Belfast Telegraph

Footballers' Lives with Caolan Loughran: My world champion dad is a real inspiration for me and taught me that critics build your character

Caolan Loughran and his dad, Eamonn
Caolan Loughran and his dad, Eamonn
Arm’s length:Caolan Loughran and Ross Clarke
Big hitter: Caolan Loughran’s dad Eamonn after winning the world title in 1994

By Graham Luney

In the latest installment of our popular series, Carrick Rangers ace Caolan Loughran discusses his former boxing world champion father, opting to return from America, and his rewarding job.

Q What are your early football memories?

A I got into football aged around seven or eight with All Saints. I joined mini-soccer at Ballymena and I loved it. As my dad Eamonn says, you need to be 100% into it to be the best you can be.

I played a bit of Gaelic but football was the one sport I had the most passion for. It was exciting to join Ballymena United and that gave me confidence. I started as a striker and in the Lisburn League our defence was leaking goals so the opportunity arose to become a centre-half.

We had the second best defensive record in the Championship last season and my job is clean sheets now.

Q How did you progress at Ballymena?

A I played from Under-10 up to Glenn Ferguson's first team. He was a great man and saw something in me. Davy Dorrian was reserve manager and he helped make me the footballer I am.

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I had an edge in my game and needed to control it. He helped me bridge the gap from reserve to first team. It's a big jump and people don't understand how big it is. I've seen players with the talent but just lacking the discipline and right attitude.

I enjoyed my time but then got an offer from Regis University in Denver, Colorado. Glenn wanted me to stay but I was a 19-year-old who relished the opportunity to go to America. I thought I'd miss home but I loved it. I've got friends for life from my time there.

The football was not great, it was a football scholarship but I didn't play enough competitive football. I loved the lifestyle but felt I had to come home and seize the chance to establish myself in the local game.

Q So you have no regrets about coming home?

A No, I could have stayed and come home with a business degree but I'm fortunate now to be working with special needs kids as an assistant teacher at Riverside School in Antrim, as well as in the Seven Towers Leisure Centre as a lifeguard. When I first came home from America I worked in a butchers and it was good craic.

Q Would you encourage someone to try a sports scholarship in America?

A It's a big step as it was the first time I left my family, and I can remember shedding a few tears on my way over, but the people were very welcoming. I think it's worth giving it a go, I loved it.

Q What happened on your return?

A I linked up with the Saturday Morning League team All Saints Old Boys for three months until January. I got injured and only played a few matches. I had been out of the game for a year and it took me months to get up to speed.

Glenn lost his job and David Jeffrey came in. I was training with the team and signed a professional deal. I had a great time, it was my first year in senior football and I won the League Cup and got into Europe.

As a local lad it was a fantastic achievement, and although I don't really reflect on it much now, I will look back on it fondly later in life. I do want to achieve more.

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Local lads Caolan Loughran (right) and Leroy Millar pose for fan photos after winning the League Cup with Ballymena in 2017.

Q You're at Carrick Rangers now and made the Championship Team of the Season. How are you enjoying it?

A I felt Ballymena were the only club for me and I couldn't see myself anywhere else. The manager has to make big decisions and I was frustrated at not playing. I'd never burn bridges with David and Bryan McLoughlin.

I was disappointed not to play but I wouldn't rule out playing under Davy again. I enjoyed my loan spell at Larne and loved playing for them. I've realised there's more to life than Ballymena or one club. Perhaps leaving United was a blessing in disguise. Football can be ruthless, and if David ever wanted me back I would never hold a grudge.

Q Do you have a big challenge now with Carrick in the Premiership?

A I'm really excited. I didn't want to go to the Championship but I talked to my dad about it and he said, 'Caolan, if you make this move, you and the team have to get out of the league'. I had to give it my all and I was able to take free-kicks and penalties at Carrick.

We started off poorly and it was a wake-up call. A defeat to the H&W Welders was followed by a 5-0 defeat at home to Dundela. I can remember Facebook comments saying, 'This is a disgrace' and 'Worst Carrick team ever'. I love reading stuff like that because it's a sign of character if you can raise your game.

I had an injury, but the team started to pick up points and we strengthened the squad and kicked on. The whole team had changed and it's a hard, competitive league. Every game is a tough battle and you have to be mentally prepared or you will get a reality check.

After Christmas we raised our game and were a real unit. I did have other offers on the table but Carrick were loyal to me and I had a fantastic year with them. I do want to play at as high a level as I can, but for footballing reasons and loyalty I felt I had to give Carrick another year at least. You can't just walk into the top teams.

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Arm’s length:Caolan Loughran and Ross Clarke

Q Do you feed off criticism?

A I love it. My dad always said he enjoyed that too. It's okay taking the praise when things are going well, but it's those boys who want to stick a knife in your back, you want to prove them wrong.

All those people who don't believe in you make you work harder and go the extra mile. The critics build your character, and even after my dad won a world boxing title he heard boys in the town saying he had no talent and he was lucky.

With five defences, you will still hear a few guys say he was just lucky. I've heard people question Steven Douglas' ability but he's won how many trophies in his career and is still playing for Coleraine? That's a man you just have to admire, he's a winner.

Q Your dad Eamonn was WBO welterweight world champion. Has he been a huge influence in your life?

A I would be very into my boxing and do a lot of training that way, I would do a lot of sparing at a gym in the garage and use boxing to build up strength and fitness. It's an intense session.

Roy Keane and Wes Lamont liked their boxing, it can bring you up to another level and help you perform. When I'm on the pitch and get hit, it's nothing compared to three rounds as a boxer.

Dad has been a massive influence on me.

I don't drink, smoke or gamble and a lot of that comes from my dad. After my dad's boxing career ended he drank a bit but when his father Ned passed away he quickly realised he needed to change. My dad is an inspiration to me and I look up to him.

I'd never want to let him down. He's always believed in never getting too high when you have success and when the lows come never get too down. Sport is all about highs and lows and you need to keep perspective.

My wee sister Aleysha has a young child and my mum Angela is a saint when it comes to looking after me, though she doesn't go to games. I'll get stick because of my dad but it doesn't bother me and he keeps me mentally sharp. He gives me constructive criticism and I appreciate that.

I've watched my dad fight on DVDs and he's still training all the time. You've got to be dedicated to become a world champion. He spent five years in London and that's a long time away from home. A story like that makes me determined to be the best player that I can be.

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Big hitter: Caolan Loughran’s dad Eamonn after winning the world title in 1994

Q How much do you enjoy your work at Riverside School in Antrim?

A I absolutely love it. Kids in my class are aged 14 to 16. The children are special and it's a real pleasure to help give them life skills. I think it's a calling for people to work with them.

I've always had an interest in that work because you get so much love from the kids. They don't have any hate towards anyone. There's no filters with them and they are always laughing. Seeing them smile is special.

We had a football tournament which we won and you couldn't wipe the smile off my face for a week. It's a really rewarding job.

Q Are you a religious person?

A I would say I live a faithful life and go to Mass every Sunday. My parents and sister would be the same. It has always been important for me to keep my faith, particularly during hard times.

I'm grateful for everything God has given me. I would say a prayer before a game and Sunday is a nice day to relax and reflect.

Q Do you have a partner?

A I do, I've been with Olivia who is in Newcastle studying to be a teacher. I can't pop over every weekend because of the football but it was important for her to get her degree.

You have to follow your passion in life. She lived five minutes around the corner from me and we met on a night out. She's level headed and was very supportive when I dislocated my shoulder and ended up in hospital. She's right when she tells me there's more important things to worry about than football.

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