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Gilligan is relishing test against his neighbours

 

Conleith Gilligan
Conleith Gilligan
John Campbell

By John Campbell

When former Derry player Conleith Gilligan threw in his lot with Kilcoo to become No.2 to new manager Mickey Moran, he never thought that he would be encountering "neighbours from down the road", as he puts it himself, in the Ulster Club Championship.

But that's precisely the scenario that confronts Gilligan as the provincial competition steps up a gear.

Gilligan gave great service to Ballinderry, as well as parading his talents on the inter-county stage, for 11 years before stepping away in 2012, but now he is preparing to confront new Oak Leaf County champions O'Donovan Rossa, Magherafelt - a pairing that has added a sparkle to the Ulster Club series.

Gilligan, a sales development manager with Kerry Group, still retains close links with club football in Derry and, along with the fastidious Moran, has already been doing his homework on a Magherafelt side which ended a 41-year title famine by beating Glen in the decider.

"I never imagined that I would be making contact with a Derry team so soon into my term with Kilcoo," smiled Gilligan. "But sport has a habit of throwing up situations like this.

"While we were delighted to take Kilcoo to another county title in our first season in charge, we recognise that success in the Ulster Club Championship has been harder to come by, so we see this game against Magherafelt as a real test for our team.

"I suppose for myself in particular you could say that it is a battle with neighbours from down the road, but that is what makes it all the more appealing."

Kilcoo were fully extended before overcoming St Peter's, Warrenpoint in the Down final and Gilligan acknowledges that Magherafelt will stretch his side to the limit.

"When you step up to this level you know that the expectation is going to be greater, but so too is the pressure. But we have a number of very experienced players who have sampled action in the Ulster Club series and I feel this will stand the side as a whole in good stead. We will get a bit of home support and that should help us along," said an energised Gilligan.

O'Donovan Rossa manager Adrian Cush, for his part, is aware that the Moran-Gilligan partnership is extremely capable of masterminding more success for a Kilcoo side that now includes several young guns who have been helping to fire out a message of defiance to date.

"Kilcoo have a great record in the Down Championship spanning recent years but they will now be keen to push on in Ulster. We just hope that it is not at our expense," stated former Tyrone ace Cush.

Kilcoo are still without the normally influential Darragh O'Hanlon, who is recovering from a cruciate ligament injury, but they have several fresh faces and these players have played a big part in restoring the team's dominance in Down.

They now face the challenge of bringing their talents onto the Ulster Club stage, but Gilligan believes that Miceal O Runaigh, Ryan McEvoy, Dylan Ward and Anthony Morgan will all be up for the challenge.

"We have strength in our squad overall and that's something you really need when you are going into the Ulster Club Championship," insisted Gilligan.

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