HomeFootballAnatomy of an upset – London’s win over Offaly was coming, insists...

Anatomy of an upset – London’s win over Offaly was coming, insists Exiles manager Michael Maher

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The manner of it said something too. Instead of baulking at the chance of a first championship win in 11 years, London pinned their ears back and went for the line. By the end, they had delivered quite the statement.

Exiles manager Michael Maher insists the signs were there. Over the past few weeks little things have come together to make something significant. You just had to peel back the veneer.

London’s league form was unremarkable and their hammering by Galway did little to raise hopes. But their injury situation has improved significantly.

And Maher is around the Lodon set up long enough to know that they will always be better come championship for the simple reason they don’t get to train on a full-size GAA pitch until the clocks go forward.

“If you give the best tennis player in the world a badminton court to train on they are never going to be performing at the peak of their powers until they get on a tennis court,” he reasons.

London spend their preseason and league training on a rugby pitch. Perfectly adequate for fitness work and certain drills but drastically limiting in other ways.

“For instance when we do kickouts and you do them from the 22m line you mark out your ‘D’, ‘45’ and ‘65’ and if you are working on your long kick outs by the time you have worked on where the ball is going to break, you are nearly on top of the other posts,” he said.

“So you can’t work through the full phase of ‘we have won the kick out this is how we worked through the phases in attack’ or ‘we have lost the kick out this is how we need to defend’. So it is very difficult.”

But with the longer evenings and the move back home to Ruislip, London build steam. The stats back that up.

“From league to championship our attack to shots and shots to scores percentages always go through the roof. There’s a direct correlation.”

Maher has put down a remarkable five years in charge of London. Their 2020 season was cut short by Covid and they weren’t involved at all the following season.

By 2022, they were up and running and should have at least earned a draw with Leitrim in Connacht before losing to Sligo in extra time in the knock out Tailteann Cup.

Earlier that year they had won three league games for the first time in their history.

Last season, they let Laois off the hook in the final moments of their Tailteann Cup game for what would have been a much needed championship win and a place in the knockout stages.

And this time around, some criticism stung and inspired the group to their win over Offaly. London born Maher, with five London born players seeing action, had delivered the performance he long believed they were capable of.

“We read some very unfair press. The key one was written by a local paper which said we won’t really know how good Offaly are until the group stages are complete because London won’t really tell us,” he said.

“And that was enough to motivate the lads to say we are going to go out and put on our very best display.

“And the game went on, we were three and four up, and I’m sure a lot of teams that were in our position and struggling for wins on the board would have been happy to sit back and drop off and accept any kind of a win. But we said we are going to run over the finish line, not crawl over it.

“And all credit to the lads. A lot of groups that struggled for form can crumble. But the lads dug in and kept going and going, knowing the sun was coming and better days were around the corner.

“It was a great day. A brilliant day. It’s a shame it wasn’t on home turf when you had more people there but we had some real loyal supporters in the stand. And seeing the jubilation it was great. I sat back for two minutes at the end and soaked it up.

“I was very proud to have been the manager, by name. But we are one big group we make a big emphasis on that.

“It’s a collective effort, supporters, board, players delighted we got that first championship in 11 years.”

London delivered a championship upset and a classic of the genre coming from nowhere to upset the odds. On to last year’s beaten finalists Down this weekend.

‘Formidable,” Maher says of the Mourne men. “But we’ll get back to work.”

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