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Dublin: 9 °C Thursday 17 October, 2019
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'Here I am, 7 years later': Cahillane's journey from Celtic rejection to a GAA club dynasty

Portlaoise star has seven county titles – but he is desperate to win a second Leinster medal on Sunday.

Image: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

THEY SAY SUCCESS is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, and training alongside both Richie Towell and Zach Touhy, Paul Cahillane never had to look far for either.

Cahillane’s CV is one to be envied, boasting a Leinster club title as well the most recent seven legs of Portlaoise’s remarkable county nine-in-a-row.

On Sunday, he’ll be hoping to add a second provincial medal to the haul when he lines out against Ballyboden St Enda’s in this year’s final.

As if that wasn’t enough, Cahillane is a dual star with a difference. While many of his contemporaries weigh up a choice between Gaelic football and hurling, the 26-year-old is trying to balance GAA with his other love — soccer — and helped League of Ireland side Wexford Youths to promotion last summer.

He was still a teenager when he first found himself thrust into the cut-throat world of professional football.

He spent three years learning the ropes at the Glasgow giants, crossing paths with Towell, the Dundalk star who signed for Championship leaders Brighton and Hove Albion earlier this week and proved that the first cross-channel rebuff need not be taken as definitive rejection.

When Cahillane was released in 2009, he returned home to a Portlaoise side where the drive to succeed was just as deeply ingrained. Tuohy, his best friend, had broken into the senior side which won back-to-back county titles in 2007 and 2008, the beginning of the dynasty’s latest iteration.

But while Tuohy’s athleticism was sowing the seeds that would eventually see him move to Aussie Rules club Carlton, Cahillane struggled with the fact that he was home after failing to make the grade.

“That’s why I love playing for this team. I got to go back into a competitive environment with my best friends and we were successful and good at what we did.

“It was very hard to pull myself away from it and I wouldn’t trade anything for what we’re doing now. I absolutely love it and I just want more success with this team.”

Paul Cahillane scores Cahillane in action against Emo in this year's Laois county final replay. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I didn’t know what to do with myself,” he explains.

“The one thing my dad had said to me, we had made an agreement that if it doesn’t work out, I would go back and do my Leaving Cert, so we both sat down and looked at things.

“There were a few contract offers from the League of Ireland, full-time contracts because there were a lot of teams full-time at the time, and we said no. The first thing I did was my Leaving Cert.

“I ended up playing the U21 championship for Portlaoise because the lads were getting onto me about that, because they hadn’t won one in ages. I played a bit with the Laois U21s during my Leaving Cert year.

Then I did the Leaving Cert and John Mulligan, the Portlaoise manager, said to me, ‘Just give us one year, one year.’ He said you can go back to the soccer after that, and here I am seven years later, still going.

towell-l229-2826741_478x359 Towell: PFAI Player of the Year joined Brighton earlier this week. Source: Brighton and Hove Albion

Looking back now, Cahillane sees his Celtic years as a time when he really grew up and despite the disappointment, he always felt that he was good enough to give it a second shot.

The parallels with Towell are obvious. The Dubliner, who is a couple of years his junior, was released by Celtic in 2012 after five years at the club and signed for Dundalk.

It was only a matter of time before the free-scoring midfielder turned heads again and, after helping the Lilywhites to the 2014 league title and then to a league and cup double this year, the PFAI Player of the Year agreed a two-and-a-half year deal with Championship leaders Brighton.

Cahillane says it’s no surprise.

“I chose one path and he chose the other and it’s worked out for him brilliantly.

He was totally dedicated. If you know Richie, I can tell you here now that he was training harder, getting to the gym more, and eating better than anyone else in that league.

“I can guarantee you that, knowing his attitude. And it was only a matter of time.

“I suppose when you go over, a lot of people don’t realise but you are only 16 years of age, you have to move away from home and are thrown into a professional lifestyle. The record is quite low on the return of lads that are making it — and for obvious reasons, if you think about it.

“But a lot of lads who come back have that attitude that they want to go back because they are good enough, and he has proved it.”

Zach Touhy Tuohy, right, returned to play with Portlaoise again during the AFL off-season. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Tuohy is another who always showed similar dedication and determination, establishing himself as an Aussie Rules talent in an era when so many young Irish players are falling short.

“(It’s) his mentality, 100%,” Cahillane says when asked what sets his pal apart. ”It’s very like Richie Towell’s.

I know by talking to him when he brings up sports and being successful. He’s very single-minded.

But while Towell and Tuohy have found their respective paths in pro sport, Cahillane has forged his own with great success.

The only cloud that hangs over Portlaoise’s imperious reign is that they haven’t converted more of their county titles into Leinster and All-Ireland success. The 2009 provincial win remains Cahillane’s only one with the club; their All-Ireland semi-final defeat against Kilmurry Ibrickane of Clare that season is one of his lasting regrets.

Since then, they haven’t beaten the Dublin champions — but equally, they haven’t lost to any other team in Leinster.

“I suppose we have to appreciate that we unfortunately are in the same province as the Dublin teams and Dublin have their foothold at inter-county level and they have done at club level. Every second year they are in the All-Ireland final so it’s not easy.

“Obviously we want to have more Leinster Championships because we are a seasoned enough team in Leinster now.

AIB GAA Leinster Senior Football Club Championship Final Media Day Cahillane comes up against Michael Darragh Macauley and Ballyboden St Enda's this Sunday. Source: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

Are we going to do it again on Sunday? I don’t know. Hopefully, but you have to appreciate the mammoth task ahead of us.

“You are playing a team that has taken apart St Vincent’s on the day, took down the Brogans and Plunkett’s, tore strips off Kilmacud Crokes at times, and put St Loman’s and St Pat’s to the sword, two teams that we struggled over in Leinster.

“We have played against teams who haven’t had massive success in Leinster of late so we are 100% obviously the underdogs coming into it, but there is always an underdog story that turns around.

“Maybe, just maybe, it will be us this weekend.”

‘Portlaoise are Klitschko and we’re like Fury – but sometimes Fury can beat the Klitschkos’

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Niall Kelly

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