20 minutes into this year’s Kildare Intermediate Football Championship final, and a moment that might have swung the game – and Two Mile House’s season – in one of two ways.
John Goff, the veteran of the team and a fine performer in goals for his club down through the years, went down with injury. There was no goalkeeper on the bench – at least none that were recognised as the second choice for the men in yellow. The game was finely poised at that point as Niall Browne’s side were leading by just two points against a Monasterevan side growing in confidence. The manager turned to his bench and went for a reluctant hero in Didier Cordonnier.
He came into the fray for his first championship appearance for the club, saved a penalty before the end of the half, and then pulled off a number of fine saves to help his side claim the title and reach the senior ranks for the first time ever.
The 18-year-old was initially a second choice goalkeeper but had been in with the Kildare U20s and not gotten any reasonable game time.
“Didier wasn’t playing in goals for the U20s and he wasn’t playing in goals for us a huge amount either – he had a couple of knocks,” Browne told the Kildare Post in the build-up to this weekend’s final.
“His confidence was low and he came back from the U20s and I said ‘do you want to play in goals’ and he said ‘no, I don’t really want to play in goals’. I said ‘look, go and play out field. We have a very good experienced goalkeeper in John Goff’, who got us to that final to be honest, and we would have got relegated from the league only that John had a couple of great games as well.
“Didier was down as an outfield player that day in the county final and Johnny got injured and Didier was the only goalkeeper we had so he went in. Maybe he hadn’t time to think about it, but he had a great game and maybe fell in love with the position again.”
Cordonnier will guard the goals against Shamrocks this weekend in what will be another step up for the teenager, but he has taken everything in his stride so far. Aside from the bizarre incident which led to his sending off against Shandonagh in the Leinster quarter-final, it has been relatively serene waters for Cordonnier in his four games standing as the last line of defence.
He is already proving to be one of the best exponents of the restart in the county at club level, with a left boot ‘like a mule’ providing huge distance and consistent accuracy in each game. His presence under high balls belies his rather slender frame for a goalkeeper, and his shot-stopping has saved the blushes of his defence on a number of occasions.
The influence of goalkeeping coach Colin McCabe is one of the reasons behind his good form according to Browne, who recruited the Cavan native following a chance phonecall. McCabe is just 21 and has played with Scottish soccer giants Celtic and currently plays with Bohemians in the League of Ireland, so his knowledge of the professional game – even if it is another code – is a big addition to the setup.
“Colin was passed over to me from Kevin Downes [a Cavan native also who is part of the backroom team],” explained Browne.
“Colin is 21 and he rang me looking for a bit of career advice one day, and I said would you be interested in doing a bit of goalkeeping coaching because we had done some with Kevin Downes.
“Colin had gone through a professional system and he’s a sub ‘keeper at the moment with Bohemians, and he comes down one night a week and works with the goalkeepers – even two nights sometimes. He has revolutionised the boys – they would be very quick to tell you that. The two of them would be competing with each other and training with Colin, and he’s got a level of IQ in goalkeeping that none of us would have and he has brought them on a tonne.
“He’s a fresh perspective on it as well, and they are really enjoying it. You can see it in the way that Didier is playing, and he’s always had a boot on him like a mule so he’s starting to maybe use that a little bit better now.”
It has been an ideal combination that has worked a treat so far, and Cordonnier will be looking to keep his unbeaten run in between the posts going into the new year as the Leinster final comes into view.
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