeenth) also gave them a taste for the Connacht Club championship.
The gauntlet has been thrown down this year by Neasden and the Gaels and the champions are eager to accept the challenge.
But they must first overcome a St Kiernans side which is more than capable of reaching its first final since the club won its one and only senior title in 2016.
Unimpressive against Kingdom Kerry Gaels in Round 1 – they had Kenny O’Connor, Tom Waters and Michael O’Donoghue to thank for dragging them over the line – Kiernans were very good against Fulham Irish in Round 2.
Having given their opponents a 1-4 to no score head start after just five minutes, Kiernans battled back to dominate much of the remainder of the game, and having gone ahead should have won.
A late Fulham goal denied then, although O’Connor missed a last-gasp free to snatch a draw.
Vinny Sullivan’s side got the job done against Round Towers in Round 3 (0-10 to 0-8) to make sure of a semi-final place, having missed out on points difference to Towers last year.
It was a game noteworthy mainly for a wonderful save by Kiernans’ goalkeeper Dan McDonagh late on, to deny Towers’ Paul O’Donoghue what seemed a certain goal.
One of three additions from Kingdom Kerry Gaels this year, McDonagh has already proven his worth. But so too have the others – Caoimhin Carty and Marcus Mangan.
They’ve added a steel to a Kiernans side which was already rich in footballing quality.
Mangan, in particular, has become the team’s driving force and puppet master. Everything runs through him.
He was outstanding against Fulham, keeping the ball and controlling the match, particularly in the second half when Fulham could hardly get a touch.
Around him, Shane McManus and Tom Waters have developed an excellent midfield partnership.
Attacking half back Eoin Walsh, who won an U21 All-Ireland with Galway and an intermediate title with Moycullen, will ask serious defensive questions of his opposite number.
Adrian Moyles, who was captain in 2016 when the club ended its 31-year wait for a senior title, still knows how to put the ball over the bar, as both Fulham and Towers can testify.
Mark Mulholland, Waters, Peter Finn, Michael O’Donoghue, Dara Quinn and Keith Curran all remain from that title winning team. Their opponents that day? Tir Chonaill Gaels, who’d beaten them in the final 12 months earlier.
Kiernans have been a mixed bag so far in this year’s title race, but that performance against Fulham suggests they are a bit more than just dark horses. Underestimate them at your peril. TCG and Coggins are unlikely to do that of course.
This could be one for the purists.