'Age is just a number at St Gall's': Veteran playmaker Kieran McGourty
THE average age of the St Gall’s team might be one of the oldest on the senior circuit – but the Milltown men aren’t ready to reach for their zimmer frames just yet.
The 2010 All-Ireland winners are back in this year’s county championship semi-finals against age-old rivals Cargin after seeing off the youthful challenge of Aghagallon, a team laced with MacRory Cup winners, in their quarter-final tie.
Kieran McGourty is 38, Colin Brady 37, Terry O’Neill 36, player/manager Sean Kelly is 37 and Ronan Gallagher will be 40 on his next birthday.
Below that veteran group, Aodhan Gallagher and Kevin Niblock are also in the 30-club.
“The likes of Kelly and O’Neill really look after themselves, and I know we haven’t won a lot over the last couple of years but we’ve always had that attitude and maybe that’s why we did do so well because we have the right focus, the right work ethic and we look after ourselves.”
Despite the creeping years, St Gall’s still command the respect of everyone in the county.
“There are a lot of boys over 30 but we still feel we can compete,” said Kieran McGourty ahead of Sunday’s clash with Cargin at Corrigan Park (3.30pm).
“We’d like to think we’re in the team for a reason.
“You get a bit of stick [from opponents] about our age but there’s always a wee quip back... but you look at Tony Browne and Oisín McConville who played well into their 30s; [but] it’s probably due to the fact there’s more of us over 30.”
McGourty, who was part of Lenny Harbinson’s all-conquering St Gall’s side in 2010, has won 13 county championships.
“You obviously want to win as much as you can and that’s because there’s a winning mentality in the club,” he said.
“When we were growing up in the 90s we were Division Two for a while and people like Sean Burns and Paddy McShane, they could easily have walked away because there are teams in Antrim that went from Division Two to Division Three but they stuck at it.
“And when we arrived at senior level the platform was there for us. So there’s a sort of a responsibility to the younger players to keep going and to keep driving the standards.
“Right now, I think we’ve a good mix of players in the team and the underage structures are going well at the club too, so it’s important for the older players to bring the younger ones on.”
Half-back John McCaffrey, Owen McCabe (half-back or half forward) and Conor Stinton (half-forward) are just some of the younger generation who have successfully graduated to the St Gall’s senior ranks.
Last season, the Falls Road club crashed out of the championship to Cargin at the semi-final stages after a dramatic stoppage-time goal from Tomas McCann.
The Erin’s Own men, managed by former Derry boss Damian Cassidy, went on to pip Creggan Kickhams in the decider.
But McGourty insists last year’s gut-wrenching defeat to Cargin won't play on St Gall’s minds on Sunday.
“I don’t think it will and it’s nothing to do with Cargin; it’s more to do with ourselves because we should have been able to see the game out.
“But even if you analyse it, Cargin probably had the better of the 60 minutes. We’ve only ourselves to blame.
“All defeats hurt,” McGourty added, who represented his county at both football and hurling with distinction.
“You think of our first All-Ireland final defeat in 06. I think you always think about the ones you lose more than the ones you win.”
There was a time when Sunday’s semi-final would be seen as the ‘final’ – but the Antrim championship has become more competitive over the last few seasons due to the emergence of Lamh Dhearg, Creggan, Portglenone and St John’s.
“There are a lot of good teams in Antrim now. Not that any Antrim Championship was easy to win but there were probably some that were easier than others. There are definitely six challengers at the minute. Aghgallon and Rossa are good enough to push themselves into that bracket.
“A few years ago it always seemed to be us and Cargin, but that’s changed obviously with Lamh Dhearg coming through, St John’s got to a final, Creggan got to a final and Portglenone are up and coming.
“Even the quarter-final games aren’t easy. You have to be on your toes every single match.”
Meanwhile, Lamh Dhearg, 2017 county champions, take on Portglenone in this weekend’s other semi-final (Saturday, Creggan Kickhams, 5pm).