“He was angry, everyone was afraid when taking a shot on him. When he came out with the ball, he spread himself. And of course, he was on a successful soccer team which was the one I supported and still do.”
Brendan Cummins is one of the most famed goalkeepers in hurling and a two-time All-Ireland winner with Tipperary. He was always known for keeping a cool head in the line of danger and leading by example.
But Cummins didn’t pick up those traits from watching previous hurling goalkeepers but instead was inspired by Manchester United’s famous number one, Peter Schmeichel.
“I was wearing a Man United jersey underneath the top so Peter Schmeichel was always somebody he dominated the area and it kind of clicked with me.
“As a youngster growing up, I was impressionable enough so in my early years, there was a guy called Connie Naughton in Cahir and my father would have played on their soccer team and he was one of the first fellas but on an international stage, Schmeichel would have been the one to catch my eye. As a young goalkeeper, even though we weren’t in the same code, just watching the way he carried himself and dominated the guys around him was a big influence on me.”
Cummins has been an avid Man United supporter for all his life, often making trips to Old Trafford to see the Red Devils in action. He took confidence for their jersey also, wearing the same top underneath his Tipperary attire through his career.
“Always a United supporter. The jersey I wore under my Tipp top the whole time was the one with the strings on it that was there in the ’92/93 season. I started wearing that back in ’93 when my league debut in ’93, I was wearing the United jersey and I still have the same United jersey today that I wear even when I’m playing with the club.
“I played five All-Ireland finals with that United jersey on.”
Like all children, Cummins grew up wanting to be a famous footballer for the team he adored by had to be content with transferring that match-day adrenaline into hurling and tried to emulate as many of Schmeichel’s characteristics as possible.
“Every time you go into a place like [Old Trafford] it’s like you’re a child in a sweet shop so whether you’re 70 years of age or seven, everyone turns into that 10-year-old who dreams of playing for United.
“The only way I could get the buzz and the adrenaline rush was to turn it into hurling. You need somebody to dream of having the same status as them in sport and for me, Schmeichel was the one. So for that reason, the United jersey was always under my Tipp one from when I played my first league game in November ’93 to when I played my last championship game in June 2013, same jersey.”
Cummins was what you would call ‘an old school goalkeeper’. When he found himself in one-on-one situations, he liked to meet his opponent face on, eliminating as much of the danger as possible. Again, that intimidation tactic was another tip from his sporting hero.
“He was very animated but for me, the one-on-one was the thing. When I came out to meet a forward, I always tried to line my breastbone up with the ball and hope it would hit me. Sometimes I see goalkeepers coming out and they might tend to come out sideways, Nickie Quaid has the knack of coming out and blocking it down because he plays out the field with his club. Eoin Murphy is the same, they go about it in a different way.
“But for me, I was as happy stopping the ball with my body as I was with the hurley on one-on-ones. Now because the modern goalie plays out the field with the club, they rely on an outfield skill which is to block the ball with the hurley as it’s leaving the man’s stick whereas I was probably two feet further away so I used my torso to stop it.
“Definitely coming out square on a guy hitting the ball and narrowing the angle was something that was Schmeichel’s thing and was definitely something was I brought to my game when I was playing.”
Like many United fans, Cummins’ favourite memory of Schmeichel came during the 1999 FA Cup semi-final replay against Arsenal in Villa Park.
“The famous FA Cup game where United played Arsenal and he saved a penalty from [Dennis] Bergkamp at the time and United won the game in extra time at Villa Park. That was just one. But it’s his overall aura, I’ve seen him play six or seven times and just watching him warming up, the swagger, all that stuff going on. And the way that he dominated the area.
“I was never really one for blaming everybody else like he was, if he made a mistake he always blamed the centre-halves or gave out to Roy Keane or something and my character wasn’t quite like that but the way he went about dominating the area and the presence he had was certainly something I was trying to aspire to.”
On the occasions he would travel to Manchester, the Tipperary man found it difficult to take his eye off his goalkeeping hero. He constantly appeared to be self-assured and in control, even when things were going wrong. And for a sportsman aspiring to be at the top of his game, it was an infectious and enviable outlook.
“I didn’t know there was anyone else on the pitch, I just kept watching him and I’d miss most of the match because all I did was watch him in the warm-up, I watched him all the way through the game. When you’re that close and get to see that much of him, you don’t want to miss any second of the 90 minutes.
“The way he controlled the defence and the way he communicated, all that was the way I wanted to be. That’s what you could bring from his sport into mine, his communication skills and his ‘prevention is better than cure’ method and that whole aura of confidence he always gave off.
“Even in St James Park when [Philippe] Albert chipped him to make it 5-0, he still looked like he hadn’t conceded any goals. So you do take confidence from these people and watching them play, especially the elite players.”