Ciara Kenny

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The wild geese at the heart of London GAA

The team reflects on their achievements after winning a Connaught championship game for the first time in 36 years

Back Row: Eamon McConville, Paul Coggins (manager), Graham Carr, Stephen Curran, Cathal óg Greene, Caolán Doyle, Robbie Croft, Sean Kelly, Martin Carroll, Kevin Lynam, Michael Callery, Shane Mulligan, Gary McGee, Seamus Hannon, Paul Geraghty, Barry Mitchell, Phil Butler, Evan Byrne, Brian Collins, Kevin Downes (trainer), Tony Murphy (selector), Lisa Reid (physio). Front Row: Phil Roche (kit man), Lorcan Mulvey, Declan Traynor, Tony Gaughan, Peter Finn, Ciaran McCallion, Greg Crowley, Lloyd Colfer, Mark Gottsche, Padraig McGoldrick, Danny Ryan, Aidan McTigue, Michael Keane, Dave McGreevy, Cathal McGee, Eoin O’Neill, Seamus Stenson, Dean O’Neill.

Fri, May 31, 2013, 00:01


Mark Hennessy

London’s Gaelic football team ended their 36-year wait for a Connacht SFC win at Ruislip, London, last weekend, overcoming Sligo by a narrow margin. It was their first provincial triumph since a 1977 win against Leitrim, whom they’ll face in a Connacht semi-final on June 23rd.

The team is largely made up of recent young Irish emigrants to the UK. So where do they come from and how do these emigrants feel about their native country?

Back row

1 Graham Carr (32) from Dundalk, Co Louth. Plays at half-back. Transferred with his company, Anord to London in January 2012. Part of the company’s business development team.

“I’m here indefinitely. It was the opportunity that exists here that brought me. I love it here, I can’t see myself moving back for another few years. I live in Canary Wharf.

“There is tremendous appetite on the team. Every team makes sacrifices but here it is amplified that bit more. Lads have to make a real effort to get here. I drive for an hour and a half to get in.

“Before, the clubs in London would have been a bit reluctant to give up players for the London team during a championship, but now it will be seen a bit differently, with a bit of pride.”

2 Stephen Curran (31), Caherciveen, Co Kerry. Full-back. Structural engineer working in London for 18 months.

“It is like a club at home, a county team that feels like a club. You don’t have as much hype as you would have at home. The reaction at home has been great; they don’t see us as a threat, yet.

“I’ve very good friends and social life; I’ll be here for a couple of more years. There aren’t many opportunities at home, but I would never have been short of work.

“London is just an hour away. If you want work, you will get work. We are blessed in having it close.”

3 Caolan Doyle (24), Derry city. Midfield. Teacher, working in London for the past 18 months.

“I’ll be here until August. Then, I’m going to Qatar to teach in an international primary school.There was practically no chance of me getting a job at home.

“It was tough enough at the start coming here, but it has been much better since I got involved with the football. The club helps you out. If I had got something permanent back at home there’s a fair chance that I would have stayed. But I am glad that I went away.”

4 Sean Kelly (25), Crossmolina, Co Mayo. Forward. Born in England, moved to Ireland with his family in 1998 when he was 10. Returned three years ago. Now studying osteopathy.

“It was a culture shock; the parents stayed, of course. Crossmolina is home. Hopefully, I will go back at some stage, but I couldn’t do the course I’m doing at home.

5 Martin Carroll (25), Blackrock, Dundalk, Co Louth. Midfield. Plumber, previously played with Roche Emmets in Ireland. Moved in September 2011.

“I had just come out of my time and was working two, or three days a week. I got a telephone call to come over so I got on the boat with my bag of tools.

“Paul Coggins [the manager] asked me to stay on. There is a massive buzz. People knew that something was going to happen.

“Sure, what can you do but raise eyebrows about what went on at home. When I go home I see people who were suppliers, or lads who had worked for decades losing their jobs and they are not there any more.”

6 Kevin Lynam (27), Pullough, Co Offaly. Full-back. In London for a year. Trained as an electrician, now working as a construction foreman.

“There was nothing back home. It didn’t come here by choice. At the start, I was homesick because it wasn’t home, but I got a job, made some great friends. Now it’s like a second home.”

7 Michael Callery (24) from Elphin, Co Roscommon. Half-forward, half-back. Works in a gym. In London since February 2012.

“There was very little opportunity at home. I had just finished college in health science and physiology in Sligo IT. Football has made it a positive experience. There are great opportunities here but, at the same time, I miss home. “Sunday’s result came as a bit of a shock to people, but less so to people here. We had the belief, we knew what we were doing.”

8 Shane Mulligan (28), Aghabog, Co Monaghan. Centre-half back. In Britain more than two years. Works with Irish construction company Byrne Bros.

“It’s my second year with the team. We were unlucky in a few games, beaten by a point. This year, things have gone our way.

“The reaction has been massive, it hasn’t stopped. It gave the mother a fright because she didn’t know that we would be on television.”

9 Gary Magee (25), Rostrevor, Co Down. Came to London in February 2013. Graduated with a Master’s in social regeneration from Queen’s.

“There were pretty much no job opportunities at home when I graduated. I’ve just got a job with a London borough council as an urban planner.

“There is great camaraderie here. We’re all here for the same reason, the job. We’re here four months and they couldn’t have treated us better. Sometimes new players can find things alienating, but that’s definitely not the situation here.”

10 Seamus Hannon (25), Edgeworthstown, Co Longford. Captain. In London since October 2010. Finished studying civil engineering in DIT Bolton Street in 2009.

“I was on the Longford county team. I finished the year with them and the club season. I had no work for a year, other than a bit at home working on the farm with my father. Now, I’ve got a job with Murphy Construction.

“For the first year I was still flying home to play with the club. I found it hard to settle here because of that. Then I transferred to Fulham Irish. It’s funny, football was the main reason I struggled to leave Ireland and now it is the main reason for staying.”

11 Barry Mitchell (22), from Portarlington, Co Laois. Wing forward. Works in property investment with Bluestack Investments. In London for a year. Studied Economics and Politics in Maynooth.

“I would love to be at home. I was close to going home but I gave it another year for the football . There’s no point crying or whingeing about what happened at home.

“Back home, lads might have to travel 20 minutes and you’ll find some fellows won’t even do that. Here, you can have travelling up to two hours each way, three times a week.”

12 Philip Butler (20), from Greenford, west London. Corner-back.

“A few people born here had the chance of playing. I had never seen a London team win. Neither had most other people; the last time was 36 years ago.”

13 Evan Byrne (32), from Templemore, Co Tipperary. In London for seven years, spent five years previously in New York.

“The team has improved every year, it has got better.”

14 Brian Collins (29) from Curry, Co Sligo. Corner-back. Architect, living in London for three years. Working as a design coordinator with Ardmore Construction.

“I know the lads on the Sligo team very well. Sligo is really small. Everyone knows everyone else. I was delighted to win, though it was a bit regrettable because if I was at home I would like to think that I would have been involved.”

Front row

15 Lorcan Mulvey (27), Butlersbridge, Co Cavan. Full-forward. In London for two years

.“I had been a site manager. Now I am doing the same thing with Berkeley Homes. The majority of the lads would not be here only for the way things are at home. People don’t like to leave home if they don’t have to, but this is a home from home. I go back every two months.”

16 Declan Traynor (36), from Meath. Goalkeeper, and the oldest player on the team

17 Tony Gaughan (27), Kiltane, near Belmullet. Plumber.

“I’ve been part of the London squad for three years; it has gone from strength to strength.”

18 Peter Finn (24), Oranmore, Co Galway. Been in London for three years. Did a Master’s in the Cass Business School in London. Now working in investment management.

“I was on the Bank of Ireland graduate programme, but I left that because I didn’t see much prospects. I restarted my career in investment management, working with Frontier Investment Management in Mayfair. I’m there for a year and eight months.”

19 Ciaran McCallion (28), Greenlough, Co Derry. Half-forward. Has been in London for five years. Site engineer with Laing O’Rourke.

“If you had asked a year ago if I was going home, I would have said ‘No’. This year, maybe, but it isn’t likely. Half of my mates from home are in Australia, or elsewhere.”

20 Greg Crowley (26), The Downs, Mullingar. Wing-forward. In London for 18 months, having done a degree in law, a post-grad in Galway and a Master’s in Belfast. Now works for a finance company.

“Some of the people here can’t believe that we would do all this four evenings a week for an amateur organisation; they are always asking us what we get out of it. They can’t understand what motivates us.”

21 Lloyd Colfer (27), Camross, Co Wexford. Played for Taghmon/Camross before transferring to Kingdom Kerry Gaels. In London for 18 months.

“I was working part-time in a bookie’s in Wexford, but I was existing; I wasn’t really living. Now I’m the development officer for London GAA.

“I will be here for a few years; I am unlikely to get something as good at home. It’s my ideal job. I go home every six or eight weeks. I am still very friendly with the people back at home; I speak to the parents every second night.

22 Mark Gottsche (25), Oranmore, Galway. Midfield. Senior games and logistics manager, London GAA. In London since November 2010.

“My father was German but we moved to Ireland when I was five. I did a Master’s in sports management in Jordanstown. My girlfriend was here, so I had to come. We have all shared the same experience in leaving home. None of us come from big towns; we shared the same journey.”

23 Padraig McGoldrick (24), Ballintogher, Co Sligo. Corner-forward. Site manager, has been in London for three years.

“There has a great reaction from home. They are probably finding it hard to say, but, to be fair, they are saying it all the same. I spent six months unemployed back home. I am really enjoying it here. I met lads through the football, that has been really important.”

24 Danny Ryan (29), Kilmeena, Westport, Co Mayo. Half-back. Teacher, in Britain for four years, working in Hornchurch, Essex.

“I couldn’t get a job at home teaching, they will not give you a full-time contract. Here, I’m in the same school and well settled. The school in Ireland had a religious ethos, so the discipline would have been better, but there’s good banter. I’ve no burning desire to get back. If you are going home you are going home for life, to settle down.”

25 Aidan McTigue (26), Irishtown, Co Mayo. In London since February. Worked with Fáilte Ireland and AIB.

“I did Business in Sligo IT. If there is no work at home I’ll be here, but in the west of Ireland there’s nothing. Joining the squad has been brilliant. People introduce themselves, people help.

“There are no groups, which has been a big thing in the past with clubs. Everyone pulls along together.”

26 David McGreevy (27), from Teconnaught, Co Down. In London for four years, arriving first to finish off studies. Works for a recruitment company.

“On Sunday morning I really had the feeling that it was going to be our day. I’ve got loads of texts from people in Thailand, Australia, the US, God knows where else.

27 Cathal Magee (25), Mayobridge, Co Down. Corner-forward. Cousin of Gary Magee. Arrived in February and works in construction management with O’Neill & Brennan.

“Everyone is gone from back home. The guys here bond together that wee bit more than they might do at home. If we had a choice we all would be at home. We realise the opportunity we have. We have already done something special, but we can go on to do something really special.”

28 Eoin O’Neill (25), from Renvyle, Co Galway. Corner-forward. Electrician, has been in London for three years.

“I was working at home, but I said I would try something different. I definitely see myself going back, in my early 30s. I think we would all love to be at home but not with the times that are in it.

“The bonds between people [in the squad] are great. I am privileged to be part of it and to be playing with these guys.”

29 Seamus Stenson (24), Castlerea, Roscommon, where he played with St Kevin’s. Electrician.

“I worked with King & Moffat, in Carrick-on-Shannon. I was on a three-day week so I was on the verge of unemployment. You just get on with it. You can’t really blame anyone for it.

“Eighty five per cent of my social connections would come from the GAA. People said that Sligo were complacent, I just don’t think that they were good enough. Some of our lads would get on any county team back home.”

This article appears in the Life pages of The Irish Times today. For more about the importance of GAA for emigrants, see  Retaining a connection with home through the GAA, GAA: the social network for emigrants or find more recent articles here.