By Damian Dolan
London’s Under 14 hurlers head to Mayo on Saturday for the annual Connacht Provincial Club Feile hurling competition with manager Martin Harrell wanting to emulate the success of the county’s footballers by producing a Liam Gavaghan or Killian Butler for the London senior hurling team.
It will be the first time in several years that London has fielded an Under 14 side, and a significant step for underage hurling in the county.
A former London Minor team captain, Harrell was possibly the last London-born hurler to play senior for London. But that was ten years ago and for Harrell that’s simply too long.
“That doesn’t sit right with me. There haven’t really been any steps to bring through a London-born hurler,” Harrell told the Irish World.
“I want to produce the next Liam Gavaghan in hurling. I want a panel of [London-born] lads to come through and emulate the footballers.
“I think it’s amazing what the footballers have done – bringing through the likes of Gavaghan and Killian Butler. They’re a bright light for London-born lads.”
The county’s young hurlers need their own ‘Gavaghans’ and ‘Butlers’ as role models to follow.
In 1999, Harrell captained London in the inaugural All-Ireland Minor ‘C’ final at McHale Park against Mayo, having beaten Warwickshire in the provincial final.
The team was managed by Brendan O’Connor and included Michael O’Dwyer of Kilburn Gaels, who was part of London senior management set-up last year.
With emigration into London slowing, with Australia, America and Canada all proving more popular at the moment, London is no longer the ‘hub’ for hurling overseas. Underage could be the answer, says Harrell.
The Connacht Club Feile will be played on a 13-a-side basis, with London taking on Benbulben Gaels (Sligo), Carrick Hurling Club, St Marys, (Letirim) and Roscommon Gaels (Roscommon) at Mayo’s Centre of Excellence.
Fr Murphy’s make up the majority of the panel, with 16 players, and for those boys this tour is two years in the making since Harrell restricted the underage at the club.
But this is far from a ‘Fr Murphy’s’ team – Kilburn Gaels (2) and Thomas McCurtains (2) are also represented.
“There loads of potential in this team. People have commented that it’s ten times better than the last team that travelled to Ireland – there are some brilliant individuals who are hurling really well at the moment. They’re the faces of the future,” said Harrell.
“I’ve always said to the lads ‘I want to make a county team out of you’.
The team warmed up for its trip to Connacht with a challenge match against Warwickshire at Pairc na hEireann, minus those players away at the Under 14 football Feile.
For Harrell, there’s a “bigger picture” at play – it’s about a showing the underage hurling “potential” within the county to justify the formation of an under 15 team. That would be the next step in bringing back a county structure for hurling.
“It’s not all about the ‘big ball’. Gaelic football complain they’re up against soccer and rugby, but hurling is up against soccer, rugby and Gaelic football. And one of our players is also a county cricketer,” he said.
“The main thing is making it fun, more accessible and giving hurling a higher profile than it’s getting at the moment.”
London Under 14 Panel: Michael Kenyon, Jamie Michael Murphy, Tommie Mayne-Sheehy, Killian Griffin, Jack Bennett, Cian McDonagh, Dean Jackson, Matthew Cox, Declan Mulchinock, Oliver Coupland, Luke McDermott, Thomas Carr, Callum Murphy, Jack Murphy, Niall O Connor, Niall O’Brien (all Fr Murphys), Felix Buckenham, Liam Keleghan McAndrew (both Kilburn Gaels), Daire Daly, John Paul Grannell (both Thomas McCurtains).
Management Team: Manager – Martin Harrell (Fr Murphys), Selectors – Adrian Mulchinock (Fr Murphys), Marc O Dalaigh (Thomas McCurtains).