Eoghan Quigg: 'The usual one was ‘you should stick to the singing'... you just laugh it off; if stuff like that's going to piss you off, you've no chance'
Over a decade ago, Eoghan Quigg was entertaining Saturday night TV audiences on the X Factor. These days, he can be found in the lower reaches of the Derry GAA leagues but, as Neil Loughran found out, he is never too far from the stage...
THE third tier of the Derry all county football league should be no country for one-time popstars. A sneaky elbow to the ribs, a fly knee in the back, a boot up the backside, or worse - anything goes away from the prying eyes of match officials.
And then there are the verbals. They are plentiful at the best of times, with generations-old rivalries and personal grudges every bit as raw down the divisions as up top.
But when you’ve had thousands of teenage girls from across the UK dreaming of setting up home in Dungiven after swooning over your rendition of Michael Jackson’s Ben, well, it’s a bit of a game-changer.
“Ah, I’ve been called every name under the sun - by players on the pitch and people not even on the pitch,” says Eoghan Quigg with a laugh.
“The usual one was ‘you should stick to the singing’, that sort of thing. You just laugh it off; if stuff like that’s going to piss you off, you’ve no chance. There’d be no point playing.
“I have no issue with the nitty gritty bit of it – I like the physicality. I’m not the biggest in the world, but I can handle myself okay.
“I was boxing from the age of 11 to 15 so I was handy enough with the mitts. I’m not a fighter at all; sometimes it’s just out of your control I suppose.
“But I’ve always seen it as a bit of craic and a bit of banter. If you can shake hands at the end of the game, then I have no problem.
“Some boys take it way too seriously sometimes.”
Back in 2008, 16-year-old Eoghan Quigg (it’s almost impossible to say the name, even internally, without booming it aloud, Peter Dickson-style) was front page news, coming from nowhere to finish third in the X Factor.
Even if you didn’t automatically remember the name, you’ll remember the face. The famous ‘bird’s nest’ hairstyle is long gone, but the same cherubic looks remain.
“I had to tone the hair down a bit,” he added, “I’m getting older now, you couldn’t be running about with that…”
To try and provide an idea of the scale of his overnight success, Quigg got to share a stage with Beyonce at the show’s grand finale. Imagine being a 16-year-old boy and being allowed anywhere near Beyonce?
It’s a world away from Knockwellan pitches in Derry city where, last Friday night, Quigg made his return to the Gaelic football field following a two-year hiatus.
His transfer to Waterside outfit Doire Trasna from Dungiven finally got the green light just days beforehand, allowing him to debut against Magilligan; an impressive haul of 3-1 opening the floodgates for the inevitable slew of Doire Trasna having the X Factor-related headlines.
“For me, it’s moreso about getting to know the community,” he says.
“I started at half-forward against Magilligan, moved inside and felt if I could get on the ball and get turned, I could really hurt them.
“I’m definitely a bit more bulky than I was at 16 but I’ve still got a decent turn of pace – my best attributes were always speed and an eye for goal.
“I still managed to miss a penalty in the last five minutes… I just changed my mind at the last second and the ’keeper, to be fair to him, got a hand to it. So it wasn’t perfect, but I’m just happy to be back playing a bit of football.
“Trasna’s a good side, they’ll raise a few eyebrows this year.”
Quigg bagged another 1-1 against Craigbane on Wednesday night, the soccer skills that have seen him feature for the likes of Coagh United, Portstewart, Moyola Town and, most recently, Maiden City standing him in good stead in front of goal.
And within 45 minutes of the final whistle on Wednesday, he was clearing his throat and getting ready for a gig at the Roe Park resort in Limavady, having rekindled the singing career he had parked for a time after coming back from England.
“I had to get that gig put back half an hour; I went down early and set everything up so I could head straight to Limavady after.
“I have a residency in the Waterfoot Hotel on Friday nights and I’m in a wedding band too, The Housemates, so it’s busy enough thankfully. The hotel are good enough to put the times back a bit to let me play - if you build relationships with people, you can make it work.”
Eleven years on, he’s not really in touch with any of his fellow contestants – “once that’s all over, you kind of move on and try and do your own thing, that’s just the way the cycle works”.
But, despite the barbs he has had to endure on the football field at times, Quigg is adamant that he wouldn’t change a thing about his X Factor adventure.
“Sometimes it feels like yesterday, and other times it feels like that wasn’t even me. It just feels like a completely different person - but what an experience it was, and one that I have so many fond memories of.
“Nobody else from here has done that at such a young age, and I still feel indebted to so many people who got behind me and supported me at the time.
“You never forget that, people picking up the phone, spending their hard-earned money when there was a recession going on… how do you even begin to thank people for that? It’s something I’ll be forever grateful for.
“Nine times out of 10, it’s not going to last forever. I was always well aware of that. Luckily I always had good people around me – my ma and da kept my feet on the ground. If they ever thought I was getting big headed, an oul clip round the ear did no harm - y’know, ‘calm yourself’.
“I did it for three solid years and then got out of it myself. I didn’t want to do it any more. It was great, it was a dream, and it’s not my dream any more.
“People still sort of remember you from 10 years ago - I don’t know how - and it still gets you work, but I’m able to play a bit of football on a Friday night. I’m happy that’s the way things are.
“A lot of people really get affected, or end up bitter if it doesn’t work out, so I feel lucky my life’s just pretty normal now.
“You just hope that comes across well to people who maybe expect you to be an arrogant prick, when really you’re not.”