THE CORK hurlers might have come up short in some positions down the years, but rarely has the county been found wanting in the goalkeeping department.
There is a formidable list of custodians who have contributed enormously to the success story of the county and it would be fair to suggest that the various management teams going back to the 1950s have been blessed with their last line of defence.
When the NHL begins on the weekend of May 7-8 it’s a near certainty that Ballinhassig’s Patrick Collins will be the number one choice.
And that will brook little argument because this young man has served his apprenticeship to be the natural successor to Anthony Nash who called time on his inter-county career a few months ago.
You can go back to 2015 when Collins made his senior debut in the then Waterford Crystal Tournament and he made his league debut the following year.
However, due to the consistency and stability of Nash, his appearances have been restricted, but there will be little hesitation on the part of the current management team in calling out his name first when they announce their team for the opening league game next month.
Where Collins is concerned, you could say that goalkeeping has been a way of life, with his father Pat before him having manned the sticks for Ballinhassig.
Both his brothers, Matthew and Ger, have worn the Cork jersey at minor and U21 level and nobody has earned the right to be the next Cork senior keeper more than Patrick. Indeed Ger, three years Patrick's junior, is on the senior panel now and a live contender to take the top spot as well.
Collins has learned quite a lot from Nash and the master himself, Ger Cunningham. Being the Cork number one is always a hard act to follow because your predecessor has mastered the art ofgoalkeeping.
Let’s start with Nash; he rarely left Cork down on big match days, had a huge puckout as well as possessing the ability to point long-range frees and rattle the net with his penalties.
In fact, his art of penalty taking forced the authorities to change the rules to prevent a player from taking the ball further forward when executing the shot.
Prior to the former Kanturk star, we had the Cloyne maestro, Donal Óg Cusack who will be remembered as being a goalkeeper of the very highest quality.
He brought a new dimension to the art of goalkeeping; introducing a more possession-based game from his puck-outs. On and off the field he was an innovator, one of the great keepers of his generation.
The torch had been passed on to him by Ger Cunningham, a number one who had no weaknesses and one whose acts of bravery between the sticks often made the difference. Who will ever forget that save with his face in the 1990 final against Galway? He was Hurler of the Year in 1986.
Timmy Murphy from the Rockies did not have a long stint, but won a league medal in 1980 and was a very good goalkeeper.
Ballinhassig, of course, always produced very good netminders and none better than Martin Coleman senior who took over the number one spot from Paddy Barry in 1974. He went on to play a major role in the great three-in-a-row winning teams of 1976, 1977, and 1978 and one of his saves in those finals, from Wexford’s Christy Kehoe, was the stuff of legend.
His son, Martin junior followed in his footsteps and he was a fine keeper too, even if his appearances in the Cork jersey were limited because of the stellar qualities of others.
Paddy Barry captained Cork to All-Ireland glory in 1970, having also starred in 1966, and he will be remembered as a safe pair of hands who made a significant contribution during his years as the last line of defence. He replaced Finbarr O’Neill from the Glen in 1966 and O’Neill himself was a fine keeper too.
Prior to that, you had Mick Cashman from the Rockies; an excellent keeper who, unfortunately, did not win an All-Ireland medal.
That, however, did not diminish his status and he was a regular on Munster Railway Cup teams in that era when every county had quality keepers. It took some doing and was an illustration of his quality.
He took over the reins from Dave Creedon from the Glen who had actually retired from the game but came back to play a major part in the three-in-a-row winning teams of 1952, 53 and 54.
The list of Cork hurling goalkeeping greats is very long and, of course, the importance of the last man standing cannot be emphasised enough. You could have the rest of the team playing at the height of their powers, but a goalkeeping error can cost a team dearly.
Every new Cork goalkeeper through the ages has had a hard act to follow, but they’ve nearly always succeeded.
One has no doubt that Patrick Collins will serve the county as well as his aforementioned predecessors.