Mickey Conlan bridges 13-year Championship gap for Derry

Veteran Derry goalkeeper Mickey Conlan bridged a 13-year gap between championship appearances last Saturday, but insists his return to the big-time was a one-off.

The Oak Leafers’ 38-year-old goalkeeping coach found himself in the firing line for the All-Ireland first round qualifier clash against Louth at Owenbeg after an injury crisis among their netminders.

He admits he was “shocked” when told by manager Damian Barton he would be starting - 13 years after his last championship runout.

“I only found out on Thursday night I was starting and I was glad about that, because if you had too long to think about it it wouldn’t have been too good! I was a bit shocked but it was a great experience.”

Conlan’s last championship match was an All-Ireland qualifier defeat by Dublin in Clones in 2003. The Ballinderry man was overlooked by various managers until John Brennan came in as boss in 2011 and brought him in from the cold.

“I played that whole league campaign and then got injured two weeks before the championship, I pulled my thigh muscle. The boys went on to the Ulster final that year but once you miss the first game as a goalkeeper, it’s very hard to get back in.”

The Ballinderry man insists he won’t be in goals for the second round qualifier against the losers of Sunday’s Leinster semi-final between Dublin and Meath.

Regular number one Thomas Mallon should be fit after picking up a shoulder injury in a club game and his deputy, Callum Mullan-Young, will also be available.

“I’m happy for the boys to come back in - so I’ll be back kicking the balls at them from now on! 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. The game was tough. Playing football never gets any easier, you still have that tension and nervous energy. That never goes away.”

The goalkeeper’s position has never been so vital and Conlan admits he would struggle to survive as a top-flight keeper these days with accuracy from kick-outs all-important.

“You can see that evolving now. Thomas is an excellent kicker and can put it on a plate for all the lads. To come in and try to execute the game-plan we had 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. There was a few that went AWOL but I was happy enough.”


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