Eoghan Osborne in action for Dundalk FC against Waterford FC at Oriel Park in 2012. (Pic: Ciarán Culligan)
It’s a good time to be involved with Naomh Fionnbarra at present. Flying high in the intermediate grade - their highest standing in almost two decades - and with two Louth senior panellists, they’re a club on the up.
William Woods became the first ‘Barrs man since John Osborne to take to the field for the Wee County in a championship match against Carlow last Sunday week, while the former Louth midfielder’s son, Hugh, made it a double on the day having been introduced midway through the first half.
The pair are backbone members of the Togher side too, along with the likes of John Doyle, Jack Butterly and Óisín McGee. However, in manager Paddy White’s second season at the helm, they boast a hidden gem. His name is Eoghan Osborne.
Back playing Gaelic football after a long absence, due to soccer commitments with Drogheda United and Dundalk FC, and through his dedication to education, Eoghan, son of Robbie and the younger brother of team-mate Bernard and Stuart, now of O’Connell’s, is another potentially lethal addition to the Markey Park side’s attack.
“I always knew that I liked Gaelic better, but I didn’t really watch it much until last year when Togher had a good run in the league and a decent run in the championship. Standing on the sideline, I was just itching to get back, even to just be a part of the team,” he says of his decision to return to sport, five years since ending his League of Ireland career aged just 21.
A nephew of John, his roots in Louth GAA delve deep as not only was his uncle a member of perhaps the greatest post-1957 team to don the red jerseys, but fellow members, Stefan White, the Reillys, the Butterlys and Ollie McDonnell, are also part of his family tree.
Yet he chose soccer entering his adult years, making his way into the Drogheda United first-team before he had completed his leaving cert at Colaiste Rís. After 29 appearances, over two seasons, he moved to Dundalk in 2011 where, just days after debuting against Shamrock Rovers in the campaign opener, he suffered a nasty break of his left leg. He wouldn’t play for 14 months.
“I was in the reckoning at the start, but I broke my leg within the first two weeks of the season which was a bit of a set-back. I went to make a tackle in training and I hadn’t got my shin pads on. I fractured my shin bone and it took longer than expected to come back.”
He returned in the early months of summer in 2012. The late Seán McCaffrey, who he refers to as "a great manager", was now in charge and for Osborne, he was a familiar face having worked under the Monaghan man at Irish underage level.
It didn’t take long for ‘Ozzy’ to regain his place in the side, featuring at left-back, during a calamitous season where the club’s future, both on and off the pitch, was in serious jeopardy. Investment came to save its existence financially, while, on a magical night in Waterford, the Lilywhites preserved their top-flight status.
Stephen Kenny was swiftly appointed as manager and he opted to retain Osborne, even if starting opportunities were limited due to the arrival of a certain Dane Massey.
Though Osborne has nothing but admiration for his former boss.
“It was probably the best six months I experienced in soccer in terms of professionalism. He’s an incredible manager and you can see what he’s done now, but at the time everyone in the dressing room knew that he had brought in players that he knew he could mould.
“He was going to make something of it. There was no mindset of just surviving or being in mid-table. From the minute he came in it was about reaching for the top and that’s where they went really quickly.
“For me, personally, under Stephen, I had a great time with him and I respect him massively.
“I don’t think he was too happy when I left, but I just knew that it was my last six months in soccer no matter what happened. I wasn’t going to continue because I was going to pick my career outside football first.”
After leaving Dundalk, in June 2013, he spent six months with Derry City before opting to complete an honours degree at Hibernia College, building upon the undergraduate qualification he attained from DCU across his spells with both Louth clubs, with the aim of becoming a primary school teacher.
His decision to leave League of Ireland football after four seasons was somewhat instigated by the realisation that his desire for the game had dwindled. After all, Gaelic football remained his first love, even though he wasn’t practising it.
“From I went into Drogheda at 16, I went from enjoying soccer to it becoming a job and I never really adapted to the pressure of it. I knew in my own head that I wasn’t really good enough to make it.”
In his four years out of sport, in which time he completed his masters and secured employment at Dillonstown national school, where he teaches third and fourth class, the attraction of a return to the ‘Barrs increased.
“I always intended to go back to the Gaelic and Togher had a decent year last year so I was getting a little bit of an itch to go back to it. I always enjoyed Gaelic a little bit more than soccer, to be honest.
“I’ve two cousins (Hugh and Conor) and a brother (Bernard) on the team and I said that if I don’t go back now that I’d regret it. I’m working in the school and I had a bit more time on my hands so I knew that I could commit fully to it and not just be doing it in a half-hearted way.”
Since returning, he’s played a vibrant part in their solid Division Two campaign to date. The physical impact of the fitness work he required to get back into shape was “a rude awakening”, though it sounds as if it was worthwhile.
When asked if following in the footsteps of his relations, and most recently his cousin, Hugh, and playing for Louth, he found the suggestion fairly audacious, saying: “My aspiration was to get into the Togher team this year and be a solid fixture there. I’m not saying that I’d say no, but it’s not something that I think will ever materialise.”
This despite him being of the adequate stock and having featured for the county at underage level.
Now 26, he’s determined to make up for lost time. He speaks of another run in the Intermediate Championship this year in determined fashion.
Perhaps the Ballygassan charges can go a step or two further than last year, where their journey ended at the semi-final stage. And, with Osborne, who has been to hell and back with injury and on the rocky road to full-time employment, in their ranks, who’s to say their destination won’t be the promised lands of senior football come the season’s close.