A HOME draw was what London wanted. Regardless of the opposition, they’d be going in as underdogs in the first round of the All-Ireland qualifiers.
It was Antrim who followed London out of the hat in last week’s draw. Perhaps not as daunting a prospect as the likes of Armagh or Derry, but the Saffrons are one of football’s undervalued sides.
The comparisons have automatically been drawn with 2011: London welcoming Ulster opposition to Ruislip in the first round of the qualifiers on the last Saturday in June. But that’s where the comparisons end, for this is an entirely different scenario.
Twelve months ago the Exiles comfortably saw off a Fermanagh side in disarray by 0-15 to 0-9. It was London’s first championship victory in 34 years, yet nobody was particularly astonished.
If Paul Coggins’ side were to repeat those heroics this weekend, however, it would dwarf the Fermanagh win in terms of significance and go down as an enormous shock.
“It will be a very different situation from last year,” said London boss Coggins. “The only difference here is that we’ve done it before so we know we can do it.”
Antrim have found themselves taking the back-door route courtesy of a below-par performance against Monaghan on May 27. They were two points clear with 20 minutes remaining but ended up losing by three.
Even with nine minutes left to play, Antrim were still on level terms but the introduction of talisman Tommy Freeman swung the tie in Monaghan’s favour on a 1-12 to 1-9 scoreline and their Ulster campaign remained intact.
According to London captain Sean McVeigh, an ex-Antrim defender, Liam Bradley’s side had targeted an Ulster final spot this year. They’re a good side with 2012 aspirations that extend far beyond June.
Antrim are no soft touch, as evidenced by their results over the last three years. Before this campaign began, the only teams to have beaten them in the championship since 2009 were Kerry, Tyrone (twice), Kildare, Donegal and Down.
Coggins said: “It’ll be a challenge for our lads but they’re going well. We’ve improved throughout the league and the championship and we’ve shown that we’re no pushovers.
“Antrim are a fine side. We’ve played them quite a few times over the years but, as always, we’ve just been concentrating on ourselves.
“Things have gone well since the Leitrim game. We put in a big performance that day and we’ll be hoping for an even bigger performance this weekend.”
London’s performance against Leitrim on June 3 was probably their best of the year so far, but the worrying thing is that it still wasn’t enough.
If they hadn’t taken their foot off the gas for 20 minutes in the second-half and surrendered a four-point lead, the Exiles would have been playing Mayo last Sunday instead of Antrim this Saturday.
For London to upset the odds this weekend, there’ll be no scope for such a prolonged lapse. Their shooting will also need to be tidier. Overall it wasn’t particularly poor against Leitrim, but hitting five wides inside the opening 10 minutes didn’t help.
Coggins’ side will also need to eradicate the kind of mistakes that crept in towards the end of the game. As fatigue became a factor, unforced errors appeared, none more costly than Peter Finn’s sloppy handpass that denied London a chance to equalise.
For the most part, London’s backs haven’t let themselves down in 2012 and they’ll need to play a big role again on Saturday. Spearheaded by Paddy Cunningham and Michael Magill, Antrim have a potent forward line.
However, against Monaghan they showed that they too can be forced into errors, having kicked seven first-half wides that manager Liam Bradley felt were ultimately costly.
A near-flawless performance will be needed for London to win this one. If they’re within touching distance with 10 or so minutes left, doubts will creep into the minds of the men in saffron and the Exiles will back themselves.
But Antrim will want to be out of sight by that stage and they have the quality to be so. The London GAA community hopes, but it doesn’t expect.
Prediction: Antrim by five points.
All-Ireland SFC qualifiers first round, London v Antrim, Saturday (1pm), Ruislip.