How London’s footballers unified a county on 30 June 2013 at Dr Hyde Park to reach a first-ever Connacht final, and all inspired by a band from Burnley
No one wanted to leave the field. Meath referee Cormac Reilly had blown the final whistle some 10-15 minutes earlier, maybe even more, to signal London’s passage into a first-ever Connacht senior football championship final, but London’s players, their family members and friends, and Exiles supporters alike were in no mood to rush away from the scene of one of the county’s greatest-ever triumphs.
This truly was history in the making – words too often thrown frivolously about – and everyone wanted to bask, and share, in the moment.
The middle of Dr Hyde Park on that 30 June 2013 afternoon was awash with green and white, and scenes of joyous celebration. It had been a moment a very long time in coming.
The scoreboard operator had abandoned their post – to join in the celebrations, who knows – and left the final score in place, perhaps in case a reminder was needed that it really did happen; LONDAIN 2-11; LAITROIM 1-13.
London would play Mayo in the Connacht final on 21 July at MacHale Park, Castlebar. The Exiles’ sensational summer rolled on.
Before finally dragging themselves from the Hyde Park pitch, London’s players and management – as well as one or two larrikins who managed to sneak into the shot – came together for a memorable photo.
“They were unbelievable scenes; we had players from Derry to Kerry, and their families were all there,” recalls then London manager Paul Coggins.
“People from all over Ireland, people I hadn’t seen since school were shaking hands with me. Everyone was so happy and proud.
“I can still see Kevin Kelly’s big white head…..I think he’s still jumping there on the middle of the pitch. I don’t know how he got out on the pitch so quick.”
Then it was back to the dressing room with RTE’s cameras in tow – Chumbawamba’s song Tubthumping blasted out, and London’s victorious players sang along.
A personal favourite of manager Paul Coggins, the song had become the team’s official song.
He’d played it in those final minutes before the players left their Hyde Park dressing room to do battle, just to lighten the mood and kill some time.
Perhaps it was the lyric ‘I get knocked down, but I get up again’ that struck a chord with Coggins. Playing it again now seemed only appropriate.
So much for those who said the Exiles had missed their chance seven days earlier when they’d led Leitrim by two points with as many minutes to play in Carrick-on-Shannon, only for Barney Breen and George Dugdale’s side to force a replay.
But far from an opportunity spurned, for Coggins it showed that London had “nothing to fear”.
He’s a bit like Gary Lineker; none of the goals he scored were from outside the six-yard box, but Lineker’s one of the greatest goalscorers we now.
Victory over Sligo at Ruislip on 26 May had put the Exiles on collision course with Leitrim, who were now firmly eyeing a first Connacht final appearance since 2000.
And why not? They’d won all of their recent meetings with the Exiles, although not by much.
In April, Leitrim beat the Exiles by two points in the sides’ league meeting in Carrick – the same margin which had separated the sides in their championship quarter-final the previous year at Ruislip.
Getting the preparation right would be crucial. Two months earlier, the team had stayed in the Bush Hotel in the heart of Carrick town.
“Carrick is a great town, but it’s probably not the greatest when you’re preparing for a game, as I found out from our league visit,” says Coggins.
This time, leaving no stone unturned, Coggins preferred to base his players 13 kilometres outside of Carrick, in the picturesque small Leitrim town of Drumshanbo on the banks of Lough Allen. It was a “nice quiet area”, just what Coggins and his team wanted.
The players worked off the flight with a run out at local GAA club Allen Gaels. The mood in the camp couldn’t have been more relaxed, on the eve of London’s biggest game since the Connacht semi-final defeat to Galway in 1977.
Coggins had received a letter in the build up from one of the members of that history making London team, saying how proud the lads of ’77 were of the current team’s achievements.
“The Lough Allen Hotel was far away from everything and we could focus fully on what we were going to do. I think it made a huge difference to our preparation and our performance on the Sunday,” he said.
When the team departed their hotel for Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, they were assured of a Garda escort, thanks to a GAA loving police officer from Sligo, who clearly bore no grudge from the Exiles’ win over the Yeats men.
“He kept ringing me up constantly asking ‘when do you need me?,” recalls Coggins.
London supporters, including many ex-players from down through the decades, had travelled in force to be at the game, joined by the families and friends of the players. All in the hope of seeing history made.
The Exiles led 1-4 to 0-6 at the break thanks to Lorcan Mulvey’s goal.
Padraig McGoldrick’s ball in was miss-judged by Leitrim goalkeeper Cathal McCrann, who only succeeded in palming it onto the knee of the following up Mulvey. The ball richotched off the London forward and into the net.
Referee Barry Cassidy consulted his umpires and for a moment London supporters held their breath, but the goal stood. For Coggins, it was a “brilliant goal”.
“Mulvey’s experience told him to follow the ball because he knew something might go wrong, and his hunger got him there. It was pure anticipation,” he said.
“He’s a bit like Gary Lineker; none of the goals he scored were from outside the six-yard box, but Lineker’s one of the greatest goalscorers we now.
“To me, it was one of the greatest goals of all time.”
Both sides had been dealt an injury blow in the first half. The Exiles lost Mark Gottsche – man of the match against Sligo – after 30 minutes to a reoccurrence of a persistent groin injury, while Leitrim talisman Emlyn Mulligan lasted just 16 minutes.
Coggins had also chosen to give a championship debut to Greenford born 20-year-old Phillip Butler, who wouldn’t make his senior debut for his club side, Tir Chonaill Gaels, until later that summer.
London nearly added a second goal nine minutes into the second half as Ciaran McCallion fisted the ball into the path of Paul Geraghty, but his stabbed shot was saved by McCrainn.
Sensing legs were tiring, with Leitrim beginning to gain the upperhand in the third quarter, Coggins rang the changes. He was blessed that year with serious strength in depth.
Eoin O’Neill and Damien Dunleavy had already been summoned by Coggins, before the London boss threw Sean Kelly into the fray.
Kelly’s strike after coming off the bench against Sligo had proven to be the winner. He would again play a pivotal part.
Brendan Brennan gave Leitrim a two-point cushion, with London now in need of a moment of inspiration. Kelly provided it.
It looked for all money that the Mayo native had disappeared down the blindest of alleys, but when he emerged, having walked the tight-rope of the end-goal line and evaded two would-be Leitrim tacklers, he only had McCrann to beat.
The Cuchullainns forward duly made light of the acute angle to raise the green flag and bring an eerie silence around Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada. Except from those among the 7,698 crowd cheering for the Exiles.
“It was a brilliant piece of individualism and we really, really needed it at that time,” said Coggins.
“He was at an impossible angle when he started his run, and went to an even more impossible angle along the end-line, but somehow he managed to squeeze it past the goalie.”
He added: “Sean probably felt, no more than a lot of other players, that he could have been a starter, but we saw him as a game changer of the highest quality.”
Leitrim were rocking and Eoin O’Neill so nearly delivered the knock-out blow a minute later, only for McCrann to dive at the Tir Chonaill Gaels forward’s feet after London had opened the home side up.
Kevin Conlon’s free was cancelled out by arguably the score of the match from Kelly, and when Cathal Magee fisted over London led by two with just three minutes to go. They could almost touch the Promised Land.
But it was to be prised from their grasp as first Darren Sweeney fisted over and then Conlon levelled things up in the final minute.
Leitrim might easily have snatched it from a 45 with the penultimate kick of the game.
The hobbling Conlon, struck down with cramp just moments before, grabbed the ball and made his way to the mark, only to have to make way for Ray Cox, with Leitrim having committed to replacing their cramp ridden corner forward.
Instead, full back Ciaran Egan stepped up only to drag his 45 attempt just wide.
A moment of fortune for London right at the death – just as they’d had against Sligo when Pat Hughes hit the crossbar.
But Egan’s wide was Leitrim’s ninth of the second half – London didn’t register a single wide in the second half – and their 14th in total. London racked up just three in contrast. Maybe you make your own luck.
“Coming into the dressing room afterwards, Eoin O’Neill was very downhearted after missing what he felt was a fairly easy chance,” recalls Coggins.
“But [former Roscommon All Star] Paul Earley was in the dressing room and he said ‘it’s just half-time’.”
The replay was fixed for seven days later (30 June) at Dr Hyde Park, Roscommon. Not Ruislip.
If some felt that London, not for the first time, had been dealt the thin end of the wedge,
there were few complaints coming from Coggins and his team.
While Coggins remembers a “big commotion” surrounding the choice of venue, those inside the London camp were not in the least bit concerned.
“It didn’t bother us in the slightest – we were enjoying the camaraderie and the travelling. It was a great adventure,” he says.
Due to the short turnaround, London’s players arrived in Knock on the Saturday on three separate flights, from Stansted, Luton and Heathrow.
Before heading to their hotel (Athlone Springs Hotel), the team had lunch at the Knock Hotel and then Coggins took the players for a walk to Knock shrine to enlist some “extra help”.
While saying a few prayers, they were spotted by a priest, a Longford man, who asked ‘are you the London boys?’ When Coggins confirmed that they were he offered to say a prayer with them.
Six minutes later, the prayer was still going. Coggins had to interrupt and politely make the players’ excuses as they needed to hit the road.
“He made a point of giving medals to all the players except the goalies. He was a big GAA man and said ‘this will bring you luck’,” remembers Coggins.
They then passed by Coggins’ home club, Michael Glaveys, located just outside Ballinlough. People had come out to wish the team good luck. It was then on to Dr Hyde Park for a “run out”.
“I don’t know if we were supposed to [go onto the pitch] but fair play to the Roscommon boys, they let us on,” says Coggins, who made sure the players were aware that he’d stuck an “auld goal down there in a league final”.
In the stand was Fergal O’Donnell, who’d captained Roscommon to a Connacht title in 2001.
He grabbed Coggins for a quick word. ‘If the wind was strong the next day, play into it in the first half’, he told the London boss.
Coggins knew from his own experience of playing at Hyde Park that O’Donnell was right – the wind “nearly always” blew into the graveyard end.
It was 5pm or 6pm before the team reached its hotel. London’s date with destiny was drawing ever near.
I don’t know if Chumbawamba was the reason for that first half performance.
On the field, London’s preparations had been rocked earlier in the week by confirmation that Mark Gottsche had been ruled out. His place was taken by Damien Dunleavy. One Galway native replacing another.
The news from the Leitrim camp was that Emlyn Mulligan would play, but his heavily strapped calf raised doubts about his fitness.
Coggins was struck by how relaxed the players were in the build-up, but now in the dressing room with time ticking down there was an underlying tension.
They were ready, but with a few minutes to fill before taking the field, Coggins decided to play some music.
Reaching for his phone he said “boys, I’ll put on one of my favourite tunes”. It was Tubthumping by Chumbawamba.
“It was tense enough because we were ready, we’d said everything, but we were being held back. So I just said ‘I’ll put on this song’. It lifted the tension.
“I don’t know if Chumbawamba was the reason for that first half performance.”
Captain Seamus Hannon won the toss and just as they’d discussed, London chose to play with the wind, which as expected was blowing towards the graveyard end.
What followed one was of the most impressive first half performances by any London team, as they proceeded to tear Leitrim to pieces.
Mulligan lasted two minutes less than he had in Carrick, but by that stage the Exiles had already stamped their authority on the game, leading 0-5 to 0-1.
A fourth point from Mulvey and another absolute gem from Neasden Gaels’ Tony Gaughan stretched the lead and had London’s supporters among the 5,217 crowd rubbing their eyes in disbelief.
“We’d decided not to take the ball into the tackle at all – it was give and go, give and go. We were looking up and giving early ball. We didn’t solo at all in defence – it was all about really fast play,” said Coggins.
“We knew what we were going to do and how we were going to go about our business.”
The Exiles’ dream start got even better in the 23rd minute. Caolon Doyle won Cathal McCrann’s kick out and London moved the ball swiftly through the hands, before O’Neill played in Greg Crowley to coolly slot it into the corner of the net.
If London were in dreamland, Leitrim were in the midst of a nightmare. Everywhere they turned there were two or three London players hunting them down in packs.
“We were destroying them everywhere; they couldn’t get past us. Our midfield was winning every battle. We were flying,” said Coggins. “Dunleavy was running the show from centre forward.”
Ciaran McCallion, Eoin O’Neill and Cathal Magee extended the Exiles’ lead, with London able to score almost at will.
A minute before half-time they produced a goal which would have graced any stage.
Typifying London’s work-rate in defence, Shane Mulligan won possession back, before calmly finding Seamus Hannon.
The London captain fed Damien Dunleavy and unmolested continued his run. Dunleavy duly picked him out.
In behind Leitrim lines, and bearing down on McCrann’s goal, Hannon unselfishly fed McCallion and he provided the finish the move deserved. London led 2-10 to 0-1.
“They were both super goals and had nothing to do with the wind,” says Coggins.
The last word of the half, though, went to Leitrim, and it was a defiant word at that, as Robbie Lowe crashed the ball off the London crossbar, and over. Leitrim were far from done.
At half-time, London found themselves in an “unbelievable position”, leading by 2-10 to 0-2.
“What had happened was beyond belief. Our performance was unbelievable. We didn’t give them a second,” says Coggins.
But it also presented him with a “difficult” team talk. What do you say when you’re winning by 14 points?
“The dressing room walls in Hyde Park are like wallpaper, so you can hear everything,” recalls Coggins.
“They were completely and utterly shell-shocked and they got some doing [from their management]. They absolutely hit the roof.
“We came out of the dressing room early because it wasn’t good for us.”
But it wasn’t all going London’s way. Seamus Hannon picked up a shoulder injury and was replaced by Eamonn McConville. Hannon would be a “big loss”.
London’s think-tank of Coggins, Kevin Downes and Tony Murphy made the decision to drop a forward back into a sweeper role. Greg Crowley was the man tasked with the job.
“We went against our normal play – it was a complete change from what we’d played in the first half. But we thought ‘if we don’t concede goals, we’re going to hold them’,” said Coggins.
In the first half, London had been “in their faces”. Coggins wonders now whether they should have continued to do that for the first ten minutes of the second half.
In the end, it worked out. But only just.
“I’m fine with it because we won the game. If we’d lost people could criticise me. I think it was a brilliant decision!” he adds.
With a half-time rocket up them, from the moment Kevin Conlon slotted over a first minute free there was something in the Roscommon air that suggested this could yet go to the wire.
Conlon added two more frees and a 45, before Mulvey stepped up stop the rot with a 43rd minute free – it would prove to be London’s only score of the second half, and the winning one. Few could have predicted that at the time.
It did little, though, to halt Leitrim’s momentum and with every subsequent point the cheer from the Leitrim fans grew louder and more confident. Leitrim belief was growing.
Lowe fisted over and the gap was ten points.
Colin Daly, making his London debut, then had a glorious chance to halt the Leitrim fightback in its tracks.
But having been played in one-on-one with McCrann, the former Dublin junior footballer’s low shot across goal flashed narrowly wide.
“I’m convinced that would have killed the game,” says Coggins.
Coggins rang the changes to try and come up with a permutation to stem Leitrim’s momentum, but to no avail.
Leitrim had the bit between their teeth and were winning every ball it seemed, driven on by the wind at their backs.
The lead was eight points when James Glancy got a fist to Conlon’s ball in, and steered it past Declan Traynor and into the London net.
The comeback was now most definitely on – hope had turned to belief. Leitrim knew it, and London knew it.
Eight minutes remained and London’s 14-point half-time lead had been reduced to just five.
Coggins still wakes up in a cold sweat some nights, thinking about Leitrim’s second half comeback.
“It’s not nice to watch. They got the goal and then it was non-stop effort and energy from them. We were doing everything in our power,” he says.
“The goal made a big difference. Without that goal, we would have won by five or six points. They wouldn’t have had enough time.
“We knew they were going to come at us and they were always going to score a lot of points in the second half [with the wind], but we’d weathered it quite well.
“The goal gave them a great boost and it made us a bit more nervous.”
“I remember the sing-song on the coach – Padraig McGoldrick, Eoin O’Neill, Tony Gaughan. My God! It was unbelievable Craic,”
Conlon fired over a brace of frees and a goal was all that separated the sides. By the time an additional two minutes of injury time was signalled, a solitary point was all that divided them.
“I remember saying to Kevin Downes with two or three minutes to go ‘if we lose this, I don’t think I’ll ever play football again’,” recalls Coggins, who was pacing the sideline like an expectant father.
Conlon then had the chance to tie the scores up, but having gone from chasing a lost cause, when presented with the opportunity to draw level, Leitrim inexplicably buckled.
Conlon, from bang in front, dragged his attempt to the left of the posts and put his head in his hands. It was cruel on a player who had done more than anyone to pull his side back from the brink.
Leitrim had one final chance to save themselves, force extra-time and deny London, but Glancy shot wide on the run, and under fierce pressure from Sean Kelly.
Traynor’s kick out brought the final whistle and scenes of joyous celebration on the Dr Hyde Park pitch – and no little relief – the likes of which had never been seen before.
“If Sean Kelly hadn’t made that little burst I’ve no doubt your man would have sent it over the bar,” said Coggins.
The Irish World’s match report suggested ‘watching London, though, really should come with some sort of health warning’.
At the final whistle, London’s bench exploded onto the pitch, to be joined by the players’ families and friends, supporters, and ex-players, including members of the 1977 London team that defeated Leitrim.
“As I said to RTE ‘London are in a Connacht final, imagine that. First time ever, first time ever’. I remember saying it twice,” says Coggins.
“Everyone in London was so proud, and people in Ireland and worldwide. It was a huge achievement.
“To do it away from Ruislip showed what a very special group of players this was.”
Galway manager John O’Mahoney was one of many to seek out Coggins to offer their congratulations.
“He said ‘it’s a great achievement what you’ve done’ – you don’t forget those type of things,” said Coggins.
That evening, Coggins headed for his ‘local’ in Ballinlough. He was joined by Tir Chonaill Gaels chairperson Tom Mohan, London County Board chairperson Noel O’Sullivan and Tony Murphy. It was 3am before they emerged.
“There was a band playing and a fella had made up a song about us,” he recalls.
The following morning, a weary but jubilant London team made its way to Dublin Airport to catch a flight ‘home’.
“I remember the sing-song on the coach– Padraig McGoldrick, Eoin O’Neill, Tony Gaughan. My God! It was unbelievable Craic,” says Coggins.
“When we arrived at Luton Airport there was cameras there to meet us. It was unbelievable.”
London still had a Connacht final to come, of course, and then a date with Cavan at Croke Park.
Further history making occasions for London’s footballers, but for many it’s the events of 30 June 2013 at Dr Hyde Park that stand out from that glorious and hugely enjoyable summer.
“The match was one thing but what it meant to us as a county, to make the breakthrough and reach a Connacht final, I know it meant so much to everyone,” reflects Coggins.
“It proved that London did have it in them to achieve something really special. I always believed that, and on that day we did. These boys finally cracked it.
“It’s now there for London teams to follow for years to come.”