By Damian Dolan
Liam Gavaghan is well used to the big occasion by now, but even for a player of his experience Sunday is a very special day.
Senior county final day always is, especially if you’re wearing the red and white of Tir Chonaill Gaels.
The Greenford club has a proud tradition of winning senior titles, since making its breakthrough in 1983.
The intervening years have seen the Gaels develop an insatiable appetite for silverware – last year’s success was senior title number 17.
Gavaghan is well immersed in that ethos having come through the club’s underage.
His won the first of his four senior title medals as a 17-year-old back in 2009, as the Gaels completed a three-in-a-row.
Having missed out in 2012, he was then part of the club’s back-to-back winning team of 2014 and 2015.
For Gavaghan, it’s the “challenge” that drives the club on – to keep accepting the gauntlet thrown down by rivals, both new and old.
“Getting to county finals and winning them really drives the team on,” Gavaghan told the Irish World.
“Year after year you get different challenges, different clubs coming up against you.”
TCG keep meeting those challenges – Sunday will be the club’s eighth consecutive senior county final appearance. In a town as fluctuating as London, it’s some achievement.
The key for Gavaghan has been keeping a “core” panel together, augmented by homegrown English-born players like himself. Aidan McGarvey and Liam Gallagher the latest off the Greenford conveyor belt.
Some of the faces may have changed, but TCG are still embarked on the same journey says Gavaghan.
“We’ve been able to do that over the last eight years, and then we’ve had English-born lads coming in and stepping up and that’s really helped us,” he said.
“Year after year you keep making county finals and you get hungrier for success.”
Nothing new about opponents Fulham Irish – Sunday will be TCG vs Fulham ‘Part III’.
Their previous final meetings have been close, very close, and Gavaghan is expecting nothing different on Sunday.
“Fulham are never beaten, they’re just that type of team. They’ll always come at you,” he said.
“They’ve been together four or five years now, and you can’t beat that. You saw it against Neasden – that togetherness shone through in the second half.”
Last year, Fulham had the Indian sign over TCG leading up to the championship final. Their roles have been reversed this time – the Gaels winning the sides’ league and Conway Cup meetings.
Those wins will count for nothing on Sunday says Gavaghan, who isn’t feeling the weight of any extra responsibly following the departures of the likes of Mark Gottsche and Eoin Murray, and the absence of Killian Butler.
“As a squad, everyone’s stepped up and worked harder,” said Gavaghan.
This crop of TCG players is very much a team – a well-oiled machine built in the image of its manager, Paul Coggins.
Since returning to take over the reins last year, the Gaels have won six trophies out of six.
And as well as Sunday’s county final, they have a Division 1 decider to come against Neasden Gaels. Back-to-back quadruples remains on.
“The way he (Paul Coggins) motivates and the energy he has around the place, his work-ethic and drive rubs off on the players, and they work harder,” said Gavaghan.
“Paul’s all about the team collective, working hard and everyone wanting the same outcome, success.”
Coggins has assembled a well drilled unit. Testimony to the hard work put in on the training ground in Greenford.
“That doesn’t come overnight; it’s comes from two years of working together,” said Gavaghan.
Their passage to the final has been efficient, rather than spectacular. North Shamrocks’ first half performance got them focused in Round 1, before a rare Philip Butler goal saw normal service resumed.
Neasden Gaels – the only team to beat TCG this year in the sides’ league meeting – gave them a thorough examination in Round 2, before both sides had to settle for a draw.
Brendan McGarvey with 2-4 (4f) and Matt Moynihan’s two points very nearly winning it for TCG.
After a walkover from Parnells, a “professional performance” against St Kiernans sent them into the final – goalscorer Dermot McWilliams and London-born Liam Gallagher catching the eye.
The reward for the victors on Sunday is a Connacht Club SFC quarter-final at McGovern Park on 2/3 November.
TCG took the county’s first steps in the competition last year, and came close to shocking Roscommon champions Clann nan Gael.
“A London club isn’t a million miles away – this year the game is in Ruislip and that’s an added incentive. You can make it (McGovern Park) a bit of a fortress,” said Gavaghan.
It’s an experience that’s whetted the appetite, but they have a senior final to win first, of course. To take anything for granted just isn’t the TCG way.