Rossies star Heneghan ready to grasp chance to exorcise ’07 demons

IT WAS the fairytale story of the 2007 season but not everyone was overjoyed by the pictures of Eamonn O’Hara waving the Nestor Cup about in joyous celebration in one of the Dr Hyde Park dressing rooms.

Ger Heneghan, for one, felt sick at the sight.

When the draw for that year’s Connacht championship was made, Roscommon were handed a semi-final against Sligo on their home patch and, with it, the prospect of a decider at the same venue.

The first leg of that journey appeared to be all but completed when John Maughan’s side hit the visitors for two goals at the start of the second half, but Sligo recovered to outscore Roscommon by nine points to one.

Heneghan admits now that he was consumed by jealousy when Sligo saw off Galway to claim their first provincial title since 1975 shortly afterwards.

Of all his disappointments with Roscommon, that still hurts the most.

“Yeah, that was one that really stuck in the throat for a long time,” said the Castlerea forward. “To come here and beat us and then to go on and win their first Connacht title in I don’t know how many years, here in the Hyde, felt like a lost opportunity.

“We have changed the panel a lot since then. A lot of the lads would have been just out of minor at that stage and it wouldn’t affect a lot of them. For us, older lads looking back, it was a sickener at the time but fair play to Sligo. They took their chance when they got it.”

Though that remains the nadir, it is just one in a series of gut-wrenching defeats that Heneghan has stomached since he broke onto the senior side under Tommy Carr in 2004.

In many ways, his timing was unfortunate.

Roscommon reached the provincial final in his first year yet it proved the last act of a team that had frequented football’s top table for a spell but had finally grown old together. With players like Francie Grehan, Nigel Dineen and current manager Fergal O’Donnell, Roscommon claimed their last Connacht title in 2001 and relished in putting aristocratic noses out of joint in the league for a time too. Cork, Tyrone, Dublin, Armagh, Donegal, Kerry — they were all beaten at the start of the millennium by a Rossies side which routinely topped the league table without ever managing to claim silverware.

Mayo tamed them with 10 points to spare in that Connacht final six years ago and they have had to wait until now for another chance to take part in the province’s big day out.

Pickings have been slim for too long.

Between 2005 and 2009, Roscommon’s only scalps in the province were those of London and New York and it said everything about their stock when a trip to Ruislip in May was painted as a serious banana skin.

As it happened, London and then Leitrim were dispatched with ease but it is a path that pales in comparison to Sligo’s heroics against both Mayo and Galway.

Heneghan though hasn’t been surprised by their neighbours’ dismissal of the province’s heavyweights and has been particularly taken by the character they displayed in winning such tight games at the death.

“I remember when we played them in the last round of the National League. Fergal O’Donnell said afterwards that it was his fancy we would be facing them in the Connacht final again. You could see they had a good team spirit and a good, settled side. We are not shocked at all that they overcame Mayo and Galway.”

Roscommon’s own CV carries no such standout performances or victories and it is Heneghan’s belief that their failure to do so that has created a lack of confidence in the panel and the county at large in years gone by.

It may have been just London or Leitrim, but those wins still represent Roscommon’s best run in the championship in years and other small shoots of promise have been emerging.

Donie Shine is just one of a clutch of the players from the 2006 All-Ireland minor winning side to have graduated onto the senior panel and this year’s class recently saw off Sligo in the U21 provincial final.

The minors have reached — but lost — the last three of their provincial deciders and, though the consensus is that Sligo will come through comfortably on Sunday, Heneghan is determined to make the most of what he knows now is a rare opportunity.

“If someone said back (in 2004) that it would be six years before another Connacht final I wouldn’t have taken them seriously but that’s the way it has gone. I’m delighted to be back and hoping to make the most of the opportunity.”

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