Saturday 18 November 2017

Masterson recovering from sucker-punch

THE nightmare scenario from the Leinster football final has unfolded in the mind of Wexford goalkeeper Anthony Masterson many times over the last fortnight.

His internal video screen flickers with the images; a high ball by Dublin's Mossie Quinn dropping towards the Wexford goal. Decision time. Bernard Brogan is arriving on the scene with menacing intent.

Catch or punch? 'Punch' is the verdict. Only one problem -- defender Graeme Molloy is racing back towards his own goal.

Masterson's attempt at a clearance bizarrely results in the ball bouncing off Molloy and into the Wexford net.

Goal for Dublin. Relief for the Blues. Two points down, now one point up. And like sharks, scenting blood in the water, move in for the kill.

For Wexford, it's a shot in the heart. They concede another goal shortly afterwards and ultimately miss out on winning their first Leinster football championship in 66 years by 2-12 to 1-12.

A goal between them. 'That' goal. No wonder Masterson shed tears on the pitch after the match. More were shed later, not only by the goalkeeper.

Jason Ryan's team had come so close to breaking the mould of football in the hurling-dominated Model County. And they really believed their time had come.

Instead, they had to pick over the bones of a shattering defeat and vow to regroup.

The aftermath has not been easy, particularly for Masterson, but the healing of the mental wounds is well under way as he and Wexford prepare for the Round 4 qualifier against Limerick.

"I was a bit embarrassed about the reaction (the tears) afterwards, but sure it was just the way it happened on the day. It was just that we had built ourselves up for the big occasion.

"It meant so much to us to win a Leinster title and we really honestly believed that we were going to win this one. It didn't matter who was in our way, we believed in our own ability.


"Compared to 2008, the belief was massive this year and it was such a disappointing result at the end of the day, especially because of the way the match was going, and the goal turned it and gave Dublin a lifeline.

"They took it with both hands and I was just very disappointed after the match. It meant a lot to me and I felt sorry for myself for a few days," he said.

Ironically, but understandably, the worst part was the sympathy shown to the 'keeper after the match and during the following week by the supporters.

"I'd rather have people come up to me and call me a clown or an eejit or say 'what were you doing?'

"I've had a lot of well-wishers and people telling me to get the head up and pick myself up. That has helped, no point in saying it hasn't.

"There's been great support, but I'd still rather be getting the pats on the back for having won a Leinster title than having lost one," said Masterson.

Within the camp, there was no blame. Ryan and his players support each other when mistakes have been made and in a healthy way, the forgiveness from the team has now turned to typical dressing room banter.

For example, his goalkeeping gloves have the words 'punch' and 'control' branded into them as part of the design. Masterson has worn the gloves six times. Prior to the Dubs game, he had never conceded a goal wearing them -- and he never noticed the words 'punch' and 'control' on the gloves.

"One of the lads spotted it in training last week and, of course, he told everyone in the dressing room. That's the funny part, I never noticed it before then, but that's team sport. Slagging helps you to get over it," he said.

A goalkeeper's mistake, particularly in a big game, makes people forget very quickly how many times he has been the hero, but that was no consolation either to Masterson.

He has seen top goalkeepers in GAA and other codes make blunders and winced in sympathy. There was a certain sense of 'when' and not 'if' something like that could happen to him.

"Not because you want it to happen, but it's just every player makes mistakes or kicks the ball wrong, or whatever.

"Unfortunately for me, it happened on the biggest stage of all at a time when I was having such a good year.

"I hadn't conceded a goal and everything was going so well and I was actually playing fairly decent in the match.

"It's just one of those things. If we tried to do it again, if someone gave me a million pounds and got me, Bernard Brogan, and Graeme Molloy together and got Mossie Quinn to kick in the ball once more, I probably wouldn't be able to punch it off Graeme," he said.

That was then, this is now, and just as well for Masterson and Wexford they have a chance at redemption against Limerick at Portlaoise tomorrow night.

James McCartan's Down team are also in qualifier action, and their 2010 campaign offers an incentive for Wexford, as Masterson revealed.

He said: "No one was taking any notice of Down at this time last year.

"Wicklow had beaten them in 2009, and we beat them fairly handy in 2008 and yet they ended up only a kick of a ball away from winning an All-Ireland title last year.

"If they can do it, why can't we?

"And we've been blessed that we've had the two weeks off. I think it's a crazy situation that Derry have to turn around and play this Saturday against Kildare after losing a provincial final last Sunday.

"I can, hand on heart, say that if we had played Limerick last Saturday, I couldn't have seen us winning.

"Our heads were down, we were devastated as you would be after losing a provincial title. You give it so much, that's the way the mind works and the body works.

"But we've really been flying in training since Sunday and all this week, so it's brilliant that we got that little bit of advantage and you have to take every bit of luck that you can.

"If we can get past Limerick, we've a massive chance to get back into the race for Sam," said Masterson.

Irish Independent

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