Restarts - not reflexes - the key skillset for goalkeepers

DIARMUID O’Sullivan was amongst the first to highlight the significance of Seán O’Donnell in Limerick’s backroom team last year.

From Kildorrery and teaching in Kilfinane, O’Donnell had been straddling the borders in his everyday life, but O’Sullivan was more concerned with how John Kiely had recruited the performance analyst and puck-out strategist, following his stint in the Cork backroom team for the three previous seasons.

Speaking prior to last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, O’Sullivan said of O’Donnell: “I don’t think you could find a better guy in the game of hurling to provide you with the kind of detailed information he can provide you with, and real-time information at that, and Anthony (Nash) will know that.”

After Nash struggled to find his targets in Croke Park that afternoon, O’Donnell’s inside information was highlighted.

The latter’s expertise should again prove useful tomorrow, but Nash’s former colleague and fellow goalkeeper, Martin Coleman junior, believes that both camps may have something ‘up the sleeve’ to keep their opponents guessing.

“It’s hard to know, because people do some much video analysis now that Cork would have known Limerick’s puck-outs very well, too.

“Doing that and the background information each group has on each other, you have to have something up your sleeve. Teams have to play to their strengths, as well, because Seamus Harnedy is always going to win you ball in the half-forward line. There’s no point in not knocking the ball down to him, no matter what the opposition does.

“I don’t know the ins and outs of Cork’s puck-out strategy, but is it going to be a bluff or a double-bluff? Can you think you can do the same thing again as you did last year or are you going to do something different? You’re setting yourselves up to go at the weakness of the other team, but you can’t go away from your own strengths too much. Limerick will be prepared for Cork, but that doesn’t mean they can deal with them.

“Seán O’Donnell will know a lot about Cork, but Cork will have one or two things up their sleeves. Balls will go into one-on-one situations and then it’s a case of who wants it the most, rather than anything to do with how it was struck from the puck-out. Tipperary simply wanted it more last Sunday.”

To the untrained eye, it might have seemed Nash had a poor puck-out performance last weekend, when, in fact, his targets, with poor touch and alertness, were more to blame. Coleman felt for Nash. 

“Inside in goal, you can be only a fraction away from being perfect with your puck-outs. Teams, even at club level, set up so well against puck-outs. Tipp would have been drilled on it for weeks and would have known the danger men at puck-out time. And then it becomes a game of chess.

“Cork’s puck-outs over the last four or five years have been an advantage, but Liam Sheedy might have encouraged the players to look at it (Nash’s restarts) a different way. There are a lot of moving parts in it and when players are moving so quickly, a ball going a foot too high or too low can make a massive difference. Just because Cork’s puck-outs didn’t go well the other day doesn’t meant that they can’t go well the next day.”

If Coleman had his way, TV cameras would be utilised behind the goals for puck-outs to show supporters what goalkeepers face. 

“You’re always looking at the puck-out from the side of the pitch, but the goalkeeper never sees the game like that. From the side, it always looks like there is way more space than there is. From the goal, you could be looking out and see no space. The opposition are moving about with their hurleys up and trying to cut out the space that might be there. 

"Fellas aren’t moving as quickly in challenge and league games, but they’re constant in the championship. They’re going to give it everything and when one goes astray on you, the pressure adds and adds. People analyse the games and think the goalies are robots and can find a fella with every puck-out, but it simply can’t be the case all of the time.”

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