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‘You have to park the mistakes and look ahead to the good days’ – Kilkenny’s Aoife Norris

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Kilkenny goalkeeper Aoife Norris in action during last year's All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship semi-final against Cork at Croke Park. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Kilkenny goalkeeper Aoife Norris in action during last year's All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship semi-final against Cork at Croke Park. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Kilkenny goalkeeper Aoife Norris in action during last year's All-Ireland Senior Camogie Championship semi-final against Cork at Croke Park. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Sandford Park, a small private school in the well-heeled Dublin suburb of Ranelagh that only first accepted girls nine years ago is not, as a legendary commentator might say, a camogie stronghold.

Hockey, rugby and cricket are its sports of choice, but in PE and maths teacher Aoife Norris they’ve got one cracking hurler.

Keeping goal may not have been her first positional choice but, at 23, her trademark speed off the line and fearless coursing of anything approaching her domain has already made her one of the best in the game.

“I’d love to say I always wanted to be one (goalkeeper) but, under-age, you always wanted the freedom of being out the field and scoring, so it’s definitely something I grew into,” she admits.

She credits the late Tom Holden, her under-age club coach in Piltown, for making her stick it out between the posts – and his faith was well founded.

She was heroic once again in Kilkenny’s All-Ireland semi-final, making four outstanding saves against Galway (including a late first-half penalty) and seems to have ice in her veins.

Wasn’t she worried facing her opposite number Sarah Healy after 28 minutes?

“Nah, the pressure is all on the forward in penalties, I look forward to the challenge,” she grins.

“If you’re standing up facing Denise Gaule on a weekly basis, there’s not really anyone else that’s going to put the same fear in you.”

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With distribution now just as important as shot-stopping in an increasingly tactical game, puck-out strategies have become a central plank of every small-ball team.

She is constantly working to increase her striking accuracy, and having a former county goalkeeper in the backroom team helps.

“I’ve done a lot of development work with PJ Ryan, he’s a big help and all you want to do is keep learning. Everyone has something to add.

“It (the emphasis on puck-outs) has come really with the overall revolution in the game. The Limerick hurlers probably set the tone with their use of the ball, that ‘primary possession’.

“Gone is the day when you’d just hit it up the field and your job is done. It’s all about composure. That’s something that we’ve really worked on since last year, to find the right player and use the ball well.

“The first 15 minutes of every training we work on our own game and it (accuracy) comes with practice, practice, practice; long puck-outs, short puck-outs, being able to vary them.

“Seeing them comes with communication and I trust every one of the girls out there. They make the move and I have to spot it and hit it. Sometimes you don’t see it but the backs will tell me where the pocket is. We all work as a team.”

A raft of retirements and injuries meant Kilkenny only retained half of last year’s starting defenders, but you certainly wouldn’t know it – and their Dublin crew have accelerated that bond.

Norris shared accommodation with centre-back Claire Phelan and corner-back Michelle Teehan while studying in DCU. She still lives with the latter on Dublin’s southside and Laura Murphy and Grace Walsh are also based in the capital.

Three teachers and a nurse, they all share the journey up and down to county training, once or twice a week during term time – and shortening the journey is not the only benefit.

Norris’s first senior call-up came in 2019, she became first-choice ’keeper in 2020 and seems to love big days, winning player of the match in last year’s league final.

But, in sport’s most precarious role, she’s not immune to the odd blooper.

“There’s always tough days and matches as a goalkeeper. I just came to the realisation that you have to park the mistakes and just look ahead to the good days. No player in Ireland has a flawless game every day, there’s mistakes made in every corner of the pitch.

“Accepting that it’s part of the game probably took me a while to learn. It comes with experience and maturity – and I have to credit Brian (Dowling, manager), too.

“He’s really put that message out to us, ‘don’t be afraid to make mistakes, everyone does it, it’s how you deal with it that will make you’.

“There’s games when you’re dropping balls or they’re flying past you and you’re sick of picking them out of the net, but it’s how you react to the next one that matters. If you dwell on it, there’ll be four more passing you.”



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