"I would have played for Antrim one last time" - Antrim hurling ace Liam Watson
FORMER Antrim ace Liam Watson says he would have donned the saffron jersey again had he been asked by new manager Darren Gleeson – just days after announcing his retirement from hurling.
The mercurial Loughgiel Shamrocks clubman confirmed on his Twitter account on Monday night that he had played his last game for the north Antrim club.
Top hurlers, past and present, including TJ Reid, Brian Hogan and Michael Duignan sent their best wishes via social media to Watson, one of the most gifted players of his generation.
Speaking to The Irish News at his Loughgiel home yesterday, the 37-year-old insisted he could easily have performed at the required level, despite a three-and-a-half-year absence from the inter-county scene.
If Gleeson had contacted him to play for Antrim in 2020, Watson said: “I would have been at the field. ‘Brick’ Walsh played at a high level, a much higher level than Antrim ’til well into his 30s.
“I’m 37 and I guarantee you I’d be as fit as most of them. I’ve seen the size of some of them and if I’m not fitter than some of those boys… but that’s taken out of my hands because of too many whispers.
“If he'd asked me I could have said: ‘Yeah, I will go’, or ‘I’m not interested but thanks very much.’
“I would have tweeted: ‘It’s the first time in ages I’ve been asked to play for Antrim. Thanks very much for your offer, but I’ve decided to hang up my boots.’ But I was never asked.”
He added: “I always felt I had unfinished business with Antrim. Kevin Ryan should have asked me in, and didn’t.
“Every time he came down and watched me, he said he was going to ask me, and he never did. People whispered into his ear. That’s the sad thing about it. Nobody could ever tell me to my face why I wasn’t invited. They made decisions on other people’s judgements.”
Despite his advancing years, Watson’s performances in this season’s senior Championship remained high.
The Shamrocks crashed out at the semi-final stages to eventual winners Dunloy.
“I wanted to retire on my terms. I don’t want to keep playing this game ‘til I’m a nobody and people forgetting about what you did. That’s not the way I want to finish. I thought I was one of the best forwards in the Antrim Championship this year.”
Watson’s finest hour was scoring an incredible 3-7 in Loughgiel’s famous win over Coolderry in the 2012 All-Ireland final at Croke Park.
“I would have played for Antrim again – to prove another point. That’s all it was, just to prove a point. I listened to enough sh*t one night from a fella from Armoy telling me how good a full-back he was.
“I said: ‘If you ever want to mark me, come up a couple of divisions.’ That’s one of the reasons why I would have played another season for Antrim. That would have driven me to play over the head of that fella.”
Now that he’s bid farewell to hurling, the father-of-four will spend his free-time practising his other sporting passion: motor-cross.
“I’ve always loved motorbikes but I was so caught up between soccer and hurling. So it had a big influence on my retirement from hurling. Every night I’m sitting on the sofa constantly watching motor-cross. I’m crazy about it.
“I’m going to race the Irish and Ulster Championships next year. I competed in some events last year but when it came to the summer I had to concentrate on the hurling. I’ve been talking to sponsors and that kind of thing.”
After posting a hugely impressive year in the red and white jersey of Loughgiel, Watson insists there will be no encore in 2020.
“When I say I’m retired, I’m retired. I feel free - I swear to God. I don’t need to be here or be there anymore. Pressure never bothered me on a hurling field because I believed I was better than anybody I ever marked. But now, I’m looking forward to the next challenge which will be competing in motor-cross."
See Monday's edition for an in-depth feature on Liam Watson.