Cork hurling dream team 1970-2020: Keepers of the flame make it tough to pick the top Rebel stopper

Cork hurling dream team 1970-2020: Keepers of the flame make it tough to pick the top Rebel stopper
Former Cork All-Star keeper Donal Óg Cusack after an exceptional display against Waterford in the 2006 All-Ireland semi-final. Picture: INPHO/Donall Farmer

SELECTING the best Cork hurling team over the past 50 years, since the All-Ireland victory of 1970 is just an impossible task given the quality at one’s disposal.

You could select four or five different teams and you would be justified with all of them.

In every position Cork hurling has been blessed with great players, from one to 15 and over the coming days we will try to put together what we might consider to be the best.

In doing so and it must be emphatically stressed that it is one individual’s opinion and for the one person who might agree there will be a 100 who will disagree. This is just a formula to start a bit of a debate among enthusiasts, nothing more, nothing less, and in many ways it’s just some light-hearted stuff in these very stressful times.

Today we will go through some of the best goalkeepers to have worn the red jersey in those 50 years and at the end of the week, we will select our number one.

Ger Cunningham with supporters after the Rebels' win over Galway in 1986.
Ger Cunningham with supporters after the Rebels' win over Galway in 1986.

Cork has always been blessed with very good goalkeepers through the ages, going back to Dave Creedon, Tom Mulcahy and Mick Cashman to name just three.

Our list is from 1970 onwards so here goes.

Paddy Barry from St Vincent’s captained the team in 1970, the first 80-minute final against Wexford and in doing so he was winning his second Celtic Cross four years after the boys of ’66 had ended a 12-year famine.

He was a hugely dependable netminder with a very good eye for the ball, one who instilled plenty of confidence into those in front of him.

Paddy Barry leads the Cork team out against Wexford in 1970. 
Paddy Barry leads the Cork team out against Wexford in 1970. 

Like all ’keepers, he made the odd mistake but the positives far outweighed any negatives. He finished his career with two All-Irelands, three leagues and four Munster titles.

Martin Coleman from Ballinhassig was the number one for the three-in-a-row team of ’76, ’77 and ’78.

A top-notch netminder, he played a key role in that great team. He made a sensational save from Wexford’s Christy Keogh in the ’78 final, a save that effectively won the match for Cork.

He had a great Munster final too in 1975 against Limerick and it’s fair to say his innings between the Cork sticks were very successful.

Ger Cunningham was his most successful successor, one of the great goalkeepers of any era.

A former Hurler of the Year, he was a star in ’84, ’86 and 1990 and anyone watching TG4 recently will have seen that wonder save he made from Galway’s Martin Naughton in 1990.

He was a director of operations for those in front of him and was a perfectionist in everything that he did.

That save in ’90 won the game for Cork, one of the true greats of goalkeeping.

Donal Óg Cusack from Cloyne followed in his illustrious footsteps and he was equally successful, winning three more All-Ireland medals in 1999, 2004 and 2005.

He brought a new dimension to the art of goalkeeping with his puck-out strategy, finding players strategically placed throughout the field.

Cusack was what you might describe as a goalkeeping student, always trying to better himself with his devotion to his art.

Donal Óg Cusack turns to the fans and kisses his jersey after the draw with Waterford in 2007. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Donal Óg Cusack turns to the fans and kisses his jersey after the draw with Waterford in 2007. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Hs fitness levels for a goalkeeper reached new heights.

As a goalkeeper few if any could argue about his effectiveness, a real leader.

Anthony Nash came in next and he too was a worthy successor to the man from Cloyne. Still the Cork number one, he’s one of those players who surely deserves to win a Celtic Cross.

A great shot-stopper with a massive delivery, he is also one of the hardest hitters of a ball in the game as he has proved many times with his execution of penalties and frees.

In the list of top ’keepers the names of Martin Coleman junior from Ballinhassig, Tom Kingston from Tracton, Ger Power from Midleton, Killeagh’s Bernard Rochford and, of course, the Rockies’ Timmy Murphy must be added.

Finbarr O’Neill from the Glen too. All very good tradesmen, a lot of them were unlucky because they were understudies to some of the best goalkeepers in the business and rarely got a chance to get game time.

In selecting who gets the nod at the end of the week for the number one choice you could make a case for so many of the aforementioned.

The one thing they all had in common was that they devoted so much effort into their trade.

The art of goalkeeping down through the years has changed and continues to do so and every inter-county team now contains a specialist goalkeeping coach, something unheard of in the past.

A goalkeeper is hardly ever out of the spotlight and one mistake is focused in on far more than any made by an outfield.

The number one since 1970 at the week’s end will be chosen from this list: Paddy Barry, Martin Coleman, Ger Cunningham, Donal Óg Cusack and Anthony Nash.

Who would you pick? Email: eamonn.murphy@theecho.ie or tweet @EamonnMurphy19 to vote.

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