In 2010, Ciaran Deely was part of a Wexford side who travelled to Ruislip for an All-Ireland qualifier and the dilapidated old ground made a lasting impression.
The game itself was instantly forgettable, Wexford easing to a 25-point win under the stewardship of former London dual star Jason Ryan. Instead it was the atmosphere that Deely still remembers and the fact they didn’t even have top billing.
“It was pretty funny because England were playing Germany in the World Cup quarter-finals and they were showing it in the big marquee,” the current London manager explained.
“It was a baking hot day and during the game we could hear these big cheers; we weren’t sure whether it was England or Germany who had scored.”
Don’t be surprised if the marquee makes another appearance on Sunday but the rest of Ruislip looks a lot different these days. Prior to London’s Connacht quarter-final with Leitrim they will officially open their new 1,950-seater stand, which is the centrepiece of a £4.17m redevelopment which began after last year’s loss to Mayo.
London trained at the newly-named McGovern Park for the first time last Sunday, bringing an end to their nomadic existence that has seen them train all over the city and play all of their national league games on the road.
Former Exiles manager Noel Dunning once remarked that if you can manage an inter-county side in London, you can do it anywhere, and Deely agrees wholeheartedly.
“London is unique; there are challenges involved that other counties just don’t have,” said Deely, who runs his own sports science business in London and works part time with Queens Park Rangers and Kings College.
“Things like the beginning of a season where we have a number of players who aren’t yet registered, so they cannot play in the league. They’re having to line out in club championship games early in the season. Then you lose some of your players halfway through a season, like we have done this year with Caomhin Carty and James Moran.
“It is a huge challenge. Things would be much easier in some of the counties in Ireland who have just one training facility and turn up every night, and everything is done and ready.
“On the flip side of that, London doesn’t have the same hype about the county team or the role of the manager, or the same level of pressure. There’s probably two sides to the coin.”
One of the longstanding issues for London is player turnover. Just two members of the side that beat Leitrim in 2013 to reach the Connacht final are likely to feature this weekend – London-born back Philip Butler and former Laois midfielder Cathal Og Greene.
“We had everybody bar one player back for this season, which we were absolutely delighted with,” said Deely.
“This was a new thing for us. But then as the season has gone on, bit by bit we have lost a big number of players through commitment to other things — universities in different parts of Britain, work.
“It’s very difficult because we spent a lot of time last year just changing the environment around the team, being as professional as possible, and then you lose a lot of those players.”
London were without a number of first-teamers when they visited Carrick-on-Shannon in the penultimate round of the national league. With the British Universities competition taking place the same weekend, Deely’s experimental side “never got going” and trailed by 12 points at half-time before eventually falling to a 2-16 to 0-15 defeat.
Since then Leitrim have lost Emlyn Mulligan to a cruciate injury while London have gained a Mulligan in three-time All-Ireland winner Owen. What role the Tyrone legend plays on Sunday remains to be seen — last week he ruled himself out but having lined out in a hurling championship game in order to register, there could be some mind games at play.
Either way, Deely has been delighted with Mulligan’s impact at training.
“He’s really bowled us over with his attitude and focus, just his all-round demeanour when he comes into the sessions,” said Deely, who has also added Dublin U21 All-Ireland-winning captain Kevin O’Brien to his panel.
“He still clearly loves Gaelic and wants to be involved. It’s been great for the young lads especially - but even all the players - to see that when you’re a top player you do everything 100%, whether that’s your warm-up or skills practice.
“It has been an eye-opener for the lads and a great reference point for us as a management, to be able to say, ‘look at Owen and the amount of runs he makes, the fitness work he undertakes, the analysis of his own game’. That has been a real benefit.
“If he brings that and a little bit of advice, that can only be a positive.”
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