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Tom King: second chance

Tom King: second chance

SPORTSFILE

Tom King: second chance

Growing up in the shadow of McHale Park in Castlebar didn't influence Tom King's sporting ambitions. He dreamed of being a professional footballer – playing for Mayo wasn't even on his agenda.

Of course he supported his county, went to All-Ireland finals and even played with Mayo as far as under 16 level. But while his friends fantasised about donning the green and red jersey and playing in Croke Park, he longed for Wembley and Lansdowne Road.

He gave it his best shot too and came closer to making it than most who shared that dream. Manchester City were sniffing around for a large part of his teenage years, they brought him over for several trials but never extended the offer of a contract.

However, his overseas opportunities didn't stop with City. When King was 18 and playing a home international game against Malta he impressed some scouts from Plymouth Argyle. They got in touch with his club, Castlebar Celtic, and invited him over for a two-week trial.

King went, did well and was offered a two-year contract. He was just about to start his Leaving Cert year so a big decision had to be made. "It came down to choosing between sitting my Leaving Cert or following my dreams of being a professional footballer," explains King.

So, like so many before him, he left for England to follow his dream. He settled quickly too, loneliness or homesickness wasn't a factor. As the months passed he made enough progress to start training with the first team, catching the attention of manager Ian Holloway. However, his career hit a major stumbling block when his manager moved on.

"I was getting on great with Ian but with just a few months left on my contract he went to Leicester and took all his staff with him. They brought in a new manager and he didn't really have any interest in young players so along with most of the youth squad I was released."

With no Leaving Cert and no contract on offer, King decided coming home and combining education with domestic football would be his best option. He did a FáS course and went on to do a degree in GMIT. All the while he played for several different League of Ireland clubs including Longford Town, Sligo Rovers, Galway United and until December, when they lost the First Division promotion play-off, Mervue United.

He also picked up Gaelic football where he'd left off, playing for Castlebar Mitchels as much as his schedule allowed. Initially he joined the underage teams with whom he won several county titles before graduating to the senior set-up.

For the last year he's been combining a full-time job in Galway, part-time football with Mervue and Gaelic with his club. It's no easy task but he wouldn't have it any other way.

"I was training with Mervue on a Monday, Wednesday and then a match on Friday and the Gaelic then was Tuesday, Thursday and at the weekend we'd have a match. There wasn't too much of a clash. It was tough going with all the training sessions but I'm good at looking after my body; if I have any niggles, I'll look after them."

Being prudent when it comes to training is vital for King. Just over two years ago a cruciate injury ruled him out for 10 months.

As time went by, King slowly closed the door on his professional football aspirations. Yet despite the expectation it wasn't a painful process and he has Gaelic football to thank for that. You see, while one dream died for King another was born – playing senior football for Mayo. And that dream was realised in the FBD League last month against NUIG, his first appearance for Mayo since playing a Ted Webb Cup game as a 15-year-old.

"I got a call from James Horan and he asked me to play. He said that he had been monitoring Castlebar Mitchels' form and that he wanted me in for the game. I was delighted and so was my family, it was a huge day for them to go and watch me play for Mayo. They are huge fans."

It was a deserved call-up. During the Mayo and Connacht championships, the 24-year-old has been one of his side's stand-out players. He's excelled in the full-forward line and has looked every inch a seasoned Gaelic footballer.

"It's my first proper season having a right go at the Gaelic. I've been happy with my performances, I've found myself on the end of a few scores and I'm on free kicks so it's just worked out for me so far. We've really come together as a team, really gelled, we've fallen short the last few years but we managed to get over the line this year."

Mitchels have been a surprise package in the club competition, disposing of last year's champions St Brigid's of Roscommon as well as a much fancied Corofin side. Kerry's Dr Crokes stand between them and an All-Ireland final.

"You can't look past them, especially when they have a player like Gooch. As a forward myself, he is someone I would have grown up watching, and would have been practising the things he did. They have the experience and won't be looking past us either."

Saturday's game is all that King is focusing on. When it comes to soccer he has options with the newly-formed Galway FC but he's put that on hold until he discovers where his journey with Mitchels leads and what happens with Mayo.

Ultimately, winning the All-Ireland club title and getting a permanent spot in the Mayo team would make King's dreams come true. His new dreams anyway.

Irish Independent