Chilled Nash stays cool under pressure
By John Harrington
Mention to Anthony Nash that he’s the oldest player on the Cork hurling team and he thanks you for reminding him with a throw of his eyes to the heavens.
There’s one obvious benefit when you join the veteran’s club though - the experience you’ve clocked up along the way tends to be a significant asset.
Ask Nash to compare himself to the man who established himself as Cork’s first choice goalkeeper in 2012, and he admits his approach to the game is now more balanced than it was back then.
“I suppose I'd be a little bit calmer more than anything,” said Nash today at the launch of Littlewoods Ireland’s #StyleOfPlay campaign for the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship.
“I probably would have gotten a little bit too excited a few years ago and would have been thinking about the game every second of the day. 'What happens if this happens? What happens if that happens?'
“I try to just live my life now, get on with work and stuff like that and just try to make sure that everything is prepared. Obviously you can't not have it in your head, but I try to stay calmer now if I can and be a bit more relaxed towards it.
“Make sure everything is done right at training and outside it and make sure I'm comfortable for the day itself. I'm just a bit more chilled out and relaxed, and that's where experience comes in a little bit.
“Jesus Christ, things could go pear-shaped now and I'll end up looking like a mad-man on Sunday!”
He might be a bit more Zen now than he was at the start of his inter-county career, but there will still be butterflies in his stomach before Sunday’s Munster SHC clash against Clare.
That sort of excited anticipation can be used as a positive energy, but what you don’t want are the more jagged nerves that lead to self-doubt.
Nash finds the best approach to keeping them at bay is by reassuring yourself with the knowledge you’ve prepared yourself for the test ahead as well as you possibly could have.
“You get yourself in a position where you realise that any ball you face is one you've dealt with in training or even when you were a young fella 100 times before,” he said.
“You don't ever see a new ball or a new shot. You've faced them all loads of times. It's just about staying positive.
“I don't have any set exercise, but I make sure that in training my repetitions of first-touch, shot-stopping, striking, and handling are good so that I'm leaving training in a happy place in my hurling, and then the mind follows.
“So, it's just about being confident in your repetitions more than anything. It's like a golfer who starts with a pitch wedge and works their way up. Some golfers speak about playing the first hole in the driving range.
“I try to do what I think might happen in a game. Short puck-outs, long puckouts, shot-stopping, first touch. And that for me benefits my mental side of things.”
The position of goalkeeper in hurling has evolved significantly over the course of the last 10 years. Previously, their role could be broken down into two main responsibilities – stopping shots, and pucking the ball down the field as far as possible.
Now, they have far more responsibility. It’s not good enough to simply drive the ball long distances from puck-outs, the delivery must give your outfield colleagues a better than 50-50 chance of winning possession.
Spending the match on your goal-line isn’t good enough either. A goalkeeper must now be confident enough to sweep behind his full-back line and make himself available for lateral and reverse passes.
“I think the game is evolving as a whole,” said Nash. “Every position is doing something different.
When I first started hurling at minor for Cork I'd drop my hurley, get my puck-out hurley from the back of the net, get my sliotar off the umpire and then boom the ball as far as I could.
“Now you can't do that because other teams are so well set up. You have to change because the game is evolving, not just the goalkeeping position.
“Now you've goalkeepers taking frees, taking different puck-outs, sweeping behind defences, so many things you can do. Compared to when I first started and you were in goal, you took the puck-out, and you got ready for the next shot.
“It is definitely evolving. How far goalkeepers will take it in the next few years, I don't know. But if you're restarting the game thirty-something times you have to try to be a bit influential anyway.”
Retaining possession off restarts is now a crucial battle-ground in a sport that is becoming more tactically aware all the time, so the role of a goalkeeper is more important now than ever before.
With greater responsibility comes greater pressure, but Nash has been around long enough now to know how to deal with it.
“Win or lose I try to stay away from papers, social-media, things like that. Because I don't want to get too high if I play well or too low," he said.
“The old Irish saying about a kick in the arse and a pat on the back. I try to just zone out because I know there are Cork supporters giving out about me than say Clare supporters the next day.
“Because if I hit a short puck-out and it goes wrong, then I'm getting the blame for it. But I'm willing to do it if it feel it benefits my team-mates.
"That's the mental strength you have to have and I'm very lucky my team-mates say to me that if I make a mistake (it's okay).
“I'd say the same to them. A younger Anthony might have given them a rollicking, but I realise that they're doing their best.
“We have a good old bond. We don't roar each other out of it. We just say, 'look, next ball, go again.'”
The next ball comes on Sunday against Clare. Nash will be ready for it.