'It was something that had to be said': Cork U21 goalie on standing up to online trolls
Published 04/05/2016 | 18:26
Everything that is brilliant about sport was on display last Saturday evening as Cork and Mayo clashed in a rip-roaring, barn-burning, end-to-end encounter in the All-Ireland U21 football final.
There were high-octane attacks, multiple lead changes and a massive effort put forward by both sets of young players.
Unfortunately, the game's aftermath was marred by a common trend that follows most sporting events today.
While a lot of the focus was on the victorious Mayo side who netted five goals in their 5-7 to 1-13 win, Cork goalkeeper Anthony Casey was subjected to a barrage of nasty online messages after two second half errors that both resulted in the green flag being raised.
"Cork keeper can't kick the ball or save it. One of the worst individual performances I've ever seen," is just one of the lovely heart-warming pick-me-ups Casey would have had waiting for him when he logged onto Twitter after the game.
But before he had even become aware of the online reaction, Casey had to comprehend just how the most important day of his football life had gone so badly wrong.
"I can only really remember going into the dressing room," Casey says to Independent.ie about what happened after the final whistle.
"I wanted to be alone as soon as the game ended, away from all the cheering Mayo fans. As I walked to the dressing room my manager came up and put his arms around me and tried to console me and I just apologised. I couldn't believe what had happened.
"I showered on my own and when the lads came into the dressing room I had already changed. I tried to apologise to them but I couldn't pull myself together. It was a really sh***y feeling, I wouldn't wish it on anyone."
The feeling of letting down your team-mates is one we probably all know from playing sport, but few of us experience it so publicly and with so much at stake. One of Casey's mistakes from a kick-out was identical to Paul Durcan's errant restart in the 2014 All-Ireland final, this time with Mayo forward Conor Loftus in the role of Kieran Donaghy as the ball found the net in a key second half moment.
Donegal's Durcan was widely blamed for that loss and Casey experienced a similar feeling when he finally switched on his phone after Saturday evening's final.
"I turned on my phone and I had loads of Twitter notifications," he says.
"I saw one that said I should have been in the Mayo team photo and another saying I must have gotten good odds on Cork to lose the game. Another said I couldn't save the ball or kick it out and it was the worst individual performance he had ever seen, and that was from a Cork fella.
"It is heartbreaking, you don't go out to lose a game. I was nice and relaxed before the game, I had no idea it would be one of the worst games of my career."
Casey was thankful that rather than blame him, his Cork team-mates rallied around him but unbelievably, he also shipped criticism in person following the match when spending time with his county colleagues.
"One or two people have come up when I've been with the lads saying that I should have been taken off and that I had a bad game and then I would just laugh, and they'd say, 'oh, are you the goalie?'"
Keepers are a special breed and a host of past and present inter-county shot-stoppers expressed their support for Casey online. The 20-year-old reveals that Mayo number one Robbie Hennelly - who experienced a similarly tough time after the 2013 All-Ireland final against Dublin - has been in regular contact since last Saturday.
"I have so much admiration for Robbie Hennelly. He has been messaging me since the game with great advice that is helping me get over it," Casey says, before revealing one particular piece of wisdom given to him by the All-Ireland finalist:
"One piece of advice I got about mistakes that I wish I was given years ago was to forgive and remember. Forgive the mistake, they will always happen, and you remember it in your preparation so you can learn from it. Get strength from it because if you can get through this then everything from here on will be easy for you!"
This isn't the first time the issue of social media abuse of GAA players has reared its ugly head, and there doesn't appear to be a line that supporters aren't willing to cross when it comes to expressing their anger at a poor performance. Casey says flatly that he thinks people abusing amateur players is a disgrace.
"It's not fair at all," he says.
"I'm only 20 and it's an amateur sport. We all have jobs. We all have girlfriends or partners or wives or children. Nasty comments can impact them too. It takes guts to go out and play for your county and then you get slaughtered by people sitting behind a phone or a keyboard. There are football players in the Premier League on millions that don't get the abuse that we get."
The reaction to Casey does seem to have flipped since the game ended. Initially, the majority of comments online were critical but after the goalkeeper tweeted out a passionate defence both of himself and amateur players in general, he was met with almost universal applause. Casey admits to putting a lot of thought into his first public comment after the final.
"I was thinking about the message for ages to be honest with you," he says.
"It was something that had to be said. We have lives and it is just not right to get that sort of abuse."
Casey will probably never get over his performance in the U21 decider but he was given a chance to park it temporarily just two days later in the first round of the Cork senior championship as his CIT side were due to play Newcestown.
The keeper didn't know what to expect when he walked into the dressing room but got his football career back on track with a clean sheet display in a two-point win for CIT.
"I didn't know how I was going to walk into that dressing room," Casey says.
"I was very afraid walking in. If I didn't show up I would have been called a coward and if I had played badly the criticism would have kept coming. Thankfully I kept a clean sheet and made a save or two and we got the win."