Thursday 23 March 2017

Gilligan calls for truce in Banner wars

DAMIAN LAWLOR

NIALL Gilligan has called for a fresh start in Clare hurling and an end to the bickering that has dogged the county for the past few years.

Last week Gilligan, 34, announced he was stepping aside after a distinguished career that saw him notch 56 championship appearances and equal Jimmy Smyth's record of 20 senior championship goals for the Banner. The Sixmilebridge man hasn't totally ruled out a return to the squad, but for now Clare's best forward of the past decade will not feature with Ger O'Loughlin's outfit.

Gilligan's departure may have been hastened by another fraught winter for the Banner county, the squad's stand-off with former manager Mike McNamara coming in the wake of a number of rows between officials, players and former managers in the recent past.

Such upsets caused the removal of McNamara and before him, Tony Considine. They also saw high-profile players like Gerry Quinn and Davy Fitzgerald dropped as relationships collapsed within the county.

"It's time that everyone pulled together now and just got on with the job of bringing a few new players through every year and getting Clare back to winning ways," said Gilligan. "The last few years have been very disappointing for us, there have been a lot of rows and disagreements and it's set us back an awful long way.

"It wasn't an enjoyable time to be playing hurling, but hopefully the U21 success will give everyone a fresh start. Ger O'Loughlin is coming in now and he'll be his own man, that's for sure. But we need to start concentrating on hurling again, not the stuff away from the pitch. And we need to produce one or two young lads every year for the senior team, not just this year."

Gilligan bows out safe in the knowledge that he never let any of his managers down. His arrival may have been inconspicuous -- the Clare minors didn't pick him and St Flannan's did without him in the Dr Harty Cup -- but he started making waves at 19 when he came on for the last quarter of the 1996 All-Ireland club final against Dunloy with only two points between the teams. It was his first senior appearance, but he seized the moment and rifled over three points.

Loughnane took him on board and six months later he scored 0-3 from play in the All-Ireland final against Tipperary, despite having never played a full senior game for Sixmilebridge.

"Even when we stopped winning titles after that we were still reaching All-Ireland semi-finals and Munster club finals," he says. "They were brilliant days, days you'll never forget, but they seem a long time ago now," he reflected.

"There are guys coming through from U21 who would only have been six or seven when we won in 1997. In the last few years my appetite waned a bit and somewhere in between I could have done with a year away from hurling, but it's not the done thing in the GAA and I didn't get it. Still, I'll plough on with the club and hopefully we'll have a bit more to shout about. Please God, a new crop will bring the glory days back to Clare too."

Gilligan, who married last year and moves into a new house this week, began his Clare career with a bang and walks away with his head high and a nice stack of medals and accolades. You can't ask for much more than that.

Sunday Independent

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