The Irish Mail on Sunday
Driving force Gottsche is looking to break more new ground with London
IF MARK Gottsche was still working in the city, where he began his life in London, his mind might have extracted itself, for a moment or two, from what might transpire today when his native Galway come to Ruislip. No matter where he turned this week, the Oranmore native is reminded of the Connacht SFC quarter-final and annual celebration of London GAA that has developed alongside the fixture.
Gottsche is a dual star with a difference. He’ll be the driving force of a London midfield hoping to profit from Paul Conroy’s absence but, since last December, he is also secretary of the London County Board. He got the call from Croke Park last winter. John Molloy’s five-year term was up and headquarters wanted to make it a full-time position. As Gottsche was already GAA operations manager, he was the ideal candidate.
For manager Paul Coggins (below), it might seem good to have someone on the inside, but Gottsche has carefully separated his playing role from professional life from day one.
‘I had a conversation with Paul at the start of the year, about where we had to draw the line as regards my work with the county board and the dressing-room. I am one of those fortunate people whose passion has become their profession and John, the former secretary, has stayed on as assistant, so he has been a great help.’
The position opened up at a busy time. A long-overdue £5 million revamp of Ruislip is scheduled to start in September with plans for a 3,900-seater stand (The Department of Foreign Affairs have provided €600,000 much to the chagrin of some vociferous critics of the GAA). And the underage programme continues to grow with GAA coaching now established in more than 30 primary schools.
The fruits of that programme are viewed within the London dressingroom. Philip Butler, a secondgeneration Irishman, played in the Connacht final defeat to Mayo while three more London-born players – Adrian Moyles, Seán Hickey and Cathal O’Neill – are part of today’s squad.
‘All going well with planning permission, we will break ground this September and cut the ribbon when Roscommon come for the Championship next year,’ Gottsche explains. ‘I know some are arguing that we will lose something with the grassy bank going but, to be honest, there will be a greater atmosphere generated in a stand for almost 4,000 people.
‘This fixture has grown into something special, anyway. It is a total celebration of the GAA in London, the whole community’s out in force. It’s a Bank Holiday weekend here, and there are marquees around the place. And, each year, you see more young Irish, in their twenties, starting life in London, coming for the craic.’
The football shouldn’t be forgotten. London, under Coggins’ management, has come a long way since the massive dip in fortunes that coincided with the Celtic Tiger boom at home. They took Mayo to extra-time in 2011 beat Fermanagh in a qualifier, and earned a ground-breaking Championship appearance at Croke Park last summer, where they lost to Cavan. Gottsche missed both that game, and the Connacht final, with a long-standing groin injury (he had double groin reconstruction over the winter), but played all but 10 minutes of this year’s League campaign ‘We’d have liked to have won a few more games. The draw with Carlow was a kick in the teeth. They scored with the last kick of the game. But we are playing teams coming off pre-season and challenge games. We go into the League, cold. It does affect us.’
Unlike previous years, the nucleus of the squad has remained with just three players leaving over the winter for more exotic climes. ‘Given the way we have progressed, it’s vital that we keep the group together. I know Galway are a Division 2 side, we are Division 4, so there’s a gap there, but we feel that we are a match for anyone in Ruislip.’
Gottsche has insider knowledge of Alan Mulholland’s troops. He played underage with Gareth Bradshaw and Gary O’Donnell, while Seán Armstrong and Finian Hanley were a year ahead of him and with the family departing en masse from Oranmore, it promises to be quite an occasion. Wearing his administrative hat, though, he can’t help but reflect on the glamour tie that got away.
Dublin had been pencilled in for a challenge on May Day weekend. ‘Unfortunately, we couldn’t get everything ironed out in time. But the proposal is there, and we hope to make it for next year. If we can make it a regular part of the calendar, it will bring London on leaps and bounds.’
As will another positive performance today.