GAA Football

Patton's pursuit of perfection

Donegal goalkeeper Shaun Patton. Picture Margaret McLaughlin.

THE Pursuit of Perfection was a fitting title for Dónal McAnallen’s book about the life of his late brother Cormac.

In trying to achieve the very best in sporting excellence, after every game the young McAnallen gave himself marks out of 10 on the many different aspects of his own performance.

That he marked himself 6/10 for his attacking display in the 2003 All-Ireland final, having curtailed Steven McDonnell for the afternoon, was the very definition of the pursuit of perfection.

There is, of course, no such thing on the football field. Even on the very best of days there’s always a misstep, a pass that was a yard too long, the shot that tails wide or drops off at the last second.

Shaun Patton is 22 years of age but for as long as he plays for Donegal, he might never get closer to achieving perfection than he did in Celtic Park two weeks ago.

Of the 27 kickouts he took, Donegal retained 24 of them. In the modern game, that 90 per cent figure may not even seem that high.

But statistics will only ever tell you so much. The one kickout they lost in the first half, Stephen McMenamin misread the flight and still got hands on it, but wasn’t able to stop it creeping over the sideline.

The second one, his 21st of the day, hit a Donegal shirt but they couldn’t win it clean and lost the break.

The third, two Donegal shirts went up for the same ball, one clambered out over the top of the other and Derry swept up the loose ball.

In terms of finding his target, Patton achieved 100 per cent accuracy. And of the 27 kicks, he was only able to go to his full-back line five times. Derry tried their best to squeeze but all that did was create spaces elsewhere.

On as uncharacteristically still and dry a day as the lush Celtic Park surface might ever afford any goalkeeper, Patton hit those spaces with remarkable consistency.

Donegal scored 1-1 off his first two restarts and he accounted for another 1-4 in the second half, with the dropping bomb right over the top of midfield a weapon he used five times in total.

When he went he went home, just like Cormac McAnallen used to, Patton went for his logbook.

“It’s a thing I’ve always liked, to keep up-to-date on my stats and find areas I can improve on. I’m hungry to improve on every aspect of my game and that’s what I’m trying to do.

“It did take a lot of work to get back to the kickouts, to figure out the game, to figure out the movements. It was something I wasn’t used to but I did a lot of work on it and I’m starting to find my range now thankfully.

“My goal is to get as high a percentage as possible of kickouts kept in games.

“But I mark myself on everything, all different aspects of the game. Goalkeeping’s not just kickouts at the end of the day. It might be one of the most important parts of the game but there are a lot of technical abilities – saving shots, high balls, all this different stuff that it’s taken time to get used to.”

It’s been a rapid adjustment to Gaelic football. He’d only donned the black and amber of St Eunan’s twice in his life as his budding soccer career took him to Sligo via Finn Harps and Derry City.

After sitting on the bench for most of the season at Sligo, he got his chance in the last six games. He kept three clean sheets to help keep them up but 30 minutes from the end of the final game, he was caught by a tackle that left him on crutches.

His contract with Sligo ran out while he was injured and they didn’t offer him a new one, much to his frustration at the time.

It’s a different world. As he stops to chat in Celtic Park, a young Donegal fan comes rushing over.

“Can I have your gloves please?”

“I can’t, I need them for the next game, sorry.”

There were gloves on tap when he played soccer but that’s almost certain to become a reality for him again as he gathers more exposure in the coming weeks.

Declan Bonner convinced him to switch codes and his progression was fairly evident with Peter Boyle, who had been battling for the number one jersey for a few seasons, quit the panel early in the year.

Mark Anthony McGinley had his mitts on the jersey until he suffered a quad injury. Patton got his chance and he took it.

The next thing is clean sheets. And perhaps that’s where his pursuit of perfection got a bit luckier against Derry. Emmett Bradley struck the post, admittedly under great pressure from the goalkeeper.

There were too many goals conceded during the league and one in the preliminary round against Cavan, so the shutout against the Oak Leafers was welcome, and something he hopes to build on again.

”For a ‘keeper to concede goals it’s not nice, you want to keep clean sheets and so far in my journey, I haven’t kept too many of them. That’s one aspect I’m really trying to improve on and hopefully that’s the start of a clean run now.”

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