herald

Thursday 29 September 2016

cliodhna was goalie with golden gloves

Dublin's Top Cat was considered the best goalkeeper of them all

WISE men say, and many women too, that she was the best 'keeper the game has seen.

She raised the bar, and she showed golden gloves under it.

For years, ladies football goalkeepers struggled under the high ball. The big dipper.

So often, you'd see a lofted delivery creep in under the slates.

But not with Dublin's number one.

She commanded the porch door like no other. She brought such authority and stature to the position.

CLOUDS

If a ball came out of the clouds in or around the goal-mouth, it was destined for one pair of hands … and one pair of hands only.

Cliodhna O'Connor won two All-Star awards. It should have been a lot more.

She played in five All-Ireland senior finals. She got to wear the blue jacket in 2010 when, ironically, she hardly had a save to make.

People insist that Stephen Cluxton changed the goalkeeping landscape like nobody before.

In Ladies football, the same accolade applies to Cliodhna.

Her Dublin managers included John O'Leary and Gerry McGill, both goalkeepers.

They didn't have to worry about the back door.

An assured goalkeeper brings so much to a team. It reinforces the belief.

A top 'keeper can win you many matches. Especially on those days when there's hardly a wafer between the sides.

Like all the best custodians, Cliodhna did her work quietly. There was no fuss.

She wasn't looking for the picture save, the spectacular diving image that would adorn the back page.

She focused on getting her positioning right. Cutting out the draughts. Making sure the feet were ready to quick step. Always on the toes to advance smartly if a forward had burst through the hedge.

And the distribution was neat and tidy. If there was a colleague nearby in plenty of pace, that player could be sure that the ball would be coming through her letter box.

Courage always has to be part of a goalkeeper's parcel. And Cliodhna had it in abundance.

Temperament is also a priority for the last woman standing. And again, in Cliodhna's case, it was ten out of ten. She brought a relaxed presence to the job, reflecting her personality away from the action.

She has a good sense of humour. She knew that football, and life, can be brightened by a few pinches of laughter.

A little slice of banter. She read the game superbly. It made her a fine pundit.

Her considered views were much sought after. She always obliged with the few quotes.

If Ladies football had a Sunday Game, she'd be the studio star.

THRILLED

She understood the media. She had an interest in it. And she was thrilled to see the sport, and indeed goalkeeping standards, rise.

Cliodhna played no small part in that. Out at Naomh Mearnóg, she'll always have a place on the Wall of Fame.

Last week, the messages began to pour in wishing her well on her retirement. Cliodhna was touched by the gestures.

She gave over 13 years to the county jersey. That's more than a generous innings. She made great saves, and great friends, along the way. And she left the field the way she decorated it… under the bar, and under the radar.

The hands of the master potter saying a gentle goodbye.

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