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Carrick fan Paul Gilmour calling shots as Sky roll into town again

By Keith Bailie

Irish League football made a welcome return to our screens this weekend, with live broadcasts of both Ballymena United's League Cup final defeat of Carrick Rangers and Cliftonville's Premiership draw with Glentoran on Sky Sports 2.

Sky's coverage attracted viewers from all over the United Kingdom, with some punters even watching the games from holiday resorts in Spain and Portugal.

While Sky have covered the Irish League in the past, the novelty of seeing the names of 'Carrick Rangers' and 'Ballymena' chalked on to the pub blackboards alongside the likes Barcelona and Manchester United is unlikely to wear off anytime soon.

The good news is this weekend's double bill of action is just the start, with Sky signed up to show six games each season until 2022.

That includes four more matches this term, with a game expected to be broadcast before Northern Ireland's World Cup qualifier with Norway in Belfast on March 26.

Plans are also afoot to show May's money-spinning Europa League Play-Off final.

The coverage gives Irish League football the platform to showcase the game to a wider audience and, hopefully, attract more supporters and sponsors to our clubs.

Carrickfergus native Paul Gilmour commentated on both Friday night's 1-1 draw between Cliftonville and Glentoran at Solitude and Saturday evening's League Cup final across north Belfast at Seaview.

Gilmour first covered Irish League football on BBC Radio Ulster's well-regarded Sportsound show and also commentated on Northern Ireland games for the BBC's coverage of the ill-fated Carling Nations Cup. In 2012, he left these shores for a role as a reporter on Sky Sports News.

Gilmour made a welcome return to Northern Ireland to add some in-depth Irish League knowledge to Sky's coverage and, reflecting on the double-header of action, he said: "It was a fantastic experience for me, particularly as I'm a fan of Irish League football.

"I cut my teeth commentating on local games for Radio Ulster, so I really enjoyed meeting some old friends and commentating on both games.

"It was actually the first time I've commentated live football for television, so there were a few nerves before kick-off, but it was an enjoyable experience."

The 31-year-old grew up supporting Carrick Rangers, but he was able to hide his disappointment when Conor McCloskey completed Ballymena's 2-0 cup final win with a late goal against his old team.

Gilmour added: "I know how much work goes into the running of the club and it's great to see them reaching cup finals and playing in the Premiership. That was a dream a few years ago, so I'm sure they will bounce back from Saturday's disappointment."

The was no rest for the broadcaster, who returned to London yesterday to cover Spurs' 3-0 FA Cup win over Fulham but, with Sky Sports committed to Irish League football until 2022, Paul will be hoping for a few more flying visits home.

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