Saturday 7 December 2019

Crossmaglen saviour still hale and Hearty after all these years

Paul Hearty will again be the last line of defence for Crossmaglen against Castlebar Mitchels today Photo: Sportsfile
Paul Hearty will again be the last line of defence for Crossmaglen against Castlebar Mitchels today Photo: Sportsfile

Declan Bogue

Sometimes just to amuse himself, Crossmaglen Rangers captain and goalkeeper Paul Hearty will scan the dressing-room and count how many fathers of the current panel he played alongside when he first came onto the team.

"When you sit down and think of it, it is a bit unnerving, but it's something you get on with. We have a laugh about it in the changing-rooms," he deadpans.

With 19 Armagh Championships, 11 Ulster titles and five All-Irelands tucked away with his club, of course his longevity should bridge the generations.

What makes it all the more remarkable is that he does it with a serious crew of his own. "Just the four!" he says of his children Breanne (8), Erin Mae (6), Oran (4) and Aoibhe (2).

He and Olivia are celebrating ten years of marriage this year and he acknowledges her role in all of this.

"It can be hard in fairness, she has a lot to do. She knows it probably won't be for too much longer."

His days begin when the alarm shoulders him out of bed at 5am. He drives to Dublin delivering milk and gets back around 4.0.


The schedule thereafter he describes as; "Home, childer, dinner, homework, get them ready for bed around seven, grab the stuff and then training or gym."

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Success has been a consuming addiction. When he came onto the senior team in 1995, Cross hadn't won a championship since 1986. They were beaten by neighbours Mullaghbawn, who went on to win an Ulster club title.

"That really opened our eyes to what could be done. We were all coming into the team at 17, 18 years of age and we were a young team with great footballers, big and strong and all of that," he recalls.

"That did probably drive us on to what could be achieved with our own team. The next year, we went on and we did what we did."

For several reasons - let's include organisation, maintaining standards and a creation of a winning culture among them - Cross have 19 of the last 20 Armagh titles. Many clubs around the country try to identify what they have done and how they have done it. Especially in an era when the culture of Gaelic football has altered so much.

Now, it is a different game than when Jim McConville used to pause before entering the dressing-room to stub his cigarette out.

For example, Hearty would not miss his twice-weekly gym sessions with his team-mates.

"That's why I am still playing," he acknowledges. "The gym is in the club and you go in and bust yourself for 50 minutes or an hour. I have really got into it the last few years and you can see the benefit from injury-prevention and a bit of core stability. It keeps me injury-free."

And now they have access to more footage of the opposition than ever before, which means more video analysis sessions.

"You have John Mac (McEntee) and Oisín (McConville, joint-managers), who are very thorough in what they do. The video analysis is on every team at this stage of the competition. We will go in after training sessions for maybe fifteen, twenty minutes to go through stuff," says Hearty.

Still, certain principles they hold dear. Being awarded the captaincy for the first time last year has changed little for Hearty.

"I would have always been vocal, especially as you got older and more experienced, you would have understood that younger boys looked up to you, having played for the county and been in the squad for so long," he says.

Cross have always been able to get the right people in the right roles.

"It's pretty much a county set-up in Cross, and always has been," he explains.

"The managers we have had over the years have all gone on to other things - such as Big Joe (Kernan) who always had a professional outlook on things."

The foundations are always sound, and when you have the strategy, the coaching and the conditioning done, only then can you go out and play the exciting football that Cross are renowned for.

In recent years there has undoubtedly been the rise of the 'Cross Groupie' - men from outside Armagh who will follow them around the province and Ireland to admire their old-school style and footpassing.

You mention one man from Virginia, Co Cavan who is devoted to Cross, and Hearty tops it.

"Certainly, I have heard stories of boys coming further than that, there are boys coming from Kerry whenever we are playing," he says.

"That's just the way we have always played our football. We feel it's the most effective way to beat others. Some teams do gravitate towards a mass defence, so you try and move the ball quickly to beat it.

"When an opposition team lose the ball in the middle of the field, the middle eight all seem to make a sprint back to the 'D' and that's it.

"I think the best thing is the ball travels faster than any man, so make the ball do the work."

They will have a chance to do that this evening in Kingspan Breffni Park, where they take on another open-playing side in Castlebar Mitchels in the All-Ireland semi-final (throw-in 6.15).

Despite all the miles on the clock, Hearty has not lost the boyish enthusiasm for a big game and loves the televised glamour around the club scene of the last decade.

"The club (is) getting a lot more publicity because it's probably a lot more exciting than county football at the minute," he says

"I think the media are starting to recognise that. The club competitions have gone up in value."

He adds: "I can't really wait. The butterflies are starting already and I can't wait for it to come around, to get out onto the field and put in a good performance."

Another one. Twenty years on.

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