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Goalkeepers: the unsung heroes

Sean Rice
Sean Rice

Keeping the faith

FUNDAMENTAL though they are, goalkeepers are rare topics of discussion wherever Mayo football is raised. A great save is rarely seen in the same light as a great score. Yet they are men of special nerve and flair, and in a similar role traditionally inhabited by great men in Mayo David Clarke stands apart.
Think ’36 and names like Kenny, Flannelly, Munnelly and Moclair come to mind; think the fifties and it is the feats of Prendergast and Langan and Flanagan that elicit discussion. Rarely is there a word about Burke or Wynne of Corkery or Foy or Irwin or Lavin.
Somehow a goalkeeper does not excite the curiosity or prod the passions like a great back or great forward, irrespective of the quality of his saves. Pivotal to whatever is achieved, the last man standing when a forward has pierced the front lines of defence, the goalkeeper is often the foil who spares the blushes of his front men . . . but is never quite in the vanguard of subsequent debate.
Dublin’s Stephen Cluxton will forever be remembered not for his many fine saves, but for that winning point he kicked in last year’s All-Ireland final. And the memory of Paul Durkan’s great save last Saturday will be forgotten long before the overall achievement of beating Tyrone dies down in the glens of Donegal.
David Clarke is up there among the best with Durkan and Cluxton, and the manner of his fight-back from injury to reclaim the confidence of the selectors suggests a mind of granite determination. In shrugging off the toughest of opposition he has revealed his mettle. And a decade’s experience has also honed his judgment . . . to know when to move off his line and when to stay put.
The Ballina man received his initial senior experience back in 2002. It was the era of the excellent Peter Burke and U-21 keeper Fintan Ruddy, and the scene was a bit overcrowded.
But he was still among the contenders two years later and shared the season with Ruddy and fellow Ballina man John Healy leaving an impression deep enough to win back the position for the campaigns of 2005.
Ruddy and Healy, still nibbling at his heels, took over much of the league and championship of 2006 until the vital latter stages when Clarke was preferred. He also shared some of the 2007 season with Kenneth O¹Malley of Ballinrobe, and his consistency won him selection again throughout the following season.
Clarke’s standing was such that although injury blighted his season in 2009 and 2011 not even the potential brilliance of stand-in keeper Robert Hennelly could deny the Ballina man first team status this season.
Already in his first five outings he has kept five clean sheets, and the manner in which he commands the square and dovetails with his defence lends a certain sense of security to any situation.
A tendency to indulge in short kicks-out has not dented Clarke’s reputation for bravery or quality saves, and it is the hope of every Mayo fan that their goalkeeper will continue to hold a steady nerve as Mayo try to pave a path of progress through the championship.

O’Sheas return to club colours

GOOD to hear that Aidan O’Shea made a return from injury when he lined out with Breaffy against Claremorris in the championship on Sunday.
As was expected, the midfielder has a lot of ground to make up to regain the standard of fitness he had reached before injury ruled him out of the league.
Full form is achieved only with match practise and O’Shea is thus unlikely to be ready to resume county football in time for the Connacht final. His absence has had the selectors searching desperately for a suitable partner for Barry Moran.
Seamus O’Shea, the other brother, might just fill that need. He also togged out for Breaffy on Sunday after a spell on the sideline, and appeared none the worse for his lay-off, turning in, according to observers, an impressive performance.
Elsewhere on Sunday, Ciaran McDonald was in regal form as he steered Crossmolina away from the jaws of defeat to Kiltane with his customary uncanny accuracy. Still an incomparable force in Mayo club football McDonald, playing at full forward, scored a total of nine points, three of them from frees in the most trying of conditions.

Conor v Corcoran
FROM an old loyal Mayo man, Tom McNally, comes the following conversations on our piece comparing Joe Corcoran and Conor Mortimer:
“No one can deny that Joe was a brilliant, skillful player. In my opinion, however, like a lot of Mayo players he was only brilliant when allowed to be. I remember one League final in particular, I think it was ’71 when Kerry’s Tom Prendergast completely blotted him out of the game. Joe was not a man to fight a battle for ya (sic). How would he cope with the blanket defences of today?
“Also unlike Joe, Conor has never had good ball winners around him. He has never had a Willie McGee, a Mick Ruane or a John Gibbons etc to feed off. It’s difficult for a Mayo man to say this, but Joe was no Mickey Kearns.“
“PS Is McGee the last good ball winning full forward we have had?”

Castlebar clubs take the floor
A COMMENDABLE initiative in the break-down of sports barriers culminates in a few weeks time when the under 16 ladies of Castlebar Mitchels GAA and Castlebar Town soccer clubs travel to New York for a joint exercise in both codes.
New York are preparing to enter the All-Ireland minor championship next year and Rockland GAA Club invited the Mitchels to play in Gaelic Park in order to assess the extent of their own progress.
Some twenty members of the Mitchels side are also prominent members of Castlebar Town, and the mentors of each club came together to consider whether a joint venture was possible.
Co-operation between the two clubs is not new according to Mitchels joint coach Michael Gallagher. “Because we share so many players we try to work out training and matches so that they don¹t clash and its working fairly well for the last few years. Its rare for a soccer club and a GAA club to co-operate in such a manner,” he said.
Thus Team Castlebar 2012 was initiated. In all forty-nine footballers are making the journey and they will be accompanied by eighteen mentors and five parents.
The Mitchels, coached by Michael Gallagher and Wally Flynn, will take on New York minors in Gaelic Park and in Rocklands own grounds. Castlebar Town, coached by John Flanagan and Kevin Sheeran, are playing in the Hudson Invitational tournament, one of the big competitions in the US.
Chairman of Team Castlebar 2012 is Daniel Calwell who said that playing in Gaelic Park would be a big thrill for the girls. They had been training hard for the past few months and had also been engaged in a huge fundraising effort.
Their final fund-raiser is in the TF this Friday night with their Strictly Come Dancing event featuring the nimble Oliver Kelleher together with Cora Mulroy, Terese Ruane, Padraic McManamon and Michael Gallagher himself.
Team Castlebar flies out to New York on July 19 for ten days.

Just a thought …
ROSCOMMON cast aside the nightmare of their trouncing by Galway when they overcame fancied Armagh in the qualifiers. But the shock of the day was surely Meath’s thrashing of All-Ireland contenders Kildare.