LONDON manager Eamonn Phelan was pleased with his side’s first outing in the NHL, a 2-20 to 0-11 home against Armagh.
“Today was the first day we played as a unit. Last week [in challenges against Wicklow and Kilmacud Crokes] we were trying different combinations so we’re delighted.”
The Exiles looked sharp, the result of a gruelling pre-season. “Fitness wise we’re training hard,” said Phelan. “Hurling wise, that’s only the fifth time since January we’ve played. All the lads are good hurlers so it won’t take much time to get up to hurling level.”
The panel are doing “three-to-four sessions a week, maybe five if we have a game” .
Reflecting on the day’s action, Phelan said: “In the first five minutes we were probably over-passing it, we could have had a few more scores up. Then once we got the first one or two and Eddie got the goal we settled into it.
“For us, we didn’t know what to expect today. It could have gone either way … we have a lot of new faces, we didn’t know how lads were going to gel with each other so we’re delighted with what we have and hopefully we can build on it for next weekend.
“All 15 lads, and the lads on the bench, they’re all good hurlers. It’s all about getting the ball into the forwards and they can do the business. All the six forwards are serious hurlers. They’ve proven themselves all along.”
London’s total of 2-20 could have been even greater had they not hit 19 wides. Phelan feels more accuracy will come as the season progresses. “I’d prefer to be 20 or 30 points up,” he laughed. “But that’s nearly the first time we’ve hurled in a month. It’s better to be hitting wides and winning than hitting them and losing so we’ll do some work on it but we can only do that in games because we don’t have posts in training.”
The return of the Robert Emmetts contingent from their All-Ireland IHC club campaign boosted the Exiles.
“You want to get the best players in that you can,” said Phelan. “ So that’s 10 new hurlers. The biggest competition among the lads is among themselves. It’s about trying to get an opportunity to get some games.”
Next up is Meath and last season’s star for London, Kevin Bolger, having had a weekend away, will return. Dual player Peter Atkinson is still out with ligament damage, sustained in Emmetts’ All-Ireland semi-final loss to Mount Leinster Rangers.
The Meath match was brought forward from St Patrick’s weekend, something that grated with London at the time.
“It is what it is now,” said Phelan. “Last week I would have said we’d want to have the extra week but now you’d to go out and hurl again tomorrow after the way we played today. We’re looking to use the league as a stepping stone for every player. Come the end of the league we hope to know who our best 15 are. Next weekend we might shake it up a bit and make a few changes, give other lads an opportunity. We’re backing the lads and we’re saying to them, ‘If you do the hard work, we’ll give you that chance and then it’s up to yourself’.”
*For full report, analysis and reaction to London v Armagh, see this week’s print edition of the The Irish Post.