Callanan laying safe foundations
Three years after being dropped, Galway netminder has made his position secure
Published 18/08/2015 | 02:30
The last person Colm Callanan might have expected on the other end of the line when his phone rang late on the Friday night before the 2012 All-Ireland hurling final replay was the Galway manager Anthony Cunningham.
Callanan had been one of 11 players released from the squad in advance of the 2012 season, an abrupt cull that had sent shockwaves coursing through the county within days of Cunningham's appointment to the position.
Was Callanan was paying the price for the concession of four goals in a league match against Tipperary in Salthill the previous April when, ironically, Shane Bourke rifled in a hat-trick as the visitors ran up 4-23 to Galway's 1-14?
James Skehill was the heir apparent and did nothing during that 2012 season to suggest he was under any pressure. But an awkward dive in their final run-out changed things, the impact with the ground dislocating his shoulder and prompting that emergency call to Callanan.
As it transpired, Skehill was passed fit to play but came off at half-time and was replaced by his then understudy Fergal Flannery. Callanan wasn't required.
Almost three years on Callanan's heroics in Sunday's win over Tipperary ensured a return to an All-Ireland final. Without his agility, bravery and presence of mind, the post-match narrative would surely be focusing more on how Galway tried so little so late to close to the door on a rampant Seamie Callanan.
What's more Galway can at last feel some stability in a position that has historically troubled them.
Think of the custodians there have been in other counties in the recent past, particularly that celebrated quartet - Damien Fitzhenry, Dónal óg Cusack, Davy Fitzgerald and Brendan Cummins, arguably the undisputed king of them all.
Cork have also had Anthony Nash and Ger Cunningham, Kilkenny have had James McGarry, Michael Walsh and the much decorated Noel Skehan, Clare's Seamus Durack, Tipp's Pat McLoughney and Ken Hogan.
Galway can't identify much with that stellar list.
In the 45-year history of the All-Star scheme only John Commins has made the hurling team, twice in 1988 and '89.
Even Limerick, Offaly and Dublin and supplied goalkeepers to that position in the intervening period.
Look back at the decade between 1995 and 2004 when the championship jersey was shared between Richie Burke, Morgan Darcy, Pat Costello, Damien Howe, Michael Crimmins and Liam Donoghue.
Five more goalkeepers were deployed in the league. Across the same period Cummins, Fitzhenry and Fitzgerald were rarely budged in their respective counties.
Galway underage teams were populated with goalkeepers who would make names for themselves outfield later in their careers - Eugene Cloonan, Kevin Broderick, Mark and Alan Kerins.
Donoghue offered stability between 2003 and 2006, playing in all 13 championship matches. But by 2007 Ger Loughnane had elevated Callanan to his squad on the back of his performances with his club Kinvara.
Callanan and Skehill have dovetailed in the position since then, Skehill taking over in '08 on the back of Galway's 2007 All-Ireland U-21 success.
Callanan took over again in 2009 and in 2010 made what Wexford's Diarmuid Lyng described as the greatest save he had ever seen to deny Rory Jacob in a Leinster Championship match.
But that 2011 Tipp league match cost him as Skehill took over for the five subsequent championship games before that winter cull.
As he sees it now answering the call in 2012 was no big deal.
"A county manager calls you in an hour of need, what are you going to do only try and see if you can help. I didn't have anything to do on the day really."
He was retained for the following year, mixing the duties with Fergal Flannery during the league as Skehill recovered from shoulder surgery.
But after the 2013 Leinster final defeat to Dublin he was restored and his 'second coming' has moved on at quite a pace, especially this year.
His save from Dublin's in the first half of the drawn Dublin game was critical while his penalty stop from Paul Ryan towards the end of the replay also highlighted his shot-stopping ability.
Callanan's mental resolve is something Cunningham and his goalkeeping coach Christy O'Connor have referenced as one of his primary strengths.
Thus, even as he was picking the ball out of his net three times from Callanan on Sunday, he was still able to keep his focus to deny Callanan from a penalty and Corbett from a rasping shot with a tremendous reflex stop, on top of trio of saves in the one passage of play from Patrick 'Bonner' Maher and Shane Bourke.
"I'm not sure where the first one hit me and after that you are just scrambling around trying to get in front of a shot here and there," he recalled.
He enjoys a good relationship with Skehill who dropped himself off the squad last year but returned prior to this year's championship.
"Myself and James have swapped over down the years. I'm there since 2007, he's had a go at it and I've had a run at it. That's the way it goes. I'm there at the minute but it's nothing without him pushing me, that's the way we need to be."
Galway have made progressive improvements since a dismal league campaign ended with a quarter-final defeat to Waterford in March.
They have built up sufficient aggression levels to take on Kilkenny, they've been able to get Cathal Mannion and Jason Flynn in the right positions for long-range scores, they have David Burke back in his best position and have found the perfect role for Johnny Glynn.
But the comfort of having such an assured presence as the last line of defence is one difference that they have really grown to appreciate.