Cluxton, Beggan, O’Rourke, Morgan – these guys are number one in more ways than one
Goalkeepers used to be the worst footballer in the team but now they’re among the best
Dublin’s Stephen Cluxton: has helped transform the goalkeeper’s traditional role into something much more fundamental to how the team operates. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
Here’s a story, true as God. I was talking to John O’Dwyer the other day, Micko’s son. He started telling me about how his brother Haulie (Micheál) had been involved with the Waterville under-14s for a while there but that it hadn’t been going too well. They lost one game by 24 points in fact and so one night he asked Micko would he come in and take the boys for a training session.
Micko said he would alright – but sure one session was never going to satisfy that man. Even at 78 years of age, he’s an addict. He took them over lock, stock and barrel. The South Kerry championship was a kind of a round-robin thing and so eventually they came up against the crowd that had beaten them by 24 points again. This time they beat them by 13. And of course they ended up winning the thing out.
John was telling me all this and the pair of us were laughing away at what it is that makes the man such a genius. He’s 65 years older than these lads but he can still find a way to make a connection with them, to give them self-belief, to make them play for each other and win. It’s nearly depressing for the rest of us.
And Micko’s mad for it still. John asked him one of the nights how training was going he said. “Do you know now, I decided to give them the weekend off. They were a small bit overcooked by me,” he replied.
Overcooked! An under-14 team! This is how deep into it he is. What a hero.
Different gameI was thinking of him over the weekend watching all the goalkeepers do their thing. Rory Beggan for Monaghan, Stephen Cluxton for Dublin, Niall Morgan for Tyrone, Paddy O’Rourke for Meath – these lads are playing a different game to the one Micko presided over.
Put it this way, you never saw Charlie Nelligan jogging up to take a free. Charlie actually played outfield for Castleisland for a while but he had to go back into goal eventually because he was too dirty. You couldn’t leave him out the pitch because he’d get into a temper and harm the team.
I remember playing a club game against him one time and we had a cousin of Dara Ó Cinnéide’s playing for us, Cathal Ó Duabhda. We were the same age and, in 1993, I would have said Cathal was the best minor in the county bar none. But Charlie didn’t pick him for the Kerry minors that year for whatever reason.
Anyway, in this club game against Castleisland, a row broke out at one stage and everybody got in amongst it. Cathal saw this as his chance for retribution and went in and gave Charlie a kick in the arse. Bad idea. Charlie turned around with murder in his eyes and Cathal took off. He chased him around the field for a good 10 minutes. The row was long over and Charlie was still out for blood. It was comical stuff.
Charlie was stone mad. A great goalkeeper but a pure agitator. Páidí would always have said that Charlie got him in more trouble than he ever got himself into. Any rows there were in the Kerry full-back line, you can take it Charlie had a hand in stirring them up. He’d be forever mouthing at the full-forward on the other team, telling him he was useless or he was a stone overweight or worse. He’d nearly rev them up into a better performance.