Limerick's PwC Hurler of the Year Gearoid Hegarty aiming for more trophies
NAME-CHECKED during an All-Ireland Hurling Final while still just a babe in arms, Gearoid Hegarty was perhaps always destined for greatness.
Yet the 2020 PwC Hurler of the Year didn't have to look too far for a lesson on the fine lines between sporting success and failure. He celebrated his individual accolade along with his father Ger, who twice missed out on the big prize with Limerick in the mid-Nineties.
Born in early August 1994, it was playfully suggested that Gearoid may have caused his dad some sleepless nights ahead of the dramatic late turnaround against Offaly:
"I was actually mentioned in the commentary that day. I was only about 30 days old, my mother was obviously at the game, I was staying with my mother's parents. It's funny to think how things change along the years…
"The 1994 All-Ireland final, it's not really a touchy subject here. I was chatting to dad [on Saturday night] and sport can be so cruel.
"He said to me that they were inches away from achieving everything we did, all the plaudits that our Limerick team have got over the last number of years. They were so close, they lost two finals in three years by a couple of points and we won two finals in three years…
"It just shows the inches, the margins at the top of the sport. You need an element of luck to go your way and I suppose they just didn't get it done on the day."
Limerick more than achieved victory over Waterford in December, cruising past Waterford to back up their 2018 win over Galway, but the very differing circumstances afterwards have made Hegarty hungry for even more success.
Covid-19 restrictions meant the Treatymen barely got their hands on the Liam MacCarthy Cup, as Hegarty recalls ruefully:
"We didn't even have an hour. They didn't even allow us to bring it off the field so we literally just had a few minutes with it on the field and that was it, it was gone.
"We didn't see it again, which was disappointing in my opinion. I think for all the hard work that we put in over the year, for God's sake, a couple of hours with the Liam MacCarthy in the dressing room even or whatever, yeah, that was a bit disappointing but I suppose, look, the important thing was to win the game. It's not the most important thing in the world to have the trophy but it would have been nice.
"It is still surreal, there was no banquet after the game, we only got a couple of days celebrating and even at that, the celebrations were a good bit scaled back from the 2018 celebrations for obvious reasons. It was strange, it still is strange."
Winning in front of a full house rather than an almost empty stadium is one target for the year ahead, after the weirdness of 2020:
"It was a strange year for so many different circumstances but, to be honest, I was even talking to [manager] John [Kiely] about this the other day, it gives me huge motivation to go out and try to be successful again in 2021. Hopefully fans will be back into stadiums in some capacity and trying to get back to normal life.
"The celebrations in 2018 were just incredible. I even saw a video of the bus going down O'Connell Street, I had forgotten about that, so it'd be nice to try and get back to some sort of normal life. I'm sure we're all sick of it at this stage."
The St Patrick's clubman was obviously thrilled to be voted PwC Hurler of the Year by his peers, commenting: "It's such a prestigious award to win and it is one I always wanted to win before…I was looking at the names who've won it over the last number of years and it's an incredibly illustrious list to join, so during the week of course I was a small bit nervous, whether I'd be selected or not."
However, the words of one of the vanquished players from Waterford, a county still seeking the ultimate prize after a gap of more than six decades, really resonated with Hegarty:
"Even watching the All-Stars [ceremony on TV] and Tadhg de Búrca's interview, I thought it was brilliant. Straight away, one of the things he mentioned was how great it was to win this award but the All-Ireland is the medal you want in your hand.
"Not to take away from the award, I'm incredibly honoured to win it and I mean that but it's all about winning the All-Ireland. It's a team sport and you enjoy winning with your team. It's bonus territory to be winning these awards but it's the All-Ireland that you set out to win at the start of the year…
"Like everything it happens and you have to take note of it and be proud of what you've done, but then it's time to move on as well.
"I don't like thinking too much about what you've done, because that's when you kind of get stuck in the mud and people pass you out, so it's time to get cracking again on the year coming ahead."
Hegarty is well aware that his title will make him a target for opponents when games do resume this year:
"Yeah, without a doubt. If you're coming up against a team with the 'hurler of the year' in it I know we'd be trying to stop their main players. That's a huge challenge to me and it's something that I'm relishing and I can't wait to get going…
"It's just important to note what got you to that position and keep doing what you're doing because that's what got you to that position.
"It is a big challenge for me and it's probably something I will discuss with Caroline Currid, our sports psychologist, before the year starts. I'm sure I'll sit down with her and chat and it's nice to process these things, but it's important to look forward to keep doing what got you to this place."