Peter Campbell email@example.com @dgldemocrat
“Every week is different at this time of year in the championship. We might be playing bad at the moment, but that can change in an instant,” says former Donegal star, Michael Hegarty, who was captain the last time Donegal and Meath met in the Championship.
The Kilcar man (pictured) led Donegal out in Croke Park back in 2002 for the Qualifier clash with The Royals. Mark Crossan had been captain, but did his cruciate earlier that year.
“It was the first time for most of the team to play a championship game in Croke Park. We had lost to Armagh in the Ulster final, a game we should have won, hitting 13/14 wides. There was a massive push to win an Ulster title and we felt we should have beaten Armagh. That was the first of a number of Ulster final meetings with Armagh, and probably the one we should have won,” said Hegarty.
The Qualifiers had been introduced the year before so Donegal had a second chance in 2002 and were drawn against Meath, who had been beaten by Dublin in the Leinster final.
“We ended up getting Meath in the Qualifiers and they had a big reputation. They were among the big guns at the time.The boys were jumping out of their jerseys to get out to play on Croke Park and everybody played well,” said Hegarty, who hit the final point to get Donegal over the line on a 1-13 to 0-14 scoreline.
“The win was a massive lift at the time. It was nice to get to lead the team out in Croke Park and Trevor Giles, who I felt was one of the best forwards of the time, was captain of Meath.”
The Kilcar man remembers the game as being a tough encounter but the match was a good open game of football.
When reminded that Armagh went on to win the All-Ireland that year, Hegarty says that Donegal should have beaten them in the Ulster final. “Those are the small margins,” says Hegarty, who had nothing but praise for then Donegal manager, Mickey Moran.
“He was a man before his time and has shown since how good he is.”
The summer of 2002 was tinged with sadness for Hegarty as his mum passed away just after the Ulster final, but it was nice to go on and play three championship games in Croke Park (Donegal went on to play Dublin twice, losing out after a replay in the quarter-final).
The centre-forward is someone who is a great thinker about the game and even though in his twilight years, continues to play an important part for Kilcar, mostly around the middle of the field.
Asked about the game today and how it compared at county level to his time wearing the county jersey, he feels the defensive game is beginning to fade.
He feels games are getting more open again and it may have something to do with the 'mark'. “The kick-outs are going longer and that is opening up the game,” he says.
“I have watched a few games recently and they all seem to be a little more open.” The Kilcar man feels there is a bit too much handpassing with some players almost afraid to kick the ball.
He feels that Donegal still have a great chance to get back to Croke Park this year if they get over Meath. “They are on the right side of the draw. A win would bring them on. I think they get the runners-up in Munster or Connacht if they get through on Saturday.
“Meath are not going that well either and getting to play away from home will be good for Donegal.”
However, he does feel that club football and the way it is being run is not helping county footballers.
“The Co. Board need to take more responsibility and let clubs play club championship during the summer. Club championship would give a better cutting edge to players for when they pull on the county jersey,” says Hegarty.
Certainly food for thought!