March 05, 1993
Derry's Brian McGilligan
Outplay Brian McGilligan
And the opposition usually overcome Derry
A rare breed, perhaps an endangered species given the creeping onset of semi-professionalism but invaluable commodities nonetheless, dual players involved in gaelic games are seldom anything less than total committed, whole-hearted individuals. Every county should have one.
Conspicuous parts of All-Ireland winning jigsaws over past decades. Cork's Jimmy Barr in the seventies and Liam Currams of Offaly some years later were the stuff from which record newspaper sales were manufactured. Exciting players, ones who made things happen on the field of play and sent a buzz ricocheting around all four corners of the relevant arena. To the list of gaelic sports most prized possessions, that most useful of clan's, one can safely add on the name of Derry's Brian McGilligan.
For nearly ten years now, the Dungiven Destroyer has been pitched forward as the archetypal dual star, a master of both hurling and football codes. The kind of fella you'd put your shirt on making it big at Landsdowne Road even, McGilligan the midfield maestro exudes the type of personality which would likely book him a seat at Camp David. An All-American type Hollywood hero of thoroughbred Celtic roots and upbringing, few current players on the G.A.A. scene command as much respect as the Builders Foreman. A player's player, all told, a manager's man and a spectator's delight.
Still only 29 years old, Derry's gently giant has been one of Ireland's most notable and influential dual players for what seem a lot longer period than his actual seven year long inter-county career would indicate. A dual player but much more than that, a real jewel in the crown sported by brethren of a similar like to him, all careering to exalted heights under the increasing glare of a burgeoning media.
It all began so modestly though for the 'no bigger than average' Juvenile athlete whose sporting tastes were largely dictated by his gaelic surroundings in rual Benedy, home to his father on the outskirts of Dungiven, County Derry. At Underage level, in the football sphere, the Dernaslaw National School starlet manned the goals. Destined to play a far more central role on the country's biggest sporting stage, Brian McGilligan's football activity at Under 14 and Under 16 level was, in truth, a bit part compared to that which he was handed by Dungiven's casting directors of a hurling hue. As an instinctive hurler of great drive and energy, the young McGilligan was allotted centre half back 'cum midfield berths on the Dungiven Junvenile hurling team. There he found his niche and performed at his most elegant best. A similar role would be his lot in football some seasons later.
Not withstanding his positioning on the respective Dungiven Underage panels. Brian McGilligan was more comfortable with and enjoyed the game of hurling best of all Dungiven was a pioneering out post of the game in Derry. Kilkenny-born schoolteacher Liam Hinphey and Derry county player Peter Stevenson were bulwarks of hurling locally and young McGilligan willingly lent himself to their ways and methods of perfecting the small ball game. The same went for Brian McGilligan's peers, budding club Seniors like Niall Mullan, Martin Bradley and would-be current county Senior panellist Brian Kealey. First off the starting blocks in Derry, the young hurlers of Dungiven took full advantage of their headstart and duly captured all available Underage hurling titles. For McGilligan, the hurling artisan, it was a similar story at Dungiven's Saint Patricks High School. Just like Lavey and Draperstown on the club front. Saint Patricks contemporaries merely jostled for position in the chasing pack. On every front, Brian McGilligan was a winner from an early age.
Truth to tell though, it was a helter-skelter sporting existence for youthful McGilligan. The ardours involved in being part of long-running and successful club Underage teams in hurling and football were not beyond the powerfully built youngster but even at that early stage, both codes were heavily engaged in a tug for his loyalties. A winner of three Antrim club Minor hurling titles sort of helped swing it hurling's way and despite picking up a 1981 Ulster Minor football medal with Derry (they lost to Cork in the subsequent All-Ireland final) a couple of seasons would pass before football would recapture his imagination.
The hard facts of life in sports' fast lane in Dungiven were patently obvious to young McGilligan. Stymied in their efforts to enter Antrim's Senior hurling League by the sheer logistics of the travel involved etc… Dungiven's push for hurling prominence was further hampered by the fact that at least six of their luminaries were simultaneously engaged in playing club and in some individual cases, county football. Players like McGilligan, Tony Scullion, the Downey brothers and Kieran McKeever were all appropriately caught up in the 'dual' for honours in both codes. The first named's observations on the ongoing difficulties of same are particularly enlightening… "Football has always been the number one priory in Dungiven. There's more people playing it but the overlapping of players has been a big problem for hurling here but I reckon that if we got it together, we'd probably have a better hurling team at the club."
Obviously perturbed by the fact that Derry players as an entity are obliged to make a choice between hurling and football, Brian McGilligan honestly admits that 'Senior' leanings to football, for many, is the result of a natural and instinctive wish to glean honours and recognition. Still, hurling is Brian McGilligan's self-confessed first love and what many observers would tell you is, his forte: a case of big Brian's wrist action being his strongest weapon in deference to his feet.
Winning clean possession, delivering the ball forward speedily and accurately and following up in support is what drives Brian McGilligan onwards. More than most other midfielders in the country, he has perfected such a role, especially within the confines of gaelic football, through which he has earned an inordinate amount of publicity compared to that which his haughty rating in hurling circles should rightly command. However, given the nature of his supersonic, entry to big time club football and his subsequent track record at inter-county level, it's hardly surprising that the greater mass of football followers should recognise Brian McGilligan principally as a footballer of few equals.
At nineteen years of age, he, unconsciously catapulted himself into Dungiven G.A.A. folklore by literally winning the 1983 county final for his club. Losing by two points entering the dying minutes of the decider against Magherafelt, Dungiven needed a goal to pull the match out of the fire. Enter McGilligan. In a movement which has largely become his trademark, he jumped highest to a flighted ball to fist the leather to the Magherafelt net from just outside the small parallelogram. Another two Senior football Championship titles would later waft Dungiven's way with Messr. McGilligan on board. Even more lucrative times on the hurling club front would make life on the home, domestic scene especially pleasing for the galloping midfielder.
At 6"3" tall and a proportionate fourteen stone accompanying frame (which helped make him an imposing figure even among the Australian Compromise Rules players of 1986). Brian McGilligan's mobility is probably his most useful asset as a man among equally big, centrally located players. An undoubted and proven fetcher, his elevation by Kevin Heffernan on to the aforementioned International contest some seven seasons back emblazon his stature no end. Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney never seen anything like the strapping McGilligan as the Dungiven Destroyer helped his country to an historic 2-1 victory in the series of tests. An Under 21 Ulster Football Championship medal winner in 1983 (Derry 3-13, Donegal 1-3) Brian is unquestionably a fan of the much maligned Compromise Rules game.
Arguably a good enough fetcher and certainly big enough and strong enough to make a career in the semi-professional game. Plunkett Murphy's long time resident partner at midfield for Dungiven is no ace marksman but in lifting a side by the bootstraps when most needed, Brian McGilligan's worth to club and county is immeasurable. How often has Derry's or Dungiven's fortunes revolved around his performance as the team's fulcrum. Husband of Breidge O'Doherty, of Swatragh, Derry and Ulster Camogie fame, the 1987 All-Star and three-times Railway Cup panellist is positively gung-ho about his county's chances of national success in 1993. Derry's 1992 National League success and the Down and Donegal All-Ireland triumphs have stirred ambitions within him which for a period, lay dormant in the wake of Derry's 1987 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Meath.
Brother of Dungiven club mates Declan and Paul and a keen admirer of the talents of current Dungiven prodigies Geoffrey McGonigle and Emmett McKeever, the Builders' Foreman has successfully reconstructed his career after suffering a nasty knee (cartilage) injury four seasons ago. Determined to help displace the Lavey club from their number one spots in Derry hurling and football rankings, McGilligan, the dual star, looks to Cork's Teddy McCarthy and Denis Walsh for inspiration as the Championship season beckons. What's humanly possible in Cork should be possible in Derry, he muses. Realism may momentarily be allocated a back seat in the McGilligan scheme of things but ambition is on over-powering force, after all.
A player of great passion and verve, his assertion that he will be giving Derry's hurling and football camps his undivided attention come Championship time will please purists, would-be team mates and protagonists alike. A real entertainer and renowned sportsman, beating Brian McGilligan over the appointed time in the hurly-burly of midfield action, is a benchmark of every players progress. Winning the game for their team is invariable the result of their best endeavours.
Taken from Hogan Stand Magazine
5th March 1993
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