CRAIG Gordon made one of the best saves I’ve ever seen when, playing for Sunderland against Bolton earlier this month, he somehow got a hand to Zat Knight’s effort and pushed the ball over the bar. It was a miraculous save and earned comparison on BBC’s Match of the Day with Gordon Banks’ famous save from Pele in the 1970 World Cup.
But then Alan Shearer damned it with faint praise, reflecting that Gordon’s save had been as important as Danny Welbeck’s winner for the Black Cats. On a practical level he was right, but it was a bit like equating the bland music of Westlife with the pioneering sounds of The Beatles based on the fact that they have a similar amount of number one singles.
For Gordon’s save was a thing of rare beauty even if I might, as a goalkeeper who could but dream of making such a save, be biased. Shearer, though, does implicitly speak for many – goalkeepers might keep you in a game but they don’t win you games. The job is a destructive one where one mistake can undo the most accomplished of performances. But every once in a while a ‘keeper gets to live the dream.
Ciarán Kelly reckons he couldn’t even have dreamt up what happened in the FAI Cup Final when he saved four out of four Shamrock Rovers penalties in the shoot-out to win the cup for Sligo Rovers. How could he dream of it when, the day before, he had failed to save any of his team-mates’ penalties in a warm-up? When he saved one from assistant manager Gerry Carr, he ended it on a high – always good for a goalkeeper’s confidence.
What happened 24 hours later was an example of the maxim that if you are good enough, and persistent enough, you can sometimes get your just rewards.
There is little doubt Kelly was good enough. A latecomer to the soccer goalkeeping game, his swift progress from Ballinrobe Town to the Mayo Oscar Traynor team to the League of Ireland signified his talent. Any of us in Mayo who watched him up close had no doubt he had what it took.
But he didn’t enjoy a smooth ride. He saw himself at the centre of an eligibility saga when he starred for Castlebar Celtic in the FAI Junior Cup in 2006, on a break from the League of Ireland. Celtic exited that competition at the semi-final stage. Kelly came up from goal to take a penalty in normal time which would have won the game. Ironically it was saved. They lost in extra-time.
And then in last year’s FAI Senior Cup Final, Kelly could have been forgiven for wondering was his luck ever going to change. Sligo were 1-0 up with time running out. Kelly conceded a penalty. Sporting Fingal scored and netted a winner shortly after.
He persisted. Good things come to those who wait and all of that.
Penalties are a good test of confidence and grace under pressure. Normally that applies to the kicker, but the same is true of the ‘keeper. His ability to stay calm, make an informed judgement about where the ball was going and save each and every kick meant Kelly was the hero. Why dream about something when you can make it a reality?