NO RE­GRETS

A full-time soc­cer ca­reer took over Rogers’ dream to play for the Roy­als

Irish Daily Mail - - Heineken Champions Cup -

‘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

jeop­ardy.

BRIGHTON IS WIN OR BUST FOR KLOPP

SPORTSFILE

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.’

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