by Declan Rooney
Six years in the red shirt have been fruitful for Cork goalkeeper Martina O’Brien, but similar to the men’s game, she thinks the role of the goalkeeper has changed immeasurably on her watch.
Tomorrow (SUN) afternoon we’ll see perhaps the two finest exponents of the modern day ’keeper in action as O’Brien and Dublin’s Ciara Trant stand under the respective crossbars in the 2018 TG4 All-Ireland Senior Final, and facing two razor-sharp forward lines, neither stopper is in for a quiet afternoon.
“I’d love for the Dublin forwards not to touch the ball, but that’s not going to happen though, you just have to look at the six up front, it’s ridiculous,” said O’Brien.
“They have All-Stars all over the place, they’re just awesome. They’re all just playing so well this year. They’re household names now, they’re the face of Ladies Football so we’re definitely up against it. As champions, they’re definitely the team to beat.”
Trant’s compatriot Stephen Cluxton is regarded as the player to have brought about the most change to goalkeeping in the last decade, and O’Brien thinks those tweaks have taken hold in the ladies’ game now too. Gone are the training sessions dominated by shot-stopping drills, and now most of her focus is on kick-out strategies and defensive organisation.
“The goalkeeping position has definitely changed. This is my sixth year of playing senior football and since I’ve come into the panel, it’s even changed every year since so I suppose the goalkeeper has a bigger role now.
“What’s key are kick-outs and just general organisation of your backs. If you can’t do that as a goalkeeper, you may as well throw in your lot. If you can’t kick the ball out really well you may as well not be in goals.
“As I always say, if you have someone who can kick the ball and catch it, they can go in goals. Shot-stopping really is obviously important but definitely the kick-outs are a big thing nowadays and just generally being able to understand the formation of your backs and being able to make sure everything is working properly there.
“It has changed, goalkeepers are actually becoming a bigger part because they used to be forgotten parts of Ladies football. I suppose personally, myself and the sub-goalie would just practice kicking accurately and that would be a big part of our training. Sounds like we’re lazy but we’re not.”
Ever since her inter-county debut against Clare back in 2013, it had been all smiles and glory for O’Brien as a Final win over Monaghan was backed up by three more All-Irelands in a row over Dublin. But all that stopped dead last summer when Mayo stunned the Rebelettes at the semi-final stage.
Despite being in the capital on Finals, day O’Brien didn’t go to Croke Park, and she says that absence has made her more determined this time round.
“It was hard I suppose, being in the finals previously since I was on the panel, I was always lucky enough to play with a team who were in All-Ireland final so last year I suppose was tough to take.
“I wasn’t at last year’s final. I was actually in Dublin for college but not at the match. I followed it on Twitter alright, it was hard to I’ll admit, but you know what, looking back it feels like forever now but it has stood to us this year more than anything.
“I know Dublin can probably say that for any final that they haven’t been in too. But it’s hard to watch because you’re probably good enough to be there.
“But look, we’ve taken a lot from that loss last year and we’re just so happy to be back in the final again.
“I suppose when you think of the start of the year, you’re always looking forward to September and you hope that you’ll be there. Now that we’re here it’s very exciting. Hopefully, on Sunday we’ll peak and we’ll all have a fantastic game.”