London face must-win clash with Kildare to retain Div 2A status
By Damian Dolan
It’s ‘win or bust’ for London’s hurlers at McGovern Park (1pm) on Saturday as Fergus McMahon’s side face Kildare knowing that only victory will do if they are to retain their Division 2A status.
With both sides winless after the opening four rounds, who makes the drop to Division 2B will come down to the next 70 minutes, with the draw favouring the Lilywhites by virtue of their superior points difference.
London captain Brian Regan, who was part of the London side which won promotion to Division 2A in 2013, has called it a ‘win or bust’ game for the Exiles.
When the sides met in the league last year, Kildare came out on top by 1-21 to 2-14, but only after the Exiles had led by 11 points at the break in a game played in a strong wind. Regan is expecting another close contest.
“There wasn’t much between us last year, and since I’ve been in London every time we’ve played Kildare there’s been nothing but a puck of a ball in it,” said Regan.
“I’m sure it’ll be close enough at the weekend, but hopefully we can come out on the right side of it.”
The Exiles will go into the game buoyed by their improved performance against Division 2A pace setters Westmeath, which saw London edged out by just five points, on the back of heavy losses to Kerry, Carlow and Meath.
And it might have been even better had London not had a goal disallowed with three minutes to go, which would have levelled the scores up.
“We knew from that start that the big thing was for us to show signs of improvement with every game we played, and that was definitely our best performance of the league so far,” said Regan.
“It does take time; every year in London you’re nearly starting with a new team. It takes a bit of time for lads to get used to playing with each other, and we’re only back training since the beginning of January. Teams at home have been training since the middle of October.
“We were happy enough with the way we performed. We were disappointed to concede two soft goals straight after half-time, but we didn’t die after that. We kept going. We definitely know we’re getting better.”
Regan also believes that the extra week to prepare, due to last week’s postponements will have benefited the Exiles, allowing those who picked up knocks against Westmeath more time to recover and affording some of the new additions to the panel more time to bed in.
There were debuts against Westmeath for Cork senior hurler Killian Burke and Stephen Lohan, who has been hurling County Premier Intermediate Championship in Cork for Blarney, as well as return of a familiar face in Henry Vaughan.
“Killian has played at a very high level at home and he’s a huge addition, and Henry has plenty of experience with London. Those guys are very important players for us – they’ll be a big addition to the team,” said Regan, who takes issue with suggestions that London would be better served hurling a division lower.
“It’s important to stay up. The better class of team you play, the more you learn about yourselves,” he said.
“We would have liked to have performed better, but we’re playing against very strong teams. You’re better off playing at that standard [Div 2A] than a division below. You’ll learn more about the players you have when you’re building towards the Christy Ring.”
All of London’s 2A opponents will be competing in the new Joe McDonagh Cup, with the exception of Kildare who also hurl in the Christy Ring. The Exiles have Derry, Down and Armagh in their Christy Ring group – all of whom are in Division 2B.
“I’ve been around for a good few years and we’ve had plenty of years where we’ve had a good league campaign, and then we didn’t do anything in the championship,” Regan added.
“Guys know that we are playing at a good level. Kerry, Carlow, Westmeath and Meath were playing the Leinster Championship last year.
“They’ve got some high-profile managers and they’re training as hard as the top Liam MacCarthy teams at home.
“We knew we’d be behind on fitness and hurling at the start, but the big thing was to improve because we knew it was going to come down to the Kildare game. And that’s the way it’s panned out.
“The fact that we’ve emphasised this as the approach we’re taking, lads haven’t got too disappointed [by the losses]. It would be easy to say ‘we’re getting beat in every game and we’re not going anywhere’, but lads know that we are improving.”