Crowds gather to welcome London GAA team at Knock

Airport receives record number of flights carrying fans for Connacht Final clash with Mayo

The London team celebrating their recent victory over Leitrim in the Connacht Senior Championship semi-final replay. The team arrived in Knock this afternoon ahead of tomorrow’s final against Mayo. Photograph:  Mike Shaughnessy/Inpho

The London team celebrating their recent victory over Leitrim in the Connacht Senior Championship semi-final replay. The team arrived in Knock this afternoon ahead of tomorrow’s final against Mayo. Photograph: Mike Shaughnessy/Inpho

Sat, Jul 20, 2013, 16:57

Ireland West Airport Knock had a Christmassy feel today as exiles flooded back – not for a Yuletide reunion but for what is hoped will be an epic football clash.

On a day of soaring temperatures there was a record number of flights into the Co Mayo airport carrying fans for tomorrow’s Connacht final between Mayo and London.

It’s the first time London, boosted by a recently increased outflow of young men from Ireland, have ever made it to this stage of the competition. London has players from more than 20 Irish counties.

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The London GAA team was on one of the first planes into Knock today on a special charter from Southend Airport just before 1pm. The plane’s shirtsleeved, well-muscled cargo was met with the sort of media attention usually reserved for celebrities.

Relatives and well-wishers crowded into the airport foyer to meet and greet the panel of exiles who have made history by making an All-Ireland football provincial final.

For three hours in the early afternoon, special charters from the UK were regularly dropping out of the delph blue skies into Knock, ferrying in over 1,500 supporters for tomorrow’s historic encounter.

Fans of the “wild geese’” were delighted with the weather as well as the prospect of further glory in the meteorlogical and sporting cauldron which McHale Park will present tomorrow.

“When I got the blast of warm air as I stepped from the plane I thought I was in Magaluf rather than Mayo,” explained Vincent Henry, a London supporter, originally from west Sligo.

“Win, lose or draw, it’s going to be a great occasion,” he added.

Young mother Eileen Dowd from Roscommon laughingly mentioned the early speculation that the London Mayor, Boris Johnston might come along and support the team.

“I think Boris is waiting until we get to Croke Park for the All-Ireland quarter final”, she wisecracked in the sunshine.

Aer Lingus provided a free charter for the team and the centrally located McWIlliam Park Hotel in Claremorris is generously putting them up free of charge.

“It’s an honour for the hotel to be able to play a significant role in such a historic occasion,” hotel director John Finn, a former Mayo intercounty player, commented this afternoon.

London fans are to attend special functions tonight and tomorrow in the appropriately named Welcome Inn Hotel in Castlebar.

The hospitality sector in Mayo had been fretting about the quiet summer so far this year but their spirits have been lifted by the rising tide of business which the returning exiles had brought them.

“Do you know a draw might not be a bad result,” mused a delighted Oliver Kelleher, president of Castlebar Chamber of Commerce. “Imagine a replay in Mayo. That would be a sterling prospect.”

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