Tuesday 18 June 2019

One-on-one penalties to test nerves - O'Keeffe

Stephen O’Keeffe believes the new penalty rules will be a test of nerve for all involved
Stephen O’Keeffe believes the new penalty rules will be a test of nerve for all involved
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Anthony Nash may have triggered the process that has led to such a seismic change in the way a hurling penalty is taken.

But it was his Waterford goalkeeping counterpart Stephen O'Keeffe who hastened that change with one daring dash last summer that forced immediate clarity and then a fundamental overhaul of the nature of penalty-taking that only came into force at inter-county level for the recent league semi-final in Nowlan Park,

O'Keeffe's dash and subsequent block on Nash as he wound up to take one of his trademark penalties during their Munster quarter-final replay in Thurles prompted a Central Council clarification on where a penalty must be struck from.

The enforcement of the 20-metre line led to a reduction in the conversion rate of penalties for the rest of the summer and ultimately paved the way for the one-on-one penalties now in place.

O'Keeffe has yet to face a penalty in a competitive game and, despite his innovation and bravery in dealing with the 'old' penalty, he is unsure about how to deal with what is coming down the tracks the next time.

It will be a case, he says, of who holds their nerve best. "I don't have a strategy. I'm hoping there's not going to be one! I might do a Bruce Grobbelaar on the goal or something like that!"

"We practise two or three at the end of training," he revealed. "You can't get hung up on them too much either. Things are different on match day. It will all come down on the day to who can hold their cool best."

O'Keeffe has been a consistent presence with Waterford in recent seasons but has shared the duties with Ian O'Reagan in this year's league. Their progress to the league final has been the story of the hurling season so far and O'Keeffe has enjoyed not having to pick the ball out of his own net as much this season.

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Hit for four goals by Kilkenny and five by Clare in league games last March, they had only conceded one from general play (against Offaly) before the recent league semi-final win over Tipperary.


"It's a huge difference from last year. We played a few games, we conceded one or two and maybe we seemed to lose belief quite easily. The scoreline at the end could be very unflattering to us.

"This year, we have set out our stall fairly well. There's a lot of communication going on. It's a lot more efficient and everyone knows their role a lot better.

"We put in a good bit of work in pre-season and put in a very good performance against Limerick. We were winning for nearly 65 minutes. If we were to lose it at the end there would have been question marks. To claw our way back in that game was character-building."

O'Keeffe insists that character manifested when they needed it the last day after conceding two early goals.

"When we went down against Tipperary, we seemed to have the composure to say that it's a long game and we have done the best work we can for this game.

"We ate into that lead slowly but surely, got a bit of momentum and Colin Dunford's goal turned the game on its head. But that Limerick result gave us a lot of belief that we can come back against big teams when it matters."

O'Keeffe admits he had no chance against John O'Dwyer and had never faced a piece of skill like it from the Killenaule man.

"I don't think I have ever seen that before. He has incredibly fast wrists. I remember seeing it on the replay and I think the whole thing happened in less than a second. You don't even get a chance to set yourself. You live and learn."

Confidence has soared in Waterford on the back of that win, the Ballygunner man admits. "If you are winning games, everything becomes a lot easier and there's a lot more flow to it. People don't mind making the trips to training. If there's extra runs involved, people don't mind doing the extra runs. It just creates a more positive atmosphere."


Curran calls time

Tipperary defender Paul Curran has announced his retirement from inter-county hurling.

Curran was left off Eamon O'Shea's squad earlier this week and has formally signed off after 15 years.

He confirmed his departure in a statement issued by Tipperary GAA last night.

Curran was Tipperary's full-back when they claimed the All-Ireland title in 2010.

Irish Independent

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