Portlaoise's Paul Cahillane recalls how Celtic adventure made him grow up quickly

Early on Monday morning last, while Premier League hopefuls Brighton were confirming the signing of Richie Towell, former colleague Paul Cahillane was preparing to speak on behalf of the Portlaoise Gaelic footballers.
Portlaoise's Paul Cahillane recalls how Celtic adventure made him grow up quickly

Cahillane was heading to Dublin for a press briefing ahead of Sunday’s AIB Leinster club football championship final when Portlaoise will shoot for a record eighth provincial title.

Back when he and Towell were two of Ireland’s brightest young soccer players and on the books of Celtic, in the late 2000s, the prospect of settling for a decent Gaelic football career would have filled him with dread.

Even when he was released by the Glasgow club as a 19-year old and returned home, he still believed deep in his heart that he’d fulfil his lifelong ambition of being a professional player, like Towell has.

But seven years on, having been implored by Portlaoise to simply ‘give us one year’, he is still there, leading the front line as a talented corner-forward.

The 26-year-old hasn’t entirely given up on soccer and completed the second half of the League of Ireland season just gone for Wexford Youths who won the First Division title and were promoted to the top tier.

But while Towell, two years his junior, has clearly dedicated his life to playing at the very top level, Cahillane isn’t even sure if he’ll play in the Premier Division next season, summing up his altered ambitions.

“I had a fairly positive attitude when I came back first, I did believe I was going to get back over,” said Cahillane.

“Maybe that was a bit naive and I was young at the time but I thought with a few years of football in Ireland, I’ll get back over. I still believe that if I’d went that way about things, I would have got over.

“But things worked out a different way. I gave John Mulligan in the club one year and here I still am!”

Cahillane completed his Leaving Cert when he returned home and now teaches geography and maths in Portlaoise CBS. It’s a decent living and he loves the competitiveness and camaraderie afforded by playing for Portlaoise though he could be excused for being a little jealous of Towell just now, the Dundalk sensation who has gained a lucrative two and a half year deal with Brighton.

“I choose one path and he chose the other and it’s worked out for him brilliantly,” said Cahillane. “He was totally dedicated. I can tell you here and now that he was training harder, getting to the gym more often and eating better than anyone else in the league (of Ireland).”

Cahillane admitted that he changed as a person himself during the three years he spent at Celtic.

“I grew up very quickly, you’re 16 going to a different country, I was an adult then coming home and I was very capable of playing senior football because of it,” he said.

“I picked up small elements of the professional lifestyle at Celtic and then when I went in playing with Laois under Justin McNulty, he opened my eyes up totally again to another side of sport, which is mentally.”

Cahillane wasn’t involved with the county set-up this year but with Mick Lillis, the former Portlaoise manager, taking over for 2016, a call up seems likely.

“If I am lucky enough to get a call in with Laois, I will have to sit down and weigh up what I want to do next year,” continued Cahillane.

In the meantime, the big task is helping Portlaoise overcome Dublin champions Ballyboden St Enda’s on Sunday. Despite never winning the provincial title, Ballyboden are strong favourites to win in Tullamore, perhaps partly because Portlaoise lost the 2012 and 2013 finals to Dublin opposition, Ballymun and St Vincent’s.

Cahillane accepts Vincent’s outplayed Portlaoise in a classic 2013 final though still has strong regrets about the Ballymun loss.

“I have no doubt we will perform on Sunday,” said Cahillane. “I really feel, with the amount of years we have been going, we will perform.”

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