Monday 11 November 2019

Veteran Rogers looking ahead in attempt to cement legacy

Gary Rogers. Photo: Sportsfile
Gary Rogers. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

It's plausible that the all-time League of Ireland appearance record will soon be held by an individual who grew up in a family steeped in the GAA and had the ability to play for Meath at inter-county level.

With a new contract at Dundalk in the bag, goalkeeper Gary Rogers will be adding to his league tally of 563 appearances. He turned 38 in September but his performances in a title-winning season suggested there are plenty of miles left on the clock.

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The great Al Finucane's tally of 634 looked untouchable, but Rogers is two more uninterrupted seasons away from getting there.

Life could have taken him in another direction. His father, Dessie, was present at Oriel Park last Friday night as Rogers collected his fifth Premier Division medal. He's become a fan of a sport that wasn't on his radar before.

The father and son combination made headlines for different reasons in 2003 as a selector and player in a Meath junior side that won an All-Ireland.

Manager

Dessie was hit with a two-year ban - while the manager Martin Barry landed a 12-month sanction - following a dressing-room altercation ahead of the final which stemmed from county board attempts to stop Gary from playing, seemingly because he was contracted to Drogheda United at the time.

The row flared up again two years later when Barry's brother Eamonn was appointed Meath boss, but the unfortunate stand-off didn't dent the younger Rogers' enthusiasm for GAA.

Indeed, he played a handful of National League games for Meath in 2007 - one outfield and one between the sticks - before accepting a full-time contract offer from Galway United and committing to that trade.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then and, earlier this year, Rogers was invited back into the Meath fold as a goalkeeping coach, having served in that capacity with Cavan and Westmeath.

The job comes first, however, and he was only able to help out Andy McEntee once a week on average due to his pressing commitments.

"Dundalk pay my wages. That's the number one priority and I have to be dedicated to that," says Rogers, who admits that the coaching experience has helped to shape his attitude towards his own shelf-life.

"I find it more difficult to watch somebody I'm coaching rather than go out there and play myself," he continues. "That lets me know that I still want to play."

Ironically enough, while Dessie is a GAA man, he had a part to play in Gary's breakthrough into League of Ireland circles. He was doing a physio course and discussions with player-turned-medic Tony McCarthy helped the budding netminder get in the door and do some training at Shelbourne.

His journey started from there and, as Rogers prepares for another FAI Cup final week, he can reflect with pride on his longevity in a volatile business.

There is an awareness that he wouldn't be able to do that without good people in his life.

"My wife (Linda) makes huge sacrifices in order to allow me to be successful on the pitch," he admits.

"She has a full-time job in Belfast, in Queen's University, so it's been tough on her. She has been a massive support to me throughout my whole career, we've been together 20 years near enough, so right from the start of my career, she's been there all the way through. She's seen the ups and downs."

There will be scope for a holiday with Linda and his daughters Bonnie and Layla once the FAI Cup and the cross-border tie with Linfield is out of the way.

But the veteran admits that a restlessness kicks in at a certain point too. That paints a positive picture of his attitude towards playing on into his forties.

"I take two weeks off where I don't really do anything and, after a couple of weeks, I generally turn around to Linda and say I'm missing it already," he says.

"I'm itching to get back training. It's not a chore for me to play football. It's a joy to be able to do something I love for a living.

"I enjoy it but I've been working hard to stay where I am. You have to do that to stay at Dundalk.

"In order to still be playing, you have to make the extra effort over the winter months. That's when it really starts."

Completed

Rogers has now completed five years at Dundalk and there's a view that this campaign would rank at the top in terms of his own displays.

He has been motivated by his own personal targets to go with the collective ambitions of the group.

"Last week was the 23rd clean sheet, which matches Alan O'Neill's record for clean sheets in a season," he asserts.

"We are expected to do well in the league, but we are judged by how we play in Europe. I felt I played pretty well in Europe this year, that's where the level is at.

"That's where you find out if you are really still up to it. I'll know when I'm not doing it, because I won't be playing.

"It's been as good a season as I've had but I want to finish it off strongly. There's a massive opportunity to create history, and I want to be part of it."

Irish Independent

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