Crealey: rallying cars and catching ball

WHILE most of us are used to watching Ben Crealey soar into the sky and reach highest around the middle of the field to fetch a football, competing in Gaelic Games wasn’t the Maghery man’s first passion.

From a young age, encouraged by his dad, Crealey took up rally car driving and had a pretty successful time with it too. First it started with go-carts and eventually progressed to rally cars before a big decision had to be made.

“My Dad, that’s all he’s ever done sporting wise. He’s been driving rally cars since he was 18 or 19 so it all came from him,” said the towering Armagh midfielder. “He never kicked a football in his life, he’s interested in football but only since I started playing it.

“Growing up, he wouldn’t have been interested in it at all. It all came from Dad, and I started racing go-carts from I was 6 or 7 and then I started competing in go-cart racing when I was 8. That progressed into rally car driving then when I was about 13.

“I started racing probably before I started playing football as a child to be honest. I kept on rally driving until the football started to get a wee bit more serious and that was it then.”

Serious stuff

With Maghery building into a championship force, they reached the semi-finals of the Senior Championship for the third year on the trot in 2015. They met a Crossmaglen side that were eager to reach their 19th final in 20 years.

Crealey hadn’t been part of the senior squad in those previous two season’s. But he made the step up in 2015 and was part of the team that was just sixty minutes away from reaching the club’s first Senior Championship final since 1993.

“There was a rally in 2015 and I was in my first year with the Maghery seniors at that stage. We were playing Crossmaglen in the championship semi-final, and we had a rally in that same weekend,” explained Crealey.

“I ended up missing the semi-final to go and compete in this rally. I think it was in England or in Wales or somewhere like that. That ended up being my last rally.

“Maghery were going for a championship at the time, there was quiet a big push on for the championship. So, I knew that something was going to have to give, I couldn’t continue to miss big games like that.”

Decision time

It was a certainly a tough decision, especially when rally car driving proved a successful venture for Crealey. “I won the Northen Ireland rally competition when I was around 15.

“After that I moved onto England and Scotland and started competing there instead. I won a couple of rallies in Scotland and came second a few times as well.

“As I progressed then, once I got my driver’s licence, I started doing proper forest rallies. I won a couple of rallies in my class when I was in the forest. That would have been my last year but that was the end of it then.

“There’s no football interest on my Dad’s side. On Mum’s side, my uncle Patrick (McConville) would have played for Carrickcruppen but outside of that, there wasn’t much football around home in my family.”

Photo Credit: John Merry

County call up

Crealey more than made up for missing that 2015 semi-final as he played a crucial part in Maghery’s first ever Senior Championship winning season the following year. Partnering captain James Lavery at midfield, they overcame Cullyhanna in the 2016 decider.

He earned a county call up the following season and rattle off three points after making his debut appearance from the bench against Derry in the opening round of the 2017 McKenna Cup.

He was again on the scoresheet in 2018 when he tasted success with Armagh for the very first time. Kieran McGeeney’s side saw off Fermanagh in the Division Three league final at Croke Park.

A niggling hamstring injury saw him sidelined throughout the 2020 club championship campaign. But he made a cameo appearance from the bench in the final as Maghery defeated Crossmaglen to capture the Gerry Fagan Cup for the second time.

First passion

While all of Crealey’s focus has been dedicated to the orange and white of Armagh and blue and yellow of Maghery in recent years, he still finds time to delve into his first passion, rally car diving.

“I would still do bits and pieces. We’ve got a wee buggy so I get out in it the odd time and try to compete but it’s pretty difficult with my schedule. Dad’s been trying to get me out more and more and I do go out in it whenever I can.

“I still go to watch rallies and stuff as well. I go to a couple of world championship rallies. I’ve been across to Sweden and Finland and places like that to watch it and over to England as well.

“There does be big rallies on in Ireland too and I’d go to them. It’s Dad’s first sport so he’s always in the loop with it and always talking about it so it’s kind of hard to avoid it but I definitely still have an interest.”

Photo Credit: John Merry