Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

Gilligan gutted to call time on inter-county career with Derry

Derry forward Conleith Gilligan has revealed the anguish over his decision to retire from inter-county football.

Since his Ballinderry clubmate Brian McIver came in as the new Oakleaf manager, Gilligan was tempted to give it another year with his county, but as he explained, the time commitment required to play county football has exceeded what he can give.

“Brian had rang me and I had met with him and we had talked it through,” he said.

“He showed me the itinerary and it was very intense and I physically couldn't commit the time that he would be expecting everybody to put in.

“I just wouldn't, with three children and a wife and a full-time job and everything else that goes along with it.”

Gilligan realises he is walking away from something that could be special.

“Generally when Brian comes in anywhere, in any job he has taken, very quickly he has won things or turned things around or done very, very special things,” he said.

“I wouldn't be surprised if he did that with Derry, he's just that type of man.”

The one-time Moyola Park soccer player added: “County football now is professional in every respect other than you don’t get paid.

“I know guys who play Irish league football who train a couple of times a week.

“There is no Irish league footballer training four or five times a week.

“That's the way football is going and it is turning into a game for single men or in their early-to-mid 20s.”

As a ball-playing centre-forward, Gilligan had an interrupted career with Derry that puzzled onlookers.

In Paddy Crozier's first year of management he was excluded in the county squad, and during Damian Cassidy's regime he was left off the panel.

However, he came back and made a series of brilliant contributions under the leadership of John Brennan.

A particular highlight of his career came when he planted a goal past Paul Hearty in the Armagh goal during the Ulster semi-final of 2011.

It holds particular significance because of the memories he shares with his son, Adam.

“Winning things like the National League was nice and any time you ever played in Croke Park was always special,” he said.

“But for me the highlight was beating Armagh in an Ulster semi-final and having scored a goal and a few points.

“It was the first time Adam was old enough and aware that I was playing for Derry and was at the match.

“It was a nice memory that we have and we still talk about it sometimes. Or even, I talk about it and he pretends to listen.”

In Derry's run to the McKenna Cup final earlier this year, he displayed how clinical he was with a tally of 1-14, before following that up with 0-13 throughout the National league.

2011 was probably his best year at county level though, when he hit 2-54 over the course of the season.

Gilligan also added that he hoped that his decision to retire would grant him more years at club level with Ballinderry, whom he won his sixth Derry Championship for last month with victory over Slaughtneil.

“This is the first year I had niggling injuries and it sort of hampered me with Ballinderry for long periods of the summer, so hopefully the decision means I will get a wee bit longer at the very end of my career. All in all, I still intend to play until I am 40, if that's do-able.”

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