The last line of defence and the first line of attack

GAA: All Ireland u20 Football Championship Final

On the line: Paddy O'Malley is gunning for his second All Ireland victory in Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile

On the line: Paddy O'Malley is gunning for his second All Ireland victory in Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile

The role of goalkeeper in Gaelic football has changed dramatically over the past few years - where once a good shot stopper and a guy who could launch the ball 50 yards down the field were the prerequisite skills for the position, now the position has changed into something much different - with footballing ability, precision passing as important a the ability to read the tactical plan of the opposition vital to the role.

Paddy O'Malley is the latest in a long line of top quality Mayo goalkeepers to come through the ranks and he has been busy preparing for what Kildare will throw up in front of him on Sunday in Croke Park. "I have watched the Lenister final and All Ireland semi-final back and got a feel for them. Just to see where the height is, do their full forward line press up are they quick, do they intercept balls - in 2016 we would have played their minor team we'd have an idea of some of their players, but we have all matured since as players, physically and mentally."

Monaghan's Rory Beggan has been getting plenty of plaudits this year for his performances for the Farney county and he is one of the modern keepers that O'Malley really admires. "He is different gravy, just watching him the last day he makes everything look so easy, just three or four steps and strokes the ball to 60 or 65 yards with ease. I don't think I've seen him use a kicking tee outside of a bad league day - he ranks up there with the best. I would admire a few it would change between Niall Morgan, Rory Beggan and David Clarke who I had the pleasure of working along side earlier this year."

O'Malley got the chance to work with Clarke when he was brought into the Mayo senior set-up during the FBD League to get a taste of life at the top level, somewhere he wants to get back to. "I couldn't believe it (when he got the call up ), in November. I jumped off the seat when Clarkie got the All Star and then just fist passing the ball to him, learning the basics from him, how early you rise - to be in shape to train and perform at the top level - it was a pleasure and an honour. It's another step up, I have never been professional, but it can not be far off that level."

Restarts have become such a vital part of the game and become the focus of much post-game analysis - while he does practice them it is very difficult to replicate that actual in game feeling for them according to O'Malley. "It's hard to replicate kick-out strategies that would be in the game itself, you can never compare a training match to a competitive match no matter how hard you try. It is all about focusing on what is in front of you during the game - it's about making sure that short, long it is whatever is on. The lads help me out in front of me and their movement makes it much easier for me."

While there have been changes in the way position is played some things remain the same such as keeping calm under pressure as in the closing stages of Mayo's All Ireland semi-final against Derry.

"It was daunting enough alright, I turned around to the umpire and asked how long was left and was expecting him to say 15 miunutes or 16 and he said, five plus injury and then I said to myself we are in with a chance here. I think we went there up and they won a mark from the kick-out in the middle of the park and opened up in the middle of the field in from and though maybe extra time could be on the cards here, but thankfully the boys did their jobs in front of me.

"There was so much momentum and adrenaline rushing through you just have to concentrate on what your job is and the process and get your footwork right and focus on the man who has the ball in hand."

Being the last line of defence can see a goalkeeper go from hero to zero in a matter of seconds, but you just have to wipe away the dissapoinment and move on to the next play said the Westport native. "You can't focus on mistakes, if you dwell on them you'll make more. You have to brush it aside, if a goal goes in you have to start again, slow down the kickout let everyone settle to make sure you can win the next one and go on.

O'Malley has already tasted All Ireland success in Croke Park with Westport who claimed the All Ireland intermediate club championship in February 2017 - a day that he will always remember fondly. He has a picture of that day in his room that he uses to inspire him to get back there again and show he's been there and done that already . "It was to remind me I'd love another day out there as I didn't think it would be coming up so quick again to be honest - but I'll take it."

Looking back on that game and his memory of the aftermath it is all a bit hazy in the emotion of it all he told the Mayo Advertiser: "It was a blur really, just to take it all in your family, friends and especially with the club - these are the guys you've grown up with and played with an incredible feeling and one that I would love to feel again" and for getting the chance to feel that all again on Sunday it would be extra special he says: "It would mean the world, the Westport lads that I played with all way through to West Mayo and then Tedd Webb and minor the four or five of us have been there all the way through, the rest of the lads we were playing against each other at u14 and since then we have been playing together and you grow and gel into a team and club rivialries are thrown out the window when it comes to green and red."


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