GAA Football

Pressure is there but it's how you deal with it says Armagh goalkeeper Blaine Hughes

Armagh goalkeeper Blaine Hughes kept three clean sheets in five League games in 2020. Picture Margaret McLaughlin.
Andy Watters

OUTFIELD players can get away with dropping an odd ball, kicking a wide or playing a bad pass but goalkeepers rarely have that luxury.

One bread-and-butter mistake often means thousands of pairs' of eyes are immediately trained on a red-faced number one and the position has become even more demanding over the last decade.

Nowadays a goalkeeper is expected to play like a quarter-back. Kick-outs have become a science, converting long-range frees and 45s are now on the list of preferred criteria and shot-stopping and safe hands under a high ball remain essential criteria.

Blaine Hughes broke into the Armagh team aged 21 and has had to deal with the pressure of being an inter-county goalkeeper in a side that is pushing hard to make a breakthrough at National League and Championship level. The Carrickcruppen clubman has a simple, but effective, method of taking the rough with the smooth.

“There is pressure to a certain extent but it's how you deal with it,” said Hughes.

“If you make a mistake and let that build up throughout a game it's going to have a snowball effect. So I try to block it all out, I just clap my hands and try to snap out of it, forget about it and move on to the next play.

“I wouldn't wait and think: ‘What happened there?' The more you do that, the more it will affect you. So I'd be out, getting the football for the next kick-out straight away and I'd let it (what went before) completely bypass me as if it never happened. You've less time to think about it if you do that.”

Former Tyrone full-forward and Cavan manager Mattie McGleenan observed recently that: “The day of calling a restart ‘a kick-out' has gone, the goalkeeper passes the ball out the field - there are is such thing as kick-outs any more”. Hughes works hard at his craft and, since he is now unable to train with club or county team-mates, he goes alone to the nearby council field to practice ‘passing the ball out the field' regularly.

“I try to get our four or five times-a-week,” he explains.

“I hit maybe 30 or 40 in each session. I don't want to hit many more than that because your concentration goes after that.

“I try to keep good habits and be consistent rather than go out once a week and hit 100 kick-outs, that's not really beneficial so I try to do it regularly.”

Training is what he misses most during this Coronavirus-enforced lockdown. When GAA activities came to a half, Armagh were sitting top of Division Two with two games to go and were looking very well placed to push on to top flight football next year. Whether the outstanding League games will ever be played remains anyone's guess.

“I miss the craic with the team-mates at training,” said Hughes.

“Training with the boys was good, we were having good banter, we were trying to push on for promotion and we had a good culture built up in the squad. It's frustrating because we were all enjoying going to training and now we have to do it individually.

“You might see one of the boys driving past or they could be on a different pitch a couple of miles down the road. At the start we were allowed to go out in small group and I trained with Greg McCabe and Conor Mackin but as things went on we had to go out on our own. Hopefully we'll get back to normality very soon.”

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GAA Football