I haven't retired from the inter-county scene: St Gall's ace CJ McGourty

CJ McGourty wouldn't rule out an inter-county return - but only after St Gall's hurlers' season concludes Picture by Cliff Donaldson.
CJ McGourty wouldn't rule out an inter-county return - but only after St Gall's hurlers' season concludes Picture by Cliff Donaldson.

THE mercurial CJ McGourty says he hasn’t given up on the idea of playing for Antrim again and would be open to an invitation from either football or hurling this season.

However, the talented dual player stressed his full focus was on trying to help the St Gall’s hurlers into an All-Ireland IHC final as the Milltown men prepare for their semi-final showdown with Galway champions and favourites Oranmore-Maree at Parnell Park on Sunday.

Regarded as one of the most naturally gifted players in Antrim over the last decade, the 30-year-old was dropped from the Antrim senior football panel towards the tail end of last season’s National Football League campaign.

Many people thought McGourty’s departure signalled the end of his involvement at inter-county level.

“I never said I was retired or that I wouldn’t go back and play for the county,” McGourty clarified.

“A lot of people have asked me would I go back to the football or hurling but you have to be asked first. At the minute St Gall’s are my main focus and we’ve a massive task ahead of us. But, after that, I’ll see what phone calls come and if there’s none I’ll happily work away with the club.”

Although he’s primarily known for his football ability, McGourty was one of the best hurlers in the Antrim minor team of the mid-Noughties and has been a key performer in his club’s county and provincial successes towards the end of 2018.

Asked which code he prefers playing, he said: “It just depends. If you’re going well at a code and you’re winning, you’re enjoying it more. Over the past year or so I’ve enjoyed the hurling, and that probably just comes with success.”

Nobody would have given the Milltown hurlers a chance of reaching the All-Ireland stage in 2019. At the beginning of the season, they lost their first four games before co-managers Mickey Culbert and John Hopkins started putting some shape on the squad.

They defeated Gort na Mona, St Enda’s and Creggan to win the county title and Lisbellaw, Swatragh and Keady on the Ulster stage, with the final arguably their best performance of their championship campaign.

“I’ve had a lot of underage success with St Gall’s winning trophies here, there and everywhere and suddenly they dried up and you start worrying why.

“But this year has been great. We’ve been enjoying it a wee bit more. At the start of the year, it was very poor as we lost our first four league games and were missing players. But since then we’ve got on a wee run since May time.

“And this will stand to us going into Division One next year. It’s not only about this match on Sunday, it’s about trying to develop our younger players and planning ahead for Division One next year."

Alongside CJ, Aodhan Gallagher, Sean Burke and Karl Stewart give the side much needed experience. The Belfast men are 9/2 with the bookmakers to overturn the Connacht champions who have 2017 All-Ireland stars Niall Burke and Gearoid McInerney in their ranks.

But the St Gall’s men won’t fear Sunday’s occasion and they upset the odds at this stage a decade ago by beating the-then Galway champions Tynagh-Abbey-Duniry in Parnell Park before running into imperious Kilkenny champions St Lachtain’s in the final.

“We have a knack of hanging in there against teams and if you’re still in it towards the end in winter hurling you might just come out the other end. Look, we’re big underdogs, but we were big underdogs in the 2010 All-Ireland Intermediate semi-final. You just never know,” said McGourty.