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'That is the worst rule I have ever heard in my life in the GAA' - Hegarty fumes at U20 rule

Three Limerick players will be prevented from lining out in the rest of the U20 championship if they feature for the seniors in the coming weeks.

Updated Apr 12th 2022, 8:32 AM

WHEN LIMERICK U20s produced a stunning comeback to defeat Clare by a point in the first round of the Munster championship last weekend, senior panellist Cathal O’Neill was at the heart of it.

cathal-oneill Cathal O’Neill has a shot against Clare U20s. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

O’Neill fired 1-1 in the closing stages, to bring his tally to 2-3 on the night. Fellow members of John Kiely’s squad Colin Coughlan and Adam English also played key roles but the trio may ineligible for the rest of the competition. 

That’s because of a GAA rule that dictates that any player who features in the inter-county championship at senior level may not return to the U20 team until the seniors are eliminated from the competition. 

Limerick’s final two Munster U20 group games take place after the Munster SHC commences. With the U20 All-Ireland concluding in late May, if they see a minute of action with Kiely’s seniors it would effectively rule them out from featuring at their own age grade for the season

O’Neill, Coughlan and English all saw extensive game-time for the Treaty during the Allianz Hurling League. O’Neill started all five of Limerick’s games while Coughlan (four) and English (three) were also regular starters. 

“That is the worst rule I have ever heard in my life in the GAA,” says Gearoid Hegarty.

“How a rule was brought in to stop anyone that’s good enough to play their age group, U20, and be able to be on a senior county panel and they get punished. They’re good enough to be on a senior county panel and get some game-time, so they can’t play their own age group. Honestly, I think it’s a disgrace.”

Hegarty reflected on his own rise to the senior squad which came off the back of Limerick’s All-Ireland U21 success in 2015. He believes his transition to senior level wouldn’t have been as seamless had they not won the All-Ireland that year, with senior panellists Cian Lynch and Tom Morrissey to the fore.

“In 2015, we won the U21 (All-Ireland) championship. You can look at it either way. Cian (Lynch) was the only one on the senior panel at the time (and) I think maybe Tom Morrissey. And they were knocked out early in the championship that year; the U21 didn’t start until after they were knocked out.

limerick-team The Limerick team that lifted the All-Ireland U21 crown in 2015. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“So, if Cian wasn’t able to play U21 with us that year, we probably wouldn’t have won the U21 championship. Three-quarters of the squad in that 2015 U21 team were brought into the senior panel next year because we won the All-Ireland.

“We beat Tipp in the first round by two points. If Cian doesn’t play that game, we probably don’t progress…it would be interesting to know where all those lads (would be) now.

“Like, I don’t think I’d be on a senior county panel now; I definitely wouldn’t be on a senior county panel now only for the success we had in 2015 with the U21 team. And if the two lads that were on the senior panel that year couldn’t play with us, there’s a good chance we wouldn’t have won that year.

“So I just think that it’s extremely unfair that they’re put in that situation – that if they’re good enough to be on a senior county panel at a young age, that they get punished, that they can’t play their own age. I think it’s a shocking rule.

“I just don’t understand it, I really don’t. I think it’s very unfair, on Cathal, Colin and Adam because as I said going back to the Munster championship this year and the group format, there’s a very, very high possibility those three lads will see game-time if not start games.

“So there’s a good chance they will be gone for the U20s over the next couple of weeks, which is extremely unfair in my opinion. To those lads and to their team-mates.”

bord-gais-energy-hurling-to-core-2022-campaign Gearoid Hegarty pictured at the launch of Bord Gáis Energy's The Gift of the GAAB at Croke Park, where he is interviewed on the pitch by a fan Sharon Mannion aiming to become Ireland's next top pundit. Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

Hegarty was speaking at a media event for Bord Gáis Energy at a time when inter-county players are boycotting official GAA and sponsorship events in protest at the expenses row between the GPA and GAA. 

He’s not alone in engaging in media duties during the stand-off. Cork star Patrick Horgan arranged a press conference through the GPA last week to promote his Pro Hurling business.

Hegarty insists he’s not “breaking ranks here with the GPA or anything like that”.

“I’ve signed a contract with Bord Gais pre any breakdown in relations between the GPA and the GAA so I’m not going to tarnish my relationship with (them).

“I’ve built up a great relationship with the lads with Teneo and Bord Gais over the last two years and in fairness to Bord Gais they obviously understand what’s going on between the GPA and the GAA. It was my own decision to be here this morning.

“There was no pressure put on by either side. As I said, I’m going to honour the contract that I’ve signed. In saying that, I think, first of all we’re very lucky down in Limerick, we’re being looked after (with expenses). 

“I do think it needs to be resolved first of all. I think there’s a meeting this week so hopefully it can be resolved between the GAA and the GPA but players need to be looked after, it’s as simple as that. I completely understand where the players are coming from.”

Hegarty spoke about his “embarrassment” at his red card against Galway in the league, which prompted RTÉ pundit Donal Óg Cusack to opine that a dismissal had been coming for a while.

He added that the two-time All-Star is constantly flicking back onto opponents with the hurley. Ex-Kilkenny forward Richie Power hit back at Cusack assessment. 

“All the criticism of Gearoid Hegarty is laughable,” he tweeted. “Give me 15 Hegartys everyday of the week. Plays the game on the edge and crosses that edge but that’s what makes him so good.”

“I honestly don’t pay too much attention to what’s being said bar what’s being said inside our own group by the management and players,” responded Hegarty to Cusack’s criticism.

“Look, people are entitled to their opinions. What he said is what he said. But I suppose the old phrase that nice guys win nothing is relevant. We do play on the edge as a team, we all play on the edge but I think you have to play on the edge.

“It’s either kill or be killed out there, in my opinion. As I said, he’s entitled to his opinion, it doesn’t bother me, I couldn’t care less what people say about me, I honestly couldn’t care less what anybody says about me bar the people inside in our little circle. He’s entitled to his opinion, off he goes, I couldn’t care less.”

paudie-foley-tackles-gearoid-hegarty Hegarty fights for possession against Wexford. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

Asked if he rejects Cusack’s inference that he is a dirty player, Hegarty responded: “I would, definitely. I think there’s a big difference between dirty and physical. There’s a bit of a grey area between the two, you know, but we do play a very physical brand of hurling.

“It’s as simple as that. At times we play on the edge and at times you maybe go a little bit over the edge and that’s just the way it is and that’s why the referee is there to control it. I made a mistake in the Galway game, I went too far over the line and I got punished and I should have got punished. I got rightly sent off and that’s the way it is. 

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“It’s not going to stop me from keep playing on the edge. That’s just the way I play. I suppose it’s worked for me very well over the last couple of years. It’s just trying to strike the balance between not going too far over the line and, as I said, if you go too far over the line you’ll be punished by the referee and that’s what happened that day.

“As I said, I’ve taken great learnings from it and going forward in the championship I know what that horrible feeling is when you do get sent off so, as I said, I’ve learned from it and we’ve got to move on. You know, I honestly couldn’t care less what people say about me. That’s their opinion. So be it.”

Hegarty confirmed Peter Casey is hopeful he’ll feature in the championship. The corner-forward suffered a turn ACL in last year’s All-Ireland final and Limerick have missed his scoring threat in the full-forward line. 

“He’s not far off it. I was talking to him recently enough. He said he hopes to see some form of championship this year, all going well. Thankfully, I’ve never done that horrible injury. You see with (his brother) Mike, he’s had several setbacks over the last couple of years.

“If they do reach their nine months when they’re ready to go back, it’s not always plain sailing. Hopefully, because we’re going to need everyone this year.”

peter-casey Peter Casey is on the comeback trail for Limerick. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The former Hurler of the Year was pleased to see former team-mate Shane Dowling return to the field for Na Piarsaigh after his struggles with injury that forced him to retire from Limerick duty. 

“That’s great. He was put in an awful position that he had to retire from our squad at what, 27, 28? Which is shocking when you think about it.

“Great to see him back out on the field. I’d heard from the Na Piarsaigh lads that he was hopeful of getting back out. he was struggling to find the solution to the problem he had with his knee. It’s brilliant. You never want to see anyone chopped down with injury, having to retire early. You’re retired for long enough so it’s great to see him back.”

Limerick begin their bid for a third All-Ireland title in-a-row, and fourth in five years, next weekend when they travel to Cork. Hegarty warned that hunger is not an issue in the camp. 

“We are as hungry as ever. If people were allowed come in and watch out training sessions, nobody would question or hunger I can tell you that. We’ve been back since 3 January and we have put down an unbelievably tough couple of months training.

“As you could see in the league we weren’t up to where we needed to be but at the end of the day the common goal is the championship and being right for that. We are right and ready to go.

“We’re definitely not worried about whether we’re a hungry team or not I can promise you that because we see it in training. We see it three or four nights a week. That’s where all the hard work is done and that’s what sets you up properly for the championship. It’s been no different, if not more intense than any other year. So we’re good to go, I can tell you that.”

Source: Highlights from The42 Membership/SoundCloud

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