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'We're at a disadvantage when we come to play teams in Ireland because we just don't have that playing experience'

The London ladies football team are hoping to be included in the 2021 Lidl Ladies National Football League.

LONDON WERE CERTAINLY calling loud and clear last week.

The Exiles hit out at the Ladies Gaelic Football Association’s [LGFA] decision to withdraw the All-Ireland junior championship place on offer to the All-Britain winners amidst the Covid-19 crisis.

ldn The London ladies football team. Source: London Ladies Facebook.

The side released an explosive statement about their exclusion, while star defender Niamh Lister and manager Paddy Bowles later made their feelings known loud and clear in an in-depth interview with The42.

While it seems the LGFA won’t budge on their 2020 championship decision, both Lister and Bowles touched on how London are hopeful they’ll be included in the 2021 Lidl Ladies National Football League.

Having not contested the league since 2008, the board has applied to enter next year’s competition. Bowles confirmed the news to The42, stating: “Hopefully the LGFA can look at the London county board’s application for league involvement. That’s probably even a bigger issue now [than championship exclusion] in my mind going forward.”

The Limerick man also pointed that if his side aren’t involved in next year’s league, they’ll experience a staggering “20-22 months of non-activity.”

But things are looking good, with LGFA President Marie Hickey recently telling the Irish World that the Association would be “delighted” to welcome London back into the league.

“The more teams we have the better it is for everybody,” she said. “Travel and the finance required for that would be the issue, but we’d be open to all suggestions.”

That will certainly come as a boost to Meath native Lister, who expressed her concern over her side’s lack of football given the current situation.

All-Ireland semi-finalists for the last four years, the last time London were together as a team was their championship exit last August.

“We’re coming up to a year on that now, which even seems a bit mad,” Lister told The42 last week. “We’ve been doing things over Zoom and over Whatsapp but it’s it’s just not the same.

“We’ve had the backing of of a new sponsor this year in John Reddington from the JRL group. He’s really positive about funding for the league and that kind of thing and and it would be a huge step for us if we managed to play in the league next year.

“I think the last time London Ladies got into the league was 2008 and and they actually went on to win the All-Ireland that year as well.

We’re at a disadvantage when we when we come to play teams in Ireland in the championship because maybe we just don’t have that playing experience on our side. Playing in the league would give us those extra six, seven, eight games under our belt for meeting a championship squad in May or June time. 

“From a development perspective, I think the league would be huge for us next year and hopefully it’s something that the girls get the opportunity to play in.”

Bowles echoed Lister’s sentiments, and shared insight into the set-up he’s been in charge of since 2018. The fact that they’ve reached the All-Ireland semi-final every year for the past four years says it all, he claims.

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“Every year we’ve been very, very close to beating teams. In the group stages we’ve beaten teams in Ireland, we’ve beaten them over here. We are at that level that we’re not far off making that breakthrough, considering we’re not playing that many competitive games. It’s 11 years ago now [since London won the All-Ireland junior championship].

“A very good sponsor came on board with us this year. They are on board to help in the National League.

What my big concern would be counties at home — would they potentially object to the idea of having to travel to London to play and cover costs? I get that, but every year we have to do our fundraising to be able to travel to Ireland for the games in the groups and then the semi-finals are always at home as well.

“If planning could happen, between the LGFA, a bit of funding and everything else, I think we could make the National League work. I think that would be a huge thing for us.”

Bowles shared plenty of insight into the set-up, and how things work. And it shows just how different it is to county teams on these shores.

“By the time we play championship every summer, everyone has had a really good look at their players, they have more settled squads whereas we, on average, have 10 to 12 players we probably go through each year — we’ve had different people moving away, emigration, people going back home, moving to Australia or wherever, people taking a breather because London is just a different animal when you’re living over here.

johnny-wilson-celebrates-with-linda-tighe-and-shauna-keogh Johnny Wilson steered the side to Croke Park glory in 2008. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“We have a lot of nurses, [players in the] fire brigade, a lot of shift work, office workers, they do a lot of travelling getting to training and that. Girls get the tube for two hours, train for two hours and home at night time mid-week and weekends.

Then to be without those competitive games throughout the year, it is a challenge. I can’t fault the effort, they’re an absolutely fantastic bunch.”

While both Bowles and Lister discussed the current situation with the 2020 championship in detail last week, the latter touched on how disheartening it is amidst women’s sport’s current push for equity and equality.

Their circumstances were likened to inter-county minor teams who shared their outrage to changes to their competitions amidst the coronavirus crisis, and Lister shared her solidarity with those affected.

“I saw a lot of things on social media around the Dublin minors over the last couple of weeks,” she said. “I feel for them because we really are in a similar position.

“Minor is such an important age group to play in. It’s such a novelty and it’s such a short time space that you get to play those kind of championships. I genuinely feel like London is the same because a lot of us, we don’t know how long we’re gonna be abroad in the UK for. For some girls, it’s a year. For some girls, it’s two, for some it’s 10.

Playing with London really is that novelty and it’s as if you’re playing your minor championship or your U21 championship, you don’t know how many years you’re going to get with it.

“So I feel for them in that sense but ideally, we would like to see a bit more consistency in the decisions being made between the LGFA and the GAA. We’ll see anyway what happens in the next couple of weeks.”

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Emma Duffy

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