AFTER 10 Senior County Finals in 13 years you’d think that pre-match buzz would have dimmed somewhat with Ballinderry forward Conleith Gilligan. Think again.
Michael Wilson reports
The Inter-county star has been one of the county’s most consistent scorers over the past decade and has played a pivotal role as the Shamrocks dominated the club scene in Derry. Gilligan claimed his first Championship title in the 2001 victory over Bellaghy and was instrumental as the south Derry men went all the way to the All Ireland club title the following season.
Despite that success, Gilligan admitted there is a hint of regret at unfulfilled potential among a squad which could had reached even greater heights.
“You look back on that now,” admits Gilligan, “A lot of boys were still 21 or 22 and maybe we didn’t realise at the time what we were in the middle of. You were in that bubble of being young and being in the moment, nothing really fazes you and it’s only now that we haven’t been able to get back there that you really appreciate the significance of it.
“The longer you go on though, you probably get more nervous ahead of these big games. You realise that every opportunity could be your last so every game like this is more important than the year before. Obviously we would love to get back to that level again and compete for the All-Ireland but you’re not afforded the luxury of thinking like that in this championship. Another county can look further ahead but Derry can’t because every game is minefield.
“That’s visible in that there’s a different winner every year, it’s extremely tough to get out of Derry and that’s why people go to watch this championship. That’s why you have people from different counties coming because nothing’s spared. On any given day, in any given game, anything can happen. It’s a special championship to win.”
Gilligan concedes Ballinderry have not been at their free scoring best in the run to Sunday’s final but stressed that is the nature of the Derry Championship. Not since Gilligan’s All Ireland winning side has a team managed to retain the John McLaughlin Cup so ‘Deets’ knows the scale of challenge facing the Shamrocks on Sunday.
“Winning any championship in Derry is good going,” he explained, “In every game you play, you run the risk of being beaten, every game. So two in a row is not something the players can think about at this point. Maybe the supporters are talking like that but we definitely aren’t.
“We haven’t been setting the world alight with our performances so far but championship matches are about getting through. We’ve done things a bit differently this year and we’ve had to battle and scrape our way through tight games. But that’s the nature of championship, that’s the nature of Derry. Nothing’s ever easy won.”