If ever a man is fit to claim, ‘done that, worn the shirt’, Finn Harps assistant manager, Paul Hegarty, is most definitely the man.
The Ballindrait native has played in the League of Ireland for both Derry City and Finn Harps and in the Irish League for Coleraine and Institute.
He has also managed Institute, Derry City and Finn Harps as well as being number two to Ollie Horgan at Harps and Stephen Kenny and Declan Devine at Derry City.
A no nonsense holding midfielder in his playing days, his greatest success as a player came with Derry City. The big Donegal man was an influential member of the Derry treble winning team of 1989. Derry won the League of Ireland Premier Division, the FAI Cup and the League Cup in ‘89.
“They were great times at the Brandywell. Jim McLaughlin was the manager. We won promotion in 1988/’89 and Jim brought in Paul Doolin, Mick Neville, Kevin Brady and Noel Larkin from the six in-a-row league winning Shamrock Rovers team of the time,” said Paul.
“They were all brilliant players. I was only 20 at the time and I learned a lot from them.
“Felix Healy and Paul Doolan were the best players I ever played with and Doolan was also one the best players I ever played against when he moved to Bohemians.
“He was also a hard man too and we had a good few battles during his days with Bohemians. Eddie Gormley, Bray Wanderers and later St Patrick’s Athletic, was the best player I played against. He was a class player.”
Derry City was Paul’s first League of Ireland club. He joined the Candystripes from Strabane while still a teenager to make the step up from intermediate to senior football..
“Noel King was the manager and he signed me along with Gregory Kearney from Strabane. I was only 19 at the time.
“Strabane had a very good team. We played mostly in Summer Cups. There were a number of big Summer Cups in those years.
“The Buncrana Summer Cup and the Pennyburn Summer Cup were two of the big ones and were the biggest of the Summer Cups and used to draw all the top players and huge crowds.
“The teams were nearly all made up of star studded selections with top players from around the North West and the North and the games used to be very competitive and the standard of the football was very high.
“It was playing in those games that Noel King saw me playing and obviously he was impressed and signed me”.
Unlike nowadays there was not much underage football when Paul was growing up and all of his early years football was played at school.
“I had no underage football growing up other than what we played at school and my first senior football was with Clonleigh. They had a team in the Donegal Junior League back in those years. I was 16 when I joined them.
From Clonleigh, Paul joined Strabane, who were playing Intermediate football in those years and that is where he received his grounding in adult football.
In the first of his two spells at the Brandywell Paul played under two managers Noel King and Jim McLaughlin and enjoyed a very successful 12 seasons over his two spells at the club. The treble winning run in 1989 was undoubtedly the highlight.
From Derry he moved to Finn Harps for the first time in 1992.
“I was signed by Patsy McGowan and I had three very enjoyable years at Finn Park. Harps were in the first division at the time and we came close to promotion before losing out in two play-offs.”
Those two play-off defeats are probably the reason why Paul cites Harps 2007 promotion play-off win over Waterford United as the highlight of his term as Finn Harps manager.
“We beat Waterford 3-0 in Finn Park and we were 3-0 up in the second leg and Waterford hit three goals to draw 3-3. But we won 6-3 on aggregate.
“That was at the end of my first season back at Harps as player manager. I remember when I got the job I told the board that our target was to win promotion and that we would have 3,000 to 4,000 supporters at home games before the end of the season.
“That was a very good side. Tony Shields, Johnny Minnock, Declan Boyle and Stephen Parkhouse were the big men in that team.
“The board promised, if we won promotion, they would build a new stadium for us.
“We won the promotion with the play-off win over Waterford and we had up to 4,000 attending home games at the latter stages of the league when we were pushing for promotion. We kept our side of the bargain by winning promotion.
“When I look back the winning of promotion was the one outstanding memory I have from my days with Harps.
“It was also very satisfying from a manager’s point of view to have built a team capable of winning promotion.
“It was also very satisfying to see the big crowds, up to 4,000 attending home games. I always say if we have the players and the facilities supporters will come out in big numbers.”
Paul quit the Harps job in 2009 and went back playing for Derry before being appointed caretaker manager at the Brandywell in 2015.
His first foray into management was more by accident than with any great plan when his playing days were done.
But he ended up taking over as caretaker manager of Institute in the Irish League after joining the club for six weeks when the club was hit with an early season injury crisis.
He had a spell as number two to Declan Devine in his first stint as Derry manager and a season as caretaker manager at the Brandywell following the departure of Peter Hutton from the top job.
Paul was recruited by Ollie Horgan at the end of 2016 and the duo have become one of the successful double acts in the club's long and proud history.
And Paul, after over three decades of involvement in the League of Ireland, looks forward with the same boyish enthusiasm as he did for his League of Ireland debut for Derry 33 years ago in September 1987.
“I love the game and I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. It can be a hard slog at times but it is all worth it.
“We are looking forward to the new season and playing in the Premier Division again. I would love to win the league and love to say that is our goal.
“But we have to be realistic too given the size of our squad and our budget when you compare them to the likes of Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers.
“As I see it there are seven clubs chasing four places in Europe. I would like to finish in the top half of the table. That would be progress.
“We’ve a good squad and we’ve had a good pre-season and if we have our best 11 on the field I believe we will be a match for the best. But it is important we get off to a good start.
“We will not get away with losing our first 12 games like we did last year. If that happens we will be in big trouble.”
Paul Hegarty missed out on All-Ireland medal
Paul Hegarty could well have missed out on an All- Ireland winners’ medal with Donegal.
Soccer was his sport but Paul played Gaelic football with Naomh Padraig, Lfford.
That was in 1985 and Paul, who was 18 at the time, was one of the key men in Naomh Padraig’s march to the Donegal Junior B final.
Unfortunately Naomh Padraig with Paul at the heart of the team lost to Naomh Columba in the final. Naomh Columba won on a score of 2-5 to 2-2.
“It was the only year I played Gaelic. Enda McDermott in Lifford got me to play” said Paul.
“I remember we got to the Junior B final. I thought it was Gaoth Dobhair that beat us in the final but you say the record shows it was Naomh Columba.
“We had two men sent off on the day and I often slag them off about it since. The final was my last game of Gaelic but I was offered an U-21 trial the following year but I did not go.”
Two years after Paul’s trial offer in 1987, Donegal won the All-Ireland U-21 title. They defeated Kerry in a replay. Paul would still be only 20 and the chances are if he had impressed the selectors in ‘86 he would have been in the ‘87 squad.
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