Where are they now? – Paul Hearty

When did you make your Armagh debut and what do you remember from the game?

It was in the National League the year before they made it after Christmas, I think it was October 2000. We played Cork down in Pairc Ui Rinn and the thing I remember is Colin Corkery nut-megging me.

My Championship debut was against Down in ’01. Tyrone beat us in the first round of the Championship and then Brian McAlinden had dropped Benny (Tierney) and I started.

I conceded two goals but I made two or three good saves that probably meant I started the next game. I had a reasonable enough game apart from the two goals I conceded, but I made a few saves to make up for it so I was happy enough.

What was your final game for Armagh?

In 2011 against Tyrone down in Omagh, a very forgettable game. We were going alright until a couple of silly mistakes and we conceded a couple of sloppy goals, the goals beat us in the end. We could have maybe come back; we had a penalty that Stevie (McDonnell) put over the bar. We could have maybe won only for a couple of silly mistakes.

Best memory of playing?

The first three All-Ireland’s for Cross were really good, but the fact that we came back and won in ’08, ’11 and ’12, with another really good, exciting team and we were capable to reproduce those highs again. That was very satisfying.

We were winning the Counties and Ulster’s but the fact that we came back and got a couple of All-Irelands, it wasn’t just the one great team that did it. We managed to produce two and three great teams along the way, we were able to continue the initial success.

At county level it has to be the All-Ireland in 2002. That was something we never did before obviously, and we’ve never got to them dizzy heights since. We chipped in with a few Ulster’s after that and I suppose playing Ulster Finals in Croke Park was great, and to win them all was a good highlight as well. Nothing could surpass ’02.

What’s your biggest regret of your GAA career?

I suppose as you get older regrets fade off a bit, surely we’ve regrets that we didn’t tag on another All-Ireland with Armagh but at least we have the one. They were golden years and we were competitive in Ulster the whole way through, we never won the National League before winning it in ’05.

When you look back you have to be grateful for what we did get and I thing football gave that entire group, between Cross and Armagh, it gave us so much down through the years. Regret is a strong word and the times we had and the friendships that were made, I think that was the most outstanding thing from my successful career in GAA.

What year stands out as ‘the one that got away’ in Armagh’s search for a second All-Ireland?

I think ’04 and ’05; particularly ‘05, were probably the biggest regrets because we were playing really well, we were playing really good football. Fermanagh (in ’04) was a hard pill to take too, but in ’05 we played better in the All-Ireland Semi Final than we did in the Ulster Final.

We just couldn’t get over the line. Those two years would probably be the toughest years with Armagh, that we didn’t get to another final at least, those two years were hard to take.

Who was the best player you played with?

The best player I ever played with, probably Oisin McConville. I was fortunate to play with him at County and Club, he was the go-to man, he was always there, always made himself available. He wouldn’t shirk responsibility for any free or any chance to take a score. For what he’s done throughout his whole career, he was the man.

Are you still involved in GAA?

I’m currently goalkeeper coach with the Seniors in Cross. I’ve done a bit with Draperstown and one night a week with Inniskeen. I do wee bits and pieces, mostly with Cross, one or two nights a week with Cross.

What are your thoughts on the modern day goalkeeper?

He’s no longer the traditional goalkeeper where it’s just save the ball and kick it as far as you can. I’ve seen both ends of it, from the start of my career that’s basically what it was, and then towards the end of my career, I had to adjust my game to come around to that way of thinking.

You’ve effectively turned into a quarterback, directing operations and you have to be a lot better kick-passer. It’s no longer about the 70 yard boom down the field, it’s picking passes and possession is key now-a-days, if you don’t win your kick-out your under pressure straight away.

Now when you’re taking your 30 or 40 yard kick-outs, it’s effectively a point (if the kick-out is lost) while in the past if you lost possession and the ball was 70 yards away, you always had a second bite at the cherry. So the keeper has to be on point every time or else it’s more than likely a point if you’re giving kick-outs away 30 or 40 yards from goal.

The keeper is probably the most pressurised position now and probably the most important position over the last 10 years or so. With Cluxton, everyone is following his lead and what he can do, but he’s certainly a hard act to follow.