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Gilligan calls time on Clare career

THE final link with Clare's last All-Ireland hurling success has been broken with the confirmation that Niall Gilligan's days as an inter-county player are over.

Gilligan (34) had been invited back onto the squad, which resumed training on Monday night.

But Clare's new manager Ger O'Loughlin had requested a decision ahead of that gathering from his former attacking colleague.

Gilligan confirmed yesterday that after 13 years with Clare, he had 'reached the end of the line'.

"I had been asked back but I won't be on the panel. I'm 34 now but I'll be training away with my club Sixmilebridge," he said.

Two years ago, Gilligan was ready to pull the plug as he was building a house and getting married, but he stayed on and enjoyed a productive 2008.

But last year was a disaster for the Clare senior team, and with the autumn stand-off over his former trainer Mike McNamara's continuation as manager, it always looked likely that Gilligan would call it a day.

His decision was also influenced by a need to devote more time to work commitments -- he is an auctioneer.

Gilligan came on to the Clare squad at the height of its powers in 1997, having helped Sixmilebridge to an All-Ireland club title 18 months earlier, when he featured as a substitute.

To protect Gilligan in the build-up to his first All-Ireland final appearance, then manager Ger Loughnane named Fergal Hegarty instead in the line-up for the decider against Tipperary.

Gilligan's retirement leaves Clare with no remaining All-Ireland medal-holders on the panel -- Alan Markham, the second longest-serving player, only joined the squad in 1998. Colin Lynch opted out last year because of injury, prior to the start of the championship.

Gilligan won two Munster championship medals in addition to his All-Ireland, and returned to an All-Ireland final in 2002.

He has welcomed O'Loughlin's appointment, suggesting that the new man's experience with Clare as a selector in 2003 and with Adare over the last three years will stand to him.

"He'll be his own man, that's for sure," said Gilligan.

And if his own form at club level suggested he could make a return, would he be available?

"I doubt that will be the case. I've been leaning this way for a while. That said, we'll see how it goes. There are plenty of good players coming on now," he said.

The difference in preparation over the last 13 years is arguably the most striking change he has noticed in his long career. "Clare were credited with bringing a new approach to fitness and preparation, and we did," he said. "But we could still go over to the Sherwood (restaurant) and eat a fry-up, steak and a couple of glasses of coke. It's different now."

Gilligan found himself in a difficult position during the recent stand-off, having trained under McNamara in the 1990s and was a playing colleague of selector Ollie Baker.

O'Loughlin has already accepted confirmation from Tony Griffin that he will not be going back on an original decision to retire at the height of the controversy over McNamara's tenure.

Griffin has an involvement with Sports Academy International which will involve a lot of weekend work over the coming months.

But Gerry Quinn is back at training, having been dropped for apparent disciplinary reasons by McNamara before last year's championship.

Irish Independent