Sunday 25 February 2018

Old warhorse Gilligan to lead Sixmilebridge charge

Niall Gilligan, Clare
Niall Gilligan, Clare
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

SOME of the squad weren't even born when he won his All-Ireland medal and were still in primary school when the club last won the Blue Riband of Clare hurling 11 years ago.

He is one of only three of the side to have won a county senior medal – the first of his three came 18 years ago – so, as Sixmilebridge's elder lemon, you'd expect Niall Gilligan (37) to shift a large share of their slagging.

"I know, I know, will I ever get sense?" he chuckles of his remarkable longevity. "Sure it's my job to keep an eye on the rest of them and keep them away from night-clubs."

With a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter – and another child on the way in the new year – he quips that it might be time to review his involvement after tomorrow's 'old firm' Clare SHC final against arch-rivals and reigning champions Newmarket-on-Fergus.

But Gilligan's self-deprecating line in humour glosses over the truth. Age is no impediment to someone blessed with his gifts and, for 'The Bridge,' 'Gilly' is still doing the heavy lifting.

When they beat Clonlara by a goal in last weekend's county semi-final he wasn't just the oldest man on the pitch, he was also the game's top scorer with eight points, including two from play.

Sixteen years ago he was, arguably, the prototype for the county's new teen idol Shane O'Donnell. In 1997, in order to protect Gilligan from the hype of his first All-Ireland final appearance, Ger Loughnane named Fergal Hegarty as a dummy for him in Clare's starting line-up and their team picture featured 16 men.

Gilly (below) is still able to mix it with the Banner's boy-band hurlers, not surprising given that he only retired from inter-county service three years ago.

He'd won his three county titles before he was 26, including coming off the bench in their All-Ireland club victory in 1996. But there have been "lean years" since their last win in 2002.

The club's return to the limelight is partly attributed to their no-nonsense manager John O'Meara, who coached the Clare minors last year. It probably also helped that Seadna Morey was the only one caught up in the Banner's All-Ireland run.

Jamie Shanahan and goalkeeper Derek Fahy were also county senior panellists and for the club it's about finally maximising such young talent, including the Purcell brothers (Noel and Trevor), Morey and his first cousin Caimin, and the latter's younger brother Alex, still a schoolboy.

"Did I ever think of retiring? Not yet!" confesses Gilligan. "After 13 years with Clare it has kept me involved, I still love playing and meeting people and the club is our social life as well."

The past few years have taken their toll economically, so the club inevitably lost some of that youth talent to emigration. "The important thing is we're still standing," says Gilligan, a sentiment that equally applies to him as a hurler and, for which, The Bridge are eternally grateful."

Irish Independent

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