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The Big Interview: Gary Rogers chats in depth about his League of Ireland career

Gary Rogers, the highly experienced and well decorated goalkeeper from Meath, has fused his career of solidity in his performances with league and cup credentials. Sacrificing success at inter-county football level with Meath, Rogers has had the foresight to pick his clubs wisely, whilst working hard on his game.

Hoping for more success this season, in his latest venture at Dundalk, here he talks to Brian Strahan about his rise in the game and the facets that have contributed to his success.

Brian Strahan: Your break came courtesy of Dermot Keely spotting you when you were playing for St. Francis. How did that play out?

Gary Rogers: It was actually Mick Neville who gave me my break; he signed me for the Shelbourne U-19 team back in 1999 and I spent a year training with the first team with Fred Davis who was the goalkeeping coach and first choice keeper Steve Williams. I went on to make my League of Ireland debut in the First division for St. Francis in October 2000 against Sligo Rovers in the showgrounds when John Noonan signed me on loan from Shelbourne.

BS: What led you to St. Francis in the first place?

GR: I knew that I would not play at Shels, Dermot was never going to throw an 18-year-old ‘keeper that has never played a competitive game at senior level into his team. I still remember getting the phone call from Mick Neville. I was in college when he rang and told me that the St. Francis manager, John Noonan, wanted to take me on loan if i wanted to go. I instantly said yes, Mick asked me if I wanted to think about it. I replied: “am I going to play?”, and he said I would. That was good enough for me; I wanted to play.

BS: Even though you hadn’t spoken to John Noonan, John obviously guaranteed Mick you would get game time. Big confidence boost?

GR: I didn’t speak to John until later that day when he came to meet me to sign the forms. He told me that I would start at the weekend against Sligo. I think is was more of a reality check than a confidence boost, one way or another I was going to find out if I had the capability and temperament to play at this level. I suppose you don’t really know how you are going to do until you’re thrown in at the deep-end. I knew from training with Steve Williams at Shels – who was the best goalkeeper in the League – that I was doing well. However doing the business on match day was a whole new challenge.

BS: Was it that you learned from Steve Williams , or he gave you confidence, or both?

GR: I think the training and advice that I received at Shels from Fred Davis and Steve, together with being able to compete and compare myself with Steve set me up for the rest of my career. I got first hand experience of what was needed, in terms of work ethic and attitude to make it as a goalkeeper.

BS: And what is the attitude and the work ethic required?

GR: It’s important that you have a good positive attitude to help you deal with the mental side of the game, as a keeper you’ll generally start training before the rest of the team and finish after them. This work ethic will be needed throughout your career and particularly when you’re young, as senior players will regularly practice free-kicks, shooting and penalties after training.

BS: That’s interesting. So longer hours. Is there a perception that with less energy expended on the pitch that less preparation is needed?

GR: There is no doubt that there is a vast difference in energy levels in terms of running on the day but the focus and concentration that is required for a game is certainly more mentally draining. You train hard all week to prepared for every eventuality on a match day.

BS: Was that kind of focus innate for you or did you need to learn it almost?

GR: I always had a hunger and desire to be the best I could be. However as a ‘keeper you make mistakes, especially when you are young. I have learned to relax more in my position and I feel that this comes with experience. When I was young, I was too eager to prove I was a top ‘keeper and as a result if I made a mistake, I would be so determined to make up for it, I could make another one. These days I’m far more relaxed and focused and I just put it behind me and get on with the job.

BS: So if you do make a mistake, do you process it in the game or after? I suppose what I’m asking is do you tell yourself, “right I’ll think about that later” or do you make the decision on the spot and forget about it?

GR: You process it pretty quickly and just move on and concentrate on the rest of the game. You have a whole week to break it down and analyze it before the next game. But you can’t take it back so it best just to move on.

BS: So how long were you with St. Francis before you the loan deal finished?

GR: I played over twenty games, so about two third’s of the season. St. Francis joined up with St Pat’s {St. Patrick’s Athletic} and I was picked up by Harry McCue at the end of the season for Drogheda United.

BS: Just on that point of St. Pat’s and St. Francis joining together. What did you make of it then and in retrospect, now?

GR: I’m probably the wrong person to ask from the outside looking in. St Pat’s added a St. Francis badge to their shorts and had the use of probably the best pitch in the country. The groundsman from St Francis is still working in Inchicore on St. Pat’s pitch.

BS: Ok, so how did you feel about joining Drogheda {United}?

GR: I felt good, as Harry gave me confidence right from the start and made me his number one. He signed a completely new squad from the previous season. We got off to a great start and kept that momentum for the whole season.

BS: You played more times for Drogheda than any other club (to date). How would you describe your years there?

GR: I enjoyed it. I started for 4 season and in my last year, 2005, I only played five games and got the feeling off Paul Doolin that even though he offered me another contract I could be faced with a similar situation the following year. Having played regularly I wanted to get back to that so I felt the time was right for me to move on.

BS: I doubt you thought though you’d be such a short period at Dublin City before the club went out of commission. What happened there?

GR: Yeah, it was a bit off a shock. I had no idea things were that bad. We were in good shape in the league and in the quarter-finals of the cup. We were brought to the Skylon Hotel for a meeting and we were told the news. Instead of playing Bohs {Bohemian FC} on the Friday night I ended up playing football for my local GAA club.

BS: What happened in your last season at Drogheda that you weren’t first choice?

GR: Paul just preferred Dan, there was nothing in it, it just came down to the manager’s preference.

BS: I’m not stirring. I’m just wondering in a situation like that is there more you could have done to win back your place?

GR: I spent the year sitting on the bench. I played four in the early part of the season. I kept four clean sheets and felt that I had waited and taken my chance. When i went to speak to Paul on the Monday he gave me a line of rubbish and I knew I won’t play under him. I had an offer to go in the transfer window but I stayed because I thought Drogheda would win the cup that year and after being there for five seasons, I fell it was worth seeing out the season because you never know Dan could have picked up a knock and you could end up playing in a cup final.

BS: And they did win the cup. But you were still on the bench. DId you feel a genuine part of the celebrations after the 2005 cup final?

GR: It’s a difficult one but If I’m honest I didn’t really, but after five years at the club I was happy to be a part of it.

BS: Dublin City next and we know why your stay was so brief there, why such a short stint at Bray too?

GR: I went back to play football with my local Gaa club St. Ultan’s and I continued to play even after I joined Bray. Tony McGuirk agreed that I could play the championship games with my club as long as it didn’t clash with Bray games. My club went on to win the junior championship in Meath, I earned a place on the green star team at centre forward and was called up to the Meath senior team which Colm Coyle was managing. I was a bit disillusioned with soccer and wasn’t sure what road I was going to go.

BS: How far did you get with Meath?

GR: I played in the O’Byrne cup and the 1st and 2nd round of the national league. I signed for Galway United two weeks before the start of the season.

BS: You didn’t play in goal? Would you have been tempted to switch codes all together to {gaelic} football or was it as much about keeping fit?

GR: No I played midfield or centre forward. I played all my club football outfield. I was very tempted keep playing GAA. I had told Coyler that I was committed to playing with Meath but if the opportunity came for me to go back to full-time soccer I could refuse it.

BS: So Tony Cousins didn’t need to persuade you.?

GR: I took a bit of persuading as I always wanted to to play for Meath in the championship against Dublin in Croke Park. However it’s fantastic to earn a living playing football and the opportunity to return full time to football with Galway United was an opportunity I wasn’t going to miss out on.

BS: Are you not from Drogheda though, or were you just born there?

GR: Born in drogheda hospital but I’m from Bohermeen it’s just outside Navan.

BS: So you moved to Galway, a full time player,presumably you didn’t commute?

GR: I commuted but I also had accommodation so that I could break up the week.

BS: When you joined Galway it was on the back of their promotion and you helped them stay in the division. Sometimes do goalkeepers get to show their real worth when under pressure. 2008 was a tough season with three teams automatically relegated, yet Galway held on by a point – and a much better goal difference than the triumvirate of teams below them.

GR: It was great to stay up in my first season at Galway. In my second year we performed the great escape to stay up on the last day of the season, it was some turnaround because I think we were ten points behind at one stage.

BS: Then the following season you and Barry Ryan essentially traded places. St Pat’s was a very successful period for you?

GR: Yeah, I went to Pat’s with Jeff Kenna {in charge}. 2009 was probably my toughest season as I struggled to find form. But under Pete Mahon and with the help of my goalkeeping coach Brian O’Shea, I turned that around, the only disappointing thing about my St Pat’s days are the lack of trophies. We got beaten in a couple of FAI cup semi’s, also we were beaten in the Setanta Cup final and fell just short in the league.

BS: Why do you think your form struggled in ’09?

GR: Probably a combination of a lot of different factors. I got a lot of criticism from all parties, including our own fans and I had never experienced that before. And I struggled to deal with it. I think in 2010, I came back with a different mind set with the help of Brian O’Shea who is a superb coach both on and off the pitch. I managed turn my form around which saw me selected for the league of ireland XI and I picked up the St. Pat’s Supporters Player of the Year.

BS: What brought about the move then to Sligo?

GR: To be honest it was hard to leave St. Pat’s. When I considered that Liam was signing a completely new squad and Sligo Rovers where retaining much of the team from 2011 that won the cup and finished 2nd in the league, I thought that they had the potential to win the league. That was the main reason, because logistically, it was far easier to stay at home and sign with St. Pat’s. I didn’t want my career to pass by and not have a league medal to show for it. So I opted for the long commute to Sligo Rovers and it was worth every mile.

BS: Sligo was a great patch in your career.

GR: Absolutely, it was a great period in my career. My wife and I moved to Sligo for my last two years, but to win my 1st league in 2012 was very special; together with the FAI Cup in 2013 and the Setanta Cup in 2014. Overall it was a fantastic three years. My little girl bonnie was born in between the two matches with Rosenborg FC {in the 2014 Europa League third qualifying round}.

BS: To win away in Rosenberg was quite an achievement, the loss at home must have been hard to take, all though the birth of Bonnie may have softened the blow?

GR: Absolutely it’s certainly was a great win away from home. However we should have finished the job at home, especially when we took the lead in Sligo in the 2nd leg. To lose the game and the tie from such a good position was very disappointing.

BS: Was it too big an ask mentally for the team, did Rosenberg just handle the pressure better?

GR: We were a bit naive tactically when we took the lead in the 2nd leg. We should have shut up shop until halftime, which would have put a lot of pressure on Rosenborg. Instead we continued to try and take the game to them when we didn’t have to.

BS: Joining Dundalk, the right decision at the right time – or was it as much a considered decision as the move to Sligo?

GR: It was the right move at the right time for me. The opportunity to move home and join the league champions is too good to pass up. Stephen Kenny was retaining most of the league winning squad and adding players of the calibre of Ronan Finn, so the signs were good for the coming season.

BS: It’s a big season for Ronan Finn isn’t it?

GR: It’s a big season for everyone. Standards are high and they have to be maintained and surpassed if we are to hold on to that league trophy.

BS: You still have a few years left in you at this level. As a keeper, some may say many?

GR: I hope so, I’ll certainly try to play as long as I can; keeping fit and injury free is important. I still feel good and I hope to keep playing well for years to come.

BS: And then?

GR: It’s hard to know but I’ll have to enter the real world and get a job. This time next year, I hope to have finished a 4 year degree in Sports Management. I would like to put it to use and obtain a job in a sports capacity.

Brian Strahan

Image Credit: RTE

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