By Damian Dolan
Bridesmaids to Fulham Irish last year, something needed to change for Tir Chonaill Gaels, a club accustomed to winning silverware.
Indeed, Sunday’s The Irish World Senior Football Championship final (McGovern Park, 3pm) appearance will be the club’s seventh consecutively – an extraordinary record in a county where inconsistency of player strength from one year to the next is the one constant.
But last year’s loss was the club’s second county final defeat in a row and meant another trophy-less year for the Greenford outfit at senior level.
The championship and league double of 2015 was disappearing further and further in the rear-view mirror.
A success-return most clubs would settle for, but Tir Chonaill are not most clubs.
Something needed to change. Paul Coggins returned for another stint in the managerial chair and in June and July the club set about gathering silverware in earnest – the Conway and Tipperary cups, and the League Division 1 trophy.
Had they peaked too soon? Tir Chonaill Gaels forward and London captain Liam Gavaghan says it was all part of the plan, and a concerted push.
“We wanted to get that winning feeling back…..winning competitions,” Gavaghan told the Irish World.
“We went a couple of years without winning anything, so at the start of the year, when we got together, we said we wanted to target the early cup competitions. We’re now in a good place.
“When you lose a couple of county finals in a row, it only makes you hungrier to go and win it again.
“They don’t come around often, so every county title counts. You can go years without winning one, so when you get to a final you have to make the most of it.”
That gave them a platform on which to build and carry into the championship, and the panel is now “chomping at the bit” for Sunday’s final.
An added fillet was provided by the club’s junior team last month, when it won the junior championship title for the first time. A side Gavaghan was once part of.
So while Fulham will be aiming to make it back-to-back titles for the first time, the Gaels are eyeing a unique championship double of their own.
“If we could do a senior-junior championship double, it would be great and go down in the history books,” said Gavaghan, for whom a winner’s medal on Sunday will be his fourth at senior, nearly ten years after his first.
Part of the successful Gaels teams of 2014 and 2015, he missed out in 2012. His first senior winner’s medal came as a 17-year-old back in 2009 as the Gaels completed a three-in-a-row with victory over Neasden Gaels.
It was a Gaels team boasting names like Hughie Cunningham, Kevin McMenamin, Martin Sweeney, Paddy Callaghan, Ronan Walsh, Brian McBrearty and Stephen Boyle.
There is an undeniable sense of anticipation about Sunday’s final – with unquestionably the two best sides in London squaring up.
Throw in the events of 12 months ago, with Owen Mulligan’s winning injury-time free, and Gavaghan expects it to be another good, tight final. And it’s one the Gaels can go into with confidence in their attacking abilities.
Gavaghan has formed part of a prolific forward line this year alongside the likes of Adrian Hanlon, Killian Butler and Brian Mullin in the Gaels’ march to the final.
They hit six goals against both the Kingdom and Parnells, and four in their semi-final win over North London Shamrocks.
They found goals harder to come by against Fulham – Eoin Murray’s early penalty the only green flag of the game.
Coggins has an array of attacking options. Mark Gottsche could come back in to the side, while Ryan Elliott will be keen to make his mark after being called ashore by Coggins in the first half against Shamrocks.
The midfield will be the key battle ground and veteran Brendan Friel and Anthony McDermott, possibly supported by Mullin, will need to produce big games if they are to provide the service for that attacking forward line.
Gary McGee and Marty McCoy bring huge experience, while a big performance will be needed from full back Philip Butler to keep the in-form David Givney in check.
“They’re a big, physical team. They dominated the kick-outs against Towers and they like to get a stranglehold on the game,” said Gavaghan.
“They’ve got quality all over the pitch. They’ve got a very good forward line – six forwards who are all class footballers.
“Between midfield and the forwards they’re very dangerous and they can get scores from anywhere. They’re going to have to be watched all over the pitch. And defensively they’re very tight – they don’t give a lot away.
“They’re a better team than they were last year and they’re the county champions. But we’re looking forward to it and we’ve improved as well.”
It has all the ingredients of being a final to savour.