The remaining link with Clare’s All-Ireland winning team of 1997 has called time on his inter-county career.
Siximlebridge’s Niall Gilligan has declined an invitation from new manager Ger O’Loughlin to be part of the 2010 squad. Gilligan received the invite last week and asked for time to give it consideration before deciding against a return. He is, however, to continue playing with his club.
Clare’s all-time leading championship goalscorer broke into the team in 1997 after impressing when he was introduced to his club’s line-up during their All-Ireland club final success in March of 1996.
Gilligan considered retiring from the inter-county scene in each of the last two seasons.
“I will be 34 this year and this is something I have considered for a while. Things have speeded up more over the years and I am not getting any faster at this stage,” said the auctioneer, who won two Munster championships and an All-Ireland championship with Clare.
He was an All-Star in 1999 and was nominated on five further occasions for inclusion in the All-Star side.
However, he is not giving up the game.
“I will be doing a bit on my own to keep in shape and I will continue with the club,” said the forward, who made his senior inter-county debut in the Oireachtais tournament of 1996. “We contested the Munster U-21 final that year and I was then called into the senior panel and I have been there since.”
Given that the manager has stated that the selectors will be monitoring form throughout the club leagues with a view to adding to the panel, is there a chance that he may return to the county scene later in the year?
“Things would have to be going very well and I would have to be very happy before such a situation might arise. As I said, the game has speeded up and I am not getting any faster,” he replied.
Gilligan’s decision follows the surprise announcement by Tony Griffin a few weeks ago that he would not be part of the panel this year, a decision he confirmed to the management last week when he declined their invitation to be part of the squad.
The squad has also lost another of its most experienced members, as Inagh-Kilnamona’s Tony Carmody has also decided against returning. The Limerick-based garda, who has been part of the squad for the past decade, informed the management earlier this week of his decision not to return.
Gilligan’s departure means that the panel’s longest-serving member now is Alan Markham. The Kilmaley man was part of the training panel in 1997 but did not make the official panel for the All-Ireland final. Markham, who made his debut in 1998, returned to training when the squad had their first session under the new management set-up at Meelick last Monday night.
In addition to Gilligan, Griffin and Carmody, who declined the invite to return, Conor Hassett (St Joseph’s), Caimin Morey (Sixmilebridge), Conor McNamara (Scariff) and Damian Browne (Cratloe) are some of those who weren’t named on the new squad.
Contrary to reports, Kilmaley’s Conor McMahon has not been omitted from the squad. “Conor is currently in Asia and we will be talking with him on his return,” commented manager O’Loughlin this week.
It has also emerged that Cratloe’s Liam Markham, a dual star with his club last year, is not part of the hurling panel at this stage. His clubmates, Michael Hawes, Martin ‘Ogie’ Murphy and Seán Collins are members of the hurling squad, with Murphy and Collins also featuring in the plans of football manager, Micheál McDermott.
The fact that clubs such as St Joseph’s and Sixmilebridge, two of the larger clubs in the county, don’t have any representative on the panel at this time, while Clarecastle have just one (Jonathon Clancy) is an indication of the shift in the powerbase in Clare hurling. Clonlara (Domhnall and Cormac O’Donovan, Nicky O’Connell, John Conlon, Darach Honan) and Crusheen (Gerry O’Grady, Pat Vaughan, Cian Dillon, Donal Tuohy, Alan Brigdale), with five each, lead the way from Newmarket and Cratloe.
Clare’s first game is scheduled for Sunday, January 17, when they will take on Waterford IT in the opening round of the Waterford Crystal League, a title Clare won last season.
“These are unprecedented weather conditions we are experiencing at present and its extremely difficult to train but we hope to get in some hurling practice this weekend,” O’Loughlin said.