Posted - 23/02/2010 : 18:25:13
Home from home for Comer - Former Meath minor and now London defender Barry Comer.
12 February 2010
Having missed out on Meath SFC success with Dunboyne, and come agonizingly close to top honours in London for the past two years, Barry Comer hopes to end his wait for a championship medal in 2010. The Neasden Gaels and London defender spoke to Hogan Stand.
It's five years now since Barry Comer swapped the wide open pastures of Dunboyne in County Meath for London's concrete jungle. Having watched his former school friends and erstwhile St Peter's teammates claim a Meath senior football championship in the months following his relocation, Comer is intensely driven by the prospect of fulfilling his own sporting goals with Neasden Gaels. So far, top honours have eluded him, with Tir Chonaill Gaels holding sway in the London SFC finals of the past two years, but few would bet against him helping the north-west London club to redress the balance in 2010.
Comer was a member of the Meath minor panel in 2002, when his contemporaries included future senior stars Joe Sheridan and Brian Farrell. The Royals went all the way to the All-Ireland final but Derry proved too strong on a red-letter day for Ulster football - Armagh claimed their first ever senior success later that afternoon.
As a promising young player from a club that was going places, Comer would have seen a Meath senior championship medal as an eminently achievable objective. St Peter's Dunboyne would win a title three years later but by that stage, at the age of 21, Comer had joined his father Luke in the family business in London. He returned on several occasions in 2005 to support his fellow Dunboyne lads and was in the winning dressing-room after the final victory over south Meath rivals Blackhall Gaels.
But while they were happy days for Dunboyne, Comer felt like a bit like an outsider amongst his own people - to himself if no-one else. "I was part of the Dunboyne minor championship winning team in 2002," he says, "and I was there for the Feis Cup win two years later. Ten of the minor team broke through together onto the seniors and there was a real feeling that we could go on to win a senior championship. I left in January 2005 and they won it the year I left. I was gone just five months or so and they brought me into the dressing-room, but the lads were jumping around celebrating and I wasn't. I didn't really feel a part of it. It's a big regret for me, I really miss not training and playing with the lads I grew up with. You never know, I might go back for a year at some stage and give it a real go."
For now, though, Comer's thoughts are on work and football in London, where he doubles as one of the top gaelic footballers in the English capital and site manager for the Comer Homes group, the prestigious firm established by his father Luke and uncle Brian in the early 1980s. Perhaps suffering from the effects of his move to London and Dunboyne's success soon afterwards, he failed to give football his full attention for the first years of his exile. He has since set about making up for lost time, however, culminating in back-to-back runs to the London senior final with Neasden and a place on the London team for the National Football League and Connacht SFC over the past two years.
"The first three years I was here kind of passed me by," he says. "But two years ago I got back into it and worked hard, got myself fitter than I ever was. Neasden got to county final in 2008 but lost to Tir Chonaill Gaels by a point. Then this year  we lost to them in a replay. Tir Chonaill have a great set-up in Greenford, very professional, and they have a lot of quality players. It's hard to compete with them but we try, and we're not short of quality ourselves."
Where Neasden are concerned, the 2009 championship is the one that got away. "I think we left it behind us in the first game," says Comer. "We had the majority of the possession and were definitely the better team. They had a disputed point, it looked about two foot wide, but it was given. The second day, we had a few injuries and lost by three points."
While the rivalry between Neasden and Tir Chonaill is strong, Comer has plenty of admiration for the London champions correctly predicted that they would prove a tough nut for Clare kingpins Kilmurry-Ibrickane to crack in the All-Ireland Club Championship quarter finals. "There is plenty of rivalry between us and Tir Chonaill, and the two finals we played [in 2009] were the most hard-hitting games I've ever played in. But they're an extremely good side, very well-run, and I think they'll beat the Limerick team in the All-Ireland quarter-finals."
With the phenomenon of emigration back in the headlines following a difficult couple of years for the Irish economy, the quality of players available to London club sides and by extension the county side has grown considerably in recent times. Comer is now an established part of the county set-up and having tasted top-level action against Galway in the Connacht SFC last summer, he is looking forward to more of the same in 2010.
Taking to the field for a championship clash with the men in maroon was a landmark event for Barry. His father hails from the Galway village of Glenamaddy and several members of the extended family were present for the occasion. "A lot of my family are from Galway and it was a proud moment to be able to play against them," he concedes. "A good few of the cousins and uncles came back for it."
An 11-point defeat sounds worse than it was, with a late penalty from Michael Meehan putting a gloss on Galway's margin of victory. Buoyed by that encouraging performance, then, the London lads will be hoping to take another step forward when the 2010 campaign cranks into gear in early February. London finished second from bottom of the league last year, their only wins coming against Waterford and hapless Kilkenny, but Comer feels there are better times ahead.
"If we can keep the same core of players together, and bring a few new lads in, we'll have a chance," he says. "With more lads coming over, there are four very good club sides in London now and the quality of the London county team is going to improve. We have a big disadvantage to a lot of the other counties in that we have nothing like the McKenna Cup or O'Byrne Cup to help us prepare for the league, and we mightn't have the Tir Chonaill lads for a while as well, but I'd still be hopeful enough. We play Roscommon in the championship, so it's not the hardest of draws - at least we've avoided Galway and Mayo anyway, so we can hopefully give them a good game."