BY JOHNNY CAROLAN
IN late 2019, Clonakilty’s Mark White, having been Cork’s first-choice goalkeeper in football for the previous two seasons, decided that he wished to spend a summer in the US, meaning he opted off the Rebels panel.
Unfortunately for him, Covid-19 meant that the travel plans were affected and he was caught between two stools as, having missed the first part of the year, he sat out the championship. He is now back in the squad but in the interim, Micheál Martin of Nemo Rangers has established himself as first-choice.
Having played all four of Cork’s league games, Martin is expected to be between the sticks for Saturday’s Munster SFC semi-final against Limerick, though he doesn’t assume that he has ownership of the white shirt, with White and Anthony Casey (Kiskeam) challenging him.
‘I would never say I’m settled because the competition is too strong,’ Martin says.
‘I would never feel settled in the jersey in that sense, but I think just the more games you play against good opposition at this level the more comfortable you get, as opposed to feeling settled in a position.
‘Genuinely, it is just that exposure to higher intensity games, better prepared team in terms of kickout defence, even just challenge games at this level, when you are coming across the top teams there are huge learnings every time. That is the biggest benefit to it.
‘There is competition in every line of the field and I don't think goalkeeper is any different. There is huge strength-in-depth in the squad, which is a big plus for us, particularly with the U20s coming in a couple of years ago and they've had a couple of years under their belt.’
Cork Senior Football team to play Limerick in Munster Senior Football championship has been announced pic.twitter.com/gxoOLrE7Rk
— Cork GAA (@OfficialCorkGAA) July 8, 2021
Cork won three of their four league games, though the last of those was a relegation play-off against Westmeath after missing out on a promotion chance due to a poorer scoring difference than Clare. Martin admits that there are mixed emotions.
‘Our overriding objective was to get promotion in the league and we didn't get that so there was obviously a natural disappointment there,’ he says.
‘I think we under-performed in the second-half against Kildare and ultimately paid for that. On the flipside then, we have to look at the positives; we had four games, we won three, we went up to Ennis and won with a long enough injury list and then the following week with an even longer injury list we were able to win a really, really important game against Westmeath.
‘As well as that, there is huge, huge lessons to be learned from those games and a lot to work on which is where you want to be. We won two very big games, but at the same, there was loads to work on and there is loads to work on. Overall, we're in a good position but disappointed we didn't get promotion.’
Martin is lucky from a coaching point of view that he gets to work with Ger Keeley while on club and county duty.
‘I'd be well familiar with him,’ he says. ‘He's the Nemo goalkeeper coach and I would have first worked with Ger with the Cork U21s under John Cleary going back a long time ago. I would have a long relationship with Ger.’
Of course, beyond the primary goalkeeping duties, a big part of the modern game is kickout strategy.
‘It would be very much collective decision,’ Martin says.
‘Obviously, there is a strong coaching input, I'd have a view, the other keepers would have a view, the likes of [Ian] Maguire around midfield, there is a lot of experience built up in the last couple of years that maybe mightn't have been there in the past. There is strong input from the management team so it is a collective.’