OVER the past few weeks, we have been selecting the best Cork teams in hurling, Gaelic football, and soccer.
It was a personal exercise, that should not be taken too seriously, because any alternative teams or players would have fitted the bill every bit as much.
Selecting players from an extended period of time is a minefield: There are multiple choices in all codes and for every selection there are plenty of alternatives.
Over the coming week, I will put together what I consider to be the best 15 hurlers from the past 50 years.
In listing the players for the various positions, it’s a near certainty that a couple of quality candidates will be left out, not deliberately, but because the memory might not be as alert as it once was.
So here goes and, as before, we’ll start with the candidates for the goalkeeping slot.
There is a fine, quality list to choose from, players from all the leading counties.
We’ll start with two of our own: Ger Cunningham and Donal Óg Cusack. Their qualities were documented when the best Cork 15 was selected and those same qualities apply here, both players ending their stellar careers with three Celtic Crosses and being standout out figures in those All-Ireland victories.
In any company, they’d fit in easily.
Next to Kilkenny and Noel Skehan, the holder of seven All-Ireland medals and a worthy successor to the equally great Ollie Walsh.
Here was somebody who made the defenders in front of him feel secure: If they erred, he was there to correct it, something he did with so many memorable saves in so many great Kilkenny victories.
We will stay in Leinster, with Wexford’s Damien Fitzhenry.
He has not been decorated as the others have, but that should not diminish his greatness.
In Wexford’s All-Ireland-winning year of 1996, he played a huge role, both in Leinster and beyond, and his longevity in the purple and gold marks him out as a custodian who would stand up in any company.
In the year before and in the year after, Clare came to the forefront with two memorable All-Ireland victories.
There were many significant contributors to those victories and right up there among them was Davy Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald was a player who had the ability to make the opposition supporters love to hate him. He still has that ability, as a manager.
But that should not take away from his greatness, both as a goalkeeper and now as a manager.
A motivator supreme, he was a great organiser, too, for the defenders in front of him.
Another Clare goalkeeper worth a mention is one of his predecessors, Seamus Durack, who won two national league medals in the ’70s, when Clare were one of the best teams and unlucky that the great Cork team of that era was around, too.
Brendan Cummins, from Tipperary, was a really good goalkeeper, one of the best of the modern era, and he’d be in contention when drawing up a list of any top number ones.
The late Tommy Quaid, from Limerick, was a fine goalkeeper, too, and his son, Nicky, is proving to be just as good.
Another father-and-son combination well worth a mention in any list is the current Tipperary netminder, Brian Hogan, and his father, Ken.
Cork’s Anthony Nash is also deserving of mention and Waterford goalkeeper, Stephen O’Keeffe, comes into that bracket, too, as do former Kilkenny goalkeeper James McGarry and the current one, the outstanding Eoin Murphy.
It’s often said that to be a goalkeeper you need to have a streak of madness in you, and maybe you do, but it also takes a rare quality to make it to the top in your native county.
It’s often said, too, that a goalkeeper is only as good as the men in front of him and that, too, may well be the case.
A goalkeeper’s mistake is highlighted much more than a mistake by a player in any other position on the field of play.
In fact, one goalkeeping mistake can be as costly as it gets.
It’s a very specialist position, much more so than before, and every top county team now has its own goalkeeping coach.
Former Clare number two Christy O’Connor is expert in the field and is now on board with Cork, though in a more expanded role. He has wider coaching duties.
So, here’s the list of contenders that we’ll choose the number one from: Ger Cunningham, Donal Óg Cusack (Cork), Davy Fitzgerald (Clare), Damien Fitzhenry (Wexford), Noel Skehan (Kilkenny), Eoin Murphy (Kilkenny), Seamus Durack (Clare), Brendan Cummins (Tipperary).