Coughlan puts Faith in Offaly

Conor McKeon

ANY fairweather Offaly football fans planning to make their seasonal debut in Portlaoise this Sunday might be left checking their Faithful county geography when they glance at Tom Cribbin's team sheet and spot the club of newbie midfielder, John Coughlan.

No, St Sylvester's isn't some obscure junior club somewhere in the midlands, it's the Malahide-based Dublin AFL Division 1 club.

And Coughlan -- who makes his Championship bow in the Offaly engine room on Sunday against Meath -- is the former minor and U21 Dublin prodigy and senior panel member who this year completed an intercounty transfer to the land of his father.

"A couple of years ago, I got a phone call but I was still involved in Dublin so it wasn't an option," explains Coughlan of the move. "But over the past couple of years, I haven't been involved so Tom (Cribbin) approached me. I was very interested. There's a great tradition in Offaly football. I grabbed the chance to play. I was happy to get the offer and I took it with both hands."

A nephew of Eugene Coughlan -- an All-Ireland hurling medalist with Offaly in 1981 and 1985 -- John and his brother, Niall, both accepted the offer of intercounty football and, after a smattering of impressive league appearances, John has nailed down a midfield berth to face -- of all teams -- Meath.

Coughlan brushes off any significance of the identity of Sunday's opposition, though accepts the quirk in the twist of fate.

"Being a Dub, some people might build it up," he acknowledges, "but I'm just delighted to be getting the opportunity to play intercounty football. To be honest, I've always wanted to play at this level so whether it's Meath or someone else, I'll be focusing the same way and getting the mind right regardless of which county it's against."

Nor does he feel like an outsider in his new environs.

"Very welcoming," he responds to a query about the reception from the rest of the Offaly panel. "From the first day myself and Niall headed down the lads were very welcoming. We just tried to keep the head down and do the hard work. Hopefully it will pay off for us at the weekend."

Coughlan accepts that Offaly are coming into this game from a far less lofty perch than Sunday's opponents and accepts that Eamonn O'Brien's Royal County side are favourites.

"They've had some great runs in the past few years in the back door," he says. "Two All-Ireland semi-finals is very good going. They've come up against Dublin who have gone on to win Leinsters. But yeah, Meath are a solid side. I would have played with Cian Ward, Jamie Queeney, Mickey Burke in DIT so I know how good they are.

"But I think it's something we have -- belief. A lot of these guys are top footballers. They believe in themselves and we're well capable of putting a performance together on the day.

"Hopefully, we'll do it on Sunday against Meath. Tradition-wise, down through the years, they don't fear any side and that should stand to us on Sunday."

As for his intention beyond this year, Coughlan is adamant that he has signed up on a long-term basis.

"I can't see myself turning back," he says. "I'm an Offaly player now.

"I'm really enjoying the time here and I can see a long future here for me."