LAST Sunday evening Anthony Nash put out a statement on the end to his inter-county hurling career with Cork.
Later that night we watched Caoimhin Kelleher put out a statement of intent with his performance and another clean sheet against Wolves on his Premier League debut.
If goalkeepers tend to define and last for entire eras anyway by their nature there was still a nice timing to it, the end of one career and the start, in a meaningful way, of another.
It was hard not to be struck by both the similarities and the differences to the experiences and those little nuances that make up our ideas on what exactly it means to make it in sporting terms.
Nash had trials as a goalie with Wimbledon way back in their top division days, played handball, Gaelic football, before eventually focusing totally on being the best hurling goalkeeper he could be for the bones of 20 years with various Cork teams.
Kelleher played as a striker (a very good one) until quite late and from the origin stories, the call to become a keeper had a lot of random chance and timing as much as longer-term planning. Decisions and little details.
Nash was a minute away from an All-Ireland medal and just happened to play through a time afterward that Cork haven’t always been competitive.
Kelleher happens to be at the most progressive well-run Premier League club with the most driven manager and staff and in the end got a week of Champions League and Premier League action through injury to number one keeper Allison Becker.
There’s something else that jumps out as well maybe, more in how we can all tend towards judgement on players careers and in particular how we’re far too quick at times to focus on a narrow enough definition of success.
Nash had a background in goal-keeping in his family anyway, didn’t play Cork minor, was in and around Cork U21 and intermediate teams for a few years, served as back-up to Donal Óg for an absolute age really before getting his chance only to ship five goals and then wait another five years for his next chance.
That’d be exceptional enough, only he went on to win two All-Stars in his first two championship seasons, played an All-Ireland final, became the story of hurling for a time so much that they changed a whole rule to take away a loophole he’d exploited with skill.
He was first choice goalie in Cork for a substantial enough time to make it his own and was one of the most influential goalkeepers in Ireland for a spell.
That’s not a bad innings. It just so happens Aidan Walsh comes from the same town and he also finished with Cork hurlers this last week.
There’s an awful lot of young lads togging out in fields around the county week after week who’d take that kind of impact/haul as a sign of having done pretty well and yet this sense remained to the end that he’d underachieved somehow.
We’ve done it ourselves here, flagging the persistent feeling that there was more to come from Walsh after 2012 especially. It’s part of a larger question again that’s probably more complex than simple answers can provide.
It could be partly that Cork wasn’t necessarily the best environment for those years to get the most from a developing player. It could be that this kind of outcome, playing games, and being heavily involved with various Cork teams over the course of 10 to 15 years is hardly a sob story worthy of over-analysis.
It’s ok to think a player had good games and quality moments and that there were times when they weren’t at their best as well.
It can often be forgotten just how good a player has to be to reach that elite part at any sport.
Any player that reaches the Premier League has been the best in their position at so so many different levels along the way before they even get near playing a game. Of the Ireland U17 team that played at the European Championships in 2015, only Kelleher has gone on to play Premier League so far and with one of the best clubs in Europe.
It’s not any kind of sure thing and yet Kelleher has stepped in and made it seem routine in the last 10 days or so, nothing particularly flashy (the tip-overs against Ajax weren’t showy but decent enough to be good saves) but solid and composed like it was his natural place.
Cork may be a smaller net but think of all the training and skill drills and days at the ball alley that Anthony Nash put down to get to the required level to be picked and then maintain that drive to stay there for several years. Nash is a self-confessed hurley perfection geek so you can be sure everything possible was done.
And all the goalkeepers who’ve come and gone at club and county level that haven’t ever gotten near what he’s been doing with Cork and Kanturk.
Donal Óg Cusack made the point about Nash getting the most out of himself, about the importance of winning, but when that’s not always possible for every player at every time that the player can leave content that they did everything they could have done.
It’s that time of the year for GAA retirements that lend themselves to legacy pronouncements and think pieces on eras and only last week we spoke about Paul Kerrigan’s time with Cork football that happened to correspond with very divergent periods of winning and losing.
It’s just the way of things. Footballers retire in Kerry with four All-Ireland medals and there’s a narrative put out that it wasn’t enough.
Caoimhin Kelleher’s had an extraordinary beginning, two clean sheets at Anfield in the two biggest games of his career so far (we know he played some cup games, but still, Premier League and Champions League against Ajax) with a team that’s routinely winning games.
There’s more to come in the story for sure. For now, let’s recognise the achievement of getting that far and not overlook the drive and the quality needed to make it happen.