The gallant art has always been surrounded with a halo of singular glamour, Nabokov once said, adding: “Aloof, solitary, impassive, the crack goalie is followed in the streets by entranced little boys.”
Yes, you read that correctly. The crack goalie. Nabokov himself was a goalkeeper, you won’t be surprised to read.
I was reminded of that throwaway gem by the intersection of two goalkeepers last week.
You’re no doubt aware that Stephen Cluxton won Footballer of the Year at the GAA/GPA Awards last Friday. You may not be as aware of the lengthy interview Cluxton gave to mark the occasion.
Notoriously reticent, Cluxton’s candour about his preparations and injuries certainly caught the eye, and he wasn’t afraid to drill deep into what it means to be a goalkeeper either.
Asked if he loved playing in goal, the Dublin captain said:
“Now I’m not fit enough to play outfield and I have to play in goals (laughs). And I suppose I get through it . . . You spend more time giving out to yourself and talking to yourself. It gets worrying as you get older, you’re kind of saying, ‘Am I getting senile or what am I doing here talking to voices in my head! (laughs) Yeah! You’re better off not being a goalkeeper!”
I found this particularly interesting for all sorts of reasons, not least the depths to which Cluxton went.
But I was also intrigued because last week we said goodbye to another goalkeeper, former Cavan number one Tom MacIntyre.
The latter didn’t have a lengthy career for Cavan because he had other fish to fry, namely becoming a successful playwright. But MacIntyre lined out for Cavan at senior level and saved two penalties in an Ulster championship game, which is the kind of calling card any ‘keeper would like to have.
He also articulated what it means to be a goalkeeper years ago in an interview with journalist Tommy Conlon, stressing the suitability of the position for the artistic type:
“Why? Because the artistic type has to be on the danger line, you have to be interested in the cliff area and the goal line is one such area. You make one mistake and the consequences are cataclysmic. It’s the life-and-death area, anywhere else on the field doesn’t carry with it such dark potential and artists are interested — they better be interested in dark potential. Victory or the wicked shadow of defeat. And the mingling of those two elements, that’s where the fun begins for storytellers.”
I don’t expect Stephen Cluxton will be dropping off a neatly-packaged script to the Abbey Theatre any time soon, though what do I know?
Even if he doesn’t, however, it’s good to hear Cluxton speak about goalkeeping and what it means, and how it challenges people. Very few players — in any sport — can say without contradiction that they’ve changed that sport utterly, but Cluxton can.
It now seems hard to believe that leathering the football as hard and as high as possible was the ultimate in Gaelic football restarts for over a century, but the Dublin captain has revolutionised that aspect of the game as well as others. He may have been aloof, solitary and impassive for years, but if last week’s interview answers are anything to go by, his insights into the game have the potential to entrance.
One of Tom MacIntyre’s (see above) near-contemporaries also passed away last week.
Denis Bernard of Dunmanway was a Cork minor footballer in 1949 and 1950, graduating to the senior side in due course and winning two national league medals.
When Cork broke out of Munster in 1956 and 1957 Bernard was a key member of the side defeated in back-to-back All-Ireland finals - against Galway in 1956 and Louth the following season. At the end of the decade he emigrated to the States, retiring to Florida, where he passed away last week.
In terms of service Denis Bernard didn’t play in the blood and bandage for as long as some others, but readers of a certain vintage will associate his name — and others — with the writings of Eamonn Young in these pages and elsewhere during the seventies and eighties.
Bernard and the other big beasts of that Cork side — Paddy Harrington, Nealie Duggan, Dan Murray, Toots Kelleher — were vivid in Young’s descriptions of the great games of the past, and helped them solidify their places in the pantheon on Leeside.
It need hardly be pointed out that if you were reading this paper in the late seventies, for instance, that the 1957 All-Ireland final was less remote then than Cork’s Double is to the contemporary reader.
Denis Bernard is survived by his wife Eileen, son Christopher, daughter Tara and son-in-law Jeffrey, grandsons Ian and Eric.
A good deal of interest is being shown lately in the financial dealings of county boards and other GAA units all over the country.
Much of the focus falls — understandably — on the colourful sideshows. The songs and the insults, the strong sensation in many cases that scores are being settled to the great satisfaction of at least some of the parties involved.
But I’m much obliged to the reader who raised a very interesting point during the week.
For instance, given the acknowledgement at the highest levels of the GAA that managers are being paid by clubs and counties, how certain can we be of the other money trails in clubs and counties?
If that sounds outlandish, consider that here we not only have a system which is being abused with payments which — by definition — are made in secret.
In terms of the administration of the GAA, we have a situation where the system is being abused by the very bodies which should be policing the system.
If county boards are happy to facilitate under-the-counter payments to managers, they can’t very well claim the moral authority to tackle clubs in their own counties doing the same.
Furthermore, how can they participate in decisions made at Congress for the good of the GAA as a whole when they’re undermining the most basic tenets of the association’s ethos?
I see that one of this column’s favourites is back in January - IQ by Joe Ide.
IQ is Isaiah Quintabe, the detective in a terrific series of books written by Ide, with the latest volume rolling down the tracks in a matter of weeks.
High Five will take up where the last one, Wrecked, ended, with Isaiah on the case once again. For sheer enjoyment this is a series that’s hard to beat, though to get the full effect you should really start off with the first one — titled IQ — and take it from there. You won’t be sorry.