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Dublin: 4 °C Monday 27 January, 2020

Former inter-county footballer on the verge of Aviva Stadium dream with local club

Roscommon’s Sean Purcell will line out for Boyle Celtic at the home of his former side, Sligo Rovers, in the FAI Junior Cup semi-final on Sunday.

Purcell (right) playing for Boyle Celtic.
Purcell (right) playing for Boyle Celtic.

“THE GOAL IS to get to the Aviva Stadium — it would be a nice way to cap off the career,” explains Sean Purcell. “Not many can say they’ve played there and Croke Park!”

As one of four clubs left in the FAI Junior Cup — along with holders Sheriff YC, Evergreen FC and Killarney Celtic — Boyle Celtic are within touching distance of a date in next month’s final at the home of Irish football.

The reigning Sligo/Leitrim Super League champions face Kilkenny opposition at the Showgrounds on Sunday (3pm), but it won’t be the first time Boyle defender Purcell has lined out at Sligo Rovers’ ground.

Purcell enjoyed a couple of seasons playing League of Ireland with the Bit O’Red after impressing as a youngster.

“I probably would have given soccer and Gaelic football equal commitment growing up, and then as I got onto the Ireland schoolboy teams the soccer completely took over,” the 31-year-old told The42 this week. “I signed for Sligo Rovers and that was the end of Gaelic for awhile.

“I loved my time there. I signed the year of my Leaving Cert and then I went to Sligo IT on a scholarship. I was on a semi-professional contract — playing for the club and the college at the same time. So I was getting the best of both worlds and enjoying it.”

However, the appointment of Sean Connor as manager in 2004 was to spell the end of his time there. Purcell missed the first four months of the season with a hamstring injury and, after regaining his fitness, he was named in the Ireland squad for the World University Games in Turkey.

As he tells it, the centre-half was advised by his new club boss to accept the call-up and gain some match practice. However, upon his return Purcell was informed that he was surplus to requirements.

“I would have been pissed off at the time because I had battled hard to get back and I had come off two good seasons at Sligo Rovers. The team was going well at the time but it happens and you get over it.”

Finding himself at a loose end in terms of sporting commitments, Purcell took up Gaelic football with his local club Boyle and soon caught the attention of Roscommon manager John Maughan.

After suffering a dislocated shoulder in his first season at inter-county level, the half-back would go on to play six years with the Rossies — winning the Connacht senior championship in 2010.

Bryan Sheehan tackles Sean Purcell Purcell (left) in action for Roscommon against Kerry at Croke Park last year. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

In 2012, he decided to take time out of the game to get married and do some travelling around Australia and New Zealand. When Purcell got home, he went back playing club while doing a bit with Boyle Celtic, but John Evans — who had taken over the Roscommon senior footballers — never came calling.

In fact, it wasn’t until last year that he was reinstated to the panel when Fergal O’Donnell and Kevin McStay took the job.

“I would have worked under Fergal before,” he says. “I knew how ambitious he was and about his plans going forward. We were playing Division 1 football, where you’re getting to play the big teams.

“The league campaign was brilliant last year. What happened in the championship, no one can put their finger on. It’s just annoying really.”

Roscommon were the surprise package of 2016 in the league — losing out to Kerry in the Division 1 semi-finals — before going on to reach the Connacht final. After the teams couldn’t be separated at Pearse Stadium, the Tribesmen won out a week later in Castlebar.

“No disrespect but we were on the easy side of the draw,” suggests Purcell. “You had New York, Leitrim and Sligo and when you’re in Division 1 and going well you would expect to get to the final. We drew the first day in Galway and then we just didn’t turn up the second day.

“It was a big blow and it was very disheartening. You don’t expect that, it was just a bad day at the office and it was hard to get over.”

Defeat to Clare in Round 4A ended their involvement in the championship and O’Donnell has since stepped down as joint-manager, while Purcell is one of the players who opted not to return this year.

“Kevin has his own ideas and I have mine,” he says. “I wasn’t going back there. I’m just playing club and the journey in the FAI Junior Cup has been a bonus.

“I’m not too bothered at this stage. It’s gone and it’s becoming a younger man’s game. I’ve enough between family commitments and business commitments and I’m enjoying playing the soccer being honest.”

Although kept busy with the pub, two bookmakers and games arcade he owns with his business partner, he still manages to make time for Boyle Celtic.

They may be a junior side, but Purcell and goalkeeper Kyle Suffin gave an example of the commitment involved in last month’s quarter-finals. With both their partners expecting babies, the pair drove down to Tipperary hours before kick-off to line out against Carrick United.

“My wife was expecting the Tuesday before and his was due the Monday after,” he recalls. “So we followed the team down on the morning of the game and kept our fingers crossed that we wouldn’t have to shoot back.”

It was worth the gamble, as Boyle battled back from 1-0 down to take the lead before a goalkeeping mistake allowed Carrick a late equaliser. But Suffin was to redeem himself with two match-winning saves in the penalty shootout.

That set up a last-four meeting with Evergreen, who saw off Kilmallock United in the last round thanks to a winner from ex-Aston Villa and Shamrock Rovers striker Mikey Drennan.

“Evergreen will be a huge challenge on Sunday, but at the end of the day there are four sides left in the competition. Sheriff YC are probably the stand-out team, but we’ll see what happens.”

He’s played in front of the Croke Park crowd a number of times, but an appearance at Lansdowne Road would be right up there as a career highlight.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Purcell smiles. “Even saying it there, it gives you a tingle thinking about it. I would’ve said at the start of the year to the lads that I want to play at the Aviva and they probably laughed.

“I don’t think they realised the potential of the team but as we’re getting further they’re growing in confidence the whole time.”

Aviva FAI Junior Cup semi-finals: 

  •  Killarney Celtic v Sheriff YC, Kilbrean (today, 5pm)
  • Boyle Celtic v Evergreen FC, The Showgrounds (tomorrow, 3pm)

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Ben Blake

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