On June 17, 2012, Waterford goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe (affectionately known as Soky) spotted an opportunity. A sideline ball had been awarded to Waterford approximately 40 yards to the right of his goal during the Munster Championship semi-final against Clare. As the Clare cover cut the space and retreated downfield, Soky begins his ruse.
Firstly, he moves to the umpire on the left, the first sign of pretence, his back to the play momentarily as he ‘builds’ the relationship with his new ‘ally’ in white. Then, he pounces, a sudden dash 20 metres — the unsuspecting Clare forwards oblivious to the plan — takes a flat sideline from Noel Connors and launches a Waterford attack.
There’s a duality to the memory. One, I knew exactly what was coming, and two, my dad and uncle James were bellowing simultaneously: “Will ya get back on your fuckin’ goal line.”
Ken Hogan, Ger Cunningham and Michael Moynihan review the weekend's hurling drama with Anthony Daly
Watching Alan Nolan’s monster point during Dublin’s brilliant win over Galway last Saturday was further proof (if needed) of what purists goalies are in terms of anticipation, bravery, intelligence and vision. Only two weeks ago, Brian Hogan appeared 30 yards from his goal to receive a crossfield ball from Noel McGrath which ends up in a Tipperary point.
Where once the ethos was stay rooted to your line, command your square, goalkeepers now control and dictate play. From Dónal Óg’s quarterback mentality to Eoin Murphy’s beautiful striking action, awareness has grown of the breath of the goalkeeping role.
While slow to encourage a Rene Higuita or Rory Beggan approach, there is something thrilling about the sight of a hurling goalie appearing on the shoulder of a half-back or midfielder, taking give-and-goes, setting up attacks, and slotting from distance.
Any risks are remedied by complete buy-in from your backs, which would see your full-back just retreat to the goal, your sitting centre-back go full-back and your goalie funnel back to six until the play develops. I can see the eyes of some rolling, but it’s a simple theory really.
When Kevin Foley mishandled Mark Fanning’s short puckout resulting in Adrian Mullen’s goal, no doubt plenty of Wexford eyes rolled and tongues wagged. Thankfully, Fanning and Foley recovered well and stuck to their tasks. In a game that saw a coming together of frenzied passion, tactical alignments, courage, errors and incredible intensity, appreciation is the word that dominated my thoughts.
A second viewing on Sunday night and it went from appreciation to respect. Respect to Fergal Horgan for recognising the uniqueness of the atmosphere and adapting to the electricity. Respect to Colin Fennelly and TJ Reid for the execution of 20-yard stick passes at angles to teammates. Respect to Matthew O’Hanlon for the diligence, concentration and mental resolve to keep tabs on TJ Reid.
Respect to Davy for realising he could set the tone for his players, particularly with the breeze, by patrolling the sideline from the off. Respect also to the Clare man for not listening to the ‘sure, we have the breeze what are we playing with an extra man back for’ stuff. He knows his team and they know him.
I counted at least six changes of formation from Wexford during the game. Respect for Brian for just being Brian. Respect for all, really.
While attempting to permutate ahead of the weekend’s championship games, maybe the emotion invested in my article on my homeland resulted in me not even considering that Galway would be out of the championship.
Despite the devastation of the defeat, the class of Micheál Donoghue remains a trait of the Clarinbridge native. To probes about his future he was stoical and reserved the greatest praise for Dublin and his fellow Galway man Mattie Kenny.
Galway just need to reassess and go again in 2019. The trawl for players during the league wasn’t as successful as they might have hoped, the prolonged club campaigns had an influence too. Combine this with the seismic loss of Canning and the reintegration of Cooney and Glynn into the panel and it’s clear Galway’s issues weren’t down to mismanagement or a dispirited squad.
Donoghue has the charisma, guile, and resolve to go again. I hope he does. Equally, Mattie, though pained at losing out to Micheál for the Galway job some years ago, did not twist the knife, carrying himself with dignity and grace.
Courage and resolve were abundantly evident in Ennis on Sunday. The post-match interview of Donal Moloney oozed emotional strain and pride from every syllable. Proudly defending his players, it was obvious that here is a group of players synchronised in terms of disappointment, but united enough to evoke a positive response.
As Donal said, these types of performances are easier when momentum is on your side. Picking yourself off the floor and fighting on your back reflects well on the unity of the Clare set-up. The emotion of Peter Duggan’s post-match interview encapsulated perfectly the need at times for hurt and some anger to spark a performance. The quivering lip of Duggan showed that Clare reached into their souls for this performance.
Thank God we are finally beginning to realise that numbers, or indeed positions, mean nothing. Paul Murphy’s forays deep into Wexford territory on Saturday evening saw him have three shots on goal, nailing one point. Chris Crummey’s adventurous spirit saw him win a penalty and score a goal himself. Though Daithí Burke’s shoulder actually enabled Crummey to gain momentum on his trip goalwards, nonetheless it was a neat finish.
When we see backs providing an unpredictable attacking threat, we must be mindful of common denominators too: The fact that Sean Moran, Kevin Foley and Padraig Walsh are minding the house.
Matthew O’Hanlon himself got in on the act with a beautiful crossfield ball to Rory O’Connor. A weekend reminding us that thought and instinct can coexist.