A full-time soccer career took over Rogers’ dream to play for the Royals
‘I was a forward. I wasn’t playing in goals. It was something I would have always wanted to do. When you grow up in Meath, and the era that we’re talking about, Meath football was the be-all and end-all.
‘I would have grown up watching all the great players, the likes of Colm O’Rourke, Brian Stafford, Bernard Flynn. Look at Colm Coyle who played in both eras.
‘I would certainly have loved to play for Meath. Obviously I did, but not quite to the same extent as them legends. It’s a possibility, I could have gone that way but I’ve got to be honest, I’m very happy with the route I took.
‘I was fortunate enough to see the great days of Meath football. Then I was lucky enough that Seán brought me on to the Meath panel when I was about 18. We won the junior championship with St Ultan’s. Then I got suspended for three months with my club so I stuck to the soccer.
‘I would have grown up watching the great teams of 1987, ’88, ’89, ’90. I came in to the panel in 2000 after the success of ’99, right at the tail end of it.
‘I came back in when Colm Coyle was manager and played a couple of League games under Coyler.’
For the second time, fate decreed he wouldn’t make a senior Championship panel after featuring in the early stages of the 2007 National League when Meath were in Division 2B. ‘I played the first two League games. Came on centre-forward against Cavan in the first game. Actually had to play in goals against Antrim. Both keepers were away. One was on his honeymoon, one was away on holidays. Coyler came up to me and asked me would I play in goals so I said I would. ‘I was due to start centre-forward the following week against Sligo – in the meantime I signed for Galway United to go full-time with them. I wasn’t around for the Championship panel. ‘In soccer, it changes very quickly. I only really went back to play Gaelic that time because I was with Dublin City and they went bust. I was supposed to be playing Bohs that Friday night for Dublin City. In the end I ended up togging out for St Ultan’s in Dunshaughlin in a championship game. I played the rest of the championship that year. Ended up getting a Green Star [Meath club award] at centre-forward and back in on the senior panel.’ The appeal of being a fulltime professional player was the decisive factor in the path he travelled. ‘The lifestyle thing was the main reason I went the route I did. I had five or six months of it when I was at Bray Wanderers, playing and training and working at the time. When Galway came around it was the opportunity to go
back to full-time football which I had with Drogheda.’
Tonight, Meath travel to Parnell Park to face Dublin in the semifinal of the Bord na Móna O’Byrne Cup. It’s a fixture that is still so evocative of the past, despite how the balance of power has shifted to the capital with Dublin chasing history in 2019 in the shape of a five-in-a-row of All-Irelands.
‘The way Meath players would have been judged in the past, it was how you performed against Dublin,’ says Rogers. ‘That rivalry is still there, though we all know how successful Dublin have been the last number of years, they’ve been brilliant. But for Meath players, there is no better game to go out and test yourself.
‘Dublin are as good a team at this stage that ever was. It’s hard to say that as a Meath man but I think you have to rate them that highly. You look at what they’ve achieved and there doesn’t seem to be any let-up. You look at the transition they’ve had in their squad, the depth they have. Look at Diarmuid Connolly gone off the squad in the last year, as good a footballer as there is in the country, and Dublin haven’t struggled. They’ve gone and won another All-Ireland. So they’ve really raised their game.’
As Meath continue to audition between the posts, Rogers has the highest of praise for Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton, a fellow netminder whose career also reached new heights in his 30s.
‘I don’t think there has been a more significant player in terms of the way the game has changed. He has been at the forefront of that, for something like 18 years. The hard work and dedication that Stephen has put in to his game is there for all to see.’
As for Rogers’ ambitions for the season ahead?
‘For Meath, you’d be hoping the lads could get to a Leinster final, test themselves in the heat of battle against the likes of Dublin. That would be a good start. From my own point of view with Dundalk we’d be hoping for more of the same.
‘I’ve experienced the highs and lows of the League of Ireland scene. I’ve been lucky enough to have the highs of European nights, getting called in to the international team, there is no greater honour. Obviously to get a game would be even better. Even to be brought in on a few occasions under Martin [O’Neill] and Roy was great.
‘To play Europa League football on a Champions League night against Legia Warsaw — they are moments in your career that you live for and cherish. The game has been very good to me. You’re just hoping to experience some more of that.’
I’M sorry, but I don’t buy the argument that Liverpool did themselves a favour by losing in the FA Cup. Had they seen off Wolves, defeat by Manchester City could have been brushed off as a blip. Now, they have lost two in a row and losing breeds fear. Arsenal started the 2002-2003 campaign unbeaten. After our run was halted by Everton, we lost the next three. Doubts creep in and we ended up losing the title to Manchester United. Liverpool will start to question themselves. Can they win without Virgil van Dijk (right)? Can Xherdan Shaqiri control games without the team’s main men on the pitch? Do they have sufficient depth? Victory over City would have given Liverpool a 10-point lead. As a player, I would have been thinking: ‘We can have three bad games and still be champions.’ Now the gap is four and they go to Brighton wounded. To stop this becoming a slump, Liverpool must adopt a ‘win at all costs’ attitude today. Lose again and their title hopes are in
BRIGHTON IS WIN OR BUST FOR KLOPP
Dual role: Gary Rogers with Dundalk (main) and as a coach with Cavan (inset)
FORMER Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny (left) will make a big splash as Republic of Ireland manager when he takes over from Mick McCarthy after the European Championships in 2020,’ insists Rogers. ‘He’s more than capable of achieving big things at that level. I think he’s ideally suited to international management where you’re bringing in players who obviously want to play for their country. Stephen is a fantastic motivator. He’ll be able to get the best out of the players. By the time his turn comes around in that role he’ll be well familiar with the players that are coming through and are there.’