CJ McGourty is just glad to be wearing the Antrim jersey again
CJ McGourty is back in the Antrim senior football panel after 18 months away and, as the St Gall’s man tells Brendan Crossan, he still feels he has something to offer the Saffrons...
BC: You spent most of last year in Australia. What was that experience like?
CJMcG: I enjoyed it. I made a lot of life-long friends and people from different counties, a lot of talented footballers too at the Michael Cusack’s GAA club in Sydney.
I met Danny Ward and Garry McBrien out there who played for Fermanagh; David Lenaghan from Down, while Ciara Breen, the club secretary, were all brilliant with me and really looked after me out there.
Life in general in Australia was good but meeting people through playing football was a big help. But you miss home at the same time.
My mum wasn’t well for a while and obviously my club being in the county semi-final in October, I thought it was time to come home at that stage.
BC: What did you learn about yourself while away from home?
CJMcG: I suppose I learned to grow up a lot and fend for myself, cooking for myself, working long hours. At home my mum would have looked after me very well!
But when you’re away you learn a lot about yourself and I learned a lot from the boys I played football with… Anyone thinking of going out to Sydney I would encourage them to get involved with the Michael Cusack’s club. They are a fantastic club and fantastic people.
I didn’t do any travelling out there; I just stayed in Sydney. I wouldn’t be a big traveller to be honest.
BC: What was the standard of football like in Sydney?
CJMcG: We won the Sydney Championship in September. There is a serious amount of good footballers out there – the boy Brian McGuire, who was in the Kerry panel when they won the All-Ireland in 2014.
We had players like Danny Ward and Mark Murphy (both Fermanagh), David Lenaghan of Down.... The standard was very, very good.
We played Cormac McAnallen’s in the final and they were nine points up with 10 minutes to go, and Mark Murphy caught about four balls in a row and we forced the game to extra-time.
We were lucky enough to win it but the team we had we should have won it a bit easier than we did.
BC: Did you plan to stay out there longer?
CJMcG: When I went out there I didn’t have any real plans or how long I was going to stay. I was always going to come home at Christmas either way.
I wasn’t planning on staying out there for two, three or four years – it was nine to 12 months. So my time was cut short because of my love for the club as well and wanting to play in the Championship for them.
BC: Were you homesick?
CJMcG: It was tough at times especially with my mum not being well at the beginning of it. So it was hard to settle, but the people at Michael Cusack’s were a great support.
A lot of people miss home when they’re abroad. The Irish community is very good; they help each other through all that sort of stuff.
But I’m definitely a home bird - I like my home comforts.”
BC: Was it always your intention to come back and resume your career with Antrim?
CJMcG: I felt I had still something left to give. I know there were a number of players asked [to come back] over the last number of weeks but they feel they have nothing left to give.
The last two Sundays I’ve been in Glenavy – watching the St Mary’s and Monaghan matches [in the McKenna Cup] - because I have an interest and I still felt that I could give something.
But it was out of my hands at that stage. So I’m back and I hope to add something positive to Antrim this season.
BC: You’ve won a host of club championships with St Gall’s and an All-Ireland title. Do you feel you’ve reached your potential with Antrim?
CJMcG: I’ve had very few ups and a lot of downs at inter-county level – and that’s probably one of the reasons why I have decided to go back to try and achieve something at county level… I think consolidating our place in Division Three would be a successful season for Antrim.
Another reason why I wanted to go back was because I think I’ve under-achieved at county level, for whatever reason. I’ve been playing for Antrim seniors for 10 years now…
BC: At 28, do you think your best years are still in front of you?
CJMcG: It’s hard to tell. I’d like to think I’ve matured, that I’ve grown up a bit. My best years might be ahead of me if I put the work in.
Through different things I feel I’ve lost a year or two… I know talent doesn’t get you anywhere these days - you have to do the work.
I’m prepared to do it and that’s what I plan to do – to prove to myself that I can compete at this level and that I can be a positive influence on the team and do my job for the team.
BC: If you could give a bit of advice to a 20-year-old CJ McGourty what would it be?
CJMcG: I don’t know if I’d give him any advice! A lot of players have been down that road; some players learn quicker than others. Maybe I’m a very slow learner!
Look, people make a lot of mistakes when they’re younger but I suppose I’ve got a wee bit of maturity about me now. You have to work hard and that you’re only another cog in the wheel.
I can only do a certain job for Antrim. I’m not going to stop four or five goals going in. When you’re younger you think your talent will be enough and that I’ll be able to do everything for the team. But you can’t.
You can only do your job and hope others do theirs. I’d be positive about the League campaign ahead. The results weren’t good in the McKenna Cup but in fairness to the management team they tried a lot of young boys and Antrim is going to need those young players in the future.
BC: It’s nearly seven years since you won an All-Ireland Club title with St Gall’s. Does it seem that long ago?
CJMcG: I was very, very lucky to play in a very successful St Gall’s team. I came on at just the right time and I thought: ‘I just have to turn up here and my talent will get me through.’
But we’ve learned at club level and at county level if you don’t do the work results don’t follow. You look at Tipperary last year and Fermanagh are another great example – they’ve put in the work and look where they’ve got to.
There is no reason why Antrim can’t get to where they are in four years time – if you do the work.
BC: Was it frustrating watching Antrim’s two home defeats to St Mary’s and Monaghan earlier this month?
CJMcG: It was frustrating in a way, but I knew there were a lot of young boys in the team. Matthew Fitzpatrick is a very good player who is with St Mary’s, so he’ll be back. Ricky Johnston will be back.
But let’s be honest about it: we don’t have the same pick as Tyrone or indeed a lot of other counties in Ulster. But if we get our 15 or 17 best players available we’re capable of competing against most counties. I suppose that was the frustration coming away from the Monaghan match because I knew I could offer something.
But at that stage I didn’t know whether I was going to be asked back.
BC: How would you assess your fitness right now?
CJMcG: Over the past number of weeks I’ve been trying to get myself fit. If it wasn’t going to be for Antrim it was going to be for St Gall’s.
I’ve been doing quite a bit of running. It was very funny when I did go back to train earlier this week and Joe Quinn [ex-Antrim midfielder and now coach] was running beside me.
Ten years ago, when I was a young pup, I was running past him telling Joe to hurry up! Now he’s the coach telling me to hurry up! He’s still in good shape. I had a laugh with Joe after training about it. Ten years is a long time.
He’s got fitter as he’s got older.
BC: You’re also playing a bit of soccer with Amateur League side Comber Rec…
CJMcG: It’s been really enjoyable playing a bit of soccer. It’s a different culture, different experience. The people at Comber Rec are very nice, a great club and they look after you.
So it helps with my fitness and helps with my ball control.
BC: How did the meeting go with Frank Fitzsimons and Gearoid Adams about the prospect of coming back to Antrim?
CJMcG: It was very positive. That’s all I want it to be. I just want to go and play for Antrim, try and enjoy it and see what I can achieve, to a degree, but also what the team can achieve.
I’m really positive about the year ahead and I’m just happy to be back with the county.