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O'Gara out to soothe his All-Ireland misery

Dubs ace eyes title after injury robbed him of Croker glory last year

By Declan Bogue

It's probably something to do with his image - a shaved head, an aggressive style. Eoghan O'Gara gets a few labels thrown at him. Standing at 6ft 2in and tipping the scales at just under 14st, he is a formidable physical presence.

While he has never truly cemented his place among the Dublin forwards, he is not alone. One thing is for certain in today's All-Ireland final replay against Mayo, though - he will play, force a reaction and make an impact. He's that type of character.

But he can recount the dark days last year, missing out on a giddy season as the Dubs recaptured Sam. O'Gara watched it all from the sidelines after he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament while playing a game for his club, Templeogue Synge Street.

"I spent a lot of time with the medical staff but again a lot of it is on your own, having to reassure yourself," the 32-year-old sales executive revealed about his recovery.

"I suppose the stand out thing for me is missing the team environment when you are training on your own, the early mornings. Guys are preparing for matches and you couldn't be further from that so that probably is the most difficult part."

His first break came when he was already 25 during the 2010 Championship and he showed his knack for a goal by grabbing two against Louth and one against Tyrone in the first year Dublin hinted they could be onto something.

Pat Gilroy refined his game. In that breakthrough All-Ireland-winning year of 2011, he saw little action in their march through Leinster but by the semi-final against Donegal, he was brought on to add some muscle to the attack.

In the final against Kerry, he was sprung after 51 minutes. Clearly, he had added nuisance value.

By 2013, he had made his bones and his peace with the role. He netted a vital goal in that classic semi-final against Kerry, and tagged on two points in the final win over Mayo. By the end of that decider, all he could do was just stand there, his hamstring muscle torn, all the Dublin substitutes used up, just occupying a marker. Still useful, still a nuisance.

If he had any thoughts that the recovery wasn't worth the hassle last year, he pushed them to the side.

"You might have a couple of thoughts like that, but no, the bigger picture then is that all I want to do is get back playing in a Dublin jersey. You quickly switch into an 'I'll do whatever it takes' mode and if it's not enough, it's not enough," he reflected.

He admits that watching on from the sidelines as your friends and team-mates win an All-Ireland can catch in the throat.

"It's certainly all I've ever wanted to do since I've started playing for Dublin, to be on the pitch, playing the matches," he said.

"If you're not starting, you're disappointed but you're getting yourself right as you come on and impact on a game and contribute. So that's all I've ever wanted. Last year I was delighted for the lads but it was a little bit bittersweet."

He got to pull on that Dublin jersey again last spring, in a nondescript challenge match against Ballyboden St Enda's.

The Hollywood moment came as the clock ticked down against Kerry in the semi-final, before O'Gara came off the shoulder to take the ball at full pace, tramped through two tackles and thumped a point into Hill 16 for the decisive score. Redemption.

"On reflection afterwards, it certainly felt very satisfying," he admitted.

"You go through all the dark days you have, rehab and training on your own, so I had a good smile on my face after the Kerry game."

Especially since he had been red-carded against Donegal, a bit of play-acting from Neil McGee conning an umpire into believing an open-hand slap that barely grazed the Donegal full-back was a striking offence.

Dubs boss Jim Gavin stuck with his preferred forward unit for the drawn final a fortnight ago, but O'Gara believes the attacking malfunction has to be borne equally.

His feelings over the game at this remove?

"I suppose frustration, disappointment with our performance. You look at yourself first of all and I was probably disappointed with myself and my own contribution," he said.

The target for O'Gara, as it is for any player, is to get a starting jersey. But Gaelic football is a different game now and while you pick a starting team, working out the finishing line-up is often the true test of a manager. The game is won at the finish.

"You're disappointed for an hour or two if you don't get the start," he admitted. "But you get your head around it and you make the best of what's left, which is being a sub, and you've got to be ready from the first minute because three years ago in the All-Ireland final, I came on 15 minutes in.

"So there's so many eventualities, you don't want to be looking at the last 20 minutes, you've got to be ready from the start."

He'll be ready, alright. Nothing surer.

Belfast Telegraph


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