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‘It’s nice to be the hero for a change’ – Goalkeeper Connor Gleeson gets final word after taking flak in Galway

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Pressure time. Connacht final. Time’s up. Everything on the line. Local pride. Three provincial titles in a row. A curiously slow-burning season. Personal reputation. You name it.

“I was just concentrating on my technique,” explained Connor Gleeson afterwards, his every word punctuated by back slaps and head rubs of passing teammates.

That’s what they always say, isn’t it? It’s always ‘focusing on technique’; ‘same as any other kick’, etc, etc, etc.

Except it’s not. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have hoisted Connor Gleeson into the clear blue sky over Salthill on Sunday evening. He was carried off the pitch like some medieval hero returned from a knightly quest with the spoils of war.

Try and imagine the mindset.

The jeopardy, the stakes, the consequences – they’re all vying for attention in the athlete’s psyche. We assume they are as consumed by the outcome in motion as we are in the stands or at home.

Instead, we’re damned by the reality: the functionality of these moments.

Perform your routine. Pick your spot. Breathe. Execute.

“I said that if I just strike through it and aim for the black spot, I’ll give myself a chance,” Gleeson added. “It was holding on, I only knew just at the end that it was staying on.”

Hands up, now. Full disclosure. Connor Gleeson was not the hero we expected to be interviewing at Pearse Stadium, Salthill, on Sunday evening.

Before that last, sweetly struck free – from all of 50-something metres – it felt as though the more prominent Gleeson was in the match, the more his heroism claims diminished.

There were two errant kick-outs in the first half, high-tariff errors. Then, twice in the second, Mayo backed off Gleeson in possession and marked all the outfield Galway players.

With no easy pass, they lured him into no man’s land and then pounced, swiping possession.

Chief among Mayo’s regrets of the day was only mining 0-2 from those four faux pas.

Galway retained 17 of 24 restarts compared to 14 of 18 for Mayo.

“There probably were a few that were a bit close for comfort,” Gleeson admitted, “and I’d have to put my hand up now for a few. We probably managed that patch OK, considering there was a big press on. We stayed in the game and we got there in the end.”

Galway goalkeeper Connor Gleeson is congratulated by team-mate Paul Conroy after scoring the winning point. Photo: Dáire Brennan/Sportsfile

There was another layer to the story, of which we were only made aware afterwards.

The previous Sunday, Connor’s grandmother, Rita Gleeson, passed away in Tuam. Pádraic Joyce instructed him to take some time off. Gleeson arrived at training that same night.

“It’s nice, for my family especially,” Gleeson smiled, “they’ll take all the plaudits. I probably won’t even look at it too much, but they’ll be delighted – for a change.”

Clearly, Gleeson is aware of his critics.

Galway manager Joyce noted on Sunday that his number has been “ridiculed and laughed at here in Galway over the last couple of years”.

Until recently, of all the top-level counties, Galway might be observed to be the one with the least stability in a position that has attained a fresh layer of importance.

Once on the books of Galway United, Gleeson saved a penalty from Conor McManus in Joyce’s first game in charge in January 2020 but has vied with Bernard Power and Conor Flaherty for the number one jersey at various stages since.

​Unhelpfully, both he and Joyce have also had to listen to the well-aired theory that the best goalkeeper in Galway is currently playing for Roscommon.

Conor Carroll, who still plays his club football with Galway’s Oranmore-Maree, was part of the county’s underage teams from under-14 to under-20.

He was the substitute goalkeeper in 2018 when the Galway minors reached the All-Ireland final and was also on the bench a year later as the Galway under-20s won Connacht, with Joyce in charge.

“It’s nice to be the hero for a change, but I’d take that Connacht medal, that’s all I wanted,” Gleeson insisted.

“We’d lost … I don’t know many finals against Mayo at this stage. So we wanted to put that one right.

“The way the game went now, for a neutral watching, I’d say it was very exciting.

“We were up and down the pitch a lot and I don’t know if overall I had the best of games, but they’ll only remember the last kick hopefully…”

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