No Bridge too far for old warrior Gilligan

FLASHBACK: Niall Gilligan is congratulated by supporters after Clare's victory over Limerick in the 2008 Munster SHC semi-final in Thurles. Picture: Brendan Moran

CLARE SHC FINAL:
Newmarket on Fergus v Sixmilebridge
“The old dog for the hard road”... “There’s life in the old dog yet!” is what Sixmilebridge-based auctioneer Niall Gilligan has been hearing on his travels around Clare during the past few weeks.

He’s 37, has been retired from the senior inter-county scene for four years, but Niall is still lighting up the club scene. He was man of the match as the Bridge edged past 2008 champions Clonlara in a low-scoring semi-final a couple of weeks ago.

Given his continuing good form it’s only natural that Niall would harbour a few regrets about this year, a spectator as a young Clare side powered their way to the All-Ireland title.

“Thinking selfishly, when you see them winning the All-Ireland there is definitely a side of you saying ‘I’d love to have been involved in that’,” he said. “But then, and again thinking selfishly, you go to the two or three years before that, Clare in Division 2, getting a few hammerings, and with the effort that has to go into it you’re asking yourself if it’s worth it. In those years you’re delighted to be out of it.

“It’s funny but I was often having the craic with Deirdre, my wife, during the year. She’d come home and I’d say ‘I’m after getting a call there from Davy, he wants me to go in…’, and she’d be telling me to cop myself on. I got married in ’09, we have a two-and-a-half year old kid and another on the way and time-wise in that situation your priority changes completely.

“When you’re training with the county you’re on the go five and six days a week. If you’re training at seven o’clock you have to gather yourself at six and by the time you’ve had your meal and everything else after training you’re lucky to be home before 11. With club training we start at eight, you can roll off the couch at quarter to and be back again at half-nine, only up the road.

“Life moves on, I had 13 years of it, enjoyed every bit of it. I’m 37 now, where would I be going running around Croke Park after the likes of Conor Lehane and those young guys. You lose your pace and when you see the pace the game is played at now, the speed of those lads…”

So, Niall will settle now for what he has, very happy to do so. And why not? He already has three county senior medals with Sixmilebridge but the last of those was won in 2002. Good then to be back contesting, even better that it’s against the holders, neighbours and former fierce rivals Newmarket-on-Fergus. Former? Yes, says Niall.

“The last time we met in a county final was 1976, the year I was born. Sixmilebridge still hadn’t won a county senior title, didn’t win our first til the following year.

“Since then we’ve won ten in all, about one every two-and-a-half years up to 2002, while Newmarket fell away, didn’t win any from 1981 to last year. People still talk about the Bridge/Newmarket rivalry, a cup final from ’62 that was supposed to have been played in Kilkeshin, where one team didn’t want to play. There were graves dug in the pitch on the Saturday night, to make sure it wouldn’t be played! The Newmarket story is that the Bridge didn’t want to play there, the story here is the opposite!

“Ah, different times, different stories, legends. At this stage it’s more historic than anything else. When I was hurling underage Newmarket weren’t strong, wouldn’t have been competing against us in semi-finals and finals. They started to get strong again in the early part of the ’00s but we were slipping back then again.

“The older lads would have the memories alright, they had a lot to put up with from Newmarket — three-in-a-row, four-in-a-row, even the two Munster club titles when that started in the 60s. Paddy Mac[Namara] in Newmarket has 13 championship medals. Every Tom, Dick and Harry from that era has at least eight or nine. I’m sure the older lads around here would have heard enough about it back then!”

The wheel always turns though and Sixmilebridge then had their day in the sun. Whose turn tomorrow? Difficult to call but in the dog days of winter, one wise old head can make all the difference.


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