"He was playing no football at all for four years. It just shows how talented he is" 6 days ago

"He was playing no football at all for four years. It just shows how talented he is"

Cycling took him to Sydney. It took him to Belgium. Gaelic football brings him to Pearse Stadium of a wet and windy Sunday.

"I suppose it's an individual sport, it can be quite lonely," admits Anthony Murray, chairman of Covey Wheelers Westport cycling club. He thinks just now, of the cyclist Eoghan McLaughlin might have become.

Murray was his coach and he says without hesitation that Eoghan McLaughlin was one of the most talented riders he'd seen.

Called up to the Irish elite men's team at just 18, McLaughlin was making headway fast in the sport he loved. From under-15 up, he lived on the bike and in those days, he was punching pedals with some of the best cyclists in the land.

All-Ireland semi-finals are a long way away, when you're dreaming about the Tour De France.

"Eoghan got called up to the Irish senior elite team in 2018, for a three day event," says Murray.

"I think that was his last race."

McLaughlin (right) won the King of the Mountains classification at the 2016 Junior tour of Ireland. Pic, Covey Wheelers Westport cycling club.

"He was making all the right moves. Under-16 and junior, he was in the top bunch in the country without a doubt. A total elite cyclist, he was en route to go much further with it if he stuck at it.

"He was punchy, had a good sprint, good on the hills too. There was absolutely no reason why he wouldn't have made it to the very top of Irish cycling at senior ranks. 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..."

The big wins were no coincidence. A lot like long distance running, elite cycling is an individual pursuit that requires military dedication, and McLaughlin was one of the most committed around. Five hour midweek rides were the name of the game and no matter what his coach asked him to do, he lapped it up and asked for more.

"Turbo sessions, weight sessions, you tell him what to do, and he'll just lap it up, he was extremely dedicated, a joy to coach..."

"Eoghan was a huge loss for us in cycling but as a club, we're absolutely delighted for him."

Leading King of the Mountains classification in the Irish youth tour

Tony Duffy first came across McLaughlin in the Hogan Cup, when he played centre back for the Rice College's team.

"He made a name for himself at centre back on the school team," says Duffy. "You just knew by him, he had something special about him."

The following year, Duffy was the Westport senior manager and McLaughlin was coming into his own.

"Great lad to train. Great attitude. He doesn't fear anybody and backs himself all the time, he just goes for it.

"He's a phenomenal athlete with a very high fitness level. He really suits that Mayo game-plan, running from deep and creating overlaps, he does it to perfection. Has an eye for goal as well and has chalked up a few goals from the half-back line in his time... For a lad who didn't play much underage football, his progress has been remarkable..."

Just like that, McLaughlin was caught by the GAA bug.

For four or five years, football wasn't part of the plan but that run with the school gave him a taste for it and getting to play with his brother Oisín for Westport was even more of an attraction. It took a lot to convince him to leave a career in cycling behind, but Gaelic football is the game in Mayo and for McLaughlin, the team spirit beat the rough ride.

"I don't know what the change came from. It's a tough, lonely sport when you're very young I suppose," says Murray.

Winning Kermasse in Belgium

"I know his older brother Oisin played for Westport and Westport were getting more and more successful. They would have seen his athletic potential too, they knew he would be a good player.

"He got the grá for the team, got the grá for the family feel of it then as well. It wasn't too long before he was excelling at it then so he had a choice to make then."

In the space of three years, McLaughlin has gone from a 64kg mountain climber to an 84kg machine of a half back. All of those five hour rides, the mountains climbed and the races won haven't been lost though, because it's that endurance, strength and athleticism that has helped to make the athlete that strikes fear into Mayo's opponents today.

"In a way it's good for our young cyclists as well," says Murray, "because they see that the bit of cycling is good for them, and that it just brings them on as an athlete in general."

"Eoghan's a huge loss for us in cycling but as a club, we're absolutely delighted for him.

"He's a good, sound fella as well. A bit of craic, always up for the laugh and the joke. We're always slagging him here saying he's a jammy so and so only being two matches away from an All-Ireland!

"You don't see it like. He was playing no football at all for four years, barely kicked a ball. In two years, he's on a county senior team kicking good football, it just shows how talented he is...."

Now that All-Ireland semi-final is only two weeks away.

"I'd love to see him win an All-Ireland, and sure he could come back to cycle with us then!"