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Unlikely hero Michael Conlan happy to return to coaching role for Derry

By Declan Bogue

A perfect storm was created in Derry last week, to allow 38-year-old Michael Conlan back in as county goalkeeper, 13 years after his last Championship game!

The Ballinderry veteran has been in manager Damian Barton's backroom team all year as goalkeeping coach. A shoulder injury to regular goalkeeper Thomas Mallon in a club game, and a groin strain suffered by under-21 back-up goalkeeper Callum Mullan-Young meant the popular 'Mickey C' made his first summer appearance since a backdoor defeat to Dublin in Clones, back in 2003 when he played in Saturday's win over Louth in the round one qualifier.

"I've been in a coaching role all year but I found out I was starting, I was a bit shocked," the personal trainer said.

"I only found out on Thursday night and I was glad about that, because if you had too long to think about it, it wouldn't have been good!"

"With something like that, if you knew a couple of weeks in advance it could play on your mind and knowing on Thursday night I was able to get my mind focused on it, visualise different situations.

"It still was awkward. First of all I went into that changing room there. You realise you have to go in with the team - that was the first thing that felt a wee bit weird.

"The boys were very good that's the type of situation you want. To help get you mentally right, to get my head in the game."

After playing for Mickey Moran, Conlan was deemed surplus to requirements by previous Derry managers Paddy Crozier and Damian Cassidy, until John Brennan took over ahead of the 2011 season. At the time, Conlan was a delivery driver for a local bakery and changed his career to become a personal trainer operating out of his premises, 'The Shed'.

Although Derry made it through to the next round and now play the loser of this weekend's Dublin-Meath clash on Saturday week, Conlan says he is happy to vacate the nets.

"They'll be back for the next day - so I'll be back kicking the balls at them from now on," he says of Mallon and Mullan-Young.

"But from a performance point of view, I was happy. I made a few mistakes but I suppose that's where experience comes in. You're able to brush them aside and concentrate on the game.

"It was definitely an experience, one I never thought I'd get at this stage.

"What I enjoyed about it was the day, getting ready for the game and doing the warm-up. Usually you're the one in doing the warm-ups with them so in that respect it was enjoyable. I feel great actually, it was great to get a win. Maybe if we'd lost it'd be a different story. It was a surreal experience."

What makes it doubly surreal is that in Conlan's last Championship game, his direct opponent was Dublin's Stephen Cluxton.

In the intervening years, Cluxton has done more than anyone else to revolutionise and re-define the role of goalkeeper, with kickouts now afforded infinitely more attention and scrutiny.

"Kickouts are so important. Trying to fit that in and trying to execute the game-plan we had was tough," admitted Conlan.

"Thomas is an excellent kicker and can put it on a plate for all the kickers. To come in and try to fit into that was difficult. That side of the game has changed so much now, but the boys were very good. They gave me a lot of confidence and their movement was good so it gave me a lot of options. I was able to hit them with a few kicks I wouldn't normally get! There was a few that went AWOL but I was happy enough."

"Look, I knew I was always going to make mistakes out there like - I knew that. But what I tried to just tell myself out there was that if I make a mistake, just keep my composure and do what you are told to do and that's the way to play the game. Sometimes that's experience and it's hard to know sometimes what experience is.

"But today for me, experience was 'if you hit a bad kick out, you were ready to hit the next one.'

"I was happy with the performance, happy to just pull the team out and get them through to the next round."

Unlikely comebacks

Paul Scholes: In the summer of 2011, the 36-year-old midfielder retired from playing and switched to coaching at Manchester United. However, starring in viral clips of five-a-side matches couldn’t satisfy him and he returned to action the following January, coming on as substitute in their FA Cup win over Man City in a pair of £50 boots.

Michael Jordan: Such an ego wasn’t meant for just one sport and Jordan announced his first retirement in 1993 to play minor league baseball with the Chicago White Sox. That folly lasted a few months and he retired again between 1999 and 2001, returning to play and finishing up as a 40-year-old with the Washington Wizards

Sean McGreevy:  St Paul’s goalkeeper McGreevy was recalled to the Antrim panel in 2013 ahead of their Championship opener against Monaghan, by then-manager Frank Dawson at the age of 40, with his swansong thought to be the Ulster final of 2009. He had made his Championship debut 20 years previous, at Casement Park against Donegal in 1993.

Lasse Viren: A 23-year-old Finnish policeman from the small village of Myrskyla, the heats of the 10,000 metres at the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972 were his Olympic debut. But when he stumbled and fell just before the halfway mark in the final his chance of victory seemed to have gone. But the Finnish runner calmly got to his feet and chased his way back into contention, overtaking Britain’s David Bedford, the long-time leader, to not only win the gold medal, but set a world record of 27min 38.4sec. Ten days later, he also won the 5,000m (in an Olympic record time) — a double that he repeated in Montreal in 1976.

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