If Christmas is the most magical time of the year, it came early for Donegal hurler, Gerard Gilmore, this year.
‘Magical’ is the very word he uses to describe his feelings on finding out he was named in the GAA Hurling Team of the Week last month after scoring two goals in three minutes to help his team beat his native Tyrone in the semi-final of the Nicky Rackard Cup.
That victory set up the Donegal underdogs to face favourites Mayo in the final – which they won against the odds! Life doesn’t get much better surely?
The 27-year-old agrees. Reflecting on his recent sporting successes, Gerard says they are career-defining moments which he’ll cherish forever.
“It’ll be great in the years to come to look back on all this“, he said. “After the semi, to see my name up with players you see on TV, that was definitely a one-off experience! I actually found out about it when a team-mate tagged me on Facebook and at first I wondered why he’d tagged me but then I saw the Donegal badge and I was full of emotion.
“When we came off the final having beaten Mayo, which was a shock to a lot of people because we were massive underdogs being two league divisions below them, that was a huge sense of relief. We knew ourselves we could beat them, but it was good to get it over the line, especially after everything this year and with the 100th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.”
Gerard was part of the Donegal squad which won the cup in 2018 and he had previously won it with Tyrone in 2014 when he was awarded a Nicky Rackard All Star. Having been brought up in Strabane, where he started playing hurling at such an early age he doesn’t even remember learning the game, he now lives near Ballybofey and moved to the local club, Setanta. With a large family connection in Donegal, he says when the opportunity arose to put on the county jersey, it was a ‘no brainer’.
Coming from a ‘big hurling house’ with great support from his heroes, parents Josephine and Seamus, no doubt many of his relatives would have made the journey to Croke Park last month to see him play, but sadly this was not a possibility. Although this was Gerard’s fifth time playing there, it was his first without spectators.
He said: “We would normally have a few hundred or thousand at a final, it wouldn’t be a massive crowd but you would hear the noise from them! But whether there’s a crowd there or not, once the ball is thrown in, you only have one objective, to win the game, and thankfully that’s what we did.
“This year has been a career highlight. On a personal level, I had a very good year with my club and that transitioned through to the county too. Getting on the Team of the Week was magical, getting lined up with All Stars and Players of the Year, it will be nice to look back on.”
Gaelic games are never far from Gerard’s mind because even in his day job, he’s immersed in them. For eight years he has worked for GAA’s ‘Choice of Champions’ O’Neills Irish International Sports Company Ltd in Strabane.
Gerard said: “I really enjoy working at O’Neills, I’m interested in the gear, it’s what I wear myself. I do clerical work so the shifts mean I can always make training and I don’t have to work at weekends so that frees me up for matches. I’ve been working from home which is great that I’m able to do that as it keeps me busy and active but you do miss the banter. I know most of my workmates have been following the games and wishing the team well even though I do come in for a bit of stick for playing for Donegal!
“I enjoy playing hurling and long may it continue. I enjoy the skill, the physicality, the commitment, the discipline. It’s energising, it drives you on and there’s a big social aspect too, with friends and team-mates.
“You need something in your life to take your mind off things and hurling does that for me. It was great to get playing this year and people have enjoyed watching, it was something for people to look forward to and all the videos and well wishes that we in the Donegal team received before the final showed the community spirit and support we had.”
With some uncertainty over how the league and championship will proceed in 2021, Gerard, for now, is happy to enjoy his Christmas break and catch up with people he hasn’t seen so much of with everything that’s been going on in 2020.
He said: “I’ll spend time over the holidays with family and friends because once the New Year comes, it’ll be back to training which is a big commitment but if you put in the work, you get the reward and it’s absolutely worth it.”
The results from Gerard’s hard work speak for themselves – long may it continue indeed!