McGurk Cup quarter-final: Donegal v Derry (Saturday, Convoy, 1.30pm)
Practice makes perfect.
And as he lives only 50 metres from his local hurling field, it is not hard to see why Setanta and Donegal marksman Gerard Gilmore has been so prolific for club and county.
Gilmore was the deadly accurate free-taker for Setanta as they took a first ever Ulster Intermediate title last month.
He will also share the free-taking duties with Liam Óg McKinney for the county senior side, who face a tough opener against a physically powerful Derry in the Donegal GAA Centre, Convoy on Saturday (1pm).
The Tyrone native will turn 31 in April but has the look and physique of a much younger man as he segues from club to county for yet another season.
Apart from his accuracy, Gilmore is also deadly accurate from play from both sides and specialises in ‘John Mullane of Waterford’ type of scores over the shoulder.
“Yes, I do quite a bit of practice on my own as I am only 50 metres from the pitch in the Cross,” Gilmore said.
“I practice frees and taking all kinds of shots including over the shoulder and I find it helps when I am in a match situation.
“I also practice sideline cuts.”
It is easy to understand the latter as Gilmore pointed three sideline cuts from three attempts when Donegal beat Warwickshire in the final of the 2018 Nickey Rackard Cup, a truly remarkable feat.
These days he is just back training with the county side after a long and highly successful season with Setanta.
“Nearly all the Setanta boys are back but we have had very little time to rest,” he said.
“It has been the same last year after we got beaten by Kilburn Gaels so it has been hectic.
“Mickey McCann was very understanding as he gave us a break over Christmas, so we have had three weeks off.”
Donegal won the competition last year-but it is also a way of trying out different tactics against different opposition.
“You can work on systems and give the young boys a chance to blend into the panel and Oisin Grant of Buncrana is back in training with us and Peter Kelly of St Eunan’ is also on board.”
Gilmore, who won a Lory Meagher and a Nickey Rackard cup with his native Tyrone is surrounded by some savage younger height and power in Steven McBride, Sean Ward, Oisin Marley, Josh Cronolly McGee, Liam Óg McKinney and Conor Gartland while Ciaran Bradley and the Curran brothers are all considerable physical presences.
“There is a lot of power there and the majority of our panel are all good athletes, and they are big men, can give and take a hit and can carry a ball through a tackle.
“We are all conditioned very well, and Shane Sweeney has us all primed at the right time for the games.
“That power helps the puck outs, and they can win the ball in the air.”
But they will need it all against a Derry side who have generally got the better of Donegal in recent times.
“Cormac Doherty from Slaughtneil hits their frees and he is very accurate, and they also have goalkeeper Oisin Doherty.
“Sean Cassidy, Meehaul McGrath and Richie and John Mullan and they have good strength in depth and they have some very good U20s as well.
“They had a good win over Armagh and came back very well in the second half, so we are expecting a really tough test.
“Derry are always hard to play against as they are all big and physical from one to 15 and they can hurl as well.
“They are also in our NHL group as well so we will get a good look at them on Saturday.”
So it will be quite a test for both teams.
“It will be a big test but that is what you train all winter for really.
“You could run all day and do all the sprints, but when the ball is thrown in your game fitness is totally different.”
Elsewhere on Saturday, Down host Louth at the Red High in Downpatrick (12pm), Antrim take on Ulster University at Jordanstown (1.30pm) and Queen’s take on Fermanagh at the Dub (1.30pm)