A McGrath Cup fixture on a dirty January evening under lights in Templetuohy is hardly the most glamorous of arenas in which to make your inter-county debut. Coakley, though, would probably have played in the dark had you asked him. He was more than grateful for the start and the corner-forward’s thank you was a neatly packaged 2-3 which saw him finish as top scorer.
The 27-year old Carrigaline native, having transferred club allegiances to St Jude’s in 2015 following his move to Dublin a year earlier, had buried all ambition of lining out in the red shirt.
Out of sight, out of mind and all that.
Billy Sheehan also enlisted with St Jude’s in early 2015 and Coakley was back in the shop window when the former Laois footballer was drafted into the Cork backroom team following Peadar Healy’s appointment as manager.
The call came in April of last year and while selected on the match-day panel for the qualifier fixtures against Limerick, Longford, and Donegal, he never saw game time. Not that he had any expectation of being thrown into the fray so shortly after joining the squad.
“To be totally honest with you, I thought my chance of playing with Cork was gone,” admits Coakley.
“I never played underage for Cork. I was on the minor training panel in 2007 from November to March. When they put together their championship panel. However, I didn’t make it. That set me back a bit confidence wise. I was a while finding my feet again.
“Then I got a job with Google in 2014 and while I continued to travel back down to Cork to play with Carrigaline that year, I got so settled up there that I transferred up to St Jude’s in 2015. I did think that this move would inhibit my chances of playing for Cork.”
The high standard of the Dublin SFC, though, forced Coakley to up his game. It’s debatable whether he’d have been spotted by management had he stayed at home — he was a permanent fixture on the St Jude’s team that got to last year’s county semi-final.
“It is so competitive up there. The standard of football is really good. Now, I’m not saying anything about the standard of football in Cork. I went from playing intermediate to competitive senior football up in Dublin. You are playing the likes of Vincent’s, Ballyboden, and Ballymun. The higher level of training and consistent league games I was exposed to definitely brought me on,” says Coakley.
The long hours spent in the car travelling up and down from Cork training is tough, but Coakley says he’s blessed with an understanding boss who’s allowed him realise a lifelong dream. “She is of the Davis royalty from Skibbereen. She’s football mad so she leaves me work up the time when I can. It is tough on the body getting back in the car [after training], but I think it is all worth it. It’s such a top-class environment to be in and I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t enjoy it.”
Will we see Coakley in Mallow on Sunday? “Please God. This was my first competitive taste of action and I loved it. Hopefully, I get the chance to go out again on Sunday and express myself.”