Rene Gilmartin relishing shot at the big time

When you’ve spent a career scrapping in every tier of English football, as Rene Gilmartin has, a promotion to the Premier League is treated with a healthy does of scepticism rather than elation.

Sure, the Dublin native is excited about playing in the ‘best league in the world’, but he’s also wary of the pitfalls that lie in wait for players who swap desire for complacency once they reach that promised land.

That certainly won’t be the case for Gilmartin, who is relishing the battle with Heurelho Gomes and Giedrius Ariauskis to become Watford’s starting goalkeeper under new manager Quique Flores.

In order to conquer that mission, Gilmartin insists he must be ready when called upon. That’s not a problem considering he took the long road — eight different clubs in five different leagues — to get here.

“You can’t trust football at times because anything can happen,” says Gilmartin, who started his professional career with Walsall aged 18.

“You have to look at it as being a job because you have a mortgage to pay and kids to feed.

“Of course you want to win for the team and for the club, but the lifespan of a footballer is short so you have to earn as much as you can and also make sure you have something outside of football to fall back on.

“People think that you’ve made it to the Premier League you’re comfortable and you can retire happy, but it’s imperative to look elsewhere because there isn’t massive money going around for every player and it’s a profession that is constantly changing.”

With that uncertainty in mind, Gilmartin has started to pursue coaching in a serious way. He recently completed his Uefa B Licence and can often be found hanging around Watford’s training ground helping Academy players.

It’s quite unique for a Premier League footballer to be so open about the world in which they operate. Then again this is someone who returned home to the League of Ireland with St Patrick’s Athletic and quickly discovered the other side.

So, last year, when Watford called for him to rejoin the club — he previously signed for them five years before — it didn’t take long to reach a decision.

The Malahide native knew that second chances like that didn’t come around often.

“I had been away for quite a while, so it was actually hard to go back home to Dublin. Obviously it was great to see family and friends, and I also got married during that period, but logistically all of my contacts were in England,” admits Gilmartin.

“An opportunity then came up to go back to Watford. I understood the position that I would be in — that I wouldn’t be going in as the No. 1 — but it was a chance to go back into a professional set-up, push to get into the Premier League, and give my career a boost.”

Accepting his place in the pecking order was crucial, but that doesn’t mean Gilmartin isn’t working as hard as he can in training everyday to impress. He continually describes himself as an ‘opportunist’ and that is the mindset he needs to adopt. Other Irish goalkeepers in a similar position didn’t fare so well when reaching the Premier League. Last season Brian Murphy went down with QPR having not had much a look-in.

Gilmartin isn’t naive enough to boldly state that he will buck that trend, so he simply opts for the logical and mature perspective of controlling what he can control. Then it’s all about timing.

“I’m sure he (Murphy) was thinking like me, that if an opportunity came up he would take advantage of it. It just didn’t happen for him.”

“You can be negative about it or look at someone like David Forde, who didn’t get a crack in England, so he went back to the League of Ireland, then ended up at Millwall, and was the Ireland No. 1 until recently.

“You can look at different players’ careers and wonder ‘how did that happen?’, but you have to be an opportunist. Let’s face it, there are people in many lines of work waiting for an opportunity and this isn’t a bad job to be in.”

There it is again, the mention of his career being a job. It’s refreshing to hear because it shows he values his position and it’s why he has done great work to tackle obesity amongst schoolchildren.

Perhaps when he does eventually hang up the gloves Gilmartin will be someone who makes a real difference in people’s lives. For now, he simply wants to play in the Premier League.

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