THREE into one doesn’t go, so who will wear the Cork football goalkeeper’s jersey this year?
Ronan McCarthy has had to deal with plenty of headaches in his role as Cork football manager, but one of the nicer problems he’s facing is deciding who will start between the posts for the 2021 campaign.
McCarthy will most likely be choosing his starting number one from current incumbent Micheál Martin (Nemo Rangers), previous number one Mark White (Clonakilty) and Anthony Casey (Kiskeam).
Former Cork senior goalkeeper, and current Cork ladies football head coach, Paddy O’Shea knows all about the pressures that come with playing in the specialised position. He gave The Southern Star his opinion on all three candidates.
Micheál Martin donned the Cork number one jersey during a Covid-19 affected 2020 campaign. The Nemo Rangers man was solid throughout. He also played a pivotal role in helping Nemo qualify for the yet-to-be-played Cork Premier SFC county final, conceding a miserly four goals en route to their yet unscheduled showdown with Castlehaven.
‘Micheál got his chance last season and has the benefit of a full inter-county season, albeit a short one, under his belt,’ O’Shea says.
‘Having worked with Micheál back in 2015, I definitely saw improvements in his game last year. He looks a lot more confident and more assured now. That comes from starting so many games and, as any goalkeeper will tell you, the more you play the more you grow in terms of stature.
‘Micheál is a fantastic shot-stopper but then, to be fair, you could say that about all three of Cork’s possible goalkeepers for 2021. His kick-outs are very good too, in terms of distance.’
O’Shea makes an interesting point about Cork’s tactics when it comes to kickouts. Having watched all of the county’s senior team’s games over the past number of years, the former St Vincent’s and Seandún number one believes Ronan McCarthy might need a rethink heading into this year’s league and championship.
‘One thing I’ve noticed with Cork’s kickouts, and not just last year, is the lack of variety,’ O’Shea said.
‘Ronan and Cork management team clearly favour long kickouts and believe that’s what works best for them. I’ve no issue with that but I would like to see them vary it a bit more this year.
‘It is easy enough to kick the ball out as far as you can and ask your teammates to fight for it. It is when a keeper is asked to be creative with their kicks over 30 and 40 yards that you have to be accurate. Every single time. That’s when the pressure comes on a goalkeeper.’
Mark White decided to opt out of the Cork senior football squad for a year at the end of 2019. White was planning on heading to San Francisco for the summer of 2020 having made the county’s number one jersey his own over the previous two years. The Clonakilty player started in all-bar one of Cork’s All-Ireland championship games during that period.
The former UCC Commerce student’s plans changed irrevocably once a global pandemic struck. White had no choice but to stay at home. His decision not to contest the Cork goalkeeping position during 2020 was based on having already missed so much inter-county training and not reversing his previous decision to take a year out.
Now, White is firmly back in the Cork senior fold and will contest the goalkeeper position.
‘I think Mark White is definitely in with a shout of the Cork goalkeeper’s jersey this year,’ Paddy O’Shea says.
‘Mark is similar to Micheál Martin and possesses an exceptionally long kickout. He is a big man, standing six foot four inches, and competent under the high ball. I have always liked how comfortable Mark is whenever he is in possession.
‘Presence is another factor and Mark is much bigger physically than the last time he played for Cork. It will be interesting to see if Ronan decides to give Mark a shot at it again or just stick with Micheál. Getting in some national league games would be a plus or else Ronan and his team will just go on what they see in A versus B games. That is where the final decision will most likely be made, as it has been in the past, before Cork take the field again.’
A third option is also available. Kiskeam’s Anthony Casey (26) is more than capable of stepping in. Paddy O’Shea is a fan.
‘Anthony Casey is someone I would have a lot of time for and it seems like he has been around for years even though he is still young,’ O’Shea says.
‘He is sticking in there and doing all the work to position himself as Cork’s number one whenever he is called upon. Anthony is another goalkeeper who has a long kickout but as I said before, whoever is Cork’s goalkeeper this coming year will need to vary his deliveries.
‘Nowadays, you need multiple options whenever you play against the top senior inter-county teams and, a lot of the time, that starts with your kickouts.’
So, there appears to be three options open to Ronan McCarthy in the goalkeeping position – what Paddy O’Shea think the Cork manager will do?
‘Right now, I’d say that Micheál and Mark would have a bit more over Anthony just in terms of what they can do when they are on the ball,’ O’Shea says.
‘They have played more inter-county games than Anthony over the last few years which is another bonus. I’d imagine, if there is a national league, that all three would get a chance to show what they can do. Ronan will also be hoping his A versus B games are intense and he can see what the three goalkeepers are like under pressure.
‘Whoever shows up the best during those games will get the nod but right now, it is very difficult to know. It is going to be an incredibly hard call for Ronan and his management team.’