This Sporting Life

Put ye your faith in the hands of your Keeper

Colin Regan


Colin Regan

Put ye your faith in the hands of your Keeper

Martin McHugh is greeted by Cloone's Gerry McGovern prior to last Saturday's Connacht Club Intermediate clash between Aughnasheelin and St John's which was played at the Connacht Centre of Excellence.

It was utterly remiss of me not to mention in my last column the achievement of Martin McHugh in
winning his first native adult county title with Aughnasheelin.

Martin epitomises the essence of the goalkeeper – he’s got that essential bit of madness you need to stand between the posts.

To return to football at the age of 47, and to start that new journey with the old familiar agony of a session on the hills of Lough Key Forest Park, takes a certain mindset. The sort of mindset that sees a man through the much bigger undertaking of overcoming two bouts of cancer with a smile on his face and more to contribute.

Martin has always been mad for ball. When playing with him I remember him as a fearless little general barking orders and defending his territory with the fervour of Napoleon.

On the occasions in a training session when Johnno loosened his leash and set him on us outfielders, Martin hunted down the liathróid like a man possessed. It was wonderful to see him add an Intermediate Leitrim title to his already handsome haul.

No formidable structure can be built without solid foundations in place. The goalkeeper is the foundation of any team. I often consider them akin to the drummer in a rock and roll band. The rest of the band rely on him or her to lay down a strong beat that holds the song together both in terms of its formal rhythm and its more informal groove.

Both archetypes take a lot of stick. When asked whether Ringo was the best drummer in the world of music, John Lennon quipped ‘he’s not even the best drummer in The Beatles’.

Martin McHugh is pictured facing a penalty during the 1994 Connacht Final from Mayo's Ronan Golding. Photo by Willie Donnellan.

Most goalkeepers are sick of hearing that they are failed footballers….or that they ended up there after starting at 15 and working their way backwards through all the other positions. But there is a reason that the goalkeeper is the first name on the team sheet.

Like a drummer, they anchor a team in place and dictate the tempo of their play, and in skilled examples, possibly even the game. They set the tone. They also deal with more pressure than any other player on the field, bar perhaps the free-taker. Yet they can never show it. Every kick-out they deliver is the start of a new game.

They have a responsibility to start that new game on a positive footing and in the modern era to ensure that their team gains possession from their resumptions.

Midfielders get to exert that sort of influence on possession from just two throw-ins per game (assuming it doesn’t go to extra-time) but if they fail to gain possession from either not an eyelid is blinked.

If a goalkeeper finished a game with zero possessions from his kick-outs he’d be pulled apart.
They get to reverse that role somewhat when it comes to a penalty. The pressure is off them and firmly on the outfielder. It’s a duel but with the odds firmly weighted in the favour of one man. One has the gun, the other is expected to catch the bullet. If he does heroic status is bestowed. If he doesn’t, he still lives to fight another day.

I played in goal a few times at underage level and hated the pressure of the high ball. One slip and it could change the outcome of a game.

Lose the ball in the sun for a moment and the umpire raises his cruel green flag to signal to the world your ineptitude. No thanks, not for me. You need a certain mindset to deal with that load.

Like drummers, goalkeepers can tend towards the extreme. Shane Curran is surely a first cousin of Animal from the Muppets. But the extreme can be at the other end of the demonstrative spectrum too. Think Stephen Cluxton. The Queen shows more emotion in her annual address than does the Parnell’s man in his All Ireland winning speeches. But then he does his talking on the field and as a result has become the first goalkeeper to be celebrated more for his feet than his hands.

But whatever the exterior, you’ll find that underneath lies a heart of gold. For this reason, everyone needs a goalkeeper to have their back. I opted for one as my best man and he didn’t let me down.
I wasn’t surprised. Gareth never let me down when he manned the goals for most of my playing career at club and county level, either. I knew I was in good hands. Here’s to the goalkeepers.

Liatroim abú.