By Kevin Egan
It’ll be an away fixture but a return home for two Roscommon natives this Sunday afternoon in Dr. Hyde Park at 1 p.m., as London champions Tír Chonaill Gaels try and upset the odds against Clann na nGael in the quarter-final of the Connacht Senior Club Championship.
Eleven years ago this summer, Kilbride native Anthony McDermott made his intercounty championship debut for Roscommon in the county’s 0-13 to 2-5 defeat to Sligo in that year’s provincial semi-final. This year he has been anchoring the Tír Chonaill Gaels defence, putting in some stellar performances as the club won their 16th London SFC title in the space of 35 years on Sunday last.
Tír Chonaill Gaels manager Paul Coggins will also be returning to his native county this weekend, and it’s an opportunity that he was very eager to seize once the draw was made for this year’s campaign.
“It’s a great honour for me, and I’m really looking forward to it — the people of Roscommon have always supported us,” he told the Herald on Monday (yesterday).
“I’m not sure how they’ll be on Sunday. Clann are representing the county, but I’m a Michael Glaveys clubman and hopefully there’ll be a few from that part of the world there to shout us on. On a personal level, it’s something I’ve really wanted — to bring a club from London to play in the Hyde, and I assure you the lads will do themselves proud and we’re looking forward to it immensely,” he enthused.
This is the first year that the London champions have been entered at the starting line in the Connacht championship as opposed to being parachuted straight into an All-Ireland quarter-final, and Goggins is hopeful that this will help his team make a better attempt at securing what would be the first ever victory for a London club in this competition.
“I’ve often been involved in All-Ireland quarter-finals, as a player and as a manager, after very long waits. I played one game in the middle of January and we’d won the county final in early October. For good measure you’re coming in against a provincial champion so that’s a very difficult situation.
“But this is a huge challenge too. Clann are worthy Roscommon champions and it was hugely impressive how they did it. But having played two county finals over the last two weeks will help us. It’s my job now to make sure that we use that, that we handle the travelling and that we’re 100 per cent ready, physically and mentally, for next Sunday,” he said.
“We have no serious injuries as of yet. The lads are in good spirits so we just need to focus on giving a good performance and see where that takes us,” he continued.
Unlike a lot of London teams, Tír Chonaill Gaels don’t rely exclusively on emigrants, and last Sunday they had a Man of the Match performance from Killian Butler in their replay against Fulham Irish — Butler was one of three London-born players in their starting line-up. Butler score five points from play while fellow London natives Liam Gavaghan and Ryan Elliot added 0-6 (five frees) and 0-3 respectively in their 0-15 to 0-13 win.
Butler, Elliot and Gavaghan, along with Galway native Mark Gottsche, who played at centre-forward on Sunday in Ruislip, were all part of the London county panel this year, so there will be no shortage of scoring power in the visitors’ ranks this Sunday.
A repeat of Clann’s county final form would still be enough to secure a comfortable win. But Fergal Shine’s side might find it difficult to muster up the same vim and vigour here as they did against St. Brigid’s. Consequently, a more nervous afternoon might be in store.
VERDICT: Clann na nGael (by four points).