Family divided as brothers set for final showdown


Family divided as brothers set for final showdown

In normal circumstances you’d expect them to be agog with excitement as their sons Eoghan, 23, and Tommy, 20, O’Reilly prepare for the novel decider between near-neighbours Castlebar Mitchels and Breaffy in Eleverys MacHale Park in Castlebar.

But here’s the rub — they will play on opposing teams.

Eoghan, who played in an All-Ireland MFC final for Mayo in 2008, will line out at full-back for Mitchels. On the 40, a few short yards away, his younger brother will wear the blue and white of Breaffy.

First things first — what brought about such a circumstance? Both played underage with the Mitchels but Tommy drifted away from Gaelic football at U14 level and concentrated on soccer with Castlebar Celtic. By this stage the family had moved from Kilkenny Cross, roughly a mile from the grounds of both clubs, to Kilnock in Breaffy. It means that Eoghan must pass the Breaffy pitch every time he trains with Mitchels and when Tommy got the hunger for football back two years after stopping playing, it was Breaffy lads like Conor O’Shea, younger brother of Mayo midfielders Seamus and Aidan, he was palling around with and it was Breaffy he wanted to play for.

Both clubs are based in the one parish so no actual parish boundary exists. Usually underage players play with a club based on what national school they go to and when Tommy O’Reilly applied to transfer from Castlebar to Breaffy, there were no difficulties.

The brothers live at home with their parents and brothers Ioseph, 24, and Cillian, 16, so many would assume the battle-lines have been drawn in the house.

But when we arrive to take pictures of the duo with their parents, tension is only noticeable by its absence.

Maeve admits she was worried about the prospect of the county final the day of semi-final wins for Breaffy over Charlestown and Mitchels over Knockmore. A call from the elder of the two that evening soon put her right.

“You’d be listening to people and them saying, ‘Oh it is going to be terrible in your house and the aggro with the two boys’ and then Eoghan just dispelled the whole thing. He rang and he said, ‘Mam, I heard Tommy hurt himself, is he okay?’,” she recalls, in relation to a knock Tommy picked up in semi-final win. “They’re great friends.”

The two have played against each other on a handful of occasions before so they have developed a certain immunity to it.

“The two boys certainly don’t think it’s strange because after games they’re in playing the Playstation together five minutes after,” says Tom.

They knock off one another like typical brothers but even when it comes to work, it appears they have taken rival paths — Tommy works in Dunnes Stores and Eoghan in Tesco.

If you’ve noticed different surnames being used, it’s because there are different surnames. In another quirk Tom Reilly had his name mistakenly put down on his birth cert by his father as Tom O’Reilly. The rest of the family were Reillys and he continues to be called Reilly himself. However all official documents have him as O’Reilly so when Maeve Canning married Tom Reilly, she became Maeve O’Reilly while the ‘O’ applies for all of the sons as well.

That tale is in the ha’penny place this week though.

So what’s the best result tomorrow? Tom is a native of Monaghan but moved to Castlebar in 1979 with Bank of Ireland. He played for Mayo in the 1996 All-Ireland final and was captain of the last Castlebar team to win the Mayo SFC in 1993. His long-term loyalty has been to the Mitchels but he’s a regular at Breaffy games too and addresses the issue of mixed emotions practically.

“Whoever wins, wins and it’s who will be the most disappointed that you’ll be worried about, more so than who wins. I suppose that’s where your allegiance will go, to whoever is the most disappointed, to lift them up.

“It is difficult, of course it is. You tend to sit on the fence. Normally neither of us are quiet during games but we’re very quiet in these games.

“Obviously I’ve a Mitchels background and a lot of people will say that is where my allegiance lies and I’ll be absolutely more than thrilled if the Mitchels win the game because they deserve a county championship but I’ll be equally as thrilled if Breaffy win the game, for Tommy.”

Tomorrow morning the two brothers will wake up under the same roof, share the same breakfast table and then go their own way in the knowledge only one of them can come home happy on Sunday night.

“I think there’ll be nerves for both of them but what there won’t be is there won’t a lot of talk about the match. There never is,” says Tom.

Maeve adds: “There might be a bit of craic when one of them might jostle off the other and say ‘I hope you’re as smart now on Sunday’ but that would be the extent of it, just messing. Before games against other teams they would give each other advice. Eoghan might say to Tommy ‘that fella is like this ...’ and he might say the same to Eoghan,” she adds.

Except that knowledge base will hardly be shared this weekend.

Maeve admits she may have to go for a few brisk walks during tomorrow’s game while Tom will certainly be quieter than usual.

“I’m a nervous wreck I have to say,” she says.

“My heart is thumping watching them and the only thing I’m hoping is that both of them play the best they can and that whichever is the best team on the day wins.”

Tom adds: “You love it for the boys because when they start out for the year that’s what they want, to be in the county final and they’ve both achieved it.”

And their brother’s team standing in the way.

Final rivals’ tennis secret

As the near neighbours prepare for the big game, many intriguing tales have come to the surface as friendships, families and relationships are stretched to breaking point.

Two of tomorrow’s opponents have also revealed a secret they’ve shared for the past six years. Castlebar’s centre-half-forward Gerry McDonagh will line out in direct opposition to Mícheál Jennings of Breaffy, and not only will they inhabit a tight space in Elverys MacHale Park, they once shared a Drogheda tennis court in the dead of night.

“We were both playing for Castlebar Celtic in the FAI Youth Cup quarter-final up in Drogheda and rooming together the night before the game. The manager, Declan Kilkelly, sent us off to bed and warned us to get as much sleep as possible before the big match,” he said.

“Gerry and myself tried our best to get to sleep, but had no luck, so around 2am he said, ‘there’s a tennis court outside the window — we should go out and have a game’.

“A few minutes later we were like Federer and Nadal rattling the ball back and over and running around the place. Then, disaster struck — Gerry went over on his ankle and we knew we were in bother. We got back to the room without anyone seeing us, but he could hardly walk in the morning and there was no way he could play that day. We had to tell Declan that Gerry slipped on a step and he believed us.

“Neither of us ever told a soul and no-one else knows the real truth, until now,” Mícheál explains.

The friends have left their soccer careers behind them and forged impressive reputations on the Mayo football scene. Tomorrow Jennings will be trying to inspire his Breaffy colleagues to their first title, while his tennis buddy will be looking to drive the Mitchels to their 28th.

- Michael Gallagher

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