Friday 23 February 2018

The man who changed the face of goalkeeping

Inspired by Gordon Banks, Galway legend Johnny Geraghty revolutionised playing between the sticks

Johnny Geraghty pictured at his home in Galway this week, 50 years since Galway won the first of their three-in-a-row. Photo: Andrew Downes
Johnny Geraghty pictured at his home in Galway this week, 50 years since Galway won the first of their three-in-a-row. Photo: Andrew Downes
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

21 June 2014: Sligo v Galway,

Markievicz Park.

21 June 1964: Galway 2-12 Sligo 1-12, Markievicz Park.

Given the occasion that's in it, the 50th anniversary of the launch of one football's greatest success stories, older Galway supporters may spend some time in the lead-up to this evening's Connacht semi-final reminiscing about Midsummer's Day 1964 and the profound impact it had on the county.

A Galway team, which had narrowly lost the previous year's All-Ireland final to Dublin, trailed a Mickey Kearins-inspired Sligo by nine points at half-time before a recovery steered them to a three-point win. It was three years and seven days before Galway lost another championship game.

In the interim, they became the first team since Kerry in 1941 to win the three-in-a-row, a feat that has eluded all but Kerry (twice) since 1966. Galway's run featured some remarkable statistics, not least that they conceded only one goal in three All-Ireland semi-finals and finals. They were equally miserly in the league, beaten for only one goal in five finals (three 'home' against Kerry, Longford and Dublin, plus the two-legged final against New York in 1965).

A two-goal giveaway in 11 finals was a truly extraordinary achievement but there was a lot more to that Galway team than a miserly defence. It was also a hugely expansive attacking side, completing a mix which proved too much in the championship for Kerry, Meath, Mayo, Sligo (twice each), Down, Cork and Roscommon in 1964-65-66.

"We felt we could play through whatever was put in front of us. We had total faith in ourselves."


The speaker is Johnny Geraghty, the goalkeeper who conceded so few goals over three magical years. Generally regarded as one of the best No 1s in GAA history, he revolutionised the art with his athleticism and flexibility. He attracted interest from three English soccer clubs but while it was flattering for a young man from Kilkerrin to have his talents recognised outside Gaelic football, he was never going to leave Galway and a teaching career.

To add to the coincidence of Galway returning to Sligo 50 years on from the launch date of the three-in-a-row success, Geraghty celebrates his 72nd birthday today. Now enjoying his retirement, he lives on the edge of Athenry golf club (the back of his house looks on to the 17th green) and as well as playing a few times a week, he is also junior convenor. Naturally, he keeps a close eye on the GAA scene and indeed on most other sports, with the exception of cricket and horse racing, which do nothing for him.

His All-Ireland medals have been made into a bracelet for his wife, Helen, while a selection of Galway and Connacht jerseys hang neatly in a wardrobe, special memories woven through each one. An All-Ireland winner with St Jarlath's College, Tuam and Galway minors in 1960, he was promoted to the Galway senior team for a tournament game against Meath in November 1963, only to have his debut delayed when the game was called off because of the assassination of John F Kennedy.

It was no more than a temporary blip and, in early 1964, he stepped aboard a Galway train that was about to leave for an exciting adventure.

He brought a brand new approach to goalkeeping, introducing soccer-style diving saves. That wouldn't have been possible in earlier times as, up to the early 1960s, goalkeepers were subject to the same rule as outfield players when it came to touching the ball on the ground. Free from that restriction, Geraghty deployed his agility to great effect.

Nicknamed 'The Cat,' his diving saves, high leaps to punch the ball away over the heads of backs and forwards (there was much more traffic in front of goal back then) and general nimbleness marked him apart.

"Times were changing and they called for a different style of goalkeeping. I remember the great Aidan Brady from Roscommon taking the ball and ploughing out through forwards and backs before kicking a long clearance. He was a powerful man but at 5'7", and 10st 12lbs, I couldn't do that, so I had to use whatever athleticism (he could reach an eight-foot ceiling with his head off a leap from a standing position) I had."

He was fascinated by how soccer goalkeepers used their flexibility to such great effect and while he saw very little action on TV, he improvised by studying pictures in magazines. Gordon Banks was his hero, a fascination that never left him. Indeed, one of his prized possessions is an autographed glove, worn by Banks which his son bought on eBay as a 65th birthday present.

If Geraghty brought an advanced style to the goalkeeping art in Gaelic football, his outfield colleagues were setting new standards too. They had hinted at their immense potential when beating Kerry in the 1963 All-Ireland semi-final, before losing to a more experienced Dublin team in the final.

Once Galway survived the Sligo game in 1964, they settled into a powerful routine, beating Mayo, Meath and Kerry. Meath were livid after the narrow All-Ireland semi-final defeat, having had a goal by Jack Quinn disallowed by 23-year-old Kerry referee Séamus Garvey at a crucial stage in the second half.

They were so incensed that when they reached the Grounds Tournament (All-Ireland semi-final pairings were reversed) final against Galway two months later, they refused to play when Garvey was appointed referee. Galway beat Kerry by five points in the '64 All-Ireland final and inflicted further hardship on the Kingdom in the 1965 league final (home) and All-Ireland final.

Geraghty said: "We just had a thing over Kerry at the time. We always felt we could beat them. They played nice football, which suited us. Several of us had come through winning college and minor teams so we didn't think about losing. Mind you, I remember we were going into Croke Park at the same time as the Kerry team for the 1964 All-Irelands and looking across at men like Mick O'Connell, Mick O'Dwyer and Johnny Culloty – players I would have in my scrap books – and thinking 'will we be able for these fellas at all?'"

More All-Ireland glory followed in 1965 (Kerry again) and 1966 (Meath). Galway also won the 1965 league title, lost the 'home' final to Longford in 1966, beat Dublin in the 1967 'home' final, before losing the final proper over two legs to New York in Gaelic Park.

The championship run ended abruptly a few weeks later when Galway were hammered by Mayo in Pearse Stadium. It was another 31 years before Galway's next All-Ireland win.

The disintegration of the three-in-a-row team set in after the defeat by Mayo, helped over the next few years, it must be said, by the somewhat bizarre idea that their time was up, even when many of them were still in their late-20s.

Still, that Galway team had left an indelible mark on football. With most of them so dominant in their positions, there were very few changes on the starting team over the three seasons. Mattie McDonagh, who had won an All-Ireland medal in 1956 as a 19-year-old, was very much the father figure, while 18-year-old midfielder Jimmy Duggan, parachuted in at midfield in 1966, became the new star.

McDonagh, who later managed Galway, died at the age of 68 in 2005, a year after Enda Colleran, captain in 1964-65, had also died, aged 61. A colleague of Geraghty from their days in St Jarlath's, Colleran was an outstanding corner-back, winning a place on both the GAA's Team of the Century and Millennium.

Geraghty recalls how Oliver Shanley, the former Meath footballer who was on the team that lost to Galway in the 1966 All-Ireland final, phoned him when he heard of Enda's death. Shanley was Geraghty's litigation tutor when he studied law after leaving teaching.

"I asked him his memories of Enda as a player and I'll never forget the answer. He quoted from St Patrick's Breastplate: 'Christ behind me; Christ before me; Christ beside me.' That was Enda – wherever you turned, he was there. I thought it was a lovely tribute. It was also true, mind you," said Geraghty.

If Colleran and Bosco McDermott were the vigilant corner-backs, Noel Tierney was the giant No 3 who guarded the Galway square in front of Geraghty.

"Apart from being a brilliant fielder, Noel was also a great man to block down a kick. He would get those giant arms around an opponent and smother the kick. Blocking down was a great skill then. Even forwards were good at it. In fact, Séamus Leydon was brilliant. At that time, not blocking a kick was seen as a lack of manhood, a sign that you were a funk," said Geraghty.

Geraghty's teaching career took him through the Vocational School in Edenderry (future Offaly stars Eugene Mulligan, Seamus Darby, Jody Gunning and former Kildare All Star goalkeeper Ollie Crinnigan were among his pupils), Colaiste Seosaimh, Glenamaddy (where he taught me Irish and Latin for three years) and Colaiste Iognaid in Galway, having taken a year out to study PE in Strawberry Hill in London in 1970-71.

He was forced out of teaching in 1993, having suffered from arthritis in both hips, which necessitated replacements. He can't be sure if his style of goalkeeping contributed to the problem but it's a distinct possibility, especially since the medical back-up for players in that era was a long way short of what's available now.

"In retrospect, it was absolutely primitive and dangerous, bordering on negligent, really. There was no duty of care or anything like that. You just soldiered on – 'sure you'll be grand.' That was the way back then," he said.


After being forced out of teaching in his early 50s, he studied law, qualifying in 1999 and working four days a week ("I took Wednesdays off to play golf") until two years ago.

He had two stints in team management after his playing days ended, leading Galway to an All-Ireland minor title in 1976 and later coaching Connacht. He was also approached to take over as Galway senior manager but his demand for total control over all team issues saw interest in him run aground. He also refereed for a period and even had ambitions of advancing to All-Ireland level.

However, the initial stages of arthritis intervened and the plan to become the first Galwayman since Patsy Geraghty (no relation) in 1957 to referee an All-Ireland final had to be shelved. He had one difficult game as a referee, running foul of Dublin supporters after sending off Anton O'Toole in a league game against Kerry in Croke Park in 1978.

"Sending off a Dub in Croke Park didn't go down well," he said.

Geraghty finds it hard to believe that it's half a century since the launch of Galway's greatest-ever era.

"The only thing that reminds me it's so long ago is when my birthday is coming up," he said. "I can't believe I'm 72 or that I played in an All-Ireland final when I was 22."

A '60s icon – Geraghty's views on sport then and now

On saying no to Manchester Utd...

"We played Dublin in Wembley in 1964 and, on the short pitch, I had a very busy day. It went well and later on some agent representing Manchester United called the hotel to see if I was interested in having a chat about trying my hand at soccer. I wasn't.

"For a start, I thought I was too small (5ft 7ins) to be a soccer goalkeeper and anyway I had just started teaching. There were enquiries from Leicester and Fulham too.

"Fulham fascinated me. I was a huge fan of their goalkeeper, Tony Macedo, plus my great heroes, Johnny Haynes and Bobby Robson."

On learning the goalkeeping trade...

"I always played in goal in national school. I remember one year in a schools' competition at Kilkerrin, where we only had 10 jerseys for an 11-a-side game. I played in goal in my jumper.

"I had no football boots so I played in sandals and kicked the ball out off my hand. I lived on a small farm and was out kicking ball with my brothers (his older brother Eddie was later on the Galway three-in-a-row panel) every chance we got.

"We even brought the ball to the bog when the turf was being cut. On a wet day, we'd play in the hay shed. I learned a lot of goalkeeping skills diving in the hay."

On coaching for goalkeepers in the 1960s...

"The most I ever learned was from Fr Brendan Kavanagh in St Jarlath's. He taught me how to move off the left and right foot – that sort of thing. There was no coaching for goalkeepers at county level.

"I had a great interest in soccer and how their goalkeepers went about their business but I saw very little of it. I studied pictures in soccer magazines, figuring out how goalkeepers got themselves up and across to save shots high in the corner."

On Galway training...

"We'd only start in May, two nights a week at the start, three later on. It was rough and ready. We only had a few footballs – there certainly wasn't a bag of them. We'd kick in and out for a while, then play a game.

"It was always a conditions game. You wouldn't be allowed to solo the ball, you had to kick with your weaker foot, that sort of thing. We'd play for an hour and then face the sprints. As a goalkeeper, I should be down in goal working away but, no, I had to do the sprints too."

On post-training catering...

"We'd tog out in one dressing-room in Tuam Stadium so the second one was the dining-room.

"A pint of milk (it wouldn't always be cold either because there was no fridge) to cool down, followed by tea and sandwiches.

"Then, a grab for the Kimberley biscuits and hope some big hands hadn't got in ahead of you. You'd have a decent meal when you got home."

On his best save for Galway...

"Funnily enough, I don't remember being all that busy a lot of the time. There were days when I would have liked to have had more to do. I'd say my best game was against Cork in the 1966 All-Ireland semi-final.

"I made one save from Niall Fitzgerald which I was very proud of because the game was so tight that if he had scored, Cork might have won."

On football in 1964 v 2014...

"You can't compare them. If we had all the advantages the modern-day players enjoy, in terms of facilities, preparation and all that goes with it and they had to make do with what we had in the 60s, then you could compare but otherwise it's impossible.

"The standard of high catching certainly isn't as good as it was in my day; foot passing isn't as good either.

"The Galway players I played with were brilliant kick-passers over good distances, but then we worked hard on it. Nowadays, players are able to solo the ball at 80 miles an hour which is a skill right enough, plus of course they are very athletic.

"I don't enjoy seeing players hunting all over the pitch and flinging the ball around to each other. That's why I like to see blanket defence sometimes because it makes the opposition shoot.

"It's very hard to defend against good kickers in any era. It's all about possession now, which is fine, but you'll find teams with loads of possession who still don't win because they lack other skills.

"I'm enjoying hurling more and more. It has improved immensely over the years – the skill, the touch, the point scoring. It's interesting that the high percentage area (where scores come from) is increasing in hurling but is decreasing it football.

"Whatever the sport, every generation has its own way of doing things but the worry I would have now is the amount of time players have to put in. It's increasing all the time – I don't think that's sustainable in the long term."

On Galway's decline over the last five years...

"It baffles me. We have had very good U-21 teams, beating what were supposed to be better opposition so why isn't it transferring to senior level? It's the same in hurling. We have had great underage teams, the seniors came close to winning the All-Ireland two years ago and yet were lucky to beat Laois this year.

"As for the football, it's a puzzle why the seniors aren't doing better. The 1998 All-Ireland win came out of the blue but when I see club football in the county, I wonder will it ever happen again.

"Maybe we haven't moved with the times tactically. What has happened over the last few years is sad for Galway, who would always have regarded itself as being among the hierarchy.

"That's not the case now as we saw last year when we nearly went out of the championship against Waterford . Still, we'd always live in hope that a winning team could emerge quickly as happened in 1998."

On Mayo's on-going torture in pursuit of an All-Ireland...

"I'd love to see Mayo win an All-Ireland. They have no interest in winning four-in-a-row in Connacht unless they win the All-Ireland too. Why haven't they won?

"It's hard to know. When I saw them intimidating Galway last year, I thought, 'this lot have really hardened up – it could be their year'.

"But, in the All-Ireland final, they didn't have enough scoring forwards to make it count when they were on top elsewhere. What do they need? Two Ciaran McDonalds."

On his likes in the modern game...

"I love watching Kerry and Cork. There's a still a natural touch about them.

"Mayo too – on a good day. I admire Dublin's professionalism. They are very much an athletic team, maybe not the most skillful, but that's more than compensated for by their athleticism.

"They have some very skilful players, Diarmuid Connolly, for example. Very few other forwards would have scored the goal he got against Laois a few weeks ago. The Gooch maybe, but not many others."

"Bernard Brogan has real skill too but Dublin's main strength comes from the power of their overall athleticism."


Galway three in a row: How it was won

1964: Arkle, Ali and Galway launch golden eras

Galway 2-12 Sligo 1-12, Markievicz Park

Galway 2-12 Mayo 1-5, Tuam Stadium (Connacht final)

Galway 1-8 Meath 0-9, Croke Park

Galway 0-15 Kerry 0-10, Croke Park (All-Ireland final).

The All-Ireland treble seemed a long way off when Galway trailed a Mickey Kearins-inspired Sligo by 1-9 to 0-3 at half-time in the Connacht semi-final.

However, second-half goals by Mattie McDonagh and Sean Cleary steadied Galway, who edged home by three points. Mayo were well beaten in the Connacht semi-final before Galway moved up a gear to wear down a very good Meath team in the All-Ireland semi-final. They were more dominant in the final, beating Kerry on a day Cyril Dunne scored 0-9 to take his total for the championship to 0-28.

All-Ireland final team – Johnny Geraghty; Enda Colleran, Noel Tierney, Bosco McDermott; John Donnellan (capt), Seán Meade, Martin Newell; Mick Garrett, Mick Reynolds; Cyril Dunne, Mattie McDonagh, Séamus Leydon; Christy Tyrrell, Seán Cleary, John Keenan. Subs: Michael Coen, Kieran O'Connor, Frank McLoughlin, Pat Donnellan, Brian Geraghty, Tommy Keenan, Tom Sands.

Elsewhere in sport in 1964: Arkle won the first of three straight Cheltenham Gold Cups; Cassius Clay, later to become Muhammed Ali, dethroned Sonny Liston as world heavyweight champion; Mike Gibson (21) made his international rugby debut in Ireland's 18-5 win over England at Twickenham; Shamrock Rovers won the first of six successive FAI Cups.

1965: Galway's first double

Galway 1-12 Sligo 2-6, Tuam Stadium (Connacht final)

Galway 0-10 Down 0-7, Croke Park

Galway 0-12 Kerry 0-9, Croke Park (All-Ireland final).

Galway were granted a bye into the Connacht final when the two-leg National League final against New York in Gaelic Park was played over two Sundays in late June/early July.

As in 1964, Sligo rocked Galway in the first half, leading by two goals after 28 minutes before being out-scored by 1-10 to 0-2 from there on. Down led Galway at various stages in the semi-final before being squeezed out. The final followed similar lines to 1964, only this time Galway's winning margin was three points. Galway also won the National League title.

The only change on the All-Ireland final team from 1964 featured Pat Donnellan replacing Mick Reynolds at midfield. Enda Colleran had taken over from John Donnellan as captain. Jimmy Glynn and Greg Higgins were added to the subs.

Elsewhere in sport in 1965: Tipperary retained the All-Ireland hurling title; Roy Emerson (Australia) retained the Wimbledon tennis title; Gary Player (South Africa) became the third player to win all four golf Majors when taking the US Open.

1966: Joining the elite three-in-a-row club

Galway 1-12 Roscommon 0-5

Galway 0-12 Mayo 1-8, Castlebar (Connacht final)

Galway 1-11 Cork 1-9, Croke Park

Galway 1-10 Meath 0-7, Croke Park (All-Ireland final)

Mayo came very close to beating Galway in the Connacht final but lost out to a late Liam Sammon point. Cork's resistance in the All-Ireland semi-final came up two points short.

However, Galway gave probably their best performance of the three-in-a-row run, winning by six points after leading by 1-6 to 0-1 at half-time.

Galway lost the league 'home' final to Longford by 0-9 to 0-8. Changes from 1965 on the All-Ireland final team, again captained by Enda Colleran, saw Coilín McDonagh, 18 year-old Jimmy Duggan and Liam Sammon replace John Donnellan, Mick Garrett and Christy Tyrrell.

Elsewhere in sport: Cork won the All-Ireland hurling title; England won the World Cup in Wembley; Arkle clinched the Gold Cup treble; Ali made five successful world title defences between March and November.

Irish Independent

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