GAA Football

When rally driving was number one for Armagh midfielder Ben Crealey

Safe hands. Ben Crealey out-jumps Cavan's Gearoid McKiernan during last year's Ulster Senior Football Championship semi-final at Clones. Picture by Philip Walsh.
Andy Watters

WHEN you weigh-up the many influences competing with Gaelic Games for a teenagers’ attention these days you’d probably start with soccer, then rugby, then alcohol, drugs, gaming etc, etc...

Rally driving might be well down your list but it was at the top of Ben Crealey’s not so long ago. When he was in his teens the Armagh midfielder had to make the difficult choice between tearing around an off-road circuit in a Ford Fiesta ST and forging a GAA career for his club and county.

In the end, football came first but it was a tough call. Maghery clubman Crealey is a self-confessed petrol head who’s been driving go-karts since he was five and competing in the Irish Junior Championships from the age of 15. He won Rally Challenge Ireland in 2012, the Northern Ireland Championship and competed in Scotland, England and Wales as well

These days fitting his 6’5” frame behind the wheel is a tight squeeze but he hasn’t closed to door on rallying just yet.

“I was driving up until I was 18 but then, once the football started getting serious and more and more time was getting invested into it, I had to pull the pin on the rallying unfortunately because I was missing training too much,” he explains.

“I had to commit to one or the other and I decided on the football.”

He bucked a family trend by doing so. His dad Brendan never kicked a football in his life. Rallying was his sport and GAA hardly registered with Crealey senior until Ben started to show his talent for the local club.

A talented driver himself, Brendan was a semi-professional at one stage and Ben inherited the gene.

“I’m still very interested in it and I follow it as much as I can,” he says.

“I still go on the odd wee run-out. We have a bit of space out at the back of the house so the road car gets a bit of a trimming sometimes when I’m at home! It’s an expensive and time-consuming sport but I would love to go back to it sometime. Me and dad have always said we’ll get back into it at some stage in some sort of form.

“Maybe me driving and him being the co-driver, or both of us driving, you can enter into rallies for the same car but two different drivers and you share the driving. I’d love to get back into it but the problem is I can’t fit into too many cars any more!”

He may not have the ideal build for driving but Crealey is perfectly built for midfield. Unfortunately he hasn’t featured for Maghery this season after breaking his collarbone in training. The injury required surgery and he is now in the seventh week of post-surgery rehab which means he will (or should) miss his club’s Armagh Senior Championship final date with Crossmaglen on September 20.

“I had a tough couple of weeks after the surgery because I was sitting doing nothing, I couldn’t really do anything,” he explains.

“I just had to wait until the wound healed but I’m stuck into the rehab now and I’ve got a focus and I’m busy.

“Since the stitches came out I’ve been busy and it’s nice not sitting about. I’m doing stuff every day, training away and I’m busier than when I was actually fit because you end up doing your own rehab and then you’re going to training that night as well with Maghery. I just go down and watch the training and do runs on the sideline so I can stay involved.”

Of course he’d love to be involved in the final against Cross. On the one hand he accepts that he’ll have to sit it out, on the other he’s hoping for a fitness miracle so he can play.

“It really hits you when the ball is thrown in and you’re sitting there watching,” he says.

“It’s very tough to miss out, especially when you get to the latter stages of the championship.

“I have it in my head that I’m going to be back for the final,” he says, but then a more cautious inner voice kicks in and he adds: “No, I’m ruling myself out!

“I think the heart tells me one thing and then my head, and everybody else, tells me: ‘No, what are you doing!!’ So I don’t think I’ll be back unless there’s a miracle.”

If he doesn’t make it back for Maghery this season it’ll be the second season he’ll have missed with the club. In 2018 he pulled a hamstring playing with Armagh before a Qualifier against Westmeath and was out for nine months.

He hasn’t played for the Orchard County since the Qualifier against Mayo in Castlebar last year because he moved to London to begin a year’s placement as a civil engineer.

He was in there until March when work shut down because of the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic and he is due to return to Queen’s now to begin the second year of a three-year Masters course.

As for his Armagh future, Crealey admits that he hasn’t “really looked beyond the club”.

“I haven’t really given it much thought and I haven’t really spoken to anyone about it either,” he says.

“It’s undecided and up in the air. I would have loved to have had a club season behind me, which obviously isn’t going to happen now. I’ll wait and see how well I recover from this injury and decide after that.”



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