GAA Football

'I'm 27 - 28 in September - I should be in my prime now, and I do miss the football, of course. When I go home I'll see what happens'

Shay Millar's last game in red and black was the 2018 Ulster SFC semi-final defeat to Donegal, with the Glenn man moving to Australia the following February. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Neil Loughran

IT is over two years since he last pulled on the Down jersey, but forward Shay Millar hopes to force his way into Paddy Tally’s 2021 plans when he returns from Australia later this year.

The Glenn man announced his arrival on the inter-county scene with a string of superb performances during a 2017 campaign that saw the Mournemen reach the Ulster final under the stewardship of the late Eamonn Burns.

It was a blow to new boss Tally when Millar decided to move to Australia at the start of 2019, joining his brother Ronan, Burren’s Gerard McGovern and RGU Downpatrick’s Anthony Doherty among the Down exiles Down Under, with Bredagh’s Conor Francis adding to that list since.

However, the 27-year-old intends to come home later this year and can’t wait to get back playing football - with a possible return to the county fold still in his thoughts.

“Originally the plan was just to come here for the year and rest myself before going back at it, but that first year here just flew so I decided to push it out,” said Millar, whose last game in red and black was the 2018 Ulster Championship semi-final defeat to Donegal.

“My sister just had a baby so I was supposed to be home in the first week of June, and then I was going to stay and play for the club over the summer before coming back and doing my last couple of months over here.

“The way it is here at the minute, if you leave the country you can’t come back. Australians are being advised not to go overseas for a good while so I’d say I’ll be here until October or November and come home then.

“I’m 27, 28 in September, I should be in my prime now, and I do miss the football, of course. When I go home I’ll see what happens, get back playing for the club and take it from there.”

Millar – who has been playing for the Sinn Fein club in Melbourne - admits opting to move away so early in Tally’s tenure wasn’t easy, but felt he needed a break to try and regain the dynamism that saw him make such an impression earlier in his Down career.

“A few of my friends had gone to Australia the year before and when I went back to county training, I just had no motivation for it. Mentally and physically I needed a break and Paddy was supportive, he wanted me to come back fresh.

“I just thought if I didn’t take the opportunity now I’d regret it down the line; honestly, it was one of the most stressful weeks of my life, making that decision.

“I’m keeping in shape out here, we’ve a gym kitted out in the garage, but it’s not the same as back home where you spend so much of your life thinking about football. Everybody here is just in it because they love playing football, there’s no stress… I used to think about football 24/7, during the day at work, at home, everywhere.

“I think I just tired myself out mentally - I just didn’t have the desire to go at it again.”

And while it was tough following the travails of the Mournemen in the National League and Championship from afar, nothing compared to watching on as Glenn swept to the Down intermediate title last October.

“Ah, don’t talk to me,” he says.

“It was devastating – bittersweet is the word. I was obviously delighted to see it but it was just typical the year that we leave they go on and win something.

“I was up in the middle of the night while the Down final was going on, the day they beat Newry Shamrocks, getting a blow by blow account of everything that was happening. It was a brilliant year for them and it’ll be great for the club in the long-term too because all those younger players who came through will all have to step up more.

“Denis [Murtagh] would be a key player for Glenn too, he lives here with me, and Ronan’s in Australia, so hopefully when we all go back we’ll have a very strong looking panel for the senior championship.”

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GAA Football