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CJ is out to make up for lost time with Antrim

 

By Declan Bogue

On Monday, CJ McGourty, the fresh-faced future of Antrim football a few years back, turned 29. A decade has flashed by since he was the great white hope.

To mark it, he called up to his Granny Harbinson before Saffrons training. Her apple pie has always been his favourite and he had a small taste to mark the birthday.

On Sunday, he will be in her home town of Ballybofey, Donegal, doing battle with her team.

"She is very enthusiastic about Donegal," the St Gall's man smiles.

"She is always giving off if they are beat so she will have a mixed bag to deal with on Sunday no matter what."

In recent years, she has got the inside track on Donegal. Her son and CJ's uncle is Lenny Harbinson, manager of a St Gall's side that won the All-Ireland club title in 2010, with one Rory Gallagher - now Donegal boss - at full-forward. The two of them remain close from that time.

Alongside him on that forward line was a fledging CJ. Ask about Gallagher's guidance at that precocious age and he already knows what he wants to say about the opposing manager on Sunday.

"Rory Gallagher, in my opinion, is the best manager in Ireland," he says in that forthright way of his.

He explains: "He got a Donegal team that was on their last legs in my opinion and he has brought them back, revived them, he's brought a lot of young boys in over the last two years.

"Even when they won the All-Ireland, Jim McGuinness was obviously a great manager, but Rory tactically won the All-Ireland. He has never said that to me, we have never spoken about the winning of it. It's just from reading Rory Kavanagh's book, a couple of other books and articles.

"I respect him and I think he has done wonders for them."

At 29, McGourty knows he should have had more county football played for his talents.

In 2009, he missed out on the team that reached an Ulster final and has played precious little Championship action. Sometimes he wishes he had been there more with Antrim.

"Absolutely. It is a big regret of mine," he admits.

"I just want to give Antrim, it might only be this year, it might be two years, it might be five years. It is about the young boys coming through, trying to develop them. It's about time I gave Antrim four or five years consistent performances on the field, with less stuff outside of that."

McGourty has fallen in and out of Antrim panels in both codes, but if there was a root of his discontent, it lies with playing for an ultra-successful club, and then coming into a county team that did not share the same provincial and All-Ireland ambitions.

"Maybe that's why there was a wee bit of frustration and inconsistency in the younger days, because you got frustrated with your team-mates, with losing," he points out.

"As the club team are getting older as well, we have started to lose more in the leagues, we have lost the last two county finals. It's very hard to accept that.

"I went my first eight years as a senior footballer with St Gall's and we never lost a match in the Championship!"

But now he is back, more reflective and mature. Team-mate Paddy McBride teases him that he is still on the panel and the annual bust-up is yet to come.

The truth is, he owes his loyalty to joint-managers Frankie Fitzsimons and Gearoid Adams, his former team-mate.

"If people knew the things that Frankie has done for me then they would know the relationship we have. The same goes for Gearoid. I would have respect for Gearoid as a player, I played once or twice in my early days with him," he recalls.

"The set-up is very good, the squad is highly talented and building confidence.

"Going into Ballybofey on Sunday, I know it is a tall task, but I am not going up there defeated. I always come back to the Roy Keane quote - he said when some teams came up to Old Trafford, they were beat before they went out. He said they didn't give themselves a chance."

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