Gillespie makes emotional return to Ireland

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The Independent Football

It was almost surreal - Keith Gillespie, one of the best known sportsmen to come from Ireland for many years, sitting at a table addressing the local press... as a Glentoran player.

Glens Chairman Aubry Ralph flanked the Northern Ireland international, with a look on his face akin to a four-year-old on Christmas morning, while on the other side, the man who made it happen - William McCausland, from club sponsor fonaCAB, looked equally excited.

And they had every right to.

The east Belfast side had pulled off, in local football terms, the transfer coup of the century.

Here was a man who had graced some of the biggest stages in the world - the Nou Camp, Millennium Stadium, Old Trafford to name a few.

Now Gillespie is swapping it all for trips to Stangmore Park, Solitude and Seaview - and judging by his demeanour as his signing was officially announced at the Oval yesterday, he couldn’t be happier.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for me to come back here,” he said. “It’s something that I’m really looking forward to and I just can’t wait for it to start.”

And while some might see this as some sort of stop-gap or even a swan-song, Gillespie thinks otherwise as he hopes that if his return home proves fruitful, then Glenmen will see him burning up the right flank for at least another campaign.

“You never know what the future holds but as it stands now, I want to play as long as I can and come the end of the season I’d like to maybe stay longer if things go well,” said the 86-capped international.

“I can only hope that we have a successful season and if I’m playing well then hopefully I will stay longer.”

He added: “It was something I was keen to do - come home at some stage with football.

“This was a great opportunity to come back to a club with a lot of tradition; obviously league champions as well and I am eager to try and help promote the club as well.”

Promoting the club may be one thing, but what fans will want to see is the skill and pace that have provided them, as Northern Ireland supporters, with so many happy nights.

Gillespie has taken on and competed with some of the best defenders in the world game - but Irish League defenders can be a different animal altogether.

However, the Larne-born winger has never been one to step away from a fight and with his own fiery temperament, Gillespie is more than willing to get stuck in if he has to.

Asked about the prospect of a local player trying to make a name for himself by being the man who left such a big player in a heap, Gillespie countered: “If they want to do that, that’s up to them.

“I haven’t been intimidated by left-backs throughout my career so I don’t think that’ll change too much.

What may change, though, is the sentiment held by some of the fans who used to chant his name on the Kop at Windsor Park.

It’s fair to say that the Kop will be the last place his name bellows from, certainly out of an international context.

Gillespie could go from hero to villain, certainly in the eyes of Linfield fans, but as a player of vast experience, and one who has gained his fair share of bad press over the years, according to him it will be water off a duck’s back.

“I have had a fair amount of controversy over the years across the water while playing for my club teams, but it’s clearly just something that I’ll have to get used to. When people goad you it can go one way or another — you can lie down or you can stand up and be counted and hopefully it will be the latter of those.”

He added: “You only have to look at someone like Wayne Rooney. He is probably hated by the fans at every other club he plays against.

“But as soon as he pulls on the shirt for England, they all love him.

“I know people are going to think differently about me now because I’m playing for their rival team, but that’s all part of football and I’ll just have to get on with it. It’s not something that is really going to bother me too much.”

And so after all the talk, when will he finally pull on the shirt.

Well the answer lies with boss Alan McDonald.

“I’m probably not match-fit but I’m generally quite a fit person as it is and I just want to get into training straight away and then it will be up to Alan (McDonald) whether I am considered to be fit enough to be involved.

“I can’t wait - it’s been a long time since I played a game and there is nothing like getting onto the pitch.”

Sourced from: The Belfast Telegraph