GAA Football

The club must be king in post-lockdown London boss Michael Maher

London boss Michael Maher won't be taking players from their clubs until their Championship has ended

LONDON senior football manager Michael Maher believes the club should be at the heart of the condensed 2020 GAA calendar and is prepared to be on the “back foot” when the Exiles resume inter-county training ahead of their crack at Roscommon in the Connacht SFC.

While the GAA has a clear roadmap in place for the 32 counties to return to competitive club action on July 31, London GAA are still awaiting the green light from the UK government to get back to the playing field, which could create havoc with their club championship and inter-county preparations.

London clubs will be able to engage in socially distant training on June 29, but don’t have any proposed start date for their club championship.

Maher, though, is philosophical about London’s different and disadvantaged set of circumstances – but insists he won’t be taking any players away from their clubs until their interest in the London Championship expires.

The 32-year-old PE teacher’s reasoning is straightforward.

“I think players will give a lot more respect and time to their clubs, especially at home where the clubs have been pillars of their communities during this time.

“I’ve been very clear on this: I’ll not be taking any player from his club until their club has finished their involvement in the Championship. For instance, if it’s a Tir Chonnail and Fulham Irish county final – as it has been over the last three years – we might only go back training with 13 or 14 men.

“I’m comfortable that because it’s the right thing to do. The club should always be a player’s first priority. Clubs don’t have big playing pools and who am I to pull a player away from his club?

“At the same time, we’re an underdog going in against Roscommon and I know I might be putting us further on the back foot but it’s the right thing to do. We’ll abide by the rules.

“We can’t regroup with the inter-county until September 14. Club is club. A club will always be there when a guy retires when they need help and support. The county just doesn’t offer the same support network that a player’s club can. So we’ll not interfere with the clubs at all.”

Maher, whose parents hail Kilkenny and Cork stock, took the London reins at the beginning of the season having worked under the out-going Ciaran Deely.

London were winless in Division Four up until games were cancelled in early March, with arguably their best display coming against Antrim at Ruislip where they fell to a four-point defeat.

When the pandemic hit these isles, eight of the London squad returned home to Ireland due to being furloughed or becoming redundant. However, all those players have returned to the English capital and should be available for selection whenever GAA action resumes there.

And the fact that roughly eight of Maher’s squad are London-born makes the county’s squad less transient than previous years.

Tradition dictates that Ruislip will host London’s Connacht SFC clash with defending champions Roscommon sometime in October unless travel restrictions remain in place.

“The Roscommon game is a hugely important game for us. I can’t see the travel restrictions lasting too long as there is a huge portion of people who rely on air travel for work, so Ireland and England will have to reach a point where there are no travel restrictions. But the good thing is the game is a good few months away.

“If there are no travel restrictions there should be no problem with the game at Ruislip. Unless they re-structure the Championship and that we’ve got to travel, then we have to abide by those rules. But if there are no restrictions going to Ireland, there should be no restrictions going to London.”

At the outset of the pandemic, the London players trained remotely for several weeks but with no end in sight, the squad was effectively stood down until recently.

“We had them on a plan for the first five to six weeks, a very structured plan, asking them to complete sessions three to four times a week just to keep them in as good a shape as possible,” said Maher, who also holds a Uefa A coaching licence.

“But it’s very hard to motivate a player to do something on a particular day when there’s no end goal in sight…I’m of the belief that there’s no point in training if there’s no purpose to it. We were giving them as much support as we could… It has been difficult but the players have been very receptive to when we said there was a programme and when there wasn’t a programme.”

Maher, a Round Towers clubman, also brought in remote training sessions at the beginning of the year to cut down on the amount of time his players had to spend in their cars in London’s rush-hour traffic.

“Remote training is commonplace for us especially over the winter period,” Maher added.

Even though London Gaels will be frustrated by having no roadmap from the UK government to get back to playing competitively, Maher senses that his players will have rediscovered their love for football.

“It think this time will make all the players appreciate how lucky they are to be involved in sport at any level. With inter-county football you do become attached to the management team, to the support staff. It’s a way of life. There are some nights you get into your car and you’re thinking: ‘F***ing hell, another five-hour journey to and from training,’ in the wet, cold nights.

“But I bet when the players get back to training they will really appreciate things a bit more.”

During lockdown, Maher has continued to teach children of key workers two or three days per week at St Paul’s Academy in Greenwich.

“All the times the schools have been shut we’ve still had to provide education for the children. I’ve been working in schools with the key worker children… I’d no issues about going back because I’ve no elderly relatives, I’m young, fit and healthy. Everyone has a role to play.”


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GAA Football