Anthony Nash’s rise to the top wasn’t a smooth progression. His puck-out needed improving. He needed to calm himself when he made mistakes. He spent years on the bench with Cork.
The journey was a long one, and the beginnings were tentative. He was “10 or so” when the Kanturk U14s needed a goalie. He was thrown into goal for them.
“At my own age group, I was playing out the field, but in age groups above me I was in goal. By the time I got to 14 or so I was in goal all the time. While I played outfield for the club at intermediate for a while — centre-back — it didn’t really work out for the team. I enjoyed it, playing outfield, when I was 12 or so I was always outfield, but I ended up getting stuck in goal.
“I don’t know if I’d ever have made it as an outfield player, but then there were plenty of times I thought the same about playing in goal as well.
“Fortunately, it worked out in the long run. With Kanturk, a small town and a club that isn’t blessed with numbers, it was probably a case of finding a guy who could play in goal and letting him in there, really.” His development hit a speed bump when his deliveries weren’t lengthy enough for inter-county minor and there was a brief stint in green and white: “At U14, I was involved with the Limerick U14s, I was with them for one year and then came back.
“Obviously, my uncles playing in All-Irelands with Limerick, people would draw conclusions, and the fact I was third choice on the Cork panel for a long time. Myself and Martin [Coleman] were a similar age, so there was always talk about Limerick, but that’s the GAA, you always have rumours.
“But nothing ever came of it, or was ever going to come of it.” That Cork minor trial circuit was an eye-opener.
“What was a big boost to me then was Ger Cunningham gave me some help through a friend of a friend. I was really struggling at that time with the length of my puck-outs and because of that I came close to getting dropped off the minor panel a few times. I know that. My puck wasn’t good enough, as simple as that.
“Ger was a huge help to me though — I still have one of his hurleys at home — size 38, nearly. And that helped me to really focus on goalkeeping. Nowadays, it’s different, with the development squads, it’s all more organised. It was different then.
“Was he intimidating? Oh yeah, of course. You look at Ger and the achievements he’s had, it’s incredible. He’s one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, so even meeting him I was nervous and excited.
“I met him up in the Barrs field and, though he was very busy coaching teams, he took the time. For a young keeper to meet someone like him was huge, and I never forgot that.” Nash still works on his skills: Even when he’s watching other sports, he’s learning.
“I’d watch two flies walking up a wall. I’d be big into American sport. I love golf, but I’d also look at striking a golf ball and comparing that to hurling and striking the sliotar, I’d take lessons from that.
“Shot-stopping is obviously a bit different, but I’d be on YouTube, or Instagram, following lads who are doing goalkeeping training. I’m fortunate with Cork that Brian Hurley is there too, and he comes up with all those ideas, but you’re always learning — I’m 33, but I’m still learning every night at training, from Brian, from [sub keeper] Pa Collins.
“You’d take things from Gaelic football and soccer — Gaelic football keepers placing kick-outs, for instance — but I’d be enjoying watching those sports anyway. On top of that, if you can take a lesson away from how someone like David De Gea works with his shot-stopping, say, then you take that lesson.” Puck-out strategies have evolved hugely in recent years, but Nash argues against rigid patterns in hurling.
“It’s funny, last year I was asked about Cork’s puck-out strategy and Kieran Kingston nailed it when he said we didn’t have one. As a keeper, you’re just looking for the best option.
“I look down the field and, if the options are there in the number 10 position, number 11, or number two or four, so be it. Stats mean there’s a huge emphasis now on everything that’s analysed, so it’s very different to when I was a minor and, for puck-outs, you just went back into the goal and got your puck-out hurley and hit the ball as far as you could.
“If you look at other sports, you might be able to bring in more strategic plays, but not in hurling, it’s so fast. You could have an idea in your head for the next puck-out, to find the number 10, but then you look up and he just chased a guy 50 yards down the field and he’s knackered for a few seconds.
“That’s where game management comes into it for a keeper, picking out his best option, and sometimes that can be putting it down on the half-forward and hoping to win the break, because teams have become so good at breaking the ball.
“There probably are teams out there with a very clear strategy, but I’m not sure we could do that. There are so many different elements in terms of wind conditions, rain, all of which can influence the sliotar.” Some years ago, Brendan Cummins pointed out to this writer that a spectator perched in the stand can see puck-out options that aren’t visible to the keeper at ground level.
“And he’s probably a foot taller than me, he has an extra advantage,” laughs Nash.
“That’s true, though, and I’m not saying it to take pressure off myself.
“It’s not dissimilar to a quarter-back in American football: He may have a bunch of 6-8, 6-9 lads flying towards him blocking his view and looking to knock him over. At least a goalkeeper has some time to pick someone out. but I’ve definitely had the experience of sitting down after a game and going through my clips and thinking, ‘oh my God, he was wide open for that puck-out’.
“A few years ago, I remember watching an All-Ireland final from the stands, really high up, and the amount of space fellas had was unbelievable. It’s a valid point, especially when you consider there are full-forwards and corner-forwards getting in your eyeline.
“That’s why I say you go for the best option, and the goalie always gets the blame anyway when things go wrong.” The other key duty in the keeper’s job description is shot-stopping. Though Nash points out that if an inter-county forward comes through, one-on-one, then the odds are in his favour.
“It’s very hard to mimic a game situation in training, without a game. In training we have myself and Pa, and then Brian and [masseur] Mark O’Donnell fall in together, so it’s the pressure of a game within training, that’s what gives you the best lessons.
“Angles are what we work on a lot, making sure we have my angle as good as it can be for a shot. People would ask me from time to time ‘what was in your mind with that save or this save’, but there’s nothing in your head when that happens. It’s a reaction, pure and simple.
“You have to be realistic, too. The forwards playing now, if they come through, one-on-one with you, the ability they have, 99 times out of 100 they’ll probably bury it in the back of the net. It’s about hoping you’ll react quickly enough when it happens. You train for that, obviously, and the repetition gets your muscles ready to move, to dive, but it’s a difficult one, because you’re against a guy who can strike a ball so hard that the chances are you’re going to concede a goal.
“You look at the exercises top soccer keepers go through, hopping and bounding and so on, they’re getting their muscles ready and in hurling it’s similar.” His rise wasn’t smooth, but progression was steady.
“For me, 2007 was a huge jump. A real jump, because I’d just played a couple of league games and then Waterford in the championship... that was a real eye-opener for the difference in pace in a championship game, particularly with one of the best Waterford forward lines ever. John Mullane, Dan Shanahan, Eoin Kelly, they could do things with the ball that were incredible.
“The better the forward the more unexpected the shot. That’s the toll it takes; I come out of games and I’m not physically tired, but mentally you’re drained because you’re always on edge, always waiting for something to happen.
“In hurling it’s different to football, because two pucks of a ball, literally, and the sliotar is gone from the far goal to a shot at your end. The ball can spin, bounce... you can’t switch off.
“In training, the likes of Hoggy (Patrick Horgan) can do some things with the ball that you literally can’t believe until you see it rolling around in the back of the net. The quality is so high.” An all-time goalkeeping hero, then?
“[Peter] Schmeichel would have been. I was supposed to go golfing a couple of years ago one afternoon and, for whatever reason, I couldn’t make it. Schmeichel was in the golf club the same day.
“I was sickened, absolutely sickened. Mind you, De Gea is probably on a par with him now, he’s so good.” How are his puck-outs, though?
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