Hegarty still wielding the magic

Noel Hegarty will be forever remembered in Donegal and further afield as one of Donegal’s 1992 All-Ireland championship winners.

Noel Hegarty will be forever remembered in Donegal and further afield as one of Donegal’s 1992 All-Ireland championship winners.

His name will forever be etched in the history books as wearing the number four jersey on that fateful day in Croke Park in September ’92 when the mighty Dubs were downed and Donegal were added to the long and illustrious list of Sam Maguire Cup winners.

He also has a pretty decent honours list from a long club career with his native Naomh Columba too. And at 41, he is not finished yet and is an influential member - though as an impact substitute – of the Naomh Columba side bidding for a first Donegal Intermediate championship when they face St. Naul’s on Sunday in Tir Chonaill Park.

County championship underage medals at senior, U-14, minor and U-21 as well as an Intermediate Reserve championship sit alongside his All-Ireland Celtic Cross in his trophy cabinet.

And of course there are also the Inter-provincial medals from 1993 and 1998 won with Ulster.

“I’ve had a good career and no regrets. There are an awful lot of men out there who played as much football as I did and they have very little to show for it,” said Noel, who also played on the losing side in five county finals between 1992 and 1998.

“I know we (Naomh Columba) lost a serious amount of finals in the 1990s. I think it was something like five in the space of six or seven years.

“It was hard to take at the time, but a bit like we are now at Intermediate, we were probably punching above our weight back in those years and did well to get to the finals.”

After winning the club’s second senior championship in 1990, Noel Hegarty and Naomh Columba went on to lose the finals of 1992, ’94, ’95, ’96 and ’98, all by narrow margins with the highest margin of defeat three points against Killybegs in ’92, and Aodh Ruadh in 94 and ’98, while just a single point separated them and Killybegs in both the ’95 and ’96 finals.

“As I said earlier I’m not complaining, we had a lot of good players down the years like Noel McGinley and Pauric Gillespie in the current team who are playing with the club for years and they have very little to show in the way of medals and championships.”

Noel’s role in the team nowadays is confined to being used as an impact substitute. But he is, as he always was, the team’s spiritual leader in the dressing room.

Long after Bundoran had packed into their cars and were on the homeward journey last Sunday, Noel still had a captive audience in the Naomh Columba dressing room as he emphasised the importance of next Sunday’s final against St. Naul’s.

Noel spent some time outlining the importance of a win to the club, and what it was going to take to get there; what the players needed to do over the next six days and on the day itself, if they were to come out on top in the decider.

He has been his side’s saviour on the field, too, on a number of occasions in the course of the season.

On Sunday last, he helped turn the tables on Bundoran when introduced to midfield at half-time as Naomh Columba kicked on to claim two precious league points to greatly help the club’s Division Two status.

He also kicked the game’s final point to ease Naomh Columba two in front with the clock ticking.

Against Naomh Colmcille in the semi-final he also saved his side’s bacon when he twice hit the target to earn his side a draw the first day before again coming off the bench in the replay to lend a hand in the 0-10 to 0-7 victory.

But no one is more surprised than Noel that he is once again on the championship trail and just one game away from another championship honour.

“I started out at the beginning of the year playing for the reserve team and I was happy to do that and just have a game and a run out every weekend. But with a number of players picking up injuries, and a few more moving away from the area it is more out of necessity than anything else that Anthony (Molloy) turned to me and I’m still playing.

“We have lost up to six or seven first choice players over the last couple of years and it has really stretched us. Terence Byrne in Australia, Gary Kennedy and Brendan Cannon both suffered cruciate injuries and Patrick Cunnea and Alan Burke have also moved away from the area and are no longer playing while Gerard Cannon has also stopped playing.

“They were all first choice players and are hard to replace and it because of their absence that I’m playing. I may not have the legs to last a full game but I’m delighted to be still involved and if I can come on and make a contribution, I’m happy to do so.

“I played at midfield when I came on against Bundoran and I came on at half-back against Naomh Colmcille and sure we will see how it goes on Sunday.

“The forecast for next weekend is not great and Tir Chonaill Park tends to be a bit on the soft side when the rain comes and it won’t be easy for an old buck like me. But if I’m called on I’ll see what I can do.

“I won an Intermediate Reserve Championship two years ago and walking away from MacCumhaill Park that day, I thought that would be the end of my finals. But here I am again getting ready for another, so I suppose you could say I’m really in bonus territory. We will try to make the most of it, but as I said earlier we are probably boxing above our weight and we are up against St. Naul’s and Stephen Griffin, who is a fantastic player. He scored something like 1-10 or 1-11 in their last game and runs up big scores every day he plays.

“It will take a big effort and we are going to have to play very well to win. We are happy enough to be in the Intermediate championship and to be honest I’m not sure if we are ready for the senior championship.

“It will be more important for us to stay in Division Two than to win on Sunday. We picked up two points against Bundoran and probably need another two to be one hundred percent sure of staying in Division Two, and besides given St. Naul’s record we would not begrudge them an Intermediate championship.

“They have a poor record; they’ve lost their last six finals, Sunday’s is their seventh and maybe their time has come.”

While that is said without the slightest hint of tongue-in-cheek, one cannot help but feel knowing the player and that great championship character shown down the years Noel and Naomh Columba will not be as generous come 4 pm next Sunday.

Noel may have won literally every honour in the game but given his notable pride in his own game, in his own place and in the green and gold of Naomh Columba, St. Naul’s better watch out when he whips off the track suit and takes to the field.

Noel Hegarty is a competitor and he will give every ounce for the cause and the green and gold jersey. So St. Naul’s be warned.