THE UNDERSTUDY FOR so long, Anthony Nash’s rise to become one of Cork’s leading men came into sharp focus two weekends ago.
Few men strike the ball with the same venom as Richie Power. “He showed against Waterford the day before that he has an unmerciful smack of a ball,” Nash says, reliving the penalty which threatened to drag the All-Ireland quarter-final back in Kilkenny’s favour.
A goal would have cut Cork’s five-point lead to a meagre two. Instead Nash’s instinctive double-save, first from Power and then from Tommy Walsh on the rebound, snuffed out the foreboding feeling which generally looms when this Kilkenny team fall behind; Cork drove on and ousted the champions.
His save was a moment worthy of any end-of-summer highlight reel, the work of a master at the height of his craft, but Nash has travelled a long and often lonely road to get this far.
“Oh God, I was shoved back in there,” he laughs when asked how he first started out in goal.
“I used to be playing upfield for my club [Kanturk] and used to be doing OK up in the forward line. Then unfortunately the team two years ahead of me needed a goalkeeper, and they said ‘maybe this fella has good enough skills,’ so they threw me back into goals. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to escape from there since.”
Nash’s brilliant double-save against Kilkenny (GIF credit: Balls.ie)
Though he earned his stripes as one of the top young goalkeepers in the county, Nash always found one or two better than him. At minor it was Martin Coleman who inevitably got the nod for the number one jersey. When he stepped up to senior level, Donal Óg Cusack was practically immovable.
All the while he worked quietly in the background with Cork’s legendary stopper Ger Cunningham; he credits the current county selector as “a good friend of mine and a great coach and a great person to have around me.”
And so after quietly serving his apprenticeship on the bench for so long, Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin will only be Nash’s second game in Croke Park. The other — last year’s semi against Galway — ended in defeat but by and large Nash made the most of his first full Championship summer, an opportunity thrust on him when Cusack ruptured his Achilles’, and earned an All-Star for his performances.
“The warmup was nerve-wracking,” he says, looking back on his last trip to Headquarters.
Darren McCarthy the other goalkeeper we have was hitting low bouncing shots just to get used to the surface and of the 12 he hit, eight of them ended up in the back of the net because the surface is so fast.
I hope that’ll stand to me but look, it doesn’t matter where you play, you’re going to try and play well.
Cork’s dream of another Championship double died last Saturday night but Dublin’s is very much alive. Playing in Croke Park inevitably presents its own pressures but with the capital’s fans still enjoying their fairytale summer, Nash and his team-mates will have to deal with the added impact of a vocal Hill 16.
No matter how hard you’re concentrating, that ascerbic wit always seems to roll off the terraces. Does he thrive on this sort of pressure?
“What are you trying to say?” he laughs. “Yes, I’ll have to echo those sentiments, goalies are crazy. The lads say the same. Ask any of them and they think I’m crazy. Little habits and routines and stuff, I’d be very finicky when it comes to a lot of things.
Aidan Walsh wrote in an article that he doesn’t answer the phone to me half the time because he makes my hurleys and I’m so fussy. I’ve got small habits and things that people would consider crazy — I won’t divulge them to the national press.
He adds: “If you’re not nervous then you don’t feel that you want to win something as much. It shows there’s something you want. I’m nervous before every game.
“I was nervous against Kilkenny but the ball is going so fast in hurling you haven’t time to think about your nerves. The whistle blows at the start and the finish and next thing what happened in between is nearly a blur, and I nearly have more time than anyone else on the field to think about it, standing inside in goals looking up. You’re constantly switched on.
But why do you want to play hurling? You want to play hurling to be playing in late August or September because that means you’ve been successful so, full stadiums, empty stadiums, it’s all the same. You’re going to relish the opportunity to play in Croke Park but we’ll see what happens.
Nash’s family connections add an extra bit of interest to the outcome of this year’s other semi-final. He grew up idolising uncles Declan and Mike Nash who won provincial titles with Limerick and for him at least, it would be especially significant if the two Munster finalists renewed their acquaintance in the final.
But after waiting for so long for this chance Nash knows he can’t be distracted by the thoughts of lifting Liam in September.
“It’s what dreams are made of, simple as that, but there’s no point in getting carried away.
“The thought of an All-Ireland medal is far away from my mind at the moment because we’re two massive performances away and one massive performance against Dublin. We’re in the same position that we were in last year and we lost to Galway.
“If we don’t beat Dublin the medal is as far away as if you lost in the first round, so I’ll worry about Dublin first and hopefully we’ll put ourselves in a position to challenge for a medal.”
Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash was speaking at the announcement that tickets are now on sale for the Aer Lingus and Etihad Airways International Hurling Festival. Sixteen teams from across the world will participate at the event in Galway from September 18th – 21st this year. Adult tickets, priced at €5, are available from tickets.ie while Under 18’s go free and all proceeds go to the Galway Hospice. Visit hurlingfestival.com for more information.