GAA Football

London GAA starting to lay foundations

Mike Maher is the first-ever London-born manager of the Exiles

FOR Michael Maher, managing the London senior team will probably be the pinnacle of his coaching career. He’s the first London-born manager to assume the reins in the English capital, replacing Wexford man Ciaran Deely whom he assisted in 2019.

His father is from Kilkenny and his mother’s parents are of Cork and Kerry stock.

He’s been coaching since aged 16 and like his father he was immersed in the Sean Treacy’s and Round Towers clubs in London from he was knee high.

The 32-year-old PE teacher has coached London’s underage squads and gave 13 years to the South London Feile teams between 2007 and 2019. He has guided the Round Towers ladies to bigger and better things and turned the fortunes around of the senior men’s team who had tumbled down the divisions in recent seasons.

He also carries a Uefa A Level licence.

“I worked with Redhill Football Club in non-league football, I worked for Fulham’s academy and for Sutton United,” Maher explains.

“I was the youngest coach in the country at the time. With Redhill we got promotion to the Ryman League which is two promotions off professional football and we had a great run in the FA Cup one year.

“We were 90 minutes off drawing Coventry City. Redhill brought so many challenges – managing budgets, learning to handle players who were older and younger than me. It was a great grounding.”

But once Round Towers came calling in 2015, Maher switched back to his favoured code and steadied the ship at the south London club.

For a club that was fighting relegation battles on an annual basis, Maher made them competitive again in the London SFC.

“Then Ciaran [Deely] got in touch 18 months ago after having a bit of success with Towers and asked me to come in. I’ll be forever grateful to Ciaran because it was wonderful year. Paul Coggins did a tremendous job before him and Ciaran just brought London to a new level.”

Originally, former Down midfielder Gregory McCartan and former Leitrim player Barney Breen expressed an interest in succeeding Deely but the pair withdrew and after the interview process Maher got the nod ahead of former boss Paul Coggins.

“London have come on leaps and bounds under Ciaran, no two ways about it,” Maher says.

“It opened my eyes to all the things that’s involved in an inter-county set-up. I firmly believe London is a totally unique inter-county set-up in its own right. We’ve got so many challenges that other counties don’t have to face, which comes from guys being in London for work reasons.

“So that brings its own challenges. When these guys work at home they have employers that understand football commitments, whereas over here they don’t have a clue what Gaelic football is, so we really do have to work with the guys as much as possible that football is kind of tertiary in their life.”

In trying to tackle London’s problems associated with having a transient squad, the squad now has eight London-born players, which gives the side solid foundations.

“Whilst I wouldn’t be naïve enough to say there’ll come a day when London field 15 London-born players, but having a core of the squad being London-born I think is crucial for continuity from year to year, that those guys uphold the values of London being their county and to make sure that lads who come in from Ireland buy into the group.

“There will always be talented footballers in London and we’re blessed to have the ones that can commit to the demands of inter-county football. It’s tough but I don’t think it’s a losing battle.”

The London footballers currently do two collective sessions mid-week and one at the weekend.

Maher adds: “I’ve tried to re-structure the programme to make it as player-friendly as possible. In terms of the travel commitment we’ve gone for remote gym and conditioning work.

“Last year the lads were doing a third collective session, where you were asking them to travel for a third night. We’ve taken that stresser out of it. So they’re only travelling for two pitch sessions in mid-week and obviously a collective session at the weekend.

“You could probably travel from Belfast to Dublin in the time you travel 10 or 15 miles in London in rush hour.”

Last season, London made life really uncomfortable for Galway at Ruislip in the Connacht Championship before exiting to Offaly in Round One of the All-Ireland Qualifiers. This year, Connacht champions Roscommon journey for the annual banana-skin game against the Exiles.

They’ve lost their opening two Division Four games – Sligo (0-11 to 5-9) and Limerick (0-8 to 0-7) – but hope to turn the corner against Antrim in Ruislip tomorrow afternoon.

London, Maher feels, are always at a disadvantage at the beginning of every season – and wants them to be able to compete in a pre-season competition to aid their League prospects.

“If we could get into a pre-season competition I’d see us being in a position to compete throughout the League. On paper, the Sligo game was a hammering when in reality we actually played fairly well.

“If you saw a video of the Sligo game, four of the goals wouldn’t go in in a whole season in the manner that they did. There was a slip for one, there was another where one umpire said it had crossed the line, the other said it didn’t… It was just one of those days when every second ball that came into the square, it was near calamity.

“We just made a lot of mistakes that teams were making in the FBD League or the McKenna Cup or the O’Byrne Cup – we’re making them in the National League. We made a massive step up against Limerick last week.

“But I was speaking to the Sligo manager and they had four or five challenge games before the FBD League. The pre-season competitions are a massive advantage to the other counties. But, look, it’s certainly not going to hold us back from being the best that we can be.”

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Allianz National Football League Division Four: London v Antrim (Tomorrow, Ruislip, 2pm)

THE National Football League may be only a couple of weeks old but there are already must-win games all over this weekend’s fixture list – none more so than Antrim’s tricky assignment in London tomorrow afternoon.

A one-point defeat to Sligo last weekend puts Lenny Harbinson’s men on the back foot after opening their account with a solid performance and victory over Wexford.

Hamstrung by not having a pre-season competition to plain the rough edges, London paid a heavy price in their opener to Sligo during which they conceded five goals.

New manager Mike Maher shored things up in London’s second game, conceding no goals but still losing by a point to Limerick.

So, the likelihood is London will be up to speed than previous weeks as they host Antrim at resplendent Ruislip. The returning Paddy Cunningham has already silenced the doubters after just two games, racking up 15 points (0-5 from play).

Antrim also have good free-takers in Cunningham and Patrick McBride which may come in handy if London adopt the same defensive policy against Limerick.

Naomh Enna's James McAuley has made the centre-back spot his own this season, while Harbinson has formed a mobile midfield and a nice spread of worker-bees and score-takers in his two forward banks.

The Saffrons should be boarding the plane home tomorrow night with two more points in the bank and promotion back on their minds.

Antrim (NFL v London): A Hasson; P Gallagher, D McAleese, M Gardiner; D Lynch, J McAuley, P Healy; C Duffin, M Jordan; E Walsh, P McBride, N Delargy; P Cunningham, R McCann, C Murray

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