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O'Gara's eyes on the prize

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From left, Monaghan footballer Laura McEnaney, Clare hurler Tony Kelly, Dublin footballer Eoghan O'Gara and Cork camogie player Anna Geary pictured at the formal launch of the partnership between the Irish Blood Transfusion Board and the GAA at the IBTS head office in the grounds of St. James' Hospital. Photo: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

From left, Monaghan footballer Laura McEnaney, Clare hurler Tony Kelly, Dublin footballer Eoghan O'Gara and Cork camogie player Anna Geary pictured at the formal launch of the partnership between the Irish Blood Transfusion Board and the GAA at the IBTS head office in the grounds of St. James' Hospital. Photo: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

From left, Monaghan footballer Laura McEnaney, Clare hurler Tony Kelly, Dublin footballer Eoghan O'Gara and Cork camogie player Anna Geary pictured at the formal launch of the partnership between the Irish Blood Transfusion Board and the GAA at the IBTS head office in the grounds of St. James' Hospital. Photo: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

IT'S not every day that a player openly answers questions about being an All-Ireland final passenger. Then again, Eoghan O'Gara's experience of the above scarcely qualifies as "typical".

This was not a case of freezing on the big day; Dublin's barnstorming sub had already left a telling imprint with two points from play following his early introduction for the hamstrung Paul Mannion.

Then, with the game on a 54th minute knife-edge after Andy Moran's equalising goal, came another hammer blow ... ironically at a time of Sky Blue ecstasy.

O'Gara was involved at the genesis of a move that ended with Bernard Brogan fisting to the Mayo net. While his teammates celebrated and the blue half of Croker erupted, O'Gara stayed in a crumpled heap.

Hamstring snapped. His race run. Or rather, it should have been.

"I sprinted out for a ball and I felt it pop. I'd done it before so I knew straight away it was the hamstring," the Dublin forward recounted, speaking at yesterday's official launch of an awareness-raising partnership between the Irish Blood Transfusion Board and the GAA.

"I was kind of hoping it wouldn't have been as bad as it was," he continued, "but when I started trying to move again, I knew it was gone. So it was a case of just trying to get the physio on to strap it ... I actually thought we had a substitution left, so I gestured to take me off.

"It's the last thing you want to be doing in an All-Ireland final, 15 minutes to go, asking to be coming off. But I found out we had no subs (left)."

Thus, the powerhouse attacker was reduced to the role of hobbling passenger, essentially for 20 minutes with stoppage time factored in. Soon afterwards, Rory O'Carroll was floored by concussion yet battled on to the finish: O'Gara "had no idea" of his teammate's travails at the time, probably consumed by his own fraught battle to retain nuisance value on one good leg.

 

SOLDIER ON

Looking back, he expresses some surprise that Mayo left the dynamic Keith Higgins on his case. "Maybe he thought I was codding him, whatever," he muses. "I just had to soldier on and hope we'd get over the line."

Which Dublin duly did, and the rest is history. Injury has been a recurring theme of O'Gara's topsy-turvy career in Sky Blue. As the Jim Gavin era was launching in spectacular league-winning fashion last spring, he was on the rehab trail after double hip surgery. Speaking at the National Blood Centre yesterday, he was detailing the comeback schedule from his latest operation just before Christmas - keyhole surgery to "clear out" various issues with his elbow, "nothing serious but it needed to be done," he explained.

"I've been back on the pitch in the last week so I should be back for the early part of the league - I might miss the first game, at the most," he added, although he hasn't given up hope of playing some role in that Kerry opener.

Earlier in December, he had recovered from his All-Ireland war wounds sufficiently to propel Templeogue Synge Street to victory in the Dublin AFL 2 promotion play-off final. To be more specific, his hat-trick not only buried Ballinteer St John's but offered another reminder that a fit O'Gara, on his day, can be a one-man wrecking machine.

Yet his ability to nail-down a permanent starting role has often been compromised, not just by Dublin's red-hot competition up front but by all those injuries.

"It's always a lonely spot to be in when you're coming back from injury," he says, harking back to last spring.

"You're very much on your own, especially when the guys are playing away and winning games and doing very well ... yeah, it's lonely and you're asking yourself questions, but you just have to stay positive and see the bit of light at the end of the tunnel. If it's only a little flicker of light, it does get brighter."

Now 28 and a survivor of Dublin's failed Sam Maguire defence in 2012, O'Gara is familiar with the obstacles that face every All-Ireland champion and is "fairly confident that we'll make sure there's no complacency this year".

And besides, he has his own personal motivations - the quest to become an indispensable part of Jim Gavin's starting team.

"Speaking for myself, I'm never satisfied coming in from the line," O'Gara reveals. "You want to be getting a one-to-15 jersey. That's always my target but it doesn't always work out that way."


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