Fulham Irish looking to cause quarter-final upset

Fulham Irish will fly the flag for London this Saturday when the team compete in the quarter-finals of Gaelic football’s prestigious All-Ireland Club Championships.

The team fly out to Mayo on Saturday to face former winners Ballina Stephenites in a competition that features the champions from the 32 counties that compete in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship.

Fulham, who were only established in 2006, won their fourth London Senior title last month, beating Greenford-based 18-time champions, Tir Chonnail Gaels in the final at Ruislip.

The club, who play their home matches at Wormwood Scrubs playing fields, will have their work cut out to overcome a Ballina side that boasts several members of a powerful Mayo senior squad.

However, midfielder Dave Connern, a Galway native who works in London’s financial sector, says his team are confident they can put on a strong showing against the 2005 champions in Castlebar.

“For all of the players, we want to play at the highest level possible and we believe we can mix it with Ballina on Saturday,” Connern said.

“It’s going to be a very tough match against an outstanding team, but we are confident we can put up a good showing.”

Fulham Irish’s rise has been a remarkable one in the established world of the London GAA scene which was formed in 1896 and boasts 27 clubs, many of which are based around the traditional areas of the Irish diaspora in north-west London.

Like all clubs Fulham rely on players who move to London for work with the current squad made up by natives from all over Ireland.

Many of these players have represented their counties at underage level with former Dublin under-18 and under-20 forward Niall O’Leary one the team’s key player along with former Leitrim midfielder David O’Connor.

In addition to the senior men’s team, the club also have a reserve side and a hurling side.

Earlier this year Fulham launched its first underage team with over 100 London-born children signed up by the club who put on training session on Wandsworth Common every Sunday morning.

The club’s public relations officer and former player John Gilfedder, a lawyer from Co. Down, said the long-term goal of the club is to have locally-born players in the side.

“We’ve been delighted with the number of children who have attended the sessions put on by one of our former players Sean Maguire over at Wandsworth,” Gilfedder said.

“Most of the children are from Irish backgrounds but there have also been some who have no Irish connection joining in and that has been wonderful to see.

“It would be the dream to one day see some of these London kids turning out for our senior team – that is the goal.”

Connern said the community side of the Fulham is one of the key reasons for their success.

“When I first came across to London it was purely for work and I didn’t think I’d have the time or the enthusiasm to give football the commitment I had for Tuam Stars, my home club,” he said.

“But a cousin of mine persuaded me to come down and I quickly realised how much I missed playing and being in a team with lads from other parts of the country really gave me a different outlook on how the game can be played.

“In many ways the commitment to playing for Fulham is probably greater than playing at home, because London is so big and nothing is close and many of lads work all over the city and have to make it out to training at the Scrubs and that isn’t always easy.

“But we make it work.”

The GAA have given the club £11,000 to help cover the costs of flights and accommodation but it falls well short of what is needed to fly a party of 47 – made up of players, coaches, medical staff and team officials across the Irish Sea.

“We really do rely so much on sponsors to help us,” Gilfedder said.

“We have extensive costs for pitch hire and physio treatment but our sponsors this season VKE Group, who are an east London-based construction company, have been hugely generous in their backing.

“But the club wouldn’t never be where we are now without the generous support over the years of companies such as Carty Forde, Hughes Developments and Kilnbridge who have helped put us on the map.”