Saving the best until last, how U20 keeper O'Keeffe guided Cork through their nightmare start

Saving the best until last, how U20 keeper O'Keeffe guided Cork through their nightmare start
Josh O'Keeffe and Maurice Shanley against Dublin. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

AS BAD starts go, it doesn’t get worse for a keeper than coughing up a cheap goal.

Yet Rebel netminder Josh O’Keeffe recovered from an early error on Saturday as Cork bounced back from being 1-6 to no score in arrears to blow Dublin away.

The towering 19-year-old was outstanding for the remainder of the All-Ireland U20 final, pulling down balls under the crossbar, pinging restarts into space and even carrying possession towards the 45 to feed his marauding half-back line.

“We were slow to start. I don’t know if it was nerves because Dublin were very sharp. We got a goal and a point in the space of a minute though and we really settled from there.

“Dublin have a lot of good players. It wasn’t just (Ciarán) Archer like. Every one of the Dublin forwards is a serious player.

“The massive crowd really helped, the cheers after the goals were amazing. Dublin didn’t have that same support and it was a huge advanage for us.”

While the kick-out error could have rattled him, the Newmarket club man didn’t let it.

“The lads told me not to worry about it, to keep going and keep doing the right thing. Variation is what you need in kick-outs.

“You want to go long but they’ve big men, you can’t just fire it down on top of them. The problem was the short ones weren’t going right either at the start but we found a way.

“I signal or make a call and we move from there. It’s a team effort, kick-outs aren’t just about goalies.”

Like a host of the team, such as Brian Hartnett, Michael Mahoney and Daniel O’Connell, O’Keeffe wasn’t a development squad star.

“I only played U15. I never played Cork minor or anything. I’m doing business in CIT and Keith (Ricken) knew me from that and gave me a chance. John Holly, from St Michael’s, is the fresher manager and he’s had a big influence.

“We don’t play at a high grade underage with Newmarket so the games in CIT were very intense compared to that. John helped me to adapt to that.”

O’Keeffe is adamant these young Cork footballers must keep their heads and keep demanding more of themselves.

“We’ve a great team again next year and we’ll really want to drive on. Cork needs that. We’ve great spirit. Not just the 15, the 30, 35 in the panel. We listened to Keith and the selectors and it paid off.”

Josh O'Keeffe makes a save from Ciarán Archer. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Josh O'Keeffe makes a save from Ciarán Archer. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

From early in the season, the All-Ireland was the primary goal, not just esacaping Kerry’s clutches in Munster.

“Keith was very positive. It wasn’t about Munster, it was four stages to an All-Ireland, that was always our aim. We believed because our management believed in us.

“Seven points down against Tyrone, we didn’t play our best, but we got there and we drew on that against Dublin. Kerry, Tyrone, Dublin, they’re all strong teams but we knew we’d a strong team too.”

Josh O'Keeffe and his family from Newmarket. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Josh O'Keeffe and his family from Newmarket. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

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