Eoin Walsh and London out to capitalise on Tailteann Cup opportunity

Players will travel to Sligo on three different flights into Knock for Saturday’s opener

To get to Sligo for their Tailteann Cup match on Saturday evening the London football team will be split between three different flights from three different airports earlier in the day, each of them landing into Knock.

From there they'll rendezvous and a take a bus to their hotel in Sligo before leaving in time for the 6pm throw-in at Markievicz Park. Win or lose they'll overnight in Sligo and make the return trip to London on Sunday morning.

Eoin Walsh is sharing this itinerary with little hint of any inconvenience, the London defender and vice-captain more conscious of sounding grateful for the opportunity. London may not even be contenders for the new second-tier football championship, still it's better than having no more football at all.

“I definitely think it’s positive,” Walsh says of the Tailteann Cup, which continues with seven round one games this weekend. “It gives you that chance to be competitive with teams at your level. Maybe the Division Two or Three teams, those on the edge, might have a different outlook, but for us, a Division Four team, we’re looking for that chance for competitive games at our level, that’s what will bring us on.

“Having two competitions, you see it in other sports, you can get some cracking games, more entertainment value. It will be interesting see how the Division Four teams do.”

London’s pairing with Sligo in the northern division is hardly novel, given they also played in Division Four together. After winning three successive games in the league, London did fall heavily to Sligo, losing by 18 points, although that hasn’t much deterred Walsh’s enthusiasm either.

“In that league game in particular we just didn’t do ourselves justice. In every other game we were within a score or two. We just didn’t get that Sligo game right.”

It's over six weeks now since London's narrow loss to Leitrim, by four points, in the Connacht championship, a game Walsh reckons they could have won. Before this year's league, the last time London won two consecutive games anywhere was in the 2013 Connacht championship, beating Sligo and then Leitrim, after a replay, before losing the final to Mayo.

A native of Moycullen in Galway, Walsh moved to London in 2018, and last October played a central role in St Kiernan's winning their second London senior football title. A physiotherapist at Ealing Hospital, he's recently bought a place in Ealing with his partner, the London lifestyle clearly to his liking.

“My sister had been over in Reading for the last few years, I’d be over and back visiting her, so it was a mix of things really, having more opportunity here, moving to the big city, whether you’re into music or art there’s massive opportunity here.”

Relatively close to London’s training bases at the Grasshoppers Rugby Club and Ruislip, Walsh rarely questions his commitment. Around half the panel are London-born, and after having no championship football for the last two years because of the pandemic he also feels London is on upward curve.

“I’d hope so, it was great to have such a good league campaign this year. It’s the consistency that we’re looking for, and if you build on this, knowing we can be competitive, rather than hoping for it, maybe thinking we can snatch a draw.

“Certainly the clubs here are putting more into underage structures, the London juniors are flying at the moment, and you’d hope that would develop the county team.”

Still the weekend’s itinerary is demanding: “Because we didn’t know what weekend we’d be involved, prices can get extortionate, trying to book for 20, 30 lads. It can be long, depending on where you’re flying from, waking up early to travel to the airport hanging around the airport.

"We've a couple of lads flying out of Stanstead, on an early flight, another handful flying from Gatwick, and another handful from Luton. Once we land into Knock it's co-ordinated so there's a bus to take us all into the hotel, in Sligo, timing things so you eat enough before the match.

“It’s pretty much the whole weekend gone, the Sunday too. I sometimes take annual leave on the Monday, after the weekend, just to give myself the chance to have that day to relax.

“But we’ve a good atmosphere at the moment, the one thing we have in common is that we all love football, love trying to test ourselves.

“I’m lucky, I’m only 20 minutes away from training, but it can be a massive commitment for some lads, four hours each evening, including the commute. I turned 29 during the week, probably don’t have too many years left at intercounty, so I appreciate what I have at the moment.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics