Football stint helped mould me into hurler I am today says Limerick's Hegarty
HE may be the Hurler of the Year-elect after a series of scintillating displays in Limerick’s Liam MacCarthy Cup triumph last month, but Gearóid Hegarty admits it was his early inter-county experiences with the big ball that moulded him into the player he is today.
Hegarty was 17 when he was first drafted into the Treaty football panel by then boss John Brudair, four years before his senior debut would come with the hurlers.
And although his aspirations always swayed towards the caman code, resulting in him being such a central cog of John Kiely’s All-Ireland winning side, that early introduction to the inter-county scene had a lasting impact.
“I wouldn't be where I am today without football, without a doubt,” said the 26-year-old secondary school teacher, who picked up the PwC GAA/GPA Hurler of the Month award for his performance in Limerick's victory over Waterford.
“That just exposed me to the level of training that is required to even be on an inter-county panel - not to mind make the team, or start and be one of the main players. Just to be involved in an inter-county panel.
“I didn't expect it all. I was after playing two years minor for Limerick, never really getting a look in, never really having any success, but to go into a senior inter-county panel as naive as I was, that was some eye-opener - doing all the hard running, all the hard tackling drills, and all the gym work.”
Indeed, Hegarty recalls his first day on the panel, and a tough introduction to the strength and conditioning regime that lay ahead.
“We had a strength test in the old building in UL [University of Limerick].
“I remember Garrett Noonan was in front of me. You had to bench three-quarters of your body weight, he was the weight as me, he got down and did 25 reps at 70kg. It is something I'll never ever forget as long as I live.
“I had hardly any gym work done at that stage of my life but I said ‘Jesus, this can't be too bad’. I got down and I couldn't even lift the bar. I was never so embarrassed in all my life. I swore to myself that will never happen again.
“Those two years that I spent with the footballers were an absolutely brilliant time, but it was always hurling. My father played hurling for Limerick for a long time. Growing up, it was all hurling. Everything that was said at the table was all hurling talk.
“It was always my dream to play hurling for Limerick, that was it.”
And since finding his calling, Hegarty hasn’t looked back, landing his second All-Ireland medal in December as Limerick return to hurling’s seat of power.
That was a month ago and the St Patrick’s clubman insist he hasn’t done a tap since – one the advice of respected sports psychologist Caroline Currid, who is part of Kiely’s Limerick backroom team.
Thoughts of the season to come, even though it may only be a matter of weeks away, those are far another day.
“I love it but I can’t do it for a full year... not for a second have I thought about it.
“Caroline Currid has said that to us and on a personal level I made it my business to take the rest of December off and all of January to physically and mentally take a complete break. I get burnt out if I was doing it consistently all the time.
“I really like resetting and taking a full break and then resetting and getting back in the zone. When I’m in the zone I’m going to the gym, eating right, training as hard as I can. I am looking forward to it and I have to hold myself back.
“At the end of the day we’re amateur sportspeople - I’ve to go back to teaching after this, we have professional lives outside of sport so you have to live. I’d be a reflective person and you have to figure out what works for you. I find myself not enjoying it if you’re constantly living like a monk.”
HEGARTY COULD SEE BLACK CARD IN HURLING 'DOWN THE LINE'
A WHOPPING 82 per cent of delegates voted against the introduction of a black card in hurling at GAA Congress back in February 2020, but Limerick star Gearóid Hegarty says he “could definitely see it coming down the line”.
The debate continues to rumble across the caman code, with several high-profile pundits and players speaking out against the idea in recent years.
However, with the inter-county game under the microscope more than ever, those incidents of cynical play were in the spotlight once more – leading to calls for hurling to consider how it moves forward.
Like the vast majority of players Hegarty would prefer that talk of a black card wasn’t realised, but acknowledges that it may not be too far away.
“I’m a big fan of watching football as well, specifically when it gets to the later stages of the Championship, and obviously that crept in and they sorted it with the black card,” said the 26-year-old former dual player.
“Do I feel there’s a need for it at the moment? I don’t think so but I suppose it’d be stupid if I said there wasn’t cynical fouling going on in hurling because it is creeping in.
“If it got worse, I could definitely see it coming in down the line. The black card has worked for the football so if it is needed in time, we’ll see what happens.”
Limerick, like all county panels across Ireland, are hoping to resume training at the start of February in anticipation of the start of the National League.
And Hegarty is quick to dismiss any notion that elite sportspeople, such as inter-county GAA players, should be bumped up the list for the Covid-19 vaccinations currently being rolled out across Ireland.
“I don’t think that will happen to be honest. My mother’s mother and father and elderly and they are still waiting on the vaccine, so if I was to think I am getting a vaccine before them, there would be something seriously wrong.
“To be honest though I’d actually challenge that and say how many cases were actually linked to the GAA in terms of the inter-county teams training, hurling and football?
“In fairness to club teams and inter-county teams throughout the country they deserve great credit for the way everybody has conducted themselves.
“I can only speak for ourselves, both the club [St Patrick’s] and the county, but we are a small club in inner-city, Limerick and there was lads there finishing work and coming straight down to training with thermometers and taking names of people that were there training.
“Look in an ideal world it would be great if we could get the vaccine, but it’s a supply issue. There just isn’t enough of it there.
“I think it should be given to the people that need it more first, and that’s elderly people and that is people working on the frontline, doctors and nurses.”