Home Sport GAA A rivalry renewed, but not for the faint-hearted

A rivalry renewed, but not for the faint-hearted

A rivalry renewed but not for the faint hearted

By Damian Dolan

Sunday will see a rivalry renewed at McGovern Park as London and Warwickshire’s hurlers go head-to-head in a competitive fixture for the first time in 15 years.

A long wait that should have come to an end last weekend, with the sides due to meet in their dead-rubber Round 5 fixture at Ruislip – only for the Midlanders to hand London a walkover at the eleventh hour.

So next Sunday it is then, for London and Warwickshire to renew their long-standing rivalry. It promises to be some occasion, and has the potential to be a cracker, with Division 2B survival on the line.

While championship is the ultimate goal for both managers – both know the detriment dropping down a division could have on hurling within their respective counties.

For both, victory could also be the springboard they need to take into the Christy Ring and Nicky Rackard respectively.

It’s a clash unlikely to raise too many inquisitive glances from across the water – except perhaps from former players and members with a vested interest.

A rivalry renewed but not for the faint hearted
The London hurling team. Photo: Larry Cooney

Otherwise, this is very much a private matter – a British GAA hurling affair.

Up until the sides’ 2005 Nicky Rackard Cup meeting at Ruislip, Warwickshire competed against London’s second team in the provincial championship.

The last time the sides met in junior provincial final, in 2004, London won 1-14 to 0-5 with a team including two of the following year’s Nicky Rackard stars – Seanie Quinn and John McGaughan.

Warwickshire claimed three junior All Irelands in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and London five (between 1938 and 1963).

Provincial inter-county club meetings have helped to keep the fire burning. The likes of John Mitchels and Sean McDermotts and St Finbarrs going hammer and tongs down the decades with St Gabriel’s, Brian Boru and Desmonds, and more recently with London’s intermediate champions – Fr Murphy’s, Cu Chulainns, Fulham Irish, Brothers Pearse and Thomas McCurtains.

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Birmingham’s John Mitchels once even played in the league in London.

A rivalry renewed but not for the faint hearted
The Warwickshire hurling team. Photo: Larry Cooney

London manager Kevin McMullan and his Warwickshire counterpart, Chris Brough, both played in that 2005 Rackard Cup Round 3 meeting at Ruislip on 9 July 2005.

So too did Warwickshire selector John Gardiner.

London came out on top by 1-23 to 1-6 on their way to winning the inaugural Rackard competition.

But with London already guaranteed a quarter-final place, and Warwickshire already eliminated, the game failed to live up to its “gladiatorial” Battle of Britain billing.

Sunday’s play-off will not be lacking in that department, and London will be wary.

Twelve months ago, Warwickshire ended up on the end of a 16-point beating from Donegal, only to turn the tables on them six days later in the sides’ relegation play-off. Warwickshire won by two points.

A rivalry renewed but not for the faint hearted
The last time the sides met in a competitive game was in 2005 in the Nicky Rackard Cup. Credit: The Irish World

“They say lightening doesn’t strike twice, but it could do this time,” says Brough told the Irish World.

“It’s a straight shoot-out for relegation, so it should be an interesting game.”

Warwickshire will “give it their all on Sunday” adds Brough, who mutes that going down might even “suit them”.

But as Donegal know all too well, Warwickshire have a “dogged determination” within them to defy the odds.

“It always suits us to be the underdogs,” added Brough, who came up through the underage in Warwickshire and knows and understands the rivalry.

There’s always been that “extra little incentive” to put one over London.

There from the very beginning, he recalls playing Mayo in a challenge match the year before the Nicky Rackard, and was part of the team which recorded the county’s first Rackard win in 2006 – a 1-11 to 0-9 victory over Monaghan at Pairc na hEireann.

A rivalry renewed but not for the faint hearted
John Gardiner, John O’Shea and Chris Brough. Photo: Larry Cooney

It was Warwickshire side dominated by Birmingham’s John Mitchels – Tony Joyce scored the ‘most famous goal in the county’s history’ – and included Brough’s brother Seamus, who is still playing.

“I try and give the lads an understanding of where Warwickshire hurling has come from,” he says.

“Yes, the rivalry is there, we want to beat London and it will be a great occasion, but we are still developing, very much like London are.”

Brough admits it’s “no surprise” that they find themselves in another relegation battle.

“It was a tough campaign last year in Div2B and we expected the same this year with a weaker team,” he said.

Half forward Niall Kennedy, half back Peader Scally and corner back Kieran Meeney were among those to move on from 2019.

A rivalry renewed but not for the faint hearted
London hurling manager Kevin McMullan. Photo: Sheila Fernandes

London will curse the elements as well as player turnover. But for the former they might not even be in Sunday’s play-off.

Having trailed Derry by 14 points only to close that gap to just three before time ran out, McMullan’s charges travelled to Roscommon in upbeat mood.

But there to greet them was a gale force wind. The Rossies got a lead and clung on to it. Oh, how London wanted a still, calm day.

Roscommon can perhaps count themselves as fortune that they had both London and Warwickshire at Dr Hyde Park.

London’s subsequent 16-point defeat to Down last time out was an “eye-opener”.

McMullan has already laid down the law to his players telling them that some of them won’t be part of his Christy Ring plans. He’s already begun to look to strengthen.


Sunday could therefore be the last chance for some to stake a claim to remain on board.

McMullan has already gone on record, calling Sunday’s game “massive” and promising that London won’t take Warwickshire “lightly”.

The thought of being relegated for a second successive year should be all the motivation London need – that and the need to take something positive into the Christy Ring, with Down, Kildare and Roscommon all waiting to face them again.

London are not short of hurling talent – they’ve shown enough in patches. Producing it for consistent periods has been the problem.

A rivalry renewed but not for the faint hearted
London vs Derry. Photo: Sheila Fernandes

For Brough, the “overall objective” remains the Rackard – a tournament they reached the final of in 2018 and the semi-finals last year.

That’s what they’re “building towards” and that goal will be better served by remaining in Div 2B.

Sunday’s play-off is, at the very least, another precious 70 minutes of hurling. If they’re to prevail, though, they must keep 15 players on the pitch.

They’ve only finished one of their four games with a full complement of players.

Fifteen years in the making Sunday is an occasion to savour, but it won’t be for the faint-hearted.

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