Age brings perspective for once obsessive Hegarty:

By John Harrington

Gearoid Hegarty had the unfortunate distinction of being the only Limerick player who started last year’s All-Ireland Final who didn’t end the year with an All-Star nomination.

You could argue that was harsh considering how well he played in the All-Ireland series, but he clearly paid for a couple of performances in the Munster Championship that were a bit below his lofty best.

Being the competitive animal he is, you always suspected there would be a reaction from the St. Patrick’s man in 2024, and sure enough there has been.

Along with Kyle Hayes he’s arguably been Limerick’s best player so far this year, capping a great Munster campaign with a man of the match performance in the final itself.

Has he been fuelled this year by the disappointment of missing out on last year’s All-Stars nominations?

“Straight off the bat, I didn’t deserve to be nominated last year, so there’s no bad feelings from my side of things,” says Hegarty.

“I wasn’t at my best last year for the first two thirds of the championship and was only getting going as the year was finishing. This year I’ve been injury-free and have played a lot of League and had a great pre-season and have gotten into a good rhythm and we’re now in Croke Park again for an All-Ireland semi-final and the challenge is to bring it again the next day.

“That’s always a challenge no matter what the period of the year you’re in. Consistency is always something that I’m striving for and improvement and we’re in that position again.

“I always have my own KPIs that I go after and I probably didn’t get to the level I needed to get to last year to achieve them.

“So, it didn’t necessarily change in terms of the targets I was trying to hit this year. I didn’t hit them last year and the goal this year was to try to hit them more consistently.

“That’s always the goal. I’m always trying to improve and to get better than the last day. You pick up loads of little things along the way.”

It’s hard to imagine Hegarty being so sanguine earlier in his career about being the only regular Limerick starter to miss out on an All-Star nomination.

Notably obsessive about the game, he’d hunt for a mental edge anywhere he could find it and go after marginal performance gains in a variety of spheres from visualisation to motivational techniques.

He’s still hugely driven to be the best player he can possibly be, but he’s learned along the way not to be too hard on himself.

“I’ve gotten older and you grow up and realise it’s not the most important thing in the world and there’s a lot more to life than obsessing about hurling 24/7,” he says.

“I’m 30 in August and I’m in the process of trying to get a house built and you’re also focused on your professional career as a teacher. There’s loads of other things outside of hurling that maybe as a young fella you don’t really realise when you’re in college and coming out of college to start working.

“But you grow up and you realise there’s more to life than obsessing about hurling. Thats all it is, just getting a little bit older and more mature.

“I think Covid was a massive thing, to be honest, in terms of just seeing the bigger picture and just relaxing. There’s a lot more to life outside of hurling and that’s something I’ve definitely gotten better at over the last number of years.

“Previously too much of my time was spent thinking about hurling even when I wasn’t at training or playing matches.

“As you get older life gets in the way, though maybe that’s not the best way to phrase it. Hurling is still so, so important to me but there’s a lot of ther things that would be on my mind that would take my mind off hurling.

“Everyone has their own journey and I’m thoroughly enjoying the journey that I’m on. I’m 30 in August but I don’t feel like I am. Even though there were a couple of games last year I didn’t play well in, these things happen and you learn from them.

“You learn from everything, good or bad, you learn from all these experiences. That’s what I try to do every year, every week, every training session. You’re just trying to improve all the time.

“That’s the challenge of being an inter-county player, you’re just trying to get better all the time. Year on year that’s what I’m trying to do and I feel like I have improved again from last year.

“That’s the challenge. It’s been a great journey so far, I’m feeling really good, and I think as a team we’re all feeling excellent and enjoying this year.”

Hegarty produced some really memorable moments in Limerick’s Munster Final win over Clare.

The first-time groundstroke to the back of the net, a brace of brilliant points, and a ridiculously skillful one-handed flicked pick-up were all testified to a player high on confidence.

Hegarty being Hegarty though, he always feel like he has room for further improvement.

“I’d be happy enough with how the Munster Championship went but I wouldn’t be ecstatic,” he says.

“I’m always reflecting on every game that I play and the Munster Final went well for me the last day but looking back there were loads of opportunities where I could have gotten on a bit more ball or could have supported a fella off the shoulder.

“There’s always something. I’m never satisfied in terms of how a game has gone completely. I always feel there’s a little bit more in me, I’m always a little bit disappointed with certain elements.

“I suppose it’s a good mindset for me to be in because I’m always trying to get a little bit better game on game.”

It’s that eyes fixed firmly towards the horizon approach that has served Hegarty and this Limerick team so well.

They’re writing new chapters in the history-books with each game they win at this point, but he’s not planning to sit down in a comfy chair with his reading glasses just yet.

“Obviously the five-in-a-row is something we’re asked about all of the time and anyone we meet on the street whether they’re from Limerick or not, they’ll talk to you about the five-in-row and it is what it is,” he says.

“I hope in time I can look back in time on winning six Munster Championships in a row or winning four All-Irelands in a row or whatever it is and look back on it fondly.

“But at the moment you’re always looking forwards. After the Munster Final we had a couple of pints on Sunday night and a good auld day on Monday, then you’ve a day or two to recover from the celebrations and then what happens is you wake up on a Wednesday or Thursday morning you’re thinking, ‘well, what’s next?’

“That’s always the way we’ve been and that’s the way you have to be. Because if you start thinking about things that are outside of your control then you’re going to be off the ball, you’re not going to be 100 per cent and that’s when you’ll be caught.

“It is what it is and we’ll see what happens over the next couple of weeks but it’s a privilege to be in the position that we’re in. It’s been such an enjoyable year so far and I can’t believe there’s only a couple of weeks left in the championship.

“There’s a maximum of two weeks left after this weekend if we’re lucky enough to get to the final, it’s amazing. I can’t believe we’re at this stage of the championship already, it’s flown.”