By Damian Dolan
If the curtain does come down on London’s season at Parnell Park on Saturday against Laois, then the emergence of Joshua Obahor will undoubtedly be one of the positives to come from it.
The 23-year-old Parnells midfielder made his senior London debut off the bench at Wexford Park in January, and got some game time against Sligo in the Connacht Championship.
He has since gone on to start the Exiles’ two Tailteann Cup games against Offaly and Cavan.
Along with Round Towers’ Aidan McLoughlin, Obahor’s emergence is promise of a bright future.
Not that he’s thinking along those lines.
Laois may have stuck six goals past the Exiles when the sides met at Ruislip in the league, but Obahor is confident that they can reverse that result and keep alive their hopes of reaching the knock-out stages.
“We know we can beat them, and we think we will beat them,” he says.
“We hadn’t played a game for five weeks before we played Offaly. We improved against Cavan and put in a good performance – we showed fight.”
London lost 2-14 to 0-11 to Offaly at Glenisk O’Connor Park, before going down to Cavan at Ruislip by 0-18 to 2-6.
Had the Exiles taken one or two of the umpteen goal chances that came their way against the Breffini it could have been a lot closer, though.
“Laois is potentially our last opportunity to get a win this season and show what this London team can do,” he adds.
It’s also another chance for Obahor to show what he can do, and continue his improvement.
He marked the game against Offaly with two well-taken scores – his first at senior level. He followed it up with another fine 70 minutes against Cavan.
“I’ve been dying to get on the scoresheet,” he admits.
“I definitely think I’ve improved since the start of the year. I’ve been able to get on the ball and show that I can compete at this level.”
He added: “You don’t really know (if you can make the step up) until you get on the pitch, but I always judged it by training.
“Fitness levels at (London) training were completely different to anything I’d ever done.
“Now I’ve got up to the same levels of fitness as everyone else, I definitely feel that I can compete.”
His debut was a dramatic one; an injury-time substitute at Wexford Park in the opening round of the league, he got on just in time to see Matthew Walsh score a last-gasp equalising goal for the Exiles.
“I had no idea I was going to be coming on,” says Obahor.
“Under the lights at Wexford Park it was unlike any other game I’ve played because of the amount of people that were there.
“The game was in the balance and about a minute after I came on we got the goal. I don’t think I touched the ball, but just to get on was class.”
He’d get more minutes against Carlow at Ruislip and away to Waterford. His first start came against Laois in the final round.
He subsequently made his championship debut against Sligo in Connacht, with another cameo off the bench.
“That was another great experience. It was the biggest crowed I’ve ever played in front of at Ruislip,” he said.
Six years earlier he’d captained London’s Under 17s to victory over Warwickshire at Ruislip in the curtain-raiser to the Connacht Championship game with Leitrim. An occasion which marked the official opening of McGovern Park.
In doing so he claimed a unique place in the London GAA history books, as the first captain to lift a trophy at the new ground.
“When I was underage, I played in the matches before the big Connacht game. I’ve always been at the games, watching them from the side, so it was great to play in one,” Obahor added.
Unlike Towers’ McLaughlin, who had never represented London at any level before making his senior county debut in the same game at Wexford Park, Obahor ticked every box available to him, from Féile to juniors, to reach this point.
Growing up in Harrow and Wealdstone, he became involved with Parnells when he was ten.
One of his best friend’s dad, who coached their Sunday league soccer team, was also a coach at Parnells.
He’d also got some “exposure” to Gaelic football while at St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School in Harrow.
“The main reason I play Gaelic is because of Parnells – growing up playing with your best mates down in Northwick Park. That’s why I’ve continued playing it,” he says.
At the beginning, Obahor admits he was just “filling in for numbers” and soon found himself in goal. But that would soon change.
“I’m quite a big guy and one year one of the coaches said ‘stick him in midfield’ and I’ve played there ever since,” says Obahor, whose mum comes from Douglas in Co Cork, while his father is English-born from a Nigerian background.
“I definitely wasn’t naturally gifted, but I managed to pick up the skills and got better over the years.”
He recalls representing North London at Féile and getting to a final one year.
“I think I’ve won the ABCs (All-Britain Competition) at every age group,” he adds.
In 2017, he trained with Ciaran Deely’s London senior team for the entire year as a development player.
He’d spend the next three years at university in Nottingham, playing for Parnells as and when he could.
In 2021 he was back in London colours as part of the county’s junior team which reached an All-Britain final, only to lose out to Warwickshire in the final in a replay.
Last year, Michael Maher brought him into his London senior set-up, but with playing opportunities limited he returned to the juniors.
“I was knocking on the (senior team) door but was told to ‘go with the juniors, they’ve got a good opportunity of winning the All-Britain and Junior All-Ireland’,” he said.
But it was to prove a bitter-sweet campaign for Obahor.
Having played in all three of London’s group stage wins, he suffered a dislocated shoulder with Parnells and missed London’s semi-final and final victories over Lancashire and Warwickshire respectively.
He returned for the Junior All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kilkenny in Abbottstown, as a half-time substitute.
“I wasn’t fully recovered, but I was desperate to play,” he says.
“The pitch is the same size as Croke Park to the inch, and when you hear things like that you think ‘this is where I want to be’.
“The result wasn’t what we wanted, but it was a great experience. We went to Croke Park to watch the final (New York vs Kilkenny) but it was a hard watch.”
Consolation came in the form of winning an intermediate title with Parnells, as the club returned to senior following its relegation in 2019.
Obahor scored 1-1 in Parnells’ impressive victory over Garryowen in the final.
“We’ve come a long way in the last few seasons,” he said.
“We had to restart everything, but Parnells have had a great group of English-born lads who are my friends, and now we’ve got a team that’s mostly English-born with a few really good Irish boys.”
As many as 11 of Parnells’ starting line up against Garryowen were homegrown, with a few more on the bench.
Obahor is now “looking forward” to the “challenge” of playing against some of his current London teammates in this year’s senior championship.
Last Sunday, London’s juniors made it to a third consecutive All-Britain final and in doing so secured another crack at the All-Ireland, but the “goal” for Obahor was always to play senior.
“I wanted to make that step up and I’m really happy that Michael’s given me the opportunity,” he says.
Obahor is relishing that chance and one senses he would dearly love to extend London’s year just a little bit longer.