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London native Josh Obahor says his ‘special’ dream is to play in Croke Park

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Laois grabbed an equalising point in injury-time to squeeze into the preliminary quarter-finals at London’s expense in a dramatic final group game in Parnell Park.

Obahor’s side will also be aiming to improve on last year’s nine-point defeat by Offaly at the same venue in a Tailteann Cup opening group game.

The London team’s renewed assault comes five weeks after a sobering Connacht Championship defeat to Galway in Ruislip, where they suffered a 5-21 to 0-9 hiding.

“It was my first experience playing a Division 1 team and it was a humbling experience, just seeing the quality they have, on and off the ball,” says Obahor. “It was great to be involved in a game of that magnitude. We were disappointed with our own performance, thought we could have put on a better show, but eye-opening to see.”

Two years ago they took Sligo to extra-time in Markievicz Park in the first round of the Tailteann Cup, while last year the loss to Offaly was followed by a six-point defeat in Ruislip to Cavan before the draw with Laois.

​“We have a good block of training done from the Galway game, five or six weeks,” says Obahor. “We train on a rugby pitch in the winter months, so that can be difficult, but now there is a bit of light in the evenings, it is good to get out on a Gaelic pitch, so the team morale is quite high at the moment.”

The rugby pitch in Osterley in west London (home to Grasshoppers RFC) is shorter than what GAA players are accustomed to but they’ve learned to cope. Obahor is from north-west London and when training in Osterley getting there from work can take up to an hour or more with rush-hour traffic.

It is one of the sacrifices of playing for his team.

“London is massive and there are boys all over the city, and you have to rely on public transport, which isn’t always the best or reliable, so there are challenges there and there’s rush hour as well, so there are always challenges playing for London.”

On the panel since 2021, before making his debut last year, he has been playing Gaelic since he was 10, his first introduction to the game coming at school.

“Growing up, it is not something that you really have sight of, playing Gaelic football. It just happened naturally. A lot of my friends were playing it, it was actually taught in my primary school and I got into it like that.

“I started off as a goalkeeper, and I definitely didn’t have those aspirations to play for London, but when I did get the call-up to play London underage, there was definitely a pathway for me to get to senior.”

He attended to St Joseph’s primary school in Harrow. “It is quite a common thing, Gaelic and hurling in primary schools, especially where I am from in north-west London.

“I think in a lot of the Catholic schools in north-west London, there is Gaelic coached in them, there was coaches coming in from around London, teaching both Gaelic and hurling.”

The demands involved in playing for London are outweighed by the rewards.

“You have to be fully committed and into it to really enjoy it. People talk about the travel, and that there is a lot of travelling but every county is travelling, whether it is by coach or by plane, so it is great to play. And we enjoy coming over here for the games.”

Obahor (24) works in sales as an account manager. Playing Gaelic football doesn’t necessarily work in the same way in London as a conversation-breaker as it would here, he admits.

“Yeah, sometimes you say it to them and they say what’s that? You have to talk it through with them, but my work are really supportive, I told them that I play Gaelic and they are really supportive for me playing.”

At the moment, there are four London-born players involved – Shay Rafter, Tadhg Barry and Liam Gallagher being the others. “So there is more than there usually is. Shay Rafter and Tadhg Barry, this is their first year on the panel, so it is great to see home-grown players coming up through the ranks.”

An Arsenal supporter, he played soccer growing up but derived greater enjoyment from Gaelic football.

Playing in Croke Park is an ambition of his, he revealed at the Tailteann Cup launch at the venue on Tuesday.

“I was saying that it is great to be here, to take pictures and do this, but you want to be playing on the pitch, to be honest. Being here now, I am definitely motivated to see where we can get to.

“I have been to a few semi-finals here over the years, with my club and my school. Have been here before, but had never been on the pitch before, so that was special.”

In 2013 London had an Indian summer, defeating Sligo and Leitrim to reach the Connacht final, but keeping players is always an issue.

“It is part of what the culture is around London,” says Obahor, “that is why we need the home-grown players, so they can form the core when the other players come and go.”

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