Cahillane finds home comfort
Former Celtic recruit confident Portlaoise can end their losing streak against Dublin clubs
Published 02/12/2015 | 02:30
Confirmation of Richie Towell's transfer to English Championship leaders Brighton earlier this week struck a chord with Paul Cahillane.
Cahillane and Towell, the driving force behind Dundalk's recent League of Ireland title win, crossed paths for two years at Celtic under Gordon Strachan when they were in their late teens.
Both returned home, Cahillane resuming a Gaelic football career with Portlaoise and mixing it with Wexford Youths, Towell to Dundalk where he has made quite an impact.
Having watched him at close quarters Cahillane is not surprised his old colleague is heading cross-channel again, saying: "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."
"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 return because they are good enough. And he has proved it."
Cahillane harboured ideas of striving to return himself but not before completing the Leaving Cert he originally left behind in pursuit of a professional career.
Then Portlaoise manager John Mulligan came calling.
"He 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."
In those seven years, incorporated into a nine-year unbeaten run in Laois, he has been part of one provincial club success in 2009 but an unenviable sequence of defeats to Dublin champions - St Vincent's (twice), Ballymun, St Brigid's and Kilmacud Crokes - in each of the five campaigns since then.
Still, there's a comfort being back among friends after things don't go your way.
"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," he said.
Celtic helped to change him; a spell with the Laois seniors under Justin McNulty also opened his eyes.
"I changed as a young lad. I grew up very quickly. I was 16 going to a different country, I was an adult coming home and I was very capable of playing senior football when I came home because of it," said the 26-year-old maths and geography teacher in Portlaoise CBS.
"I picked up small aspects of the professional lifestyle and then when I went in with Laois and Justin. He opened my eyes again to another side of sport, which is mentally. Over those three or four years, I really grew up.
"I ended up going to Maynooth to get a degree, started looking down other avenues, GAA started to become more and more prominent and I realised how much community spirit, a close-knit family and a group of friends can benefit you when you are going through a tough time which, no doubt, I was at the time.
"And that is why I want to constantly repay the club for what they did for me.
"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."
He spent half a season with Wexford Youths and ended up with a League One medal but knows that soon he'll have a choice to make.
"It's increasingly difficult the higher the level you go to. Unfortunately you just can't, so I think I'm going to have to make a choice soon," he said.
"You have to be disciplined in the way you treat your body in the off season. I class myself as a dual player to a certain extent although it's not hurling: soccer and football are my two loves.
"I don't know about Wexford Youths. At the moment the only focus I have on Sunday is Portlaoise and GAA, and that's really how it's been for the last few years. The soccer stuff just fell into place, it wasn't really planned. It just kind of happened."
He hasn't ruled out a return to inter-county football either.
"I definitely have not closed the book on it. It didn't work out over the last couple of years, the soccer took off and I just went with the flow," he said.
"If I am lucky enough to get a call in, I will have to sit down and weigh up what I want to do next year. But that conversation is a long way down the road."
As a former Portlaoise manager, Mick Lillis might be able to persuade some of his ex players back to the fold.
"There is this perception that Portlaoise lads don't want to play for Laois, which is false," he said. "There are valid reasons for all of them that people consider good enough to play for Laois, valid reasons for them not being there."