GOALKEEPER CENTRAL Mayo ladies goalkeeping coach Donal Hughes, a native of Ballinrobe, is pictured with senior team goalkeepers Aisling Tarpey, Michelle Treacy and Laura Brennan at training in Ballaghaderreen last week.
Mayo ladies goalkeeping coach, Donal Hughes, is a man of many talents
SKIPPING ropes snap through the sweet summer air; feet dance to the symphony of sinew and soul while mind and body prepare for the rigours of combat.
In the midst of it all prowls a coach, catlike, baseball cap at 180 degrees; power and confidence emanating from every pore. Encouraging, cajoling and building the dream.
This isn’t a boxing gym in The Bronx or downtown Philly; this is Ballaghaderreen on a Thursday evening in the height of summer; this is Mayo Ladies football training; this is ‘Goalkeeper Central’.
Donal Hughes is many things — Doctor of Chemistry, owner and creator of GolfCentralDaily, Iron Man enthusiast and most importantly of all, Mayo ladies goalkeeping coach!
On Thursday night, the Ballinrobe native who now lives in Cong, a former goalkeeper for Mayo underage teams, DCU and Ballinrobe, was in his element, working with athletes, thinking, moving, improving and having fun. ‘Goalkeeper Central’ is a challenging place to inhabit, but it’s also hugely rewarding and fun!
Out on the pitch, the rest of the Mayo squad are going through their paces, while the three ‘keepers, Aisling Tarpey, Laura Brennan and Michelle Treacy dance to the sound of swirling skipping ropes in a land where legendary figures such as Andy Moran, Kevin Cahill, John Morley, Dermot Flanagan, Noel Durkin and many, many more proudly played the game.
Soon, Hughes and his charges move towards the goalposts at the ‘country’ end of the pitch, and I’m intrigued to find out how he got involved with the Mayo Ladies.
“Peter Leahy rang me sometime last October,” he explained to The Mayo News. “I didn’t even know who Peter Leahy was to be honest, but at the end of the conversation he had me convinced that I wanted to be goalkeeping coach to the Mayo ladies senior team. I still don’t even know how he did it. He’d sell sand to the Arabs.
“I got involved and it just sucked me in and now I realise it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done,” Hughes explains as his assistant, Padraic Walsh from The Neale GAA club sets up the next drill.
“I played lots of sports when I was a young fella and I was goalkeeper for the Mayo Under-16s when I was aged 14, 15 and 16. I was sub’ keeper on the Mayo minors when I was 15. I played minor when I was 17 and 18 and played Sigerson for DCU.
“I played soccer, squash, badminton, everything I could, and then I broke my leg and it was all over, all over,” he adds before illustrating his passion for the role entrusted to him by Leahy.
Bag of tricks
“BACK in my day the asthmatic on the team went in goal or the big lad went in goal or the guy who wasn’t good enough for outfield went in goal. It was never coached, never dwelt upon. In my view, it’s the most important position on the pitch. Watch these women, they’re incredibly strong, incredibly fast, incredibly powerful. “They’re incredible athletes who need to be prepared separately from the other players,” he continues before going to his plastic-bag of tricks and extracting a new-fangled invention he threw together in his shed in Cong.
It’s a six-foot high shield, stretched between two poles with an 18-inch gap at the bottom. Walsh and Hughes place it on the 21-yard line as the trio of ‘keepers alternate in front of the posts. Soon Walsh is barrelling all types of shots at them, high, low, left, right, soft, hard, angled, driven.
Hughes is encouraging the trio all the time. “Brilliant – hands of glue.” “Great movement.” “Powerful.” That end of the pitch in Ballagh’ has never heard so much positive affirmation in one sitting.
However Hughes isn’t all about praise – he also delivers instructions, but in a medicine laced with positivity as the gang move on to plucking high balls out of the sky.
“Sail up – I want to see you have fun with it,” he cajoles as Tarpey leaves terra firma in search of the O’Neills and we’re joined by Leahy who leaves Sinead Stagg, Michael Reynolds and John Stagg in charge of the outfield group.
“The goalkeepers are doing great work with Donal,” says the manager. “We have Aisling, Laura and Michelle and Sorcha Murphy is injured at the moment. It’s a crucial part of our set-up as we move on now to the Armagh game, which we’re relishing.
“They beat Cork last time out and are a very fine team who will defend in large numbers and attack on the counter. We need to be at our very best to progress,” he adds, before asking for as much support as humanly possible.
“I know Mayo fans might be spread between a few games on Saturday, but we’re hoping for a big turnout. “Hollymount brought a busload to the Donegal game the last day and it made a huge difference to the girls and all of us,” the leader of the band states as the session comes to an end and local clubman, Colm Towey, reveals that he has ice-creams in the fridge for everyone to follow their post-game food.
It’s been a great evening in ‘Goalkeeper Central’!
All-Ireland SFC quarter-final
Mayo v Armagh
Saturday, August 10
Pearse Park, Longford