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Wednesday 18 July 2018

Begley is back centre stage - 13 years later

Laois veteran has ventured to Oz, Parnell's and Division 4 ... now his Leinster final wait is over

Colm Begley of Laois (left) celebrates with team-mate Mark Timmons after their Leinster SFC semi-final win over Carlow at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile
Colm Begley of Laois (left) celebrates with team-mate Mark Timmons after their Leinster SFC semi-final win over Carlow at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile

It seems like a different world - the 2005 Leinster senior football decider. Laois were appearing in the final for the third summer running. Dublin had conquered their province just once in the previous nine attempts.

No Sky Blue monopoly then. No double-digit landslides taken as a matter of routine. But a time when Leinster finals were invariably full-house occasions: 81,025 were crammed into Croke Park.

Enter a young Laois wing-back with the world at his feet. Colm Begley would only turn 19 the following month.

And with the finishing line in sight, they led by two and Begley must have sensed his debut summer would come festooned in blue-and-white ribbons.

But it wasn't to be. Dublin were level again by the 70th minute thanks to a 46m free from Tomás Quinn. Then, three minutes into stoppage-time, Mossy nailed the '45' that would bring the Delaney Cup back to Donnycarney.

"I was just turning 19 - I remember it well," says Begley. "I didn't think it was out over the line for the '45' anyway.

"I marked (Bryan) Cullen, Jason Sherlock and Mossy Quinn in that final. Jason Sherlock was probably the toughest in one way, but all three were very different players.

Calibre

"But talking about that team, the calibre around me like Tom Kelly, Darren Rooney, (Pádraig) Clancy at midfield, Beano (McDonald). I remember it being a very strong team and not feeling out of place ... I felt out of place in some ways because I was a younger player.

"The crowd too was amazing. I remember walking by the Hill and, in fairness to Dublin fans, they bring a lot.

"That's why I'm looking forward to this one so much as well; it's been a while. When you are at the latter stage of your career and where we've been at, in Division 4 and Division 3, to get a chance to play at Croke Park again was lovely. It was a target for some players.

"Then suddenly to get a chance to play in a Leinster final again was a possibility - and we have that now. These things, you've to cherish them."

Even more so because of the journey that Begley has been on. Soon after that '05 season, Begley was bound for Oz - there followed a four-year career playing Aussie Rules, three with the Brisbane Lions, one with St Kilda.

Upon his return to Ireland, he joined Dublin club Parnell's where Stephen Cluxton became his team-mate until he rejoined his native Stradbally in 2016.

Meanwhile, the second coming of his Laois career never quite matched the promise of '05. An All-Ireland quarter-final in 2012, running Dublin to a goal, was as good as it got.

"When I came back (from Australia) it was still a bit of a learning curve to get back into the game," he explains. "But I was fortunate enough that I was involved with DCU, which would have helped. They were involved in some success and had a nice brand of football. I was still involved in Laois games that were going okay."

But after a while they weren't even doing that. Cue a spiral through the divisions, culminating in last year's demotion to the basement.

"In fairness, in Peter Creedon's year, we lost three games by two points. We had 14 men on the pitch for more than three quarters of a game. So actually it was small margins, but we were down in Division 4," he accepts.

"It was a big shock but maybe it needed to happen. That's probably the wrong thing to say - nobody wanted it to happen, I wouldn't even call it a wake-up call because it wasn't as if we were saying, 'Oh, what's happening?'

"Results didn't go our way and it was more, 'Here we are now and maybe we should reassess where we are and where we should be' ... did we think we were a Division 4 team? No. We're up to Division 3 now, it's fine, let's see where we're at now against other teams at different levels."

Begley is back living and working in Laois, as a Leinster GAA Games Development Administrator. The momentum achieved during John Sugrue's maiden managerial campaign, and especially reaching the Leinster final, has reversed years of public apathy.

"I can see the difference it has made around the area, in the schools I've gone into," he confirms.

Hiatus

But after a 13-year hiatus, and soon to turn 32, he won't even countenance talk of Sunday being a 'free shot' with a guaranteed qualifier to come.

"People ask me about the 'Super 8s', but I'm not even thinking about it. We've set targets for ourselves ... it has been target after target," he stresses.

Now comes the latest, and greatest of all: the Dubs in a Leinster final.

"It's fantastic to be involved now in such an occasion, to have the support building again and a bit more energy about the place, that's huge for us."

Worth the wait ...

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