‘I thought I’d be here for six months and then back to Ireland. But London is home from home now’

Updated Jun 4th 2021, 12:00 PM

IT’S COUNTY FINAL weekend in London with a difference.

To start with, this is the conclusion of a competition that began in the early stages of 2020 and has dragged on interminably ever since.

Then there is the timing, the first week of June seems unseasonably early in the year to be chasing championship silverware.

No one prepared Lorcan Mulvey for this when he was first persuaded to dip his toes into managerial waters with Fulham Irish, the Cavan native taking charge of their senior football outfit after life took Owen Mulligan back to Tyrone.

It has been a grinding process, just another slice of everyday life thrown out of kilter by the pandemic.

But in London, the end is in sight. The first of the GAA’s county senior finals that the organisation couldn’t wrap up in 2020, will take place in Ruislip on Sunday afternoon. Time to tend to unfinished business.

London SFC championship semi-final final score: @StKiernansGAA 1:11 – Fulham 3:13

Credit to players on both sides – a battle like that after months of no football is massively impressive. Well done to @LorcanMulvey & co on the win too.

Final against TCG in a few weeks.

— Fulham Irish GAA (@FulhamIrish) May 9, 2021

“It’s not too often we’ll be bringing sun cream to a county final,” laughs Mulvey.

“It’s been a long road but we’re nearly there. It can’t have many more twists and turns.

“An 18-month season for my first in charge of Fulham. It’s been a learning curve. I was asked by a few of the players to give it a go after Mugsy stepped aside for work and travel reasons. I’ve grown into it a bit and enjoyed it really.

“I still dabble in a bit of playing. Hard to get training sessions under my belt when I’m putting the cones down and doing the talking and running drills.

“It’s hard to juggle both and obviously bringing on yourself in games is very contradictory stuff as well. But speaking to the senior lads in the group, they were keen there was still some involvement from myself on the playing front. I suppose it’s always good to have an experienced big lad as an option off the bench.”

He was an ideal candidate to take charge, a figure well-versed in London GAA.

It’s a decade since Mulvey first landed in the English capital, forced to park his football hopes and dreams back in Cavan, as work had dried up in the construction industry.

Lorcan Mulvey (right) in action for Cavan against Monaghan.

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

He linked up with Fulham Irish in 2011 and the impact was instant, helping them land their maiden senior championship crown, five years after they had first come into existence.

Ever since the club has been a constant companion.

“I thought I’d be here for six months and go back to Ireland. But London is home from home now.

“Obviously it took Ireland a bit longer time than everyone expected to recover. I’m settled here now and no plans to go home for the foreseeable future. Between Fulham Irish and Butlersbridge (in Cavan), my two clubs have looked after me very well.

“It was crucial to me to be able to settle and stay and be comfortable in London. I would imagine it’s the same for numerous people who come over here. If you don’t get in with a group of lads and enjoy your time away from work, then you won’t be long getting a bit miserable and homesick. It’s vital to people settling and earning a living over here.”

He spread his wings further than the club scene and flew high. In 2013 when London enjoyed that memorable summer run that propelled them towards a Connacht final, Mulvey was the scoring fulcrum of their attack and recognised with an All-Star nomination.

Lorcan Mulvey (left) with Mark Gottsche after London’s 2013 win over Sligo.

Source: Jim Keogh/INPHO

He hit 1-2 in the win over Sligo, 1-1 in the draw with Leitrim, 0-5 in the replay win and 0-7 in the Connacht decider loss. That provincial decider saw Cillian O’Connor hurt Londons’s cause with a tally of 3-3, now the Mayo star’s brother Ruaidhri has been part of the Fulham Irish defensive unit for this campaign.

That 2013 London journey ended in a qualifier against Cavan, Mulvey scored 0-3 in a surreal experience as he took on players he had shared a dressing-room with a few years previously.

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After that the forward remained a focal point for London teams and even after his playing role halted, he stayed involved as a selector.

That is a position he continues to fill, albeit for a team that have seen their development stalled as they remain in the inter-county wilderness since March 2020.

“It’s a hard one to swallow. We are the forgotten team at present. But you have to be realistic, it’s a worldwide problem.

“For the GAA to facilitate us, it would have been very difficult and people would have had to go to expensive lengths. It was probably the best decision for everybody’s safety but still disappointing and it’s going to be extremely difficult for us to rebuild when we do get back after having had two seasons away.

“We’ll be starting from scratch, which you have to do to a certain extent every year in London, your panels aren’t very consistent. This will be new ground for everybody.”

London players in action against Galway in May 2019.

Source: ©INPHOGerry McManus

As they have shifted in and out of lockdown in London over the past year, club football was a source of hope, an interest they could continue to invest time in, even if there was so much uncertainty.

“You tried to keep the communication levels as high as you can. You would have Boris Johnson announcing whatever on a Friday on the news and people would expect the following weeks for things to kick in and start happening.

“But it had to filter down through Croke Park, provincial council in Birmingham, down to London GAA and down to the clubs. That can be a slow process. We’re a second-tier amateur sport over here so there was no special treatment like the clubs and counties got at home last year with lockdown rules.

“It was stop-start and it was difficult but at the same time, it was the only thing that got you out of the house so in that sense it was probably a God send.”

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Seeing his native county soar to the heights they did in Ulster last winter was a boost.

“Cavan is steeped in football history and the outpouring of emotion, even from Mickey Graham in the interviews on the day, just shows you what it means to the people of Cavan. It was refreshing to see Cavan win it again and the real emotion that comes with that.

“Huge year for them and good to see them getting a few All-Stars in recognition. When I was there playing with Cavan, Gearoid (McKiernan) would have been around, Raymond Galligan, Martin Reilly, those few people. (Dermot) McCabe, a selector, would have played in my time. There’s always a few links there.”

Raymond Galligan and Gearoid McKiernan celebrate after Cavan’s Ulster final win last November.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

By mid-March, Fulham Irish had got back training themselves. The long hiatus from activity was reflected in the large numbers drawn to their sessions at Wormwood Scrubs in White City.

After a hard winter, players were eager to get going. Mulvey oversees the senior team, working in tandem with Cork man Alex Kelleher, the manager of the reserve side. Both are featuring in county finals on Sunday.

There is a high level of familiarity with their opponents as well, meeting Tír Chonaill Gaels for the fourth season at this stage.

In 2017 Fulham Irish won by a point, they lost in 2018 after a replay by two and in 2019 were defeated by one. His old London boss Paul Coggins will be on the opposite sideline as well on Sunday and there will be some fans permitted to pass through the turnstiles at McGovern Park, another sign that normality beckons again.

All roads lead to Ruislip this Sunday in what is a huge day for the club.

📆 Sunday 6 June
📍 McGovern Park, Ruislip @McAleerRushe SFC final:

Fulham Irish v @TirChonailGaels – 🕒 15:00

Reserve Championship Final:

Fulham Irish v @theshamrocks1 – 🕐 13:00

📷 Sheila F pic.twitter.com/1HjDvN4Q3Y

— Fulham Irish GAA (@FulhamIrish) June 2, 2021

“It is the local rivalry of London over the last decade,” says Mulvey.

“It’s always a big game, even if it’s the league between us. There’s a bit of bite every time. You talk about gameplans and reports from previous games but you nearly don’t need them, we’re both that familiar with how we play. It’d be a brave man to call it.

“It’s probably the biggest day for the club, to have our first and second teams in championship finals on the one day is huge.

“It’s just been a long, hard road for every team involved and it’s been great to get this far to the final on Sunday.”

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