Tonight at Semple Stadium, he lines out for the Clare team chasing honours in the All-Ireland IHC final against Kilkenny.
The availability of Gilligan and Sixmilebridge clubmate Tony Carmody, who also has a wealth of senior experience, has been pivotal to Clare’s progress this season, according to team boss Kevin Kennedy.
Kennedy explained: “I knew they were eligible so I got in touch with them earlier on in the year. Tony came easy enough but Niall took more persuading. He was wondering would he be up to it but he came in and has enjoyed it hugely. The two lads have been huge additions. We don’t kill them in training, they do that work with their clubs and are not put under huge pressure. We’ve a lot of young lads in our panel, three of the team are U21, and they all look up to Niall and Tony. They’ve learnt a huge amount from them.”
Clare secured honours in a previous incarnation of this grade when they won the 1993 All-Ireland junior final but have never claimed silverware at intermediate level. And Kennedy has detected strong interest in this game.
“There’s great interest in this team as they’re the only Clare intercounty team still in the competition. We have had three very good wins, over Cork and Limerick in Munster, and then Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final. I think the key thing has been the last two games have both taken place in Ennis. That has led to us getting good crowds and a good atmosphere at a local venue. But it’s a massive task against Kilkenny. They’re the benchmark and it would never be a shock for a Clare team to lose to a Kilkenny team in an All-Ireland final. We’re travelling in hope.”
Clare have made one personnel switch with Parteen player Joe O’Connor being rewarded for his goal off the bench against Galway in the semi-final, by being handed a starting berth at right corner-forward.
O’Connor comes into the team at the expense of Declan O’Rourke. Daire Keane, who impressed in the Munster championship, has been sidelined with a broken bone in his hand and a bout of tonsillitis suffered this week looks set to rule him out as well.
Kilkenny have made numerous changes for the game from the side that defeated Wexford in the Leinster final in July. Richie Doyle, Eoin Murphy and Kieran Joyce are unavailable due to their presence on the Kilkenny senior panel that contest the All-Ireland final on Sunday week, while defender Ian Duggan and attacker Walter Walsh are gone to the USA for the summer.
Willie Phelan and Luke Harney have been brought into the defence, while Michael Grace comes in at midfield. In attack, Paul O’Flynn, Seoirse Kenny and Eddie Hickey all start. Conor Conway, Joyce, Murphy and Walsh are the players who drop out.
CLARE: A Fahy; M Earley, P Kelly, A Brigdale; K Moynihan, M Hawes, J Fennessy; R Keane, S Golden; M Duggan, T Carmody, K Dilleen; J O’Connor, N Gilligan, P Hickey.
KILKENNY: R O’Neill; W Phelan, M Walsh, S Phelan; L Harney, PJ Rowe, S Byrne; M Grace, W O’Dwyer; P O’Flynn, S Kenny, JJ Farrell; G Shelly, E Hickey, A Stapleton.