IN HIS PURSUIT of goalkeeping excellence Galway’s James Skehill has never been afraid to seek inspiration from those outside his native borders.
Skehill studied at third-level in Limerick IT where he fell under the guidance of Davy Fitzgerald. It was under the stewardship of the former Clare goalkeeping star that he won a Fitzgibbon Cup medal in 2007
And even after his third-level days, the Banner influence has remained strong. Fitzgerald’s understudy from those Clare All-Ireland winning teams of the 90′s was Christy O’Connor, the renowned GAA writer, who has been coaching Skehill and Limerick netminder Nicky Quaid this summer.
Coupled with the influence of John Commins, the Gort player who won two All-Ireland’s between the posts for Galway in the 80′s, and has been drafted in as a goalkeeping coach by Galway boss Anthony Cunningham this year, Skehill feels he is primed for next Sunday’s All-Ireland decider.
Limerick IT manager Davy Fitzgerald. Pic: INPHO/James Crombie
“Davy was in some high pressure games in his career and was a goalkeeper for the big occasion,” says Skehill. “That rubbed off on me. At the time I was only young, going into a Fitzgibbon final against really good players, he helped me how to deal with that. This would have been our first year as well getting specific goalkeeping training. Every session if I can improve 2-3%, then I’m better going home. It’s small things like technique and footwork. John and Christy have been great in that regard, and it’s done wonders for my confidence.”
Skehill has had a stalled progression to the number one spot in Galway. He was called into the county senior panel fresh out of the minor ranks in 2006 yet injuries hampered his progress.
I dislocated my shoulder playing against Dublin in a challenge match on an Astro-Turf pitch in 2009. That put me out of action for three to four months. After coming back I broke my finger. Even this year I suffered another dislocated shoulder (the other one) which has made things very stop-start.
“There is surgery required, but it won’t be until I finish the career. There would be too much healing time and I’d be an impatient man! You do feel pain in cold weather but I’ve worked with the physios in our set-up who have designed weight sessions and exercises for me to ensure the injury doesn’t happen again and to try and prolong my health.”
Being in peak physical condition is important for Skehill but getting himself mentally tuned in is also vital.
“My first game back this year was the Leinster semi-final against Offaly. I was both physically and mentally blunt for that game. I did well to deal with my first ball, but then got caught in two minds and hand-passed the sliotar to Shane Dooley who finished it to the net.
“As a sportsman you want to try practise match-day situations as much as possible before games but I didn’t have that – I think the most I had was one half of a challenge game against Tipp. Goalkeeper is the position where you can’t afford to have doubts. I’d never say I was mentally weak or vulnerable. Every goalkeeper is prone to mistakes and it’s how you react after a mistake that defines you.
I read (American tennis coach) Brad Gilbert’s book which was very focused on the mental side of his tennis game. I took a few things from that and tried to implement them into my own game. It’s really helped to bring me on.
Rugby consumed Skehill’s interest for a time as a youngster when he played blindside flanker or second row with a local club in Loughrea. From there he played with Ballinasloe U18′s, then UL-Bohemian’s during his college days in Limerick but resisted the urge to join AIL club Buccaneers. His spell in Limerick IT signalled his intent to focus on hurling where he relished the intense training regime and rubbing shoulders with some of the best players in the country.
“I find from minor or U21 to seniors, there’s definitely a year or two, unless you’re a special talent, that it takes to get into the senior ranks. That training with LIT was the closest that I’ve ever seen to senior.
“Being around the likes of Jackie Tyrrell, Conor O’Mahony, Shane McGrath, Kieran ‘Fraggy’ Murphy, it really helped me. It elevated my expectation and my willingness to win. They raised a standard that I had to match whether it be in fitness or conditioning.”