Glen's Michael Warnock at ease with inter-county boat sailing on

Michael Warnock played football and hurling for Derry
Michael Warnock played football and hurling for Derry

MICHAEL Warnock hasn’t played for Derry since Damian Barton was in charge and despite his excellent form in Glen’s rise to prominence, the centre-back feels the inter-county boat has well and truly sailed for him.

Celebrating his 30th birthday this week, the affable Maghera man doesn’t feel like he’s missing out having already tasted football and hurling at inter-county level earlier in his career.

At one point Warnock playing hurling for Swatragh and football for Glen but soon realised something had to give.

“I played for Derry for a half a year under Damian Barton. I would have hurled for the county for four or five years too, left that, went and played under Damian and then stepped away.

“I don’t play hurling any more. I gave it up the year after I stepped away from the Derry footballers. I was playing for two different clubs (Swatragh and Glen) and was finding it difficult having time to myself. I absolutely loved playing hurling but I live in Glen, Glen is my club, it’s the club I’ve been born into and I decided to prioritise them.

“I love playing both, I love watching both but I decided to focus on football and give myself a bit more time outside of sport.”

Although a call from current Derry boss Rory Gallagher hasn’t come, Warnock is happy with his lot, especially with two county winner’s medals, an Ulster title to his name and an All-Ireland within reach.

“I’m turning 30 this week, I’m pushing on, I’m getting married and building a house. My priorities are slightly changing away from football to other things in life – and club football takes up a lot of time. Nobody wants to see Derry do better than myself, but I’d say at this stage in my life that’s probably past.”

Warnock has been a key cog for Glen over the past few seasons. He was arguably the best player on the field in the Derry SFC final where Slaughtneil couldn’t contain his raids from centre back.

In the Ulster final, Kilcoo’s Paul Devlin tried to stymie Warnock’s threat from deep – but the player himself plays down his influence over this Glen team.

“The way teams play and drop off means the players further back in the pitch can see the ball a wee bit more – and that’s generally myself, Conor Carville, Ryan Dougan and a couple of our half-backs.

“It helps if you’ve Ethan Doherty playing in front of you, who gets targeted by two or three men, and that opens up space for others. But I think if you’re not focusing on Ethan or Tiernan Flanagan and you’re focusing on me, you’re probably in more danger!”

And the fact Glen have managed to retain the county title and win their first-ever Ulster crown without defensive powerhouse Ciaran McFaul is all the more remarkable.

McFaul, a former Derry star, is currently in America awaiting the green light from the authorities to return home after a court appearance Stateside over an alleged assault outside a Boston night-club last summer.

“Ciaran has been a massive driver for us for years and a massive leader,” said Warnock.

“I suppose when you’re missing a player of Ciaran’s calibre – who is arguably one of the best in the country – it gives us serious confidence in that sense.

“He’s a friend, a team-mate and we’ll ultimately be delighted when he is home. There’s no point lying – we’d love to have him here as we’d be a stronger team with him.”

Glen face Galway and Connacht champions Moycullen in this Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park – an opponent that is on the same trajectory as the Derrymen.

“We’ve seen quite a bit of them. They have five or six men on the Galway panel – Sean Kelly, Dessie Conneely, top, top players – but at this level you’re coming up against top, top opposition anyway and it’s going to come down to who performs on the day. We know if we’re not on it on Sunday, that’s as far as we’ll venture forward.”

Warnock also played down the significance of this year’s semi-finals taking place at Croke Park, with Kilmacud Croke’s and Kerin’s O’Rahilly’s throwing in at 1.30pm and Moycullen and Glen starting at 3.30pm.

“I think some of our younger lads were involved in various Derry minor squads and were very successful at Croke Park,” he said.

“Conor [Glass] and Emmett [Bradley] have played there numerous times. I’ve played there once or twice. It’s probably the middle section of the team that hasn’t played there. But it’s irrelevant which pitch we’re playing on, we’re there to win a game. Croke Park is Croke Park – it’s not the be-all and end-all.”