Friday 6 December 2019

Conlan digs Derry out of a hole as oldest goalkeeper in town

Michael Conlon. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Conlon. Photo: Sportsfile

Declan Bogue

A perfect storm was created in Derry last week, to allow 38-year-old Michael Conlan back in as county goalkeeper - 13 years after his last Championship game.

The Ballinderry veteran has been in manager Damian Barton's backroom team all year as goalkeeping coach.

A shoulder injury to regular No 1 Thomas Mallon in a club game, and a groin strain suffered by back-up keeper Callum Mullan-Young meant the popular 'Mickey C' made his first summer appearance since a backdoor defeat to Dublin in Clones, back in 2003, when he played in Saturday's win over Louth qualifier.

"I've been in a coaching role all year but I found out I was starting, I was a bit shocked," the personal trainer said. "I only found out on Thursday night and I was glad about that, because if you had too long to think about it, it wouldn't have been good!

"With something like that, if you knew a couple of weeks in advance it could play on your mind and knowing on Thursday I was able to get my mind focused on it, visualise different situations.

"It still was awkward. First of all I went into that changing-room there. You realise you have to go in with the team - that was the first thing that felt a wee bit weird.

"The boys were very good - that's the type of situation you want. To help get you mentally right, to get my head in the game."

After playing for Mickey Moran, Conlan was deemed surplus to requirements by previous Derry bosses Paddy Crozier and Damian Cassidy, until John Brennan took over ahead of the 2011 season. At the time, Conlan was a delivery driver for a local bakery and changed his career to become a personal trainer operating out of his premises, 'The Shed'.

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Although Derry made it through to the next round and now play the loser of this weekend's Dublin-Meath clash on Saturday week, Conlan says he is happy to vacate the nets.

"They'll be back for the next day - so I'll be back kicking the balls at them from now on," he says of Mallon and Mullan-Young.

"But from a performance point of view, I was happy. I made a few mistakes but I suppose that's where experience comes in. You're able to brush them aside and concentrate on the game. It was definitely an experience, one I never thought I'd get at this stage.

"What I enjoyed about it was the day, getting ready for the game and doing the warm-up. Usually you're the one in doing the warm-ups with them so it was enjoyable.

"I feel great, it was great to get a win. Maybe if we'd lost it'd be a different story. It was a surreal experience. I was happy with the performance, happy to just pull the team out and get them through to the next round."

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