The day London’s footballers stunned Kerry

The day London's footballers stunned Kerry
The London junior team that defeated Kerry in 1995 at Ruislip

We look back on London’s run to the 1995 All Ireland junior football championship final, that included a very memorable Ruislip victory over Kerry

With the very future of the All Ireland junior football championship up for debate – and Scotland GAA gearing up for a robust defence when it goes before Congress next year in light of Pat Spillane’s recent comments – it seems a pertinent time to revisit the last time a side from these shores tasted ‘success’ in the competition.

It came courtesy of PJ McGinley’s well-drilled London outfit fully 25 years ago and took the form of a 2-10 to 1-12 semi-final win at Ruislip over a Kerry side boasting Denis O’Dwyer and Pa Dennehy within its ranks.

Mayo subsequently proved too strong in Castlebar in the final, but in 1995 London showed that British sides could still flex a muscle at that level.

No county from here has enjoyed a win in the competition since, although there have been near-misses.

In 2011, Lancashire got to within just four of Kildare (0-16 to 2-6), and they pushed Cork all the way in 2013 before going down by six.

The last of London’s six junior titles came in 1986 – they famously did three-in-a-row between 1969-71 – while Warwickshire, Hertfordshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire have all previously reached the final.

At February’s GAA Congress, held in Wexford, a motion put forward by the Fixture Calendar Review Taskforce of Central Council (Motion 43) would have sounded the death-nail for the competition, which was first played for in 1912.

The motion was explained as one way of “decongesting the fixtures calendar”.

But as Scotland chairperson Peter Mossey said, any such move would eliminate a competition that is the “lifeblood of Gaelic games in Britain”.

“The value of which cannot be measured in pounds shillings and pence,” he tweeted recently.

“We will lose a little bit of kudos and prestige,” Mossey told the Irish World in March. “All of the counties in Britain see the developmental value and the incentivisation value of the Junior All Ireland.”

Midas Touch

London’s juniors began 1995 searching for a first British title since 1992. Lancashire, though, were gunning for three-in-a-row and would be the team to beat.

But London had a new manager in PJ McGinley, and there was an air of optimism in the camp.

Arriving in London in 1980, McGinley was part of the Tir Chonaill Gaels team which won the Greenford club’s first senior title in 1983.

He first dipped his toe into management with his native Glencolmcille in Co Donegal, taking over the reins of its Minor team in 1987. They won the Donegal championship.

In 1988 his own playing career – he’d previously played Under 21 and Minor for Donegal – was cut short by a car crash, which left him with a severe leg injury.

Later that year he took over as manager of a Tir Chonail Gaels team which had failed to field in its last three games of that season.

The day London's footballers stunned Kerry
PJ McGinley

He’s subsequently credited with transforming the Gaels from “shoddy non-runners” to “one of the finest thoroughbreds in Gaelic football”.

Senior championships followed in 1990 and 1992, as well as coming within a whisker of beating Derry’s Lavey in the All Ireland Club SFC quarter-final.

It led to McGinley landing the London senior manager’s job in 1993. He was 33.

The ‘man with the Midas touch’ the Irish World dubbed McGinley on the eve of the Connacht quarter-final with Sligo at Ruislip.

His Exiles team gave the Yeats men a run for their money, before going down by just three points.

He added another senior title with the Gaels in 1993, before leading the Exiles into the county’s first-ever National League campaign. 1993/94 remains the team’s best-ever league campaign.

The day London's footballers stunned Kerry
London lost to Kerry in the 1991 All Ireland JFC final

After stepping down from the London senior job in 1994, following defeat to Galway, McGinley was tempted to take on the county’s junior team in 1995.

Renowned as a “methodical planner”, McGinley was brought in to see if he could take London’s juniors that “extra yard” says Stevie McLoughlin, who was London vice-captain in 1995.

Along with Paul Coggins and captain Paul Coleman, McLoughlin had amassed plenty of experience of the All Ireland junior championship.

In 1992, he was in the London side beaten 1-19 to 1-4 by Cork at Ruislip in the junior semi-final.

The previous year saw Kerry notch up a 2-14 to 0-5 victory over London at Ruislip in the All Ireland final. McLoughlin, Coggins and Coleman all featured that day.

The day London's footballers stunned Kerry
Cork defeated London in the 1992 All Ireland JFC semi-final

Things took a downward turn thereafter. In 1993, London exited the British championship at the quarter-final stage to Hertfordshire, and then in 1994 eventual winners Lancashire ended London’s interest at the semi-final stage.

Armagh-native McLoughlin and Dubliner Coleman both played in that 1994 (1-11 to 1-7) loss to Lancashire at Ruislip – a game in which Lancashire played “the best football seen in London that year” wrote Pat Griffin in his book Gaelic Hearts A History of London GAA 1896-1996.

Often the poor relationship to the London senior team, as soon as McGinley got hold of the junior reins, he immediately set about instilling a different philosophy.

“There was a seriousness about that team and a fierce appetite – there was a real feeling that we could reach an All Ireland final that year,” said McLoughlin.

“McGinley was a manager who liked to prepare – his preparation was detailed. That’s why he was so successful.”

Strongest

London began their assault to win back the British title with a facile 3-18 to 0-6 first round victory over Yorkshire in Ruislip.

London’s “powerful” Kerry Gaels forward Ger O’Shea accounted for two of those goals in a personal tally of 2-3, with substitute Jamie Coffey of Holloway Gaels claiming the home side’s other major.

So impressive was London’s win over Yorkshire that the Irish World’s match report proclaimed this to be “one of the strongest junior sides to represent London in recent years”.

The day London's footballers stunned Kerry

Yorkshire were first to strike, but their challenge was effectively put to bed by the 16th minute, thanks to a string of points from O’Shea (2), Paul Coggins (2), captain Paul Coleman, Pat McNamee (part of the famous McNamee family from Offaly) and Timmy Corkery. London led 0-7 to 0-1.

John Mitchel’s man McLoughlin dominated midfield. Indeed, his partnership with Coleman had the “potential to develop into a very beautiful relationship”.

Yorkshire actually managed to fight their way back to 0-10 to 0-5 early in the second half, but a goal-double from O’Shea in the 35th and 40th minutes killed off any lingering hopes the visitors might have had.

Elsewhere, holders Lancashire got their three-in-a-row bid off to a winning start with victory over Gloucestershire in Birmingham.

Massacre

London’s victory set up a 4 June semi-final meeting with Hertfordshire at Ruislip. Hertfordshire had received a bye in Round 1.

What happened next was described as a “massacre” by the Irish World’s report, as the visitors were ruthlessly put to the sword, 4-13 to 1-2. Only two years earlier, Hertfordshire had knocked London out.

But so dominant were London in brushing aside the challenge of Hertfordshire, that McGinley left Ruislip “no wiser than he entered” as to the true strength of his team.

Lancashire awaited in the final two weeks later and McGinley still didn’t know just how good his team was, so one-sided had their two victories been.

The day London's footballers stunned Kerry

Their stamina wasn’t up for question, but what remained unknown, was how they’d respond against an opponent who stood up to them, as Lancashire surely would, and refused “to roll over and play dead”.

The Irish World went as far as to describe London’s passage to the final as “unnerving”.

The Desmond’s Roscommon-native Paul Coggins – who’d go on to manage London’s senior team to a Connacht final in 2013 – set the ball rolling in the seventh minute when he “slammed” home the first of London’s four goals.

The “stylish” Timmy Corkery sent the ball “crashing to the net off the underside of the bar” in the 27th minute for London’s second goal.

The home side held a 2-8 to 0-1 lead at the break and could begin looking forward to a semi-final.

The day London's footballers stunned Kerry

The second half was just seven minutes old when Corkery added his second goal – “a sweet angled drive to the net”.

Liam Tierney found the net for Hertfordshire, but Coggins completed the goalscoring eight minutes from time with London’s fourth, and his second, of the game. Coggins finished with 2-2 and Corkery 1-3.

It sounded the “death knell to what was a very flat party”. Hertfordshire were “simply out of their death”.

London knew a “much tougher test” awaited them against holders Lancashire at Pairc na hEireann on their “pilgrimage to glory”.

Unbelievable

It was in Birmingham that London’s All Ireland dream very nearly came to an end, but for the most extraordinary, and unlikely, of comebacks.

With just six minutes remaining, McGinley’s side trailed by eight points, and Lancashire had one hand on the coveted three-in-a-row, before “their house crumbled dramatically”.

Points from London half backs Mark Sullivan and Justin Sharvin “seemed to offer little more than consolation” with London still trailing by six points, just and two minutes to go.

But in the 58th minute the Lancashire defence went “AWOL” to allow Holloway Gaels’ Jamie Coffey to “crack a spectacular half volley” past Lancashire ‘keeper Declan O’Boyle.

It seemed “unthinkable that London could salvage a result from the wreckage of this final”, but Lancashire nerves were frayed to breaking point in those last 90 seconds.

They couldn’t hold out. When Paul Coggins managed to get a shot away, the ball took a wicked deflection, before falling invitingly into the path of Ger O’Shea, who “cracked it to the net from close range”.

The day London's footballers stunned Kerry

“I fielded it, turned and buried it,” recalled O’Shea, who was in his first year with London’s juniors.

“We never got out of the blocks in that game. We were sleeping and by the time we woke up the game was nearly gone. But we had a good team, we were fit and we pulled it out of the bag.”

Referee John Hedigan’s final whistle was a “mercy” sound for the men from Lancashire, as the “initiative had definitely swung London’s way”. It was, as McLoughlin calls it, an “unbelievable comeback”.

The final score, 3-8 a piece, meant a replay two weeks later. Pairc na hEireann was once again the venue.

While Lancashire left the field “clutching a draw that smelt of defeat”, London “scurried back to their dressing room reprieved men”. The moods of the two teams that Saturday evening “could not have been starker”.

The day London's footballers stunned Kerry

A replay was a bitter pill to swallow for Lancashire, who’d “played superbly for 54 minutes”.

They would rue seven first half wides, but still led by 1-6 to 1-12 at the internal. London’s goal coming virtue of a penalty from captain Paul Coleman of Shannon Rovers.

An overworked McGinley carried out some urgent “running repairs” at half-time, like a trainer trying to revive their boxer in between rounds.

With nine minutes remaining, Lancashire led 1-8 to 1-6. Then came the “goal rush”; Aidan O’Hagan fisted to the net followed three minutes later by Dessie Morris slipping the ball past George Roche in the London goal.

It should have been enough to see Lancashire to victory, but a London side being asked the first serious question of its character came up with the answer.

Overwhelming

London took full advantage of their second bite at the cherry, “overwhelming” Lancashire by 1-16 to 0-8 in Birmingham in the replayed British final.

“We hammered them from start to finish” says O’Shea.

While London headed back down the M40 with the provincial championship trophy, Lancashire were left to rue their first game “wobbles”.

London returned to Pairc na hEireann “hungry to prove that they were as good a side as the whispers suggested” in the early rounds.

The only surprise was the “ease” of their victory, against a Lancashire side which left “huge scelps of desire” and its “good form” of the first game, behind them.

The day London's footballers stunned Kerry
London captain Paul Coleman accepts the provincial junior football championship trophy

By half-time, despite playing into a stiff breeze, London led 0-6 to 0-5 and had “already broken the suspect resolve of the champions”.

Carlow-native Paul Sheehy (St Brendan’s), Meath-native Martin Mockler (Kerry Gaels), Ciaran Byrne (St Brendan’s) were outstanding in the London full back line.

Shannon Rovers’ Justin Sharvin had another “excellent” game at centre half back, while Paul Coleman and the “inspirational” Stevie McLoughlin took a grip of midfield – a stranglehold they never relinquished.

Only once in the 60 plus minutes did Lancashire manage to get their noses in front, and that in the 2nd minute.

London led 0-4 to 0-2 after 18 minutes with three of their scores coming from Coleman – two frees and one from play.

The day London's footballers stunned Kerry

Coleman’s accuracy into the wind in the first half “touched perfection” – high praise indeed from the Irish World’s Michael Clifford.

“Paul was an excellent captain; we called him ‘cooler’ because he was that cool, and he could really hit a dead ball,” said McLoughlin.

Only a good save by Tony Fearon in the Lancashire goal denied London’s Mickey Byrne – a Dubliner who played for Shannon Rovers – a goal.

London’s two-point half-time lead was extended by the “flying” man of the match Paul Coggins, who fired over twice inside the opening three minutes.

The day London's footballers stunned Kerry

But Lancashire clung on like champions, and after 42 minutes the London lead was only three points (0-9 to 0-6).

Timmy Corkery then took centre stage, adding points in the 43rd and 47th minutes – either side of two “beautifully converted” Coleman 45s.

With nine minutes to go, London led 0-14 to 0-6. There would be no miracle Lancashire comeback, to rival London’s from two weeks prior.

Quite the opposite in fact; Coggins went on a mazy run before the ball found its way to Pat McNamee of Robert Emmetts, who slipped it to the back of the net. McGinley’s men cantered home from there.

Prized

London’s first British title since 1992 set up a date with the Munster champions, and the reigning junior All Ireland holders, Kerry.

But London would have to face them without O’Shea – one of several Kerry natives on the team. The others included Timmy Corkery (Neasden Gaels), Mark Sullivan (Kerry Gaels) and Eoin Joy (Neasden Gaels).

O’Shea had broken his foot at work following the replay win over Lancashire.

“It was absolutely gutting. I tried to convince McGinley that it [his foot] was almost right, but it wasn’t really,” he said.

Kerry had overcome Cork in the Munster final in Killarney on 5 July by 1-21 to 0-19. The All Ireland semi-final was set for just three days later (8 July) in Ruislip.

McLoughlin remembers the “unbelievable excitement” which accompanied the lead up to the game.

Kerry had had little trouble seeing off Galway in the previous year’s All Ireland junior final (0-15 to 0-4), and they’d had 16 points to spare in beating London in the 1991 decider.

The task before McGinley’s men was therefore a very sizable one indeed, against a Kerry side containing Denis O’Dwyer and Pa Dennehy.

London 2-10 v 1-12 Kerry
All Ireland Junior Football Championship Semi-Final
8 July 1995, Ruislip

LONDON: Michael O’Connor; Ciaran Byrne, Martin Mockler, Paul Sheehy; Mark Sullivan, Justin Sharvin, Colm Murphy; Stevie McLoughlin, Paul Coleman; Mickey Byrne, Pat McNamee, Stephen Matthews; Timmy Corkery, Jamie Coffey, Paul Coggins. Subs: Eoin Joy for Matthews.

KERRY: Liam Sullivan; Seamus McIntyre, Eamonn Kennedy, Liam Harty; Brendan O’Brien, Gary McGrath, Fergal O’Shea; Stephen Dowling, John O’Connell; Denis O’Dwyer, Pa Dennehy, Liam Weir; Eamon Hennessy, John Quirke, Michael Fitzpatrick. Subs: Michael

Referee: Michael McGrath (Donegal).

In 1995, O’Dwyer was a rising star and captain of the Kerry Under 21s. He won Under 21 All Irelands in 1995 and 1996.

Quickly elevated to Kerry’s senior ranks, the Waterville man went on to win four senior Munster championship medals, two All Irelands (1997 and 2000), and a National League medal.

Dennehy had played senior for Kerry between 1989-1993. He played in three Munster finals, winning one, and in Kerry’s 1991 All Ireland semi-final defeat to Down.

Any victory over a football team from Kerry is a prized one, and London’s 2-10 to 1-12 win that Saturday evening was exactly that.

Even more so given they trailed by five points at one stage in the second half. But they refused to be intimidated, and maintained their “shape and composure at all times”.

Kerry, for all their skill and ability, never bargained for the “tenacity” of the home side. London just “clicked on the day” says McLoughlin. “We were outstanding”.

The day London's footballers stunned Kerry

Despite playing into the wind, London had the ball in the back of the Kerry net as early as the 2nd minute.

Mark Sullivan broke out of defence and set up Jamie Coffey, who beat his man and planted the ball to the net.

Paul Coggins added a point and London were astonishingly four points to the good.

After a succession of early wides, John O’Connell, Eamon Hennessy, Denis O’Dwyer and Michael Fitzpatrick (2) all found the target for the visitors.

Kerry were slowly beginning to dominate, winning more possession, with John O’Connell and Liam Weir increasingly prominent.

The following year, O’Connell would play a part in Kerry’s Munster title win.

John Quirke shot wide when the net beckoned, but the away side still took a 0-8 to 1-3 lead into half-time. London’s other first half scores came from Paul Coleman and Pat McNamee.

Just as in the first half, London started the second period the brighter and early points from Down-native Justin Sharvin (Shannon Rovers) and McLoughlin had the home side level (0-8 to 1-5).

Surge

It was now Kerry made their “surge for victory”. Eamon Hennessy pointed and then Liam Weir cut through the London defence for an “excellent goal”. Weir added a point and the signs were looking ominous.

With 12 minutes to go, Kerry led 1-11 to 1-6.

Timmy Corkery pulled one back, before Jamie Coffey, with the “pace of Jonah Lomu and the footwork of a ballet dancer”, despatched the ball to the Kerry net. Corkery pointed and the game was all square coming down the home straight.

The “impressive” O’Dwyer edged Kerry back in front, but the “lethal” Corkery was now in “his element”, swarming forward.

A former Kerry Minor (he made three appearances in 1989) from Laune Rangers, Corkery struck twice and London led with just minutes to go. Kerry were ultimately undone by one of their own.

Kerry “threw everything forward” and in the dying moments London’s Kerry Gaels goalkeeper Michael O’Connor came up with a crucial interception.

Shocked

Almost immediately, Donegal referee Mick McGrath called for the ball. It was all over, London had “shocked” Kerry.

“Timmy Corkery was an outstanding footballer….he was our standout player that year,” said McLoughlin.

The Kerry county board secretary Seán Kelly, now a Member of the European Parliament, had travelled with the team to Ruislip.

“I remember him making a speech afterwards in the clubhouse and he was very magnanimous. He said London were the better team on the day and deserved the victory,” recalls McLoughlin.

“There was great buzz afterwards – we knew we were going to an All Ireland.”

In his match report for the Irish World, Pat Griffin heralded a “superb” performance from a “very determined and hungry London side”, elevated by some “exceptional individual contributions”.

Madness

London were back in the All Ireland junior final and chasing a first title since 1986, when they beat Cork. Defeats in the finals of 1991 (vs Kerry) and 1988 (vs Meath) had followed.

Their opponents, Mayo, were searching for a first junior All Ireland since 1957, having overcome Meath in their semi-final.

The 1995 All Ireland junior final was set for McHale Park, Castlebar, on 29 July,

O’Shea’s broken foot had healed sufficiently for him to be named on the bench, although he hadn’t been able to train properly.

“There was great optimism going across and we went into the game with great confidence,” said McLoughlin.

Mayo would ultimately prove a step too far, winning 3-9 to 0-10, but McGinley’s men “more than matched the men from the west”.

London played with “great dash and the composure of veterans” noted the Irish World’s report. Mayo, though, were “far superior” when it came to scoring.

Mayo 3-9 v 0-10 London
All Ireland Junior Football Championship Final
29 July 1995
McHale Park, Castlebar

MAYO: N O’Brien; S Grealish, K Byrne, B Heneghan; P Toohy, G McNicholas, D O’Loughlin (0-1); P McNamara, J Hession; G Butler (0-1), M Butler, O Walsh; B Fitzpatrick (1-5), V Keane (0-1), D Nestor (1-0). Subs: J Cummins (1-0) for M Butler, D Jennings for O Walsh.

LONDON: M O’Connor (Kerry Gaels); C Byrne (St Brendan’s), M Mockler (Kerry Gaels), P Sheehy (St Brendan’s); C Murphy (Robert Emmetts), J Sharvin (Shannon Rovers), G Barrett (Desmonds); S McLoughlin (John Mitchel’s), P Coleman (Shannon Rovers) (0-4); T Corkery (Neasden Gaels) (0-2), P McNamee (Robert Emmetts) (0-1), M Byrne (Shannon Rovers); E Joy (Neasden Gaels) (0-2), J Coffey (Holloway Gaels), P Coggins (Desmonds) (0-1). Subs: G O’Shea (Kerry Gaels) for Joy.

REFEREE: M O’Sullivan (Kerry).

An hour before throw in, McHale parked looked “resplendent”. But then the rain came and turned the pitch into a “skid pan much to London’s cost”.

“The rainstorm was unreal – it came out of nowhere. It worked against us,” said McLoughlin.

“The game started in perfect conditions and we were right in it, but we lost our way in that storm.”

After 25 minutes the sides were locked at 0-4 a piece. Disaster then struck when Mayo swept up field and Brendan Fitzpatrick finished to the net. Worse was to follow as David Nestor added a second goal soon after.

The day London's footballers stunned Kerry

Nestor would go on to bigger things. The following year he was playing in Mayo’s All Ireland final defeat to Meath. In 1997, he was in the Mayo team beaten by Kerry in the final.

He did, though, win a National League with Mayo in 2000/01. They’d have to wait until 2019 to win another.

Nestor ended 1995 as Mayo Sports Star of the Year, having won a junior All Ireland, a Connacht U21 title and being runner up in the All Ireland U21 final.

Some careless defending had seen London ship two goals in as many minutes, and left McGinley’s men with a mountain to climb. The Irish World called it “two minutes of madness”.

But as they’d proven already on this journey, this was a team of battlers, and ten minutes into the second half London had clawed their way back to within a point, and were now on top.

The day London's footballers stunned Kerry

London, though, would pay the price for not turning an abundance of chances into scores – Coggins spurned an opportunity of a goal with the Mayo ‘keeper quick off his line to block – and a rare escape out of defence by Mayo ended with Fitzpatrick pointing.

Fitzpatrick’s score allowed Mayo to regain the initiative.

With London committed to attack, an unmarked John Cummins added Mayo’s third goal in injury-time. The final scoreline was “scant justice to London’s fine effort”.

Man-for-man, London had “matched the Mayomen in every aspect of the game” said the Irish World.

Those who had made the trip to cheer on McGinley’s men, were “proud to be associated with the Exiles”.

Credit

Looking back on ‘95, O’Shea is full of praise for McGinley. “He deserves a huge amount of credit. He had a great way about him and he got everyone to buy in,” says O’Shea.

“He got the best players together that he could, and then he trained the living daylights out of us.

“Coggins would be doing press ups and McGinley would walk around and step on his fingers!

“It was a great run,” concludes O’Shea. “But I can’t believe no one else has won a game in 25 years!”

O’Shea went on to win another British title in 2000, only this time with Hertfordshire. It ended the county’s 26-year wait for a provincial championship.

The day London's footballers stunned Kerry

By 1996, McLoughlin had swapped John Mitchel’s for Tir Chonaill Gaels, as had Mickey Byrne, Paul Coleman and Paul Coggins. Together they helped the Greenford club add senior titles in 1996, 1997 and 1998.

“1995 was a great summer for London football; unfortunately we just couldn’t get over the line,” McLoughlin concludes.

“We were disappointed, but it was a great opportunity for us to play in an All Ireland final.”

So close to achieving something special that Castlebar afternoon, it would be another ten years before London were again crowned champions of Britain.

An All Ireland ‘win’ has been even harder to come by – London’s 1995 semi-final win over Kerry remains the last by a British team.


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