Monday 19 August 2019

Martin's life of Reilly having swapped Burnley for Breffni

Martin Reilly is hoping Cavan will have something to celebrate after Sunday’s replay with Armagh in Clones. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Reilly is hoping Cavan will have something to celebrate after Sunday’s replay with Armagh in Clones. Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

It's a distant memory now, but at one stage Cavan's Martin Reilly was on a very different sporting path.

He sits in PwC's Irish HQ overlooking the Liffey as football's Player of the Month for May, after his stellar showing against Monaghan.

Life is good just now. This is his 13th season with the county, but it's his first such award and he's preparing for a second shot at Armagh inside a week. A win there would lead to an Ulster final appearance for Cavan, a considerable carrot for a county that hasn't been there since 2001.

In whatever spare time there is left, he's getting on with the business of building a house.

However, before Cavan handed him his championship debut in 2007 it seemed he was destined for the bright lights of soccer cross-channel.

In 2004, before he had done his Leaving Cert, Reilly took up the offer of a two-year deal with Burnley. A regular on Ireland schoolboy teams, where he played with the likes of Darren Randolph, Darron Gibson and Shane Long, it seemed like the next logical step to take.


So he headed over with Home Farm team-mate Chris McCann and the pair shared digs. Their experience from there would be very different; Reilly's deal wasn't renewed, while McCann would go on to captain the club and is still active as a professional in the MLS with DC United, where he counts Wayne Rooney as a team-mate.

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Reilly operated as a left-back in those days and made it as far as the bench for a League Cup match. However, when his time was up he was happy to come home.

"I was kind of happy enough (when his contract expired). I missed home a bit so I was happy enough to head back," he says.

"I suppose it's just tough being away from your family. You're just very young and maybe with the experience now you'd be able to deal with it better. It's very tough to deal with it, you've a lot of spare time and you don't know what to do with the time you have free.

"I suppose you'd spend your time taking up something, keeping yourself occupied in your spare time."

Back at home, he quickly realised he had to find something else for himself.

"I actually didn't do the Leaving Cert, so when I came home I did an apprenticeship. As a young lad I didn't really have too much interest in school, all I wanted to do was play football, but at home I kind of had to do something so I did an apprenticeship with my cousin.

"And then after that I had the opportunity to go to college. DIT approached about maybe doing electrical engineering so I took up the opportunity and it was a great decision to do that.

"I work as an engineer now, so it worked out very well for me."

And, just like that, soccer went from being his whole life to being out of his life. He doesn't play at all these days, rarely even getting out for a game of five-a-side.

Cavan wasted no time in filling the sporting void in his life. By the winter of 2006 he was in pre-season training with the Breffni panel.

A few months later he made his championship debut, but there have been precious few days in the sun.

There have been spells in Division 1 and an All-Ireland quarter-final appearance in 2013, but veterans like Reilly and Cian Mackey - the last Cavan player to win this award, in 2013 - have been toiling away for precious little reward.

On Sunday in Clones they can get back to an Ulster final, which Cavan last won in 1997, by beating the Orchard County.

"I remember '97 very well and being on the pitch after the game and the buzz about the place and the county for weeks after.

"Those were great days and hopefully we can get some of that back in the near future."

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