The Tony Considine column: Hurling goalkeepers really are a special breed 

The Tony Considine column: Hurling goalkeepers really are a special breed 
Kilkenny keeper Noel Skeehan in action against Wexford in the 1975 Leinster final.

WHEN my former teacher was picking the teams in the school yard, he would always ask “who wants to play in goal?”

I never remember anyone volunteering for this position.

It was always assumed that you were not able to hurl if asked to play in goals, and you were more than likely put there for that very reason.

Hence no volunteers!

Even watching club hurling. I remember as a young enthusiastic boy watching the goalkeeper at the time.

My memory of him is this. He never togged out. He pulled on a jersey over his shirt, he wore his trousers. The reason being he had a packet of cigarettes and matches in his pockets, and if the day was wet he wore his wellingtons. He usually had a few pints taken on his way to the game.

I remember him taking the puck-out... and often times before that, he would hand the cigarette he was smoking to the umpire, and take it back immediately and continue to smoke away while play was going on out the field.

No forward came within 21 yards of him, because they all reckoned he was half mad.

Hence he rarely conceded goals. But had a mighty puck-out.

That was a long way from the first superstar goalkeeper I remember — Ollie Walsh of Kilkenny — one of the greatest goalkeepers of his generation, and maybe, of any generation.

He was a real pin-up boy of the GAA. He played in goals in a time when it was highly dangerous to be a goalkeeper.

Many is the battle he had with the Tipperary full-forward line, especially Seán McLoughlin who wanted to bury Ollie into the net every time he threatened to come out the field.

I also remember Colm Sheehan of Cork giving him a hard time, and scoring three goals against him in an All-Ireland final in 1966. But Ollie Walsh was the first man to change the style of goalkeeping, giving it a new status.

Some great Kilkenny goalkeepers followed on from that, namely Noel Skeehan who replaced him, after being his understudy for a few years — I’m sure he learned a lot from him.

Also Ollie’s son Michael Walsh went on to win All-Irelands with Kilkenny in goals, and even received All-Star awards, which were not there in his father’s time.

Joe Deane gets his shot away despite the attentions of Kilkenny's Michael Kavanagh and James McGarry. Picture Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Joe Deane gets his shot away despite the attentions of Kilkenny's Michael Kavanagh and James McGarry. Picture Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

James McGarry was another goalkeeper that gave great service to Kilkenny, but I suppose the nearest thing to the great Ollie, is the present day goalkeeper for Kilkenny Eoin Murphy — he has it all in front of him. I wonder will his career be as long as Ollie’s?

Cork is also a county who has produced great goalkeepers — nothing unusual there.

I only saw Mick Cashman at the end of his playing days but he was excellent, and he was replaced by Paddy Barry, who had a great career with Cork — as cool as they come, as it wasn’t easy replacing the legend of Mick Cashman, but he did it very well.

The man that replaced Paddy was Martin Coleman.

Martin had a great career with Cork too — a very good ’keeper and although he had two dodgy knees, still his movement was excellent.

He was a vital member of a great Cork team.

Next came Ger Cunningham.

Ger was a big man over six feet tall -unusual, as most goalkeepers were of smaller stature - but I have to say that Ger was the best Cork ’keeper that I have seen.

His reflexes were brilliant for such a big man and his cool head and good hands on the big day saved Cork on many occasions — he didn’t mind putting his body on the line.

Ger Cunningham, Brendan O'Sullivan, Denis Walsh, and coach Canon O'Brien in 1990.
Ger Cunningham, Brendan O'Sullivan, Denis Walsh, and coach Canon O'Brien in 1990.

Next came a very different type of goalkeeper for Cork — Dónal Óg Cusack - very effective — goalkeeping styles were beginning to change, and Dónal Óg was at the forefront of that.

Short puck outs, or as they say, the short game - people found it hard to get used to it, especially the older generation, but as we know, everything changes, and Dónal Óg had a very good career, maybe controversial at times and maybe he had reasons for that.

He was followed by Anthony Nash, who is the present day keeper. Anthony is also very good, but often more remembered for scoring penalties at the other end.

There have been some excellent goalkeepers in other counties too.

The great Tipperary team of the 1960s produced John O’Donoghue, who played behind the ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ full-back line — no fear of anyone getting in to him, and if they did get in, they didn’t get out easy.

Another great was Ken Hogan of the 1980s, and of course the best goalkeeper in my opinion they have had would be Brendan Cummins.

Brendan had a brilliant career and would be up there with the best of them.

Wexford produced Pat Nolan and the great Damian Fitzhenry. A lot of people would say Damian was the best of his generation. He often won games for Wexford on his own.

Damien Fitzhenry bursts out against Cork. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Damien Fitzhenry bursts out against Cork. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Clare too have produced some great goalies. The first one I remember was Pascal O’Brien, of the ’60s and ’70s — but the two most popular goalkeepers in Clare would be Seamus Durack and Davy Fitzgerald — both excellent goalkeepers and gave great service to their county.

John Cummins of Galway was their best ’keeper I remember — a county that always had problems producing a top quality goalkeeper.

Limerick of course produced the great Tommy Quaid - outstanding keeper — I remember having a conversation with him one time about the goal that John Fenton got on him, from 70 yards with a ground stroke, in Thurles, and he told me he never saw it.

All he heard was a gush of wind passing him, and the net shaking behind him.

He was very disappointed to be beaten so far out — it took a special shot to beat him, because he was a special goalkeeper — and his son Nicky is continuing the tradition with Limerick now.

In Waterford we had the great Ned Power - I only saw him at the end of his career - and like Galway, this was another county that didn’t produce too many good keepers, even though the present keeper Stephen O’Keeffe is as good as any in Ireland at the moment.

It’s a big change now for goalkeepers.

They certainly need to be able to hurl - puck out strategy - they even have their own coaches now - they are like robots sometimes - and it’s a very responsible position and one of the most important on the field.

So... Who wants to play in goal?

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