BY CHRIS MCNULTY IN CLONES
MICHAEL Hegarty finally got his hands on that Ulster medal he so badly craved on Sunday.
The 32-year old Kilcar man had walked away from intercounty football following the huge defeat to Cork in the All Ireland quarter-final of 2009.
Enticed back by Jim McGuinness last autumn, Hegarty was instrumental in the win over Derry, the stylish play-maker at the hub of Donegal’s machine with a display that showed just why McGuinness was so keen to get him back on board.
Hegarty has seen more bad days in a county shirt than most, with final defeats of 2002, 2004 and 2006 leaving lasting scars that he didn’t think he’d get a chance to heal.
On Sunday, though, Donegal finally delivered and Hegarty made a telling impact, scoring two points and overall playing a central role in the win.
“It means a wild lot,” observed the Kilcar man.
“We’ve had some great Donegal teams and we could have went further if we’d have got the breaks in the finals. Armagh got them and themselves and Tyrone went onto become two great sides.
“I never thought that I’d be here. As the year was going on, things were progressing nicely. I’d always have had regrets if I hadn’t come back, so I’m delighted that I’m back. It’s great for the county and great for the supporters to have a bit of success.”
The teams were level at half-time, but with Derry missing the firepower of the Bradley brothers in their attack, it was to be Donegal’s day and Hegarty savoured the famous win.
“It’s great to finally get over the line,” he said.
“We knew Derry were a good team, a very good team and we just knew that we had to perform. We let it slip a wee bit just before half-time, but as the game went on we were happy and we got the breaks.
“We focussed again at half-time. Derry had played fairly well in the first-half, but we got the breaks just after half-time. It’s great to see Donegal and Derry back up there.
“We deserved it and it’s long overdue.”
Hegarty had a special mention for the man that coaxed him to commit to the cause again.
“I said it before, Donegal wouldn’t have got to an Ulster final without Jim McGuinness,” he said. “Donegal wouldn’t have won this Ulster final without Jim McGuinness and Donegal is very lucky to have a man like him.
“Jim has so much homework done on every team and he made it easy for us. He does so much work behind the scenes, people probably don’t realise what he does. We’re so lucky to have him, he is a professional man and one of the best in Ireland. That showed here today because we wouldn’t have been here without him.”
Back on the big stage again with a quarter-final looming, Hegarty is hopeful for the weeks ahead.
He said: “Maybe this team might go on further and hopefully we can get a good run at it now, maybe express ourselves a wee bit more.”