Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Eoghan has X Factor on the football pitch

Eoghan, in his younger days, had the makings of a football pro
Eoghan Quigg performs at a private X Factor gig in London

It’s a shame Eoghan Quigg’s vocal talent is so unique, because we might have witnessed his silky skills with a football were it not for his show-stopping voice.

The versatile singer, who has proved his future lies on stage with faultless performances on The X Factor week after week, also had all the attributes to make it as a professional footballer according to top soccer trainer Don Clarke.

And should he go out of the competition tonight the young heart-throb could still fall back on a career as a professional footballer, according to the coach.

Clarke, who taught Eoghan football skills when the schoolboy was just eight years old, has revealed how “Eoghan could have made it pro” if he had followed his love of football instead of his passion for singing.

And the highly-qualified coach, who has honed the talents of several premiership players is so sure young Eoghan could have had a future in the game, he likened him to Manchester Utd star Wayne Rooney as well as other household names in football.

He said: “His instinct for finding the goal was natural and he could score from anywhere. When we went to Scotland and played in a tournament against under-12’s from Dundee, Dundee Utd and Stockport County he scored in every single game of the competition. He was only ten-years-old himself and the youngest player on the pitch.

“He could do a lot of things with the ball that other ten-year-olds found impossible. He read the game exceptionally well and fitted into a team ethic with little problem. He progressed very quickly and was one of the best players we had on the scheme at that time.

“His knowledge of the game was as cute as the older players and while he was the youngest in the under-12’s team he was still the main goal scorer for us at that time.

“If we had to compare him to a modern player there would be few who would be similar. His work rate was as good as Wayne Rooney’s and he could play in the hole. For his age, he was as talented as any striker I’ve seen play.

He could do a lot of things with the ball that other |ten-year-olds found impossible

“He had the poacher’s instinct of an Andy Johnson or David Healy and the passing ability and vision to make him a midfield general like Neil Lennon. His ability to create chances for other players was also second-to-none. He really was that good.”

Clarke, who has coached at Derry’s Maiden City Soccer program since 1998, said: “In the dressing room he had a great influence on the other team members.

“His attitude was always positive and he was a very happy boy who was well liked. Eoghan was a regular attendant and quickly showed he had a lot of skill. His dedication was second-to-none too.”

The cross-community scheme which goes into schools in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was started by former Nottingham Forest player Paul Kee in 1990 and he picked up on young Quiggy, as Clarke still refers to him, when he was just eight years old and playing in the grounds of his St Canice’s Primary School in his home town of Dungiven, Co Londonderry.

Clarke admitted: “He came on very quickly with training. Normally we don’t invite players into the academy set up until they are 11 or 12 years old, but Eoghan had a definite talent at a very young age and we took him on the academy’s books a couple of years earlier because of that.

“Unfortunately for us, he moved towards singing when he was 14 and so there were no trials for big clubs, but they would have come for him if he had stayed.

When we went to St Andrews, Leicester City’s chief scout Alan Hill picked up on him and spoke to me personally about Eoghan’s ability to read the game and score goals.

“They came to watch him in the mid-Ulster league on many occasions after that.

“Two of the players who were alongside him then have gone on to sign for Premiership clubs.

“Shane Ferguson at Newcastle Utd and Eunan O’Kane of Everton were both Eoghan’s team mates in the 2002/2003 season. Between them and the others they won the mid-Ulster league with Eoghan scoring the winning goal in the last match of the season.

And they also won The Boys Cup, which is the equivalent of the Youth FA Cup in Northern Ireland. Eoghan scored a load in that competition too.”

But Clarke, who started coaching in 1998 and quickly gained his A-license to coach at Irish League Level, remembers the moment he realised he would lose his star striker.

“We were on the bus returning from a match,” he said, “and Eoghan began to sing.”

Clarke (47) from Derry, added: “It was the first time we had heard him sing. He was singing Coward of the County by Kenny Rogers and he blew us away.

“It was note perfect and everyone listened to him. It was then we realised he had a talent for singing as well, and it will be no surprise to anyone who heard him then that he is on the X-Factor today.

“The only time he missed soccer training was when he was in a school play or singing at a school event.

“In two seasons he only missed four training sessions out of more than 70 and that was always because of his singing commitments. The 20 miles to training twice a week never put him off and he often stayed behind to work with the older boys.

“Soon his parents let us know that he had drifted towards his singing, it was probably a natural choice, but he could have gone down the football route and he may always wonder what would have happened if he did.

“Eoghan could definitely have been a professional footballer if he had stuck with the sport. He has never seemed phased by any challenge.

“His laid-back personality was just the same back then as you see it on the television.

“He always found it easy to make friends and to see him on ITV every Saturday with the same smile and honest eyes shows he has not changed one bit.

“In my opinion anything Eoghan set his heart and mind to, he would have achieved.”

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