Gabriels defender believes South West champs can cause a shock
BY TOM LYONS
LIAM Hegarty, has been playing junior football for Gabriel Rangers for half his lifetime.
Just 30, wing back Hegarty has been wearing the junior jersey since he was 15. In the interim, he has seen many more lows than highs with the team.
‘I suppose we have a lot of mileage on the clock at this stage,’ admits Hegarty.
‘We did win West Cork titles at minor and U21 but generally we had little to show for our efforts. In my second year on the junior team we got to the south-west final against Skibbereen and we thought we would be in finals every year.’
‘When we did win in 2010, that team never really fulfilled its potential. We were too busy celebrating to take the county championship seriously and got knocked out in the quarter-final.
‘This season, when we won the Carbery title we celebrated for two days and then put the cup away to concentrate on the county.’
It took a good change in attitude among the players to achieve what Gabriels have this season and experienced players like Hegarty were central to their progress. So, too, were players like giant midfielder Stephen O’Mahony and full back Cathal Newman.
‘Stephen coming back to us full-time this season has made a huge difference to the team,’ says Hegarty.
‘He has been a huge addition at midfield all season, his size alone, not to mind his football ability, frightening the life out of opponents. Cathal had given up the game for a few years but we persuaded him to give it a go this year and he has been outstanding. Then Mike O’Brien came in as coach last March and put a real focus on things. He got the players to zone in on what we wanted and how to get it. Keep it simple, has been his motto, and is working.’
This season, Gabriels’ goalscoring ability has been huge. ‘We do have some excellent forwards,’ says Hegarty. ‘Ger (O’Callaghan) and myself used to play in the forwards but these lads now are so good that they moved us to the half back line. They know if they beat a man in defence that they have a great chance of goaling and they are not afraid to have a go. So far, it’s been paying off.’
‘I suppose down the years we would have conceded some very soft goals and our defence was open. Mike has done a lot of work in tightening things up. Ger has been carrying an injury since the county semi-final but he is an amazing athlete and all it means is that he only beats us all by one lap in training now, instead of two!’
Hegarty is one of the many players on the team living away from home but has been making the long journey for training and games every week.
‘I went to college in Cork after the Leaving Cert and stayed there afterwards, bar a couple of years in Kildare,’ he says.
‘It does mean a lot of travelling for training and matches but if you’re not prepared to make some sacrifice then you won’t succeed. We’ve been on the go for a good few weekends now, with only one single break. We took this weekend off so I took the opportunity to go to the rugby match in Dublin. You need those breaks to stay fresh.’
Kerry teams have dominated the Munster junior and intermediate championships but that doesn’t worry Hegarty too much.
‘We set our early goal as winning the Carbery title and people were saying that anything after that was a bonus, but we never looked at it that way,’ he says.
‘We wanted to go on and win the county and now we want to win the Munster. We know Glenbeigh/Glencar are an exceptional junior team.
‘They will keep us busy, but we’re going to Mallow to win, not just to give it a lash. We have got this far on merit, deserve to be there, and we just want to see where it takes us.’