Sunday 8 December 2019

Gleeson Tipp-toeing in the footsteps of legend Cummins

Darren Gleeson has had to be patient but he is proving a worthy successor to Brendan Cummins, writes Colm Keys

After many years on the Tipp bench, Darren Gleeson has finally been rewarded for his patience as well as ability. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
After many years on the Tipp bench, Darren Gleeson has finally been rewarded for his patience as well as ability. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Replacing a legend in any sport is a difficult process.

The trail of destruction in the aftermath of Alex Ferguson's departure from Manchester United perfectly illustrates that.

Closer to home, Kerry football had a few chaotic years after Mick O'Dwyer lifted his anchor in 1989 after 15 seasons at the helm, while Meath football endured much turbulence when Sean Boylan ended 23 years of unbroken service in 2005.

Like stepping into big managerial shoes, filling the boots of a goalkeeping icon can be daunting too.

Brendan Cummins had the best part of 20 seasons as Tipperary goalkeeper, playing 73 Championship games for his county - a sequence that was broken for just six games in 2007.

In those 20 years, incorporating 19 Championship campaigns, he saw off 10 reserve goalkeepers.

Some were dropped, more saw the writing on the ball and drifted away, just as they did in Clare during Davy Fitzgerald's reign and in Wexford, where Damien Fitzhenry was never going to be dislodged.

When the time came last October and Cummins had reconciled that it was over, Darren Gleeson had already been in situ for six seasons.

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Pressure

Brought in by his Portroe clubmate and manager Liam Sheedy in his first year, Gleeson hung in longer than any of his predecessors in the No 16 shirt, applying arguably the greatest pressure on Cummins.

He has had his moments. At the end of extra-time in the gripping League final against Kilkenny in Thurles in May, with the sides level, Gleeson had a chance to relieve pressure on Tipp had he chosen to put length in a free.

Instead he shortened the range, tried to find a colleague and conceded a sideline from which Richie Hogan and TJ Reid were able to conjure a magnificent winning score.

Tipp manager Eamon O'Shea defended his player afterwards, emphasising how placement of the ball from those positions was a principle they were trying to but into where possible. But they weren't buying it in Tipperary.

The League campaign had been difficult and with a combined 13 goals conceded in the defeats against Kilkenny, Clare and Galway. Responsibility for that was collective and Gleeson didn't escape the shrapnel that flew.

The goals have rained in on the Tipp defence in League and Championship. Prior to the All-Ireland quarter-final with Dublin, the count was 26 conceded in 10 games, an average of more than two and a half per game.

But that figure looks better with a clean sheet against Dublin and just one conceded against Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final.

For that there is credit due to Gleeson. He tipped a stinging Conor Lehane shot over for a point and then denied Patrick Horgan with a double save in the dying minutes.

On top of that there was the ultimate compliment from on 'The Sunday Game' from Donal Og Cusack, considered the market leader in the delivery of shorter, pinpoint restarts, who described Gleeson's puck-out display as the best he had ever seen.

Some of his deliveries that day travelled at little more than head height, taking a potentially risky flight path.

But invariably they found their target.

"He pulled off those three great saves the last day as well as the puck-outs," recalled Damien Young, one of the 'gang of 10' reserves who had two spells in Cummins' slipstream in the last decade.

Now Tipperary's video analyst, Young is well placed to see that Gleeson has adapted extremely well.

"He had shipped a lot of criticism, really unfairly in my opinion. If you look at all the goals, I can't picture any one of them that he could have saved or was at fault for," recalled Young.

"They were all hard shots, there were no high ones dropping into the net or through his legs.

"If Brendan was in there I don't know would some of those shots be saved either. They are rockets. These forwards are getting better and better at scoring goals," reflected Young.

"They are coming on to the ball at speed as well and they are getting in closer to the goals to shoot.

"The majority of goals are scored now from inside the 14 - that you gives you less time to see it. It's a big challenge to save."

Gleeson made his Championship debut as a 10-minute blood substitute against Cork in 2009 but it wasn't until this year against Limerick that he was rewarded for his perseverance with a first start, a full debutant at the age of 33.

Young feels Gleeson would have sensed that he was getting closer in recent years and that helped to retain his interest.

For the 2013 League final in Nowlan Park, he was preferred after both goalkeepers had played three matches each in the build up.

Inevitably, Cummins was recalled and played the final two Championship matches of his career.

"It's very difficult to stay in there and keep the same motivation," admitted Young.

"Darren got a run of matches in the League. Brendan was coming towards the end as well. It was in sight. That was probably a help."

Big boots are fitting a little better now.

 

The 10 sub goalkeepers that Cummins saw off

Jody Grace (1995)

Broke a finger in 1995 to give Cummins his break.

Kevin O'Sullivan (1996-97)

Was No 2 for a season and a half before he opted to go to the USA.

Justin Cotterell (1997, 2002-04)

Carved a reputation as a fine goalkeeper with Toomevara.

Fergal Horgan (1998)

The 1996 All-Ireland minor winning goalkeeper and is now a well known referee.

Kevin O'Brien (1999)

A Fitzgibbon Cup winner at Waterford IT with Henry Shefflin.

Damien Young (2000, 2005-06)

Now part of the Tipperary back-room team as the video analyst.

Eoin Kelly (2000)

Sub goalkeeper in the 2000 All-Ireland quarter-final while still a minor.

Darragh Rabbitte (2001)

Got his timing right to win an All-Ireland medal in his only season.

Gerry Kennedy (2007-08)

The only man to displace Cummins as No 1. Started six Championship games in 2007.

Darren Gleeson (2009-2013)

The current goalkeeper had been in Cummins' slipstream since 2008.

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