Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

Declan Bogue: Legends so hard to replace

Conleith Gilligan has decided to quit county football

The men who lined up against them might not agree, but Ulster football has lost two massive personalities over the past fortnight when Ryan McMenamin and Conleith Gilligan waved goodbye to the inter-county scene.

Legends so hard to replace Time’s up: Conleith Gilligan has decided to quit county footballTHE men who lined up against them might not agree, but Ulster football has lost two massive personalities over the past fortnight when Ryan McMenamin and Conleith Gilligan waved goodbye to the inter-county scene.

Set aside the intense will-to-win of ‘Ricey', or even the gliding ease of a ‘Deets' solo run, and we soon realise that we are robbed of two brilliant characters who gave of themselves to the media when called upon.

Both men understand the soul of the GAA; that it thrives when given publicity. Some of that may come from the fact that they are so wedded and involved in their own clubs.

Nobody would have been surprised if McMenamin refused to pick up his phone to journalists and play the game. He is fully aware that sometimes his behaviour crossed the line and he got hammered for it.

Yet, the abiding opinion of every journalist that deals with him is one of surprise at his generosity of time and his dry wit.

Gilligan was more universally loved as a player, but his humility is astonishing.

Last week on his retirement, he assessed his legacy as a player, saying: “Maybe I wasn't for everybody or up to everybody's taste. I would hold my hands up and say I know I was never the most talented forward. I'm sure people would agree there were better forwards in Derry, but I'd like to think I would be remembered as somebody who worked very hard and was being the best that they could be.”

While things didn't always go for Gilligan, some of that could be attributed to the erratic era of Derry football he played in; capable of beating Kerry in the National League final of 2008, before losing to Fermanagh in the Ulster Championship two months later.

Anyone that witnessed some of his tour-de-forces in the Ulster club Championship, along with fellow stylist Enda Muldoon, would agree that Gilligan was a lavishly-gifted player. When the going was heavy underfoot, he seemed to glide through the muck. The exhibition he produced against Rathnew in the clabber of February 2002 was hailed by many eye-witnesses as the finest individual performance they ever saw.

In the long wait before Dromore began to enjoy their present success, McMenamin (pictured) and Colm McCullagh drove their club on relentlessly. Tyrone club football can be a great leveller, with county players regularly given roastings by pumped-up club opponents, but this never happened to Ricey. He was just about

the most important player on the club scene in his county, marshalling the St Dympna's defence and performing as a playmaker.

And whenever a writer might call either man, they could settle in for 10 minutes of light-hearted banter, taking away some amusing anecdote and an off-beat opinion that would make for a good story.

They may be a dying breed. There is a paranoia attached to media dealings that is stifling GAA writing and then there are overbearing managers who look upon any interview given by a player as an example of them going soft.

Post-match interviews are now a box-ticking exercise for winners. Mention that we made errors? Check. Will it give us something to work on in training? Check. Will that kind of performance not be nearly enough to win the next game? Check.

The old adage that managers like to throw out is that you should provide the headlines on a Monday after a match, rather than on the Sunday morning.

This is rubbish, of course. Before the Tyrone final, Errigal Ciaran's Davy Harte sat down for an hour and conducted an interview with this writer, enjoying a couple of chocolate biscuits while we talked.

That does not fit into the stereotypical image that is projected of a county footballer, who by that stage should be in a darkened room doing visualisation techniques and existing on nothing but protein, unrefined carbohydrates and fruit.

Come the day of the county final, Harte was the best player on the pitch. He approached his football as something to be enjoyed, not endured.

For McMenamin, his love of the association had him on the road selling £20 tickets for Dromore last week.

Last year, Gilligan did the exact same for Ballinderry. They do so because they know that GAA homes will never turn away recognisable faces like their own. It might cost them the price of a ticket, but they know they might get a morsel of inside knowledge.

In the greater GAA community, we never lose these men who are dedicated to their clubs, but the inter-county scene will become duller for their absence.

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