By Daragh Ó Conchúir
POC FADA expert Faye McCarthy has made a big impact in the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship this year.
As well as developing her stopping and distribution, the Dublin goalkeeper is showcasing astonishing accuracy from long-distance frees, scoring 1-9 in two games against Clare and Galway.
The 20-year-old was fortunate that her promotion to the senior ranks coincided with the recruitment of Kilkenny's five-time All-Ireland-winning hurling goalkeeper David Herity by manager Shane O'Brien.
And when O'Brien stepped down, Herity took over the reins this year, combining the role with that as goalkeeping coach with Dublin's hurlers.
It is an ideal situation for McCarthy and having direct access to such expertise and experience is an opportunity she has no intention of wasting.
"We do a goalie session 30 minutes before training" McCarthy explains. "Anything he says is gold. I'll take it all on board because he knows what he's talking about.
"It's a different kind of fitness for being a goalkeeper and I've been working hard on it this year. It's a huge help to have David and John (Matthews), our fitness trainer, on board for that side of things."
She reckons she was four when she started pucking around with her father and sister and after joining St Jude's, became a goalie pretty quickly.
"I was the only one willing to stand in goals. I don't know if that was laziness or I was just happy to play!" she laughs.
McCarthy admits that she is still developing the unique skill-set required for the position. Bravery is the obvious requirement but intense concentration is just as important. Perhaps the most critical tool is the mental strength to consign mistakes to the past.
"It's a skill just like any other, to be mentally able to deal with goals coming in or players running at you. I'm still working on it to be honest. You just have to try perfecting it all the time."
McCarthy is a product of the development squad system, having begun at U14 level under the tutelage of Pat Martin, the current county chairman. It is a testament to the structures that she has progressed through the ranks to the elite category, alongside contemporaries Megan Lewis and Ellen McGovern.
"It was a bit of a shock coming into Senior from Premier Junior. I had to cop on a little bit and get the head down."
Such self-awareness is noteworthy and it has certainly paid off.
At the same time, her long-distance striking has seen her thrive in Poc Fada competitions and the ciotóg retained her Leinster title at the Beann Éadair GAA club in Howth a fortnight ago. After finishing third in the All-Ireland last year, she is looking forward to maybe improving on that.
"Because I started off in goals, I was working on the puckouts from the very beginning. It's definitely practice, strength and definitely technique."
Dublin have been developing a specific puckout strategy as the year has progressed which demands accuracy rather than length however, mirroring the trend started by Donal Óg Cusack a decade ago and developed in hurling by Brendan Cummins and Anthony Nash, and in football most spectacularly by Stephen Cluxton.
"At the beginning of the year I was just told to drive it as far as I could but now it's changed so that we can pick out players and work out what we can do next. So it is becoming more tactical. There's no point hitting it as far as you can if it's to the other team and it's coming straight back at you."
The distance is most definitely utilised when it comes to free-taking however.
"I started taking them for the club this year. David went to one of our matches and he got me taking them after that. It's only been in the last few matches. I'm happy enough with how it's going - a few jammy goals but you'll take them.
"Being a goalie under that kind of high ball is awful. It can bounce anywhere with the spin and there are bodies in front of you, people shouting. It can be really hard to judge but you have to take it into your own hands."
Cork netminder Aoife Murray struck a goal from a penalty against Wexford last weekend and McCarthy is more than willing to make a similar journey if required.
"I just wait for the call from David!"
The product design student in DIT will be making her first appearance in Walsh Park today. It is a game Dublin need to win to keep alive hopes of making the Quarter-Finals, having beaten Clare but lost to Galway and with a trip to Kilkenny still to come. Waterford will be looking to salvage some pride in their final game having been beaten in their three previous outings.
Interestingly, Dublin will be playing their first game in three weeks while the hosts are in action for the fourth time in 29 days. Judging which side benefits will be an exercise in after-timing.
"It's hard to know. The three weeks off were quite nice in a sense in that we were able to train hard for two weeks and this week, were able to focus on tactics and things like that. It could stand to us but we won't know until the game.
"The win against Clare was a huge boost for us. We were delighted… We have all the preparation done now. We have a certain amount of confidence but we know it is gonna be a tough game and we're gonna have to work hard."