Niall Horan: a teen destined for greatness

Above: Back row, from left, Aidan Daly (coach), Tyrone Quinn, Seán Ward, Seán McCarthy, John Joe Nevin, Mark Hynes, David Gavin, James Larkin, Robert Fenton, Peter O’Brien, Ciaran Glennon, John Joe Myres, Niall Horan and Thomas Casey. Front row, from left, Patrick Rhattigan, Darren Rhattigan, Stephen Nugent, Pepe Orlandi, Paddy Joyce, Darragh Nolan, Paddy Joyce, Killian Daly, Alan Casey, Dillon McDermott, Daryl Murphy, Ciara Blundell, Sean Daly and Cormac Hynes.

It was April 2002, and the members of Mullingar Shamrocks had a big day coming up, the official opening of their new facilities in Springfield.

To publicise the event, they ran a full page ad feature in the Westmeath Examiner, with a selection of photos showcasing club activities.

The largest photograph showed coach Aidan Daly with a host of underage players.

And that picture represents what is believed to be the first time that global singing talent Niall Horan ever appeared in a newspaper photograph. Interestingly, he wasn’t the only youngster in that picture to go on to become a household name: standing in the same row is a young John Joe Nevin, who a decade later won a silver medal for Ireland in boxing at the 2012 London Olympics.

Bar appearances in the odd Cumann na mBunscol pic, Niall’s profile was as typically low-key as any teen from then onwards – attending St Kenny NS and then Coláiste Mhuire; playing football – but also honing his skills as a singer.

In December 2009, Niall took to the stage in the Mullingar Shamrocks ‘Stars in Their Eyes’ – a hint of the direction in which his ambitions lay, and while still only 16, he gigged at The Academy in Dublin in support of a previous X Factor contestant, Lloyd Daniels. It may not have been obvious at the time, but Niall Horan was on his way.

‘Mullingar teen has the X-Factor’ was the headline over a story broken by journalist Olga Aughey on our front page on July 10, 2010 – the first episode in a story that would see the teen become a member of one of the most successful boybands ever – and even more significantly, go on to enjoy huge success as a solo artist, something that few singers manage after leaving a career in a boy band behind.

One Direction with Danny de Vito in their 2014 video "Steal My Girl".

Niall’s X-Factor journey began in May of 2010, when he was one of thousands of aspiring performers who headed to Dublin for X-Factor auditions at Croke Park. After his first audition he was immediately called back for a second round the next day. He then underwent two further auditions, where he was filmed by a TV crew and interviewed by X Factor host Dermot O’Leary.

Four weeks later, while on a holiday in Spain, Niall received word that he had qualified for an audition in front of the real judging panel – Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh, Cheryl Cole and Katy Perry – at the Convention Centre in Dublin as part of the seventh X-Factor series.

At that audition, Niall’s talent shone through and he was selected for the X Factor ‘bootcamp’.

It was not until the autumn that the show was being aired – but much was going on behind the scenes – and on July 23, One Direction was formed – even though viewers were not to see that happen until late September.

On that crucial show, there were tense moments and when Niall’s name was not called out on the list of final 32 qualifiers.

However, in a dramatic turn of events, Niall was given a second chance in the final few minutes when he was teamed up with four other teen boys, Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson – and thus began One Direction.

Simon Cowell, who was mentoring the groups, was clear with them that there was going to be a lot of work ahead: “This is a lifeline,” he said.

“You’ve got to work 10, 12, 14 hours a day, every single day, and take this opportunity.

“You’ve got a real shot here guys.”

The guys did give it their all, and as they went to Marbella to stay at Cowell’s villa, they knew they could not take their feet off the gas, as it was there that the decision would be made as to whether they would be going through to the live shows.

As it happened, the five lads made it through all the live rounds and thus into the X-Factor final on December 2. Remarkably – given their subsequent success – they came third, behind overall winner Matt Cardle and runner-up Rebecca Ferguson, both of whom they pretty much immediately eclipsed after signing a £2m deal with Simon Cowell’s Syco records.

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