Paul McDermott once gave his all for the Green & Gold but when Leitrim take to the field next Sunday in Ruislip, the Mohill man will be doing his level best to ensure London record just their second ever victory in the Connacht Senior Championship.
Admitting that he would prefer not to be facing his native county, Paul revealed that he couldn’t line out against Leitrim back in 2007, saying “I was called up but I just couldn’t play against them. I knew too many of the players.”
Having made his London debut against Mayo in 2006 and a stalwart ever since, Paul will face fellow Mohill men George Dugdale and Danny Beck in the Leitrim colours next Sunday - “The text messages have been flying over and back. I’ve been trying to get some inside information! It’s all good friendly banter.”
When he first donned a Leitrim shirt in 1999, McDermott never imagined that one day he’d find himself lining out against them. When he moved to London five years later it was only supposed to be for a summer. It’s a familiar tale that many Gaels in the English capital can relate to.
“I’m here for the guts of 10 years now. I’m married with two kids; I have a life here,” Paul explained, “One of the main reasons I came back to inter-county football this year was for my own personal goals – to see if I could still do it at 32 years of age. Fair play to my wife Lisa, she’s full-time with the kids as I’ve been going from work to training since January.
“I had better not lose after all that or I’m going to be in for a lot of babysitting. Lisa’s mum is from Mohill, so she doesn’t know who to cheer for. It’d be a much easier decision if I wasn’t playing.”
In a curious twist of fate, Paul was part of the travelling party when Leitrim edged past the Exiles at the Emerald Grounds ten years ago, lining out at wing-forward, the same position his current manager, Paul Coggins, occupied for the hosts.
While the game will be a rollercoaster for McDermott’s family and friends, it also evokes fond memories of his time with Leitrim. One of his best days came against Roscommon at Dr Hyde Park in 2000, where he was introduced as a half-time substitute. Leitrim trailed by five points at the interval but rallied to win by a point with defensive stalwart Dermot Reynolds netting a vital goal.
“That was the biggest day for me in a Leitrim jersey, beating Roscommon to reach a Connacht final. We got the Junior final that year as well and unfortunately lost both, but beating Roscommon was a great highlight. Fair play to Dermots, he ran the whole length of the pitch for that goal. I think it was a flying punch into the back of the net.
“I’ll never forget that, and I’ll never forget the people coming on the pitch at full-time. If Leitrim were to ever win an All-Ireland, we’d be very good at the pitch invasion.”
McDermott’s penultimate outing for Leitrim came in New York in 2003, where they were brought to extra-time before escaping with a two-point win. Now he’s planning further overseas trauma for his home county, but is quick to dispel any suggestion that London go into the game as favourites.
“A lot of effort and commitment has been given since January. By beating Fermanagh and running Mayo so close last year, the lads now have a bit more belief. We feel we can make further history by winning a Connacht Championship match.
“From being on the other side, I know Leitrim will leave no stone unturned ahead of coming over here. It’s not a foregone conclusion that London will win this game, far from it. For me, the difference between playing football over in London and back home is the bonding. The Leitrim lads have been together the last few years, and maybe even longer at underage level. Over here, we’ve got the core of last year’s panel, but the new guys have to bond. That’s a big difference in my eyes.”
Despite this, McDermott believes there are areas London can exploit, having witnessed them first-hand during their National League meeting in Carrick-on-Shannon.
“Leitrim’s forwards are skillful but they’re very light. I think we’ve a good record in defence, so hopefully if our midfield and forwards can click, we can take advantage of that.”
With Leitrim losing the spine of last year’s team to a combination of emigration and injury, midfield is an area London will look to exploit. Strong, physical players such as Lorcan Mulvey and McDermott will be key to them achieving that, but the latter is not underestimating the opposition.
“If we do, they’ll catch us on the hop. Paul Coggins’ motto is ‘win the first five minutes’ – give it 100pc and take it from there. It’s a great ethic, just concentrating on every five-minute block, because you don’t put yourself under too much pressure.
“I’d be hopeful we can get things right in those first five minutes. Paul has another thing about us focusing on the final five minutes of each half – finishing strong basically.
“There are a number of lads with London who have got serious inter-county experience. They’ve seen it before, felt the pressure and dealt with it. Hopefully that could tell.”