'I couldn’t even lift the weights bar': How Gearóid Hegarty transformed into Hurler of the Year contender

Hegarty stressed how “I wouldn’t be where I am today without football” and recalled an embarrassing moment in the gym
'I couldn’t even lift the weights bar': How Gearóid Hegarty transformed into Hurler of the Year contender

Gearóid Hegarty with his award at Ballybunion Castle after he was named the PWC GAA/GPA hurler of the month for December on the back of a stunning performance in the All-Ireland SHC final where his seven-point final haul helped Limerick to victory over Waterford. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Hurler of the Year front-runner Gearóid Hegarty has attributed his 2020 form to a more relaxed approach to games, revealing how he used to “overthink everything” the week of a fixture.

Hegarty’s All-Ireland final performance capped a near flawless campaign for the 26-year-old. The Limerick half-forward struck seven points from play in last month’s decider, as well as winning three puck-outs and forcing two turnovers.

His seven-point final haul brought his championship total to 0-20, Hegarty top-scoring from play for Limerick in their opening and concluding ties.

Although describing himself as “easy going”, Hegarty was once an obsessive figure when it came to the week of a game, sweating over minute details such as a poor night’s sleep five days out from a fixture.

The pandemic, he said, brought perspective and an end to his “overthinking”, paving the way for a championship effort that has him in pole position to collect the Hurler of the Year gong.

“I have done a savage amount of work over the last number of years and I always knew it was in me, but it was just trying to get it out of me,” he said of his 2020 Championship form. 

“Looking back, I never strung together several really top class performances. I might have one, and then I might have a weak enough game, so I challenged myself on my consistency last year.

“But to be honest, it was the lockdown. I just stopped worrying about all the small things. There’s so much more to life when you think about it. We went into a global pandemic and were restricted in our movements. You could only do a certain amount of things and I was thinking at home about the lead up to a game and the things I used to be doing.

“I used to be worrying about every single thing. I’d be overthinking everything. If I got a bad night’s sleep on a Wednesday before a game on a Sunday, I’d still be thinking about it on a Sunday morning. If I didn’t train well on a Friday night, I’d be thinking, ‘you’re not going to play well now’. There were just so many worries in my head.

“Working with Caroline Currid, our sports psychologist, and me just relaxing a small bit more was a huge factor in my performances last year.

“I woke up the morning of the All-Ireland final wrecked. I was thinking, ‘did I not sleep well’ or ‘am I after doing too much’. But when I looked at the clock, it was 9am and I was like, there is six and a half hours to the match so there’s no point worrying about it now. You have six and a half hours to wake up, which is a long time. Before, that would have annoyed me. I’m way more calm now going into a game. The things I used to be worrying about are ridiculous now that I look back.”

Reflecting on his final display, Hegarty described the 70 minutes as an almost out of body experience. He even had to text his girlfriend from the Limerick dressing-room afterward to see how much he scored as he couldn’t answer teammate David Reidy when the latter inquired as to the size of Hegarty’s points tally.

“I read a book, In the Zone, by Clyde Brolin, and it is all about flow and getting into flow. It is weird when I even think back about [the final]. I was really in the zone. I can hardly remember some parts of the game. I know it is a saying, but it was like an out of body experience, at times. It didn’t even feel like it was me.”

Hegarty played senior football for Limerick two years before making his senior hurling debut in 2016.

The 6’5 half-forward stressed how “I wouldn’t be where I am today without football”. Being drafted into the county football set-up at the age of 19 in 2014 opened his eyes to the S&C requirements of senior inter-county level and had him more ready when then Treaty hurling manager TJ Ryan came calling two years later.

“The first morning I was in with the senior football panel, we had a strength test in the old building in UL. You had to bench three-quarters of your body weight. Garrett Noonan was in front of me. Garrett was the same weight as me. He got down and did 25 reps at 70kg.

“I had hardly any gym work done at that stage of my life. I said, ‘Jesus, this can’t be too bad’. I got down and I couldn’t even lift the bar. It is something I’ll never ever forget as long as I live. I was never so embarrassed. I swore to myself that will never happen again.

“I came into the senior hurling panel in 2016 and if you looked at a picture of me in 2016 compared to now, it looks like a completely different person. There’s an unbelievable amount of work gone into that side of the game over the last number of years. But it’s a process. There is a culture of a quick fix, everybody wants everything now and it’s not real life. You have to understand it takes time.”

The secondary school teacher does not expect or want inter-county players to be bumped up the vaccination queue. Moreover, he questioned whether there is even a need for players to be made a priority for the vaccine ahead of games returning such was the safe environment, both at training and on matchdays, created by backroom and medical staff during last year’s championship.

“My nana and grandad are still waiting on the vaccine. So, if I was to think I am getting a vaccine before them, there would be something seriously wrong.”

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