Thursday 18 January 2018

Former Toffee McLaughlin sweet on life with high-flying O'Mahony's

McLaughlin: “This is my first proper season back.” Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
McLaughlin: “This is my first proper season back.” Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Sometimes, no matter where you go, the lure of home is too much.

Just ask former Everton trainee Ben McLaughlin. Three years at the glamour of a Premier league club were, as he puts it, "unbelievable". But he could never quite escape the notion he was missing out. The feeling that there might be something even better at home.

So when his Sean O'Mahony's club went on their run in the intermediate championship in 2014 that saw them win Louth and Leinster honours, McLaughlin found himself on the plane home from Merseyside for all but one of their games. The pull remained strong.

His three-year contract with the Toffees expired last year. And as he looked to recover from a serious groin injury, O'Mahony's was his first port of call as he looked to regain fitness. He signed with League of Ireland outfit Derry City soon afterwards but training with the club had sown a seed.

His contract at the Brandywell meant playing GAA was out of the question. Still, he managed a few under-the-radar cameos as the club went all the way to the county final. However, his cover was blown when he played in the decider, a game that was shown on TG4. As luck would have it, the station had shown the Derry football decider directly beforehand.

"This is my first proper season back," McLaughlin (right) explained, after helping his side stun Kildare champions Sarsfields on Sunday. "I came back last year and I was playing in the senior championship last year but I was only coming on for 10 or 15 minutes here and there because I was still playing with Derry. It's funny, I'd say I got fined three or four times for coming down playing with the lads! So it's great to be back this year and have nothing on your shoulders. I can just go and play freely.

"It was funny, on the day we played Pat's last year, that's how I got caught. I think the Derry championship was on before on the telly and we were on after it. And the lads were saying: 'there's Ben on the telly'. And I got the phone call the next day."

McLaughlin, grandson of the legendary League of Ireland manager Jim McLaughlin, can't remember how much he was fined or even if Derry went through with it in the end. But the story demonstrates the hold O'Mahony's have on him. There's nothing he'd change about his three years with Everton. But equally, there's nowhere else he'd rather be.

"I was over there for three years. It was unbelievable, you're a 17-year-old living this professional life with all these big players around you and you just want to be like them.

"In the back of my mind when the boys were back here playing I just wanted to be back home. I was always getting flights home if I could to watch the lads. When they got the run in the intermediate I didn't miss a game until the Leinster final. I was there for the rest of them. But being over there was top class.

"I didn't play a game (of Gaelic football for three years). And that was sickening for me because my actual sport is Gaelic, that's where my heart is. It was hard being away but obviously it is the opportunity of a lifetime being over there. I gave it everything, for three years I gave it my heart and soul. But I'm happy now and enjoying my Gaelic."

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