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Kenneth O’Malley: from Croke Park to Abu Dhabi

Sport

FLASHBACK Mayo’s Kenneth O’Malley gets the ball away as Meath’s Cormac McGuinness closes in during the 2009 All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile

Interview
Mike Finnerty

TEN years on from Mayo’s last championship clash with Meath, The Mayo News caught up with Kenneth O’Malley from Ballinrobe, who lined out in goal for Mayo in that 2009 All-Ireland SFC quarter-final.
Life since has brought O’Malley to Abu Dhabi where he works as a Curriculum Manager, plays Gaelic football, and has set up a handball club.
Currently home in Ireland for a few weeks, he reflected on his memories from that defeat to the Royals back in the day.

MF: What are your memories of that game?
KO’M: I was 22 years of age, and quite a young, inexperienced goalkeeper.
My first game of football as an inter-county goalkeeper had been a month before the 2006 All-Ireland Under-21 Final because I had played all my football outfield for Ballinrobe.
So I’d played about seven games in goal before I was called into the Mayo senior panel by the manager, John O’Mahony in 2007.
Then I got injured at the end of that year and missed all of 2008.
So, in hindsight, I would have loved to have been 32 for that game against Meath in 2009.
To be honest, I’ve tried to put that game to bed. When you contacted me to talk about it, I felt a sickness in my stomach because I really regard that game as a missed opportunity for that group of Mayo players.

MF: Why do you such regrets about that particular game?
KO’M:We had gone well all that year, and went into the game against Meath on the back of a good Connacht championship campaign.
We’d hammered Roscommon and had a great win against Galway when Peadar Gardiner kicked the winning point late on.
Then we’d had a four or five week break into the All-Ireland quarter-final and went four or five points up early on.
One of my memories is that the pitch had been relaid after a U2 concert. I was reminded of it when I heard Jim Gavin giving out about something similar on Saturday night.
I remember the pitch at Croke Park had been relaid, there were patches everywhere, and then it started raining.
So we were four or five points up when Joe Sheridan of Meath mishit a shot, that ended up in David Bray’s hands, and as he took a shot he slipped.
Boom, goal! Meath were back in the game.
Later on, I remember Aidan O’Shea scored a goal and we were four or five points up again by the 50th minute.
It felt like we were comfortable.
But Meath got a sideline ball that probably shouldn’t have been, and Joe Sheridan kicked the ball into the square where Joe McQuillan, the referee, gave a very dodgy penalty.
Cian Ward hit it well, I went the right way, but I just couldn’t get to it.

MF: How did you feel when the match ended?
KO’M: I felt sick, it was such a missed opportunity. Beating Meath that day would have put us into an All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry who had struggled all the way through that summer.
But they beat Meath by a few points in a low-scoring semi-final whereas I felt at the time that we had more in us to kick on.

MF: Looking back, would you change anything?
KO’M: I remember Nigel Crawford, the Meath midfielder that day, dominated that area.
If it was now, I would have looked to alter my kick-outs. I’m not saying that would have changed the result, but it’s something that I would do if I was 10 years older.
There weren’t many people changing their kick-outs around though back then. Whereas nowadays the role of the goalkeeper has changed so much.

MF: What do you make of that evolution of the goalkeeper?
KO’M: Firstly, I think Mayo are very lucky at the moment to have two such talented and experienced goalkeepers in David Clarke and Rob Hennelly.
Because as far as I can see there are two or three things now that seem to be prioritised ahead of saving shots.
Things like kick-outs, the ability to command the square and be solid under high balls, and to be able to kick a long-range kick pass out of the hand like Niall Morgan or Shaun Patton.
I play 9-a-side football in Abu Dhabi, it’s a fantastic standard, and I’d have often pop out of goal and shoot upfield to get the odd score.

MF: How do you reflect back on your time playing with Mayo?
KO’M: I really miss it, and would still feel there’s something that I could add. I’d believe that a goalkeeper gets better as they get older because with the experience comes a greater ability to stay calm under pressure.
And to be a good keeper, I think you have to be reliable and solid.
My last game with Mayo was actually the last round of the National League in 2015. I was let go 10 days before Mayo played Galway in the first round of the Connacht championship.
It was hard to take at the time because I thought I was going well but, to be fair to Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly, there wasn’t much between me, David Clarke and Rob Hennelly at the time.
So I had to respect their decision.

MF: And you went abroad soon afterwards?
KO’M: Yeah, I felt there was no point in waiting around because my whole life had revolved around playing for Mayo.
And when that was gone, I just felt I had to move on.
So I have four years done now in Abu Dhabi and I work as a Curriculum Manager, as Head of Physical Education for 15 schools in the UAE.
Life out there offers you a lot of opportunities and, while my goal is to come to Ireland at some stage, I am going back out for another academic year.

MF: You play a lot of sport out there?
KO’M: Yeah, I play Gaelic football with Abu Dhabi Na Fianna. Our biggest rivals would be the Dubai Celts and they’d have Alan Freeman and Castlebar lads Alan Feeney, Stephen Keane and Tom King playing for them.
I also set up a handball club, the Al Reem Shamrocks, and I try to play two or three times a week.
We played an International Classic lately against Saudi Arabia and are trying to grow the club all the time.

MF: What are your thoughts on Mayo v Meath next Sunday?
KO’M: I’m home for a few weeks so I’m hoping to go to the game and support Mayo. But Meath will come in with their tails up after seeing Mayo’s display in Kerry.
But that’s the ebb and flow of Mayo football and I can tell you one thing for sure, there’s a massive kick left in them.
There are a lot of very proud Mayo men in that dressing-room and that defeat will hurt them a lot. I think they’ll regroup and come out fighting.