Aidan McLoughlin hadn’t represented London at any level until this year, now he’s got Connacht glory in his sights
By Damian Dolan
Twelve months ago, Aidan McLoughlin was on the periphery of the London senior football team as it prepared to take on Leitrim in the biggest game in the London GAA calendar – the Connacht SFC quarter-final.
Just back from university, he’d only joined up with the panel for the first time a few weeks earlier, having received a text from manager Michael Maher inviting him to come along to a training session at Glen Rovers’ GAA ground in Watford.
McLoughlin didn’t make the match-day squad against Leitrim – he wasn’t expected to – but what he did do was “get the feel” for the day, the experience, the occasion, the match.
On Saturday, he’ll draw upon all of that as he makes his Connacht Championship debut against Sligo.
It’s been a meteoric rise for the London-born Round Towers player, who hadn’t previously represented the Exiles at any level until this year.
But it’s one the grounded 21-year-old has taken very much in his stride. Expect Saturday to be no different.
“I’m looking forward to it because I’ve never played in a game like that,” McLoughlin told the Irish World.
He started all but one of the Exiles’ league games, and even popped up with scores against Sligo and Carlow.
“I didn’t really expect to be playing as much as I am. I’ve been happy with it, but obviously not the results,” he adds.
After his introduction to the London panel that Watford afternoon, McLoughlin then “just stayed around”. A decision which has paid off.
“At the start, the pace of it was a bit too much, but the more sessions I did the more I got used to it. By the end it was going well, and I started enjoying it,” he recalled.
While playing for London has been “another level” to the club scene, it’s clearly one McLoughlin has been well able to make.
“It’s a challenge, but I like the challenge of it – playing at a higher level and testing myself,” he said.
Having been part of the extended panel for Leitrim, McLoughlin found himself elevated to the substitutes bench for the Tailteann Cup defeat to Sligo.
He didn’t get on, as London suffered a heart-breaking extra-time defeat, but it was another invaluable experience all the same.
“I think a few boys left the panel (after Leitrim) and I was lucky, I got on the Tailteann Cup squad,” he said.
“Even just training with the squad made me a lot better – training with better players and playing against them. It raised the level I was playing at, then going back to my club.”
Things have just “spiralled from there” for McLoughlin.
With a full pre-season under his belt this year, he finally got his first appearance for London in the opening round of this year’s Division 4 league, away to Wexford.
Matthew Walsh’s last-gasp goal grabbed a dramatic draw for the Exiles at Wexford Park.
It was a special occasion for the McLoughlin family. McLoughlin’s Dad, also called Aidan, was born in Roscommon but moved with his family to Wexford at a young age.
“It was mad; there was a load of my family at that game. My Nan was there and she was loving it,” says McLoughlin, whose cousin, Conor Firman, hurls for Wexford.
“They never thought I’d be playing against Wexford. I think they were all cheering for London!”
McLoughlin’s Mum, Catherine, is from Donegal and his parents haven’t missed a game this year.
“They love it!,” continued McLoughlin, who acknowledges that it was “probably a bit of a risk” for Maher to throw him in from the start.
“But I’m grateful for it and I’m thankful to be playing,” he adds.
He credits his London teammates with helping him to settle into the team so quickly.
“They’re good with me. I’ve played a lot alongside Mattie Walsh and he’s helped me. Just talking during the games and making it easier for me,” he said.
“Every game I play I get more confident.”
McLoughlin has undoubtedly taken the road less travelled by in his journey to becoming a London senior footballer.
Growing up in Wimbledon in South London, he played underage for Round Towers up until the age of 12 or 13, when he then stopped.
Rugby and soccer became his main sports for a few years, until he was reunited with GAA while at Loughborough University. He togged out occasionally for the university team, but it was more of a “social” thing.
Due to the pandemic, he ended up doing a lot of studying for his degree at home. Keen to keep fit, he went along to Towers training.
“It was a big gap (without playing Gaelic) to be fair,” reflects McLoughlin. It clearly did him no harm, though.
In 2021, he helped Towers come within seconds of reaching a first senior county final since 1999, when they led St Kiernan’s in injury-time, only for Chris Farley’s late goal to break Towers’ hearts (1-7 to 1-6).
Fresh from his first taste of being involved with London last year, McLoughlin helped Towers to another semi-final, only for Fulham Irish to this time end their title hopes (4-11 to 2-14).
Success with Towers may yet come, but that’s for another day. McLoughlin’s focus now is on Saturday and Sligo, and delivering London what would be just the county’s fourth Connacht championship victory.
It ten years since London beat Sligo and Leitrim in that sensational summer, on their way to a Connacht final and Croke Park.
Otherwise, championship wins have proven hard to come by for London – Leitrim in ’77 in Connacht, and then an All-Ireland qualifier win over Fermanagh in 2011 complete the set.
That’s leaving aside, of course, London’s three Tommy Murphy Cup wins between 2004-08.
For McLoughlin, being part of a side to add another win would be “class”, although he admits it’s not something he grew up dreaming about.
“Because I didn’t play underage football it was never really a goal, or something I thought about,” he said.
He added: “I know it’s hard to achieve. They [the management team] remind us that teams haven’t done it in the past, but we can do it.
“It was the goal this year to get a championship win, whether that’s in Connacht or the Tailteann Cup.
“We have pretty much the same team as last year, so we definitely have the players – hopefully it will all click on the day for us.”