By Damian Dolan
On the eve of London’s National League opener, new boss Shane Kelly is relishing the chance to pit his wits against some of hurling’s top managers.
The Brothers Pearse man’s first taste of inter-county management begins with an unenviable task though – a trip to Mullingar on Sunday to face Joe McDonagh finalists Westmeath (1pm).
Joe Quaid is the new man in charge of the Lake County, fresh from having guided Kildare to Christy Ring success over London last year.
Of their other Div 2A opponents, Meath and Kerry both hurled in the Joe McDonagh – albeit the Royals were relegated.
Antrim beat Christy Ring champions Kildare in a play-off to retain their Joe McDonagh status. Mayo won Div 2B last year but were also suffered relegation from the Christy Ring.
It’s a challenge Kelly’s looking forward to. Excited? Yes. Daunted? Definitely not.
“We’re London and we want to stamp our authority on these games,” Kelly told the Irish World. “We’ll have our own little ideas….we’re not going to emphasis our biggest worries on other teams.
“You’re coming up against top opposition coaches and managers, like Joe Quaid at Westmeath and David Herity (Kildare). It’s very exciting for us to come up against them, and personally as manager it’s brilliant.”
London will be some way behind the eight-ball though. Their opponents have been getting game time, while London have had to content themselves with in-house matches.
Westmeath beat Antrim in last weekend’s Kehoe Cup final (albeit on penalties), having enjoyed a 12-point win over Meath on route, while Kerry have already played the All-Ireland champions Limerick and Tipperary.
Kelly concedes they’re “up against it”.
“Westmeath are an awesome team; we’ve watched a few bits and pieces of them and they’re good,” he said.
“But we have to play our own game too and bring our best team to the table and put on the best show that we can.
“We’re realistic; these teams are a bit further ahead of us at the moment, but that’s where we want to be. To be as good as them we have to match them and beat them.”
The Exiles will need to hit the ground running and they’ll be eager to avoid a repeat of their start to last year’s league campaign, which saw heavy defeats to Kerry (by 20 points), Meath (10 points) and Carlow (17 points), before getting up to speed.
Westmeath left Ruislip with a five-point win in Round 4, leaving the Exiles to retain their Div 2A status with a ‘winner-takes-all’ victory over Kildare in Round 5 at McGovern Park. The Lilywhites later extracted revenge in the Christy Ring final, however.
“What catches London is that the other teams are going into the league with so many games under their belt, between the pre-league competitions and challenge games. And then we had to take a break for a week and a half over Christmas,” said Kelly.
“But that’s the nature of the beast that we have to work around. We’ll be trying to start as best we can and put in as good a performances as we can. We’ve got to be as strong and competitive as possible.”
On paper, London’s Round 2 clash with Mayo at McGovern Park could offer the Exiles their best chance of a victory. Kelly, though, is taking nothing for granted.
“They’ll be no pushover; we saw Tooreen come over to Ruislip and put in a performance against St Gabriel’s. We won’t be banking on beating any team,” he said.
Kelly has a 35-man panel at his disposal. Among those gone from last year are goalkeeper James Barrett, Jody Troy and Richie Murphy, while Brian Regan is unavailable on medical grounds.
London are in no rush, though, to name Regan’s permanent successor as captain.
“It’s very hard to replace a player like that. He’s a great hurler and he’s going to be a loss for the team, but we just have to get on with it. We just have to pick it up and try,” said Kelly.
Henry Vaughan has also pulled away from the playing side to concentrate on his new role as trainer, alongside Eoin Kelly and Stephen Frawley.
The experienced Tadgh Healy (Robert Emmetts) has re-joined the panel after taking a year out, while Conor Allis is a new addition. The Sean Treacysman from Croom hurled for Limerick, winning a Munster SHC title with the Treaty men in 2013 and a provincial U21 championship in 2011.
As per rule, five members of Kelly’s panel qualified to play for London last weekend by virtue of togging out in an intermediate football championship preliminary game between St Brendan’s and Garryowen in Greenford.
Roscommon’s “talisman”, Daniel Glynn helped the county’s hurlers to avoid relegation from the Christy Ring last year, with victory over Mayo.
In 2017 he inspired his club side, Pádraig Pearses, to a first senior county title in 30 years with a virtuoso display, scoring 0-15 (10f) in their 1-20 to 1-13 win over Four Roads. The centre forward has transferred to St Gabriels.
Jesse Kennedy has transferred to Robert Emmetts from St Judes in Dublin. A half forward, he helped St Judes reach the Dublin SHC final in 2015 and 2014. In 2015 he also captained Trinity College to a first-ever Ryan Cup.
Corner back Cillian McSweeney has transferred to Kilburn Gaels from Carrigaline and the Cork Premier IHC.
Garrett Lenihan (Kilbrin, Co Cork) joins Kilburn Gaels having last year hurled for Duhallow in the Cork senior championship.
The other was Mark O’Dwyer, who hurled for London last year but plays his club hurling for Carrickshock in Kilkenny.
“I’m excited; everyone’s buzzing; the players and the management team. Training has been good and we’re looking forward to the league,” said Kelly.
“We want to be as competitive as we possibly can in every game, and we’ll be going out to win every game. There’s no doubt about that – the players will be ready.”