Paul Hearty looks back on his 23-year career with Crossmaglen Rangers and Armagh
PAUL HEARTY is “chilling out”, reading the paper when I ring and, with five kids in the house, the now former Crossmaglen goalkeeper retreats upstairs to look back on his 23-year career with club and county.
19 county titles, 11 Ulsters, five All-Irelands… Hearty won every major honour with his beloved Rangers and with Armagh he was part of the Sam Maguire-winning squad in 2002 and went on to win five Ulster titles and two National Leagues.
He got to choose when the end came, but now how and last Saturday night’s loss to Maghery in the Armagh semi-final was his last game in the famous black and amber.
Was retiring a difficult decision to make?
I never wanted to play when I was 40 and I knew I was going to call it a day at the end of this year come what may.
I would have liked to go on for another couple of months but it wasn’t to be.
Had you ever come close to retiring before?
No. If we had won the county title last year I would have been up to 20 and I would have pulled the pin then possibly.
I decided to give it another go this year to see but I definitely wasn’t going to play when I was 40.
When are you 40?
In May next year.
Is it true they called you the child (pronounced ‘the chile’) in the dressingroom?
Ha ha. They were calling me that 10 years ago! They call me Hertz in there.
You played with fathers and then their sons?
Yes, I played with Gareth O’Neill the manager and his sons (Oisin and Rian) and Kieran Donnelly’s sons and a few others too.
Sure some of the lads now weren’t even born when I started, we had a good laugh about that.
You’ll miss being part of it?
Oh I will miss it.
Then again, you’re due a bit of a break from the training?
Well, we had a break last year when Cullyhanna beat us (in the semi-final). We had a break for two or three months so we were ready to go at it again.
I never really got a break, I was fortunate enough not to get a break because we were winning.
You wonder at these boys saying they need a break from football and they’ve played football for maybe two months of the year and then they need to go away for three months to recharge the batteries.
When we were going well it was 13 months of the year.
Your season never ended?
In the years when we won the All-Ireland with the club you were back at county training on the Tuesday night for a National League game the following weekend.
There was no down time and you went with Armagh until June or July or August and then back in with the club a week later.
You got a week off or away for your holiday, but these guys needing to go away for months at a time to reflect is baffling to be honest.
You couldn’t have kept going like that unless you loved it?
That’s it. If you want something bad enough you go out and you get it.
People talk about burn-out but if you train and it’s structured properly and tailored to what you need to do there’s no issues with that type of thing.
Did you do your own training specific to goalkeeping?
I did every run that the boys did.
At the start of this year we were doing 10k runs and I did all that.
I might have been a bit slower than everybody else but the training was done and the hard yards put in – you needed to be in that place if you wanted to be up and competing at the highest level.
It worked for every one of us down through the years and you don’t fix something that’s not broke.
Were you always a goalie?
I would have played out the field in the last year of underage because I was probably bigger and stronger than the rest of them. But from I was U10 or U12 I was put in goals.
Tim Gregory (underage coach) put me in and I sort of had a bit of a stormer – I pulled off a couple of great saves.
That was that, I was stuck in goals then and I got an appetite for it after a while and I was happy enough to be playing every week.
Did you model your game on anyone, a goalkeeping hero?
Not really. I remember Benny Tierney (former Armagh goalkeeper) coming into our school (St Joseph’s in Crossmaglen) to teach.
I wouldn’t have known too much about the Armagh team at the time but the boys would have been saying ‘that’s the Armagh goalkeeper, that’s the Armagh goalkeeper’.
Little did I know that years later I’d competing for his place.
Yourself and Benny battled it out for Armagh’s number one jersey for several years. Benny held on to it for 2002 when Armagh won the All-Ireland.
I was in and out in 1999 and then we were busy with Cross and Mark Campbell came in to be understudy to Benny. In 2001,
Benny started in the Championship against Tyrone and then I came in for the Qualifiers. In 2002, I dislocated my shoulder in training and I was out for eight or nine weeks.
I didn’t play any of the League really and Benny started the Championship.
You won everything else though?
Yes I played from then on. We won five Ulsters, two National Leagues. I won an Ulster U21 with Armagh in 1999 as well.
Could Armagh have been even more successful?
Looking back, there’s always things we could have improved on. We probably missed the boat a couple of days, but you don’t know.
2003 Tyrone beat us in the final and 2004 it was Fermanagh, but that was only the quarter-final. 2005 was Tyrone, we were going well that year but we lost out by a point in the sem-final and 2006 was Kerry in the quarter-final…
Did we leave a couple behind us? Maybe, maybe not. We could have been undone in a semi-final or a final so it’s hard to know.
We’d have loved to have won another All-Ireland with that team but it wasn’t to be and we just have to live with that; that we didn’t do the business on those given days.
You did the business with Crossmaglen more often that not. Is there any one victory that stands out?
In Armagh, the first one in 1996 was really a milestone because it had been 10 years since we’d won it. 10 years was a long time in the history of the club.
I remember we beat Mullaghbawn, who had won Ulster the year before, in Silverbridge.
That was a hammer and tongs game and there was a huge crowd. That’s one that stands out.
What about the Ulster titles?
You could pick a lot of games but we had a couple of real ding-dong battles with Enniskillen Gaels in Ulster. I remember the final in 1999.
It was 9-9 at Clones, one of the biggest pitches in the country, and John McEntee let the left foot go with the last kick of the game and the ball just dropped over the bar to win it.
You have six All-Irelands to choose from?
I suppose going and beating Na Fianna (Dublin and Leinster champions) in 2000 was special.
They had household names all over the place – Geezer (Kieran McGeeney) and Des Mackin were playing with them, Jason Sherlock, Senan Connell, Mick Galvin and Dessie Farrell…
We went down and played some of our best stuff that day and ended up beating them by five points, we were in top gear at that time.
You were a group of lads from a small town in south Armagh who became the best team in Ireland. That must give you enormous pride and satisfaction?
Definitely. Oisin McConville has told the story about watching the All-Ireland club final in 1996 when we were in Ballincollig in Cork at a tournament.
Ollie McEntee, Lord rest him, pointed up at the telly and said: “That’ll be us next year lads”.
We were thinking ‘what is he on about?’ but 12 months later we were up the Hogan steps with Andy Merrigan.
When we did it once we got a taste for it and the team was young enough and hungry enough to go at it and we managed to keep it going.
You played in so many big games. Were there nerves?
I always had nerves. If you haven’t got butterflies in your belly then you’re not up for it, you’re not expecting a battle.
You have to get the mind and the body ready to do whatever it takes to win and it’s a healthy thing to be nervous because you want to go out and do you best and you have to put that pressure on yourself to go out and perform.
The other boys were the same.
Goalkeeping has changed since you started. Where do you stand on the new rule that kick-outs have to go over the 21-yard line?
I think it’s a load of crap.
The best thing to do is look for a mark now.
It’ll cause a bit of friction but I suppose they want to get the kick-outs out into the middle of the field.
The days of the 1970s and 80s won’t come back unless they make a rule that you have to hit it outside the ‘45’.
Will you still be involved with the club?
If there is a bit of coaching needed with the youngsters, the U6s or whatever, I’ll go up and give them a hand out. I’ll try and keep in the gym and keep myself in a bit of shape, I’ll still look after myself and try and keep the weight off.
The last two titles have slipped away from Crossmaglen. Will they be back?
There’s absolutely no doubt that they will.
I have seen the calibre of young players coming through and they did four in-a-row minors there so if we get two or three players off each team that’s 12 players coming through and there’s a couple of real clinkers in there.
Come hell or high water, we’ll be back there competing next year again.