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12th Jan 2023

“I decided to throw my hand at the football, just for a bit of craic really” – McLaughlin’s move from cycling to Gaelic football

Niall McIntyre

When Eoghan McLaughlin put his bike in the shed at the start of his Leaving cert year, he did so with the intention that he’d be back on the saddle once the exams were over.

In the mean-time, in order to keep fit but with no concrete goals as such, the Westport man decided to join in with the town’s Gaelic football club.

Just to keep him busy. Nothing major.

It’s five years on now and, as one of the brightest young defenders in Mayo, McLaughlin has moved on from to the cycling to the extent that he doesn’t even own a bike.

Which makes for quite the u-turn. Because if you go back to his teenage years, as his cycling coach Anthony Murray once told us, he was one of the best young cyclists in the country.

“There was absolutely no reason why he wouldn’t have made it to the very top of Irish cycling at senior ranks,” said Murray. His handling skills were class, awareness class, everything class.

“He was a general classification rider, and won the King of the Mountains jersey in the junior tour of Ireland in 2017, riding for Connacht. He would have done a training camp in Sydney with me. He won a junior race in Gorey, won in Belgium too…”

Cycling took him all over the world but as McLaughlin told us today, once he got into it, he just couldn’t turn his back on the football.

“I loved the cycling, and really enjoyed it. And I made a lot of friends for life.

“I decided to throw my hand at the football, just for a bit of craic really.

“And I was just really lucky that James Horan was our Westport manager then that year (2018.) He took me under his wing, and I learned a lot from him. He believe in me before I ever believed in myself really.”

It was quite the break-through, in fairness to McLaughlin, to make it not just onto the Westport senior football team, but the Mayo team too, and it just goes to show the talent the 22-year-old has. Saying that, he says that despite having played some gaelic when he was younger, it was difficult getting back into it.

“I came in and had to learn the game from scratch, the fundamental skills of it. You’d be using lots of different muscles, and my body used to be in bits after training sessions. Nutrition-wise as well, it was slightly different. But look, I had some really supportive people around me, and they helped with the transition.

“When I was younger, I had thrown my hand at everything, cross country running, athletics, cycling, rugby, GAA and soccer.

“I did so many sports when I was younger so I was always kept quite fit from doing them sports. So possibly, that has helped me in my football.”

For now, McLaughlin is in his final year of sports and exercise in Limerick and, having lost the final last year, he’s hoping to go one step further in this year’s Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup.

“This is my third year of Sigerson, final year in UL. And over the last few years, I’ve made friends for life, met some really good people, and kept in touch with them all as well. And we’ve had some great memories representing the college as well, which is great.”

McLaughlin did miss UL’s Sigerson Cup opening round victory against UCC on Wednesday night through injury. The same patella tendon knee injury that kept him out of some of Westport’s Mayo championship winning club campaign, though he says he’s almost there and will be back next week.

“I missed most of the League campaign in 2022, and it was frustrating, but thank God I was back for the important stages of the year which was the championship. I’ll be okay next week.”

He was also sad to see his club-mate and role model Lee Keegan call it a day for Mayo this week, though he looks forward to playing with him in the years to come for his club.

“Leeroy’s a role model to all of us. It was difficult to see hang up the green and red jersey, but thank God I get to go back and play with him for the club.

“A lot of people say we’ve some of the same characteristics and strengths on the pitch. Growing up watching Mayo, and because he was from Westport, he was a huge inspiration to me. So some of my game would be tailored from his. Lee was always very encouraging and was great to give advice.”

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