Football

Benny Heron: 'All I ever wanted to do was play for Derry and I’ve loved every minute of it'

Derry's Benny Heron at the double against Monaghan in 2022 Picture: Philip Walsh
Derry's Benny Heron at the double against Monaghan in 2022 Picture: Philip Walsh Derry's Benny Heron at the double against Monaghan in 2022 Picture: Philip Walsh

AFTER 11 years, two Ulster winner’s medals and some untouchable memories, Derry’s Benny Heron has called time on his inter-county career.

Speaking to The Irish News, the pride of Ballinascreen felt Gaelic football at the highest level was becoming too quick for him and that he was no longer satisfied with his contribution to the team.

“Physically, I started to struggle a wee bit in terms of the speed of the game,” Heron said.

“The pace of the game at the minute is at another level and I just felt I was being left behind a wee bit.”

Famed for his two-goal salvo in the 2022 Ulster semi-final win over Monaghan at The Athletic Grounds, Heron’s greatest reward during a “rollercoaster” inter-county career was helping to inspire the next generation.

The 32-year-old playmaker, who doesn't turn 33 until next March, could not be swayed to stay on for another season even though Derry are arguably closer than they’ve ever been to landing the Sam Maguire since they first won it in ‘93.

“All I ever wanted to do was play for Derry and I’ve loved every minute of it,” said Heron, who also has a young family.

“I’d love them to win an All-Ireland. Do I wish I was part of it? Absolutely, but if I’m not in a position to contribute, then the decision is a bit easier.

“People have been asking me recently about staying on because they’re saying we’re so close. But there’s so much that goes into it between now and July. There’s a mountain of work just to get back to that stage and go a stage further. Mentally, I just don’t think I could contribute another year.”

Regarded as one of the best footballers on the club circuit for over a decade, Heron fulfilled his rich potential at county level in more recent times.

He made his NFL debut against Wexford in 2013 and his Ulster Championship debut followed that same year against Down.

Heron soldiered with the county when they were playing Division Four football only four years ago before they began climbing the divisions again.

“At that stage, you probably didn’t think the good times would come around again.

“When I started in 2013, we got promoted from Division Two and we were in the Division One final, and you thought that’s the way your inter-county career would stay. But, very quickly, we dropped down the divisions and ended up in Division Four.

“My first game back after my wedding [in 2019] was away to Limerick. It was a horrible, wet day, in front of 50 or 60 spectators and you were thinking: ‘Is this worth it?’

“Obviously, I’m unbelievably glad that I did stick with it. Chrissy [McKaigue] and me are probably there the longest, but I take great satisfaction that we’re back in Division One. It’s that old cliché from the All Blacks that you want to leave the jersey in a better place. I feel Derry are now in a really good position.”

With a new management team – led by Mickey Harte and Gavin Devlin – taking the reins made Heron’s retirement decision a “bit easier” than had the previous management team stayed in place.

Heron, who plans to play a few more years with his club, says he leaves the inter-county stage with “no regrets” and is looking forward to watching the team from the stands with his family.

A GOAT poster with Benny Heron Picture: Margaret McLaughlin.
A GOAT poster with Benny Heron Picture: Margaret McLaughlin. A GOAT poster with Benny Heron Picture: Margaret McLaughlin.