Maher eager to develop improving London further
By Cian O’Connell
“The big thing for us this year is to get a Championship win,” London manager Michael Maher says ahead of an action packed 2023.
Significant cause for optimism exists following an encouraging campaign which featured an efficient start to the Allianz Football League.
“We are just looking to build on what we did last year,” he says. “ It is 10 years since London had a Championship win, the League is brilliant for us, and obviously we will be trying to win as many games as possible.
“We really want to make sure that we get a Championship win on the board this year. We are hoping the new structure will allow the group time to develop even further.”
London enjoyed three victories on the spin early in 2022, offering an injection of hope following a couple of campaigns hampered by Covid restrictions.
“We were desperately unlucky in a couple of the other games, we lost narrowly to Wexford and Cavan,” Maher responds. “They were very close games. When we came out of last year we played seven league games, two Championship games, we were there or thereabouts in eight of those games.
“There was one game where we underperformed, that can happen to any team on any day. It was a really, really promising season. We have kept a good core of that group together. Hopefully we can kick on, to build on that progress this year.”
The fact that so many of the panel remain involved with London is hugely beneficial for Maher. High player turnover is frequently an issue for London. “In terms of player retention this is probably the best London has ever done,” Maher remarks. “We have 22 of the squad that were there last year have come back. Usually you'd be looking at a number of around 11 or 12 returning.
“We've retained 22 so we have added in 10 or so new players. There will probably be one more London born lad, Aidan McLoughlin, he is absolutely ripping up the script in training, he is going ever so well, so I would expect to see him featuring in the National League for us. He would be another London born success story.”
The increasing number of homegrown players involved for London reflects the work being carried out at juvenile level by clubs.
“We've had a number of lads training with us, but the big thing now is we have the London born junior team,” Maher continues. “There isn't an immediate need for lads to step straight from U17 football or club football straight into the London senior team.
“As a London born player there is that stepping stone now. Before we maybe had to fast track it, to involve a large number of them, maybe some of them weren't ready physically, technically or tactically. There is that stepping stone now.
“We have a squad there now with 30 London born players playing adult inter-county football at junior level, and we will probably have six or seven then featuring regularly for us.”
A weekend trip to Ireland was a help ahead of the Allianz League Division Four campaign opener against Wexford.
Being prepared for Championship fare is the objective. “We are definitely going to get matches - it is brilliant,” Maher says. “Where we were last summer, the gap between our first provincial game and the Tailteann Cup was six weeks. That is a long time.
“We put in an unbelievable display against Sligo, to lose after extra-time, I just know had we gone out the following week against a realistic opponent, I think we would have won the game. That game brought us on so much, we had got a challenge game against Fermanagh in between. The gap was hard to bridge.
“The way I look at it is this year if we go into the Tailteann Cup with a long break whatever happens if we can put in a performance like we did in the first round of the Tailteann Cup last year then we would be really competitive in rounds two and three - that could put you in a position to make the quarter-finals.
“The new structure gives great hope, it was just a shame that the season ended when it did last year because I felt that we were really ready to kick on to the next level, so did the players.
“That is the way the cookie crumbles, but the fact that 22 players are back with us this year - some have just had to step away through work related reasons or in the case of one an injury - but it sums up what the atmosphere and belief in the group is like.”
Undoubtedly it is a challenge, but Maher, a proud Round Towers clubman, relishes managing his home county, London. “It is wonderful, it is a great experience, it is a great opportunity,” Maher answers.
“It is unique. I was saying to the management team, Lorcan (Mulvey) and Michael Boyle, who has come in this year, I think it is wonderful that we have players with us, who wouldn't necessarily get an opportunity to represent their home county.
“They mightn't have made the grade while they were living at home or work has brought them to London, so they can still compete in that high level environment. It is brilliant to give those guys the opportunity to live and breathe the lifestyle of an inter-county footballer.
“While there are huge demands there are huge rewards to represent a county, to have played inter-county football, that is something anyone should be highly proud of when they look back on their career when they finish up.”
Maher is eager to ensure London have a proper set-up for those representing the green and white outfit. “You can't be committing to a collective gym session, three pitch sessions, and an extra gym session if you're not going to give it everything and be highly committed,” he says.
“It is one thing we have always stressed - that there are no half measures, there are no grey areas. It is really important that players understand that.
“I think once the league starts the group will be really united. It is always a tricky time for us before Christmas because we lose the group for a few weeks so gaining momentum again takes a week or two in January. Come January 28 we will be ready for Wexford.”
Mulvey and Boyle supply plenty of coaching craft and footballing nous too in the London backroom. “Michael Boyle has joined our management team this year, he was a coach with Gaoth Dobhair the year they won the Ulster Club,” Maher states.
“He has been involved with North London Shamrocks here, he has been a great addition. We are delighted to have him on board, he was the Donegal number two the year they won the All-Ireland under Jim McGuinness.
“He has been in London for a few years, between Lorcan, himself, and myself we have a really good approach to the group. He has added a huge amount to us. I'm blessed to have Lorcan and Michael, who are two excellent coaches, working with us.”
Planning and plotting for a busy stint, Maher is intent on making a further impact with London.