You’d have done well to spot Martin Carroll at MacHale Park on London’s afternoon of history back in July 2013.
No, the 27-year old Louth native wasn’t to be found marching behind the local brass band.
No, the emigrated plumber wasn’t one of the five substitutes sent in by manager Paul Coggins during the Mayo onslaught.
Martin Carroll was the footballer donning the luminous orange bib with maor uisce written across the front.
On a historic, even if ultimately disappointing afternoon for the London footballers, Martin Carroll was merely a peripheral figure.
Even in a rare Croke Park outing for Exiles six days later, Carroll was again confined to the sideline, confined to his bib and six water bottles.
Once 2013 was done and dusted, Carroll vowed he’d never again stand on the sideline. He hadn’t joined the London set-up to play the role of waterboy.
In the 14 league and two championship games London have played since, he’s started each one. Tomorrow afternoon he’ll lead London onto the field in the final championship fixture at the old Ruislip venue.
“I emigrated in late 2011 and started playing club football with Parnells the following March. The call came through from Paul [Coggins] to link up with the London squad later that summer, it would have been just after they were beaten by Leitrim in the Connacht Championship. I came in and was introduced as a substitute against Antrim in the qualifiers where we lost by a point. That was the end of the year so far as London was concerned,” recalls Carroll.
He had become a permanent fixture in the starting line-up by the time the league rolled around the following spring, but disaster struck in their third round outing away to Tipperary. The midfielder suffered ligament damage in his ankle and hobbled off the Semple Stadium turf.
“I missed the remainder of the league and didn’t get back training until early May. I wasn’t up to scratch with the lads that were there. The panel was just so strong at the time that I couldn’t force my way back into it properly.
“I was in the squad for the Sligo game and the two Leitrim games, but was dropped off the match-day 26 for the Connacht final against Mayo as a couple of lads were returning and they got the nod ahead of me. It was hugely frustrating.
“At the time the squad was just so strong and you couldn’t be selfish, you had to remember that the squad was bigger than you. Isn’t that what Dublin say about their panel, that their A versus B training games are better than some of the championship games they play. Theirs is a squad more so than a team, we were like that back then. We had 34, 35 training and A versus B games were so intense.
“It was terribly frustrating to be at the matches but knowing you can play no part, to be sat in the seats of Croke Park and know that you can’t be called on as a sub because you are not even listed among the extended substitutes. You can’t even pull on a jersey or kick a few balls before the start of the game.”
Carroll added: “Of course it spurred me on through the autumn and winter of 2013 that if London were to enjoy a prolonged run in 2014 that I’d be part of it and not be the one bringing in the water.”
What transpired couldn’t have been further removed from their 2013 journey.
Galway inflected a 19-point hammering in their Connacht opener, Limerick showing them the exit door next time out. No Connacht final, no Croke Park.
“The best day I ever had in Ruislip was when we beat Sligo in the first round back in 2013 and I wasn’t even on the field that day. Last year we folded in the first 15 minutes against Galway and they made a fool of us. Any one that was there last year doesn’t want a repeat of that.
“Any of the lads that have come in since the Connacht final want to bring it away from that season. They want to make this London team their own.
“Everyone over here will ask you were you on the team that made the Connacht final in 2013, were you playing that day in MacHale Park or were you playing the evening above in Croke Park? The boys that weren’t want to write their own story, myself included. There is a lot at stake for us this weekend even though, yet again, we have been completely written off.”
And as for the captaincy role handed down by Coggins at the outset of 2015? “I have adopted this as my county. I never pulled on the red and white of Louth. I am happy and proud to take on the title of an Exile, I will be proud to lead this team out in front of the 3,000 or so London supporters who typically show at Ruislip on the May Bank Holiday weekend.”
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