Veteran Heary keen to go out on a high
WHEN Owen Heary realised he was sharing a dressing-room with the son of a former team-mate, he knew it was time to think about hanging up his boots for good.
Johnny Reynor was a senior player at Kilkenny City when Heary, a raw teenager, embarked on his first season in senior football back in 1993.
This year, Heary will play in a Bohemians side that includes Johnny's son Darragh. After an outstanding career, which has included seven league title wins, this will be his last campaign.
"I decided for definite over the last couple of weeks that I'd give it a go this year and then finish up," said Heary amid the chatter of enthusiastic voices at the launch of the 2013 Airtricity League. "It's a bit sad, but there's still a whole season to go. I've a lot to look forward to yet."
After that, Heary's future lies in coaching and management and he is already assisting Bohs boss Aaron Callaghan, in addition to looking after the club's U-19s. It has opened his eyes to what is coming down the tracks.
There's a dramatic contrast between today's League of Ireland and the environment he encountered in his formative days.
"There was a lot of hard men that would you put you in your place at any moment," he recalled.
"Johnny Reynor, Paul Ennis, Charlie O'Reilly, John Cleary, they were tough, the lads that I played with at the start. You never pulled out of a tackle when I started. Now it's technically better. And referees deal with tackles differently. You can't just dive in like we used to."
Part of him holds the old values dear, but he realises the game is changing and for the better too.
The majority of the Bohemians dressing-room were only born in the 1990s and they are unlucky to be arriving into senior level in an era of relative austerity compared to the good times Heary (right) enjoyed at Shelbourne.
While the standard has dropped in tandem with cutbacks, the 36-year-old genuinely believes that a change in mentality can potentially bring a new generation back to that level even if it is within a part-time structure.
"It's a young league now and I think it will be stronger in a year or two's time," he argued.
"The lads now, they don't drink, they don't smoke, they're finely tuned. You look at the young lads around the league when they take their tops off and they're ripped. They look after themselves, they eat properly.
"Years ago after a match, players would go out and order 15 pints. These lads now, they're drinking Miwadi.
"I'm not saying every one of them is like that, but a majority of the lads at Bohs are and that's the reason they're in such good shape. They need to stay right. So, while the money might be different now, I think the league can grow and become as strong again."
Still, while the new crop might have the right attitude towards minding their body, Heary has encountered some teenagers who need grounding in other areas. He is following Setanta's interesting documentary series, 'Premier Ambitions', which focuses on Home Farm's U-15 team from last season and is pleased that it has highlighted some serious issues.
"We've a lot of young lads aged between 16 and 19 who think they've a God-given right to play in the first team," he explained.
"It's like the X-Factor thing. Like the fellas whose parents told them they were the best singer they'd ever heard, but they're actually not.
"Football can be the same. It's a schoolboy mentality; you've got to knock that out of them."
Heary feels good about this year's Bohs' group, but the league title is well outside their budget. He fancies St Patrick's Athletic to take the spoils.
"I don't think the Shamrock Rovers' signings are as good as Pat's," he said.
"Killian Brennan will be great for Pat's. He's better than Sean O'Connor (gone to Rovers) and his delivery will be great on that pitch in Inchicore. I think he's got a point to prove this year."
And Heary? "I want to go out on a high," he said.
"Maybe win something, or book a Setanta spot or get into Europe and leave those boys with something to look forward to. Hopefully I'll still be there with them in a coaching capacity for that."
As the end of one journey approaches, another is just beginning.