'As a sub keeper you have to stay focused on improving your own game'

'As a sub keeper you have to stay focused on improving your own game'
Corofin's Micheal Lundy has a shot on goal saved by Micheál Aodh Martin of Nemo Rangers. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

BILLY MORGAN was the Cork U21 football goalkeeper in 1965 and five more Nemo Rangers men wore the number one at that grade before Micheál Aodh Martin did so in 2014.

Two other Nemo custodians played for Cork at minor level in the interim.

However, while Morgan was almost ever-present in the Cork senior goal from 1966-81, it took until last August and Martin’s championship debut for the Nemo gap to be bridged at the top level.

Martin’s route to being the first-choice netminder for the Rebels hasn’t been wholly straightforward. First called up during Brian Cuthbert’s tenure in charge, he found himself surplus to requirements in Peadar Healy’s stint as manager before being recalled by Ronan McCarthy.

Back-up to Mark White of Clonakilty, Martin was the man Cork turned to when the Clonakilty man made himself unavailable for 2020 due to travel plans.

“Brian gave me my debut, I played against Tyrone up in Omagh,” he says.

“Looking back on it now, I wasn’t ready, certainly my kick-outs, but it was still a great experience. It wasn’t like I was shown up or anything, I did grand.

“Under Peadar, I got a couple of league games, I played against Dublin in Croke Park, which was a great experience at the time.

“I was sub goalkeeper for the championship behind Ryan Price but I was let go at the end of the year.

“The year away from the Cork panel was one of the best things that could have happened. It’s tough being sub keeper, as you’re not getting games. Last year, I would have been very conscious of that with Ronan when I was called back in.

“I felt I had gone backward one year in particular with Cork and he was brilliant in terms of letting me play with Nemo, even if it was a league game on a Thursday night and nobody else was being released.”

While being cut might have led to a questioning of one’s quality, Martin didn’t look at things that way and, in fact, won a second county SFC medal with Nemo (a third followed last year).

“The way I saw it at the time was that I knew I wasn’t going to play,” he says.

“As it happened, we went on a run with Nemo and got to an All-Ireland club final, so I didn’t really miss a beat.

“I definitely played more games that year than in the two previous, every league game and challenge, you can’t beat games.

“I improved my kick-out on my own, then. Sometimes, it’s easier to improve like that away from the pressure-cooker, time you wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Improving his restarts was the primary aim, with a process similar to rebuilding a golf swing.

“Technique is the main one and that’s not a quick fix,” Martin says.

“You’ve years of muscle memory built up, kicking the ball a certain way, and then someone gives you a bit of help and says you should look at doing this or that, but it takes time.

“The biggest thing I find now is in the middle of a big game, you can revert back into the old technique. That’s something I’m constantly trying to stay conscious of, in-game. It’s just repetition, repetition, repetition.”

Such dedication levels would no doubt impress Morgan.

Martin celebrates after defeating Duhallow last season. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Martin celebrates after defeating Duhallow last season. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

While Martin made his senior debut for Nemo at 19 and so didn’t get to play under Morgan for the club’s premier intermediate team, they did work together for four years on the UCC Sigerson Cup team.

“His never-ending drive rubs off on you as a player,” he says.

“If you see the manager doing that, then you can’t not give the same. Beyond the technical stuff, he was very good.

“The odd time, maybe after a bad game or even a good game, just a word, knowing what to say and when. From a goalkeeping point of view, he had been there and done it.”

Given his championship bow in the Super 8s clash against Roscommon last year, Martin was able to step up in White’s absence, not that he viewed it in such terms.

“I’d heard he might [be departing],” he says, “but, that’s not the focus.

“I knew if it was the case that there’d still be competition. It was the same principle, just focus on myself.

“It turned out he was gone but I never texted him once to check if it was true or anything, I’d never do that.

“It didn’t bother me. If he came back, he came back. I was focused on improving myself. Last year, when I went in, I treated it totally differently.

“I said, ‘Just focus on yourself now, whether you play or not.’ Not in the sense that I wasn’t contributing to the team, but just not to let any external thing become an issue. 

"I decided to go in and work hard, I was sub keeper but I still played a good lash of league games and I went forward as a goalkeeper, I know that myself.

“I put that down to the fact that I didn’t get bogged down in whether I got to play or not.”

More often than not, he has, contributing to a strong start by Cork in the league, which may not now be completed.

“Performance-wise, we haven’t put together a 70-minute display but it’s a work in progress,” he says.

“I was happy to get the start in four of the games, and then disappointed not to play the last day [against Derry].

“That’s the way it is, it’s the Cork team, every single fella is fighting for a spot.

“That’s the way it should be.”

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