DUE to the specialised nature of the goalkeeping position, being the back-up – or one of two – can be a thankless role.
In 2001, Anthony Nash wore number 16 for the Cork minor hurlers, with Martin Coleman in the starting role. Cork won the All-Ireland and Nash was underage again for the following year, but found himself overtaken by Shay Bowen for 2002.
While he made the step up to the U21 panel the following year, he had to bide his time until 2005 to play for the county in a championship game for the first time, winning a Munster medal.
His progress continued as John Allen called him up to the senior panel in 2006 and he collected another Munster medal but, with incumbent Dónal Óg Cusack well-established and Coleman also on the squad, the route to the starting spot looked far from easy.
When Cusack was suspended for the 2007 Munster semi-final following his part in the brawl prior to the previous round’s win over Clare, it was Nash – ahead of his time in that he was a rare goalkeeper to wear a helmet before it became mandatory – who was selected to fill in.
The following year, when Cusack was sent off against Galway in the All-Ireland qualifiers, Coleman was the man brought on but then, in 2012, an injury to Cusack in the league semi-final against Tipperary – his last game for Cork – led to Nash coming on as sub.
However, that didn’t guarantee that the Kanturk man was now in possession of the starting spot. At the time, the practice of the Cork management was to rotate the number 16 and 26 jerseys between Nash and Coleman and it just so happened that Nash was wearing 16 that day in Thurles.
When the time came to make a call for the league final against Kilkenny, Coleman was picked but that audition didn’t go well and Nash was elevated to first choice for the Munster championship opener against Tipp in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. While Cork lost that game, they reached the All-Ireland semi-finals through the back door and Nash won an All-Star.
The following year, they made it to the final, losing to Clare after a replay, and Nash was again selected on the All-Star team, having also made a name for himself as a devastating striker of penalties.
Kieran Murphy of Sarsfields, who was on the Cork panel when Nash was first called up and then coached the team in 2018 and 2019, believes that the goalkeeper benefited from a positive approach while he was having to sit on the bench.
“That was one of his strongest points,” he said.
“Even during that period, he improved so much as a keeper, even though he was on the bench.
“You could even go back to when he was a minor with us , he was behind Martin Coleman and then behind Shay Bowen the following year. He’s an unbelievable example to a young fella looking at it who mightn’t be getting his game in goal at 17, 18, 19 or even in his early 20s, just to stick at it and keep training hard.
“He developed as a keeper, he got better every year and that was down to his mentality and his willingness to work hard. He transformed his body shape and that certainly helped him with his puckouts and his shot-saving ability.
“It’s testament to him that he was behind Dónal Óg for so long but then when he came in he was one of the best keepers in the country and won two All-Stars in quick succession.”
Interestingly, in the county senior hurling championship Nash played for four different teams – Duhallow, CIT, UCC and finally Kanturk, after helping the club to win the county IHC and Premier IHC. Surely that’s a record, or at least a share of one? We’d be keen to find out if anyone could challenge him for it.
Another statistic of note is the fact that, since the beginning of the 1981 championship, only three men have started a game in goal for Cork. Ger Cunningham, who made his debut that year, remained in situ until the end of 1998, with Cusack coming in the following year and staying until the end of 2011, bar that one-off appearance for Nash in 2007 and Coleman’s run as a substitute in 2008.
Now Nash has moved on and the likelihood is that Coleman’s Ballinhassig colleague Patrick Collins will take over, though his brother Gerard could contend, too – whoever is the man in possession will have big mantle to take on.