Monday 25 September 2017

Bailieborough and the Cavan goalkeeping connection

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

There was a time when Ballymun Kickhams operated like a conveyor belt for Dublin full-backs.

Gerry Hargan made his mark in the 1980s, winning an All-Ireland medal in '83 and continuing as Dublin's No 3 until the 1992 All-Ireland final defeat to Donegal.

Dermot Deasy surfaced not long after Hargan emerged, but had to be patient before getting his chance of regular game time in the twilight of his career, featuring in the 1994 All-Ireland final defeat to Down and up to the 1995 All-Ireland semi-final against Cork.

In subsequent years Ian Robertson stepped in for brief championship action in the position, before Paddy Christie's emergence for a much more sustained spell that stretched into the last decade.

Cavan goalkeepers have developed much the same unique link with a particular club in recent times.

Ulster titles have been few and far between for Cavan football since the 1960s, but for the last five a Baileborough Shamrocks man has been goalkeeper. Paul O'Dowd was the regular custodian during Martin McHugh's three years in charge from 1995 to 1997, culminating in their last Ulster senior title.

The trickle of Ulster titles has become a steady flow in recent seasons with a three-in-a-row at U-21 level allied to a minor title in the province in 2011.

Alan O'Mara's worth to Cavan was underlined by his magnificent save in the 67th minute of last weekend's qualifier win over London from Damien Dunleavy and from the rebound Cavan were able to engineer a goal from Niall McDermott at the other end.

O'Mara (right) was goalkeeper on the 2011 Ulster U-21 final team. In the same year his brother Billy fulfilled the same role for the minor team as they beat Armagh.

A year later Conor Gilsenan had taken over as U-21 goalkeeper and was there for the last two seasons, culminating in the All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Cork last April. Gilsenan was first choice for the opening four games of the champion-ship, but when he turned awkwardly on his ankle and was ruled out of last week's win over Derry, O'Mara, an employee of Croke Park's communications department, stepped in.

"You wouldn't often see a goalkeeper being replaced by a club colleague for a match like that," acknowledged O'Dowd, who quit inter-county football at an early age, not long after the '97 triumph.

This Bailieborough tradition of producing goalkeepers for Cavan teams goes back a long way. Brendan Kelly was the goalkeeper on the first Ulster team to win a Railway Cup medal in 1942 and featured in the 1945 All-Ireland final defeat to Cork.

Further back the Mitchells, James and Joe, were renowned custodians from the town.

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