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Wednesday 15 August 2018

A trip on the Niall from Ros to Dublin and back again ...

DUAL MANDATE: Former Dublin and Roscommon footballer Niall O’Donohoe
DUAL MANDATE: Former Dublin and Roscommon footballer Niall O’Donohoe

Heard the one about the young kid from Swords who ventured to Boyle on his summer holidays and never came back; who went on to play senior football for Roscommon only to swap county allegiance and play for Dublin?

Confused? Then maybe the name Niall O'Donohoe will ring a bell …

Championship collisions between the Dubs and the Rossies are relatively rare - 2004 was the last one, and maybe it's just as well that by then, even in his late twenties, O'Donohoe was already a former county footballer.

No scope for divided loyalties.

This Sunday, as Dublin welcome Roscommon to Croke Park for a 'Super 8s' clash devoid of a tangible prize, O'Donohoe is back living in Boyle after spending nearly two decades in the capital. Yesterday marked the second anniversary of ProCloud - the cloud computing company that he and a couple of colleagues founded in Boyle. O'Donohoe is MD of a growing enterprise now employing ten people.

In quality-of-life terms, there is "no comparison" between spending two-and-a-half hours travelling to and from his old job with IBM and his current commute of "two minutes to work on a bad day," says the father-of-three. Sounds like he's come home.

And yet his story has a lot more twists and turns than that.

"My father's from Marino and my mother's from Terenure. They had five kids at the time, I was the youngest, and they went on holidays to Lough Kee (Forest Park)," he explains.

"Now, living in Swords was a lot different to living in Swords today, but they decided anyway they wanted to get out of Dublin, a lifestyle change, upped sticks and relocated. And that was it - never went back."

Life-changing

He was "about five" when he moved. Thus began the life-changing cycle that would lead to the late Donie Shine giving O'Donohoe his SFC debut at corner-forward in 1996. Roscommon lost that Connacht semi-final by just three points to a Mayo team that would reach the All-Ireland final.

The following summer he started again as they crashed out to Sligo.

Then Gay Sheeran took over and O'Donohoe, by now working in Dublin, drifted down the pecking order.

"I was basically travelling up and down from Dublin and Gay wasn't giving me a look-in," he says, explaining his rationale for opting out.

As one door shut another opened.

By now, Tom Carr was managing Dublin but the initial approach came through selector John O'Leary. He was asked to play in a challenge against Meath in Gormanston.

"It went well and then I was asked to come in and train with them on a Saturday, which I did. There was another game against Mayo and I played well, scored 1-4 or 1-5, and then he asked me onto the panel - I suppose it took off from there. There was never really an option to go back to Roscommon after that!" he quips.

He started to feature regularly in the post-Christmas league rounds, culminating in a start against Cork when Dublin lost the 1999 NFL decider played at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

"It was a quagmire down there," he recounts of a damp squib occasion that felt more like a regulation league match.

By then, O'Donohoe had joined Ballymun Kickhams. He had been advised, because of "the politics and the optics" involved, to sign up for a club in the capital.

"They basically said, 'Listen, you need to move' and I was friendly with Ian Robertson and Davy Byrne."

Over the course of three seasons under Carr, he would feature far more frequently in league than championship: he made just one SFC start (against Longford in 2001) and four appearances off the bench, culminating in that '01 quarter-final replay against Kerry in Thurles.

"Roscommon and Dublin were quite similar at that time. That was a good Dublin team and I think they lacked belief. Just one big breakthrough win would have made them," he surmises.

Each year, though, he reckons you set out knowing "who 14 of those players would be come the following June."

But while there was some personal frustration at being "a bit-part player really" when it mattered, he looks back on his time in that dressing-room with fondness. "There was a buzz in Dublin. Overall it was a fantastic experience. The characters you met, like Vinnie Murphy and Paul Curran," he recalls.

"We had a great balance in that we trained hard but there was a brilliant social scene. That was the same with every county ... without being close to it now, I don't think they have that. It's gone too professional."

O'Donohoe hasn't met Jim Gavin since, but even then he remembers "a leader" with strong opinions and not afraid to voice them. Never once did he feel an outsider in that dressing-room: "Once fellas saw that you were able to do it on the pitch, they totally welcomed you."

His Sky Blue adventure ended, aged 26, with Carr's departure. Yet he harbours no regrets.

"Once I left the Roscommon panel that was it. You might bump into the guys now and again but life moves on, you move on. Once I left the Dublin panel you're gone, life moves on," he rationalises.

"Outside of those years it never consumed my life. And I'm glad it finished when it did because I went travelling with work for a couple of years, I did other things, had a social life … I didn't wake up at 33 or 34 and say, 'Oh Jesus, now what do I do?'"

Mind you, he concludes, "if you were a regular for Dublin for ten years, that's not a bad trade-off."

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