Philip Butler ready to serve London with no preconceived notions
His mother is a Cork woman, his father a second-generationer, with parents from Cork and Wicklow. But he’s an Englishman, have no doubt on that score
Every London footballer has a story. Lives left behind, new ones built forward. On a certain level, though, they all meld into the same yarn – work or college calling them to the city, the phone dinging one day with a manager on the other end saying he heard they play a bit of ball. For it to all come to a head in a Connacht final is a chapter none of them really saw coming but at least it’s one they’re familiar with.
Philip Butler’s story is different. The 20-year-old corner back is one of three native Londoners in the squad and the only one in the team. He grew up in Greenford, a couple of stops on the Central line south east of Ruislip. His mother is a Cork woman, his father a second-generationer, with parents from Cork and Wicklow.
But he’s an Englishman, have no doubt on that score. Sometimes just to tweak the tails of his team-mates, he’ll wear an England top to training.
A serious rugby fan, the biggest day in his sporting year is any time Saracens beat Leciester. Or at least it was until a month ago. He might have to revise that opinion somewhat given where he’ll be at two o’clock on Sunday afternoon.
A physiotherapy student at the University of Hertfordshire, his life as a Gaelic footballer is one he has difficulty explaining to his friends and classmates. On the one hand, they get that it’s important to him. On the other, it all seems a bit lacking in sense. He’s in the final of what now?
“I don’t think my friends really know how big it is,” he says. “They don’t understand it. They don’t really get why I can’t have a drink with them when we go out. I think they’re getting there a bit with it now. I think it’s starting to make them realise that it’s a big deal. But they still don’t really know what I do.”
He first came across the game on summer holidays back home with his folks. The games were on TV each Sunday and various relatives sat him down to explain the ins and outs. It would be stretching matters to say that he was transfixed from the start but he did cast half an eye whenever it was on.
Back home, he joined up with Tír Chonaill Gaels as a teenager and was part of the Gaels side that won three London under-16 titles in a row. A minor title followed in 2011 and it was his displays for the Gaels junior team – made up entirely of native English players – that caught the eye of Paul Coggins. He actually played for the London senior team before ever lacing a boot for the Gaels seniors.
“I enjoy the tackling part of it,” he says. “It’s quite physical so I enjoy that. I probably don’t quite have all the skills of the boys who grew up with the game but I think I get away with it. I’m not too bad.”
He didn’t play in the win over Sligo but an injury to that day’s corner back Kevin Lynam opened up a slot for him when it came to the Leitrim game. Although it very nearly didn’t happen either.
“The week of the game,” he explains, “Paul told me to make sure I had my passport ready. I went home and looked for it but I hadn’t had it for a few months. I was afraid I wasn’t going to make it and I would miss the game. But I eventually found it in the loft at home. It was only the next day that Paul told me I was going to start the game. So I got away with it.”
Butler is fairly laid back about what lies ahead come Sunday. He’s never been to a Connacht final, never even watched one on TV. Where the rest of his team come into the game with varying preconceptions of what Mayo will have to offer, his mind is clear.
“I know nothing, to be honest. I’ve watched their forwards a bit on YouTube. I’m sure they’ll be very good.”