On the way home from Killarney last Sunday, Declan Bonner ventured to Peter Boyle that the afternoon had been something of a ‘baptism of fire’.
Boyle, Donegal’s replacement goalkeeper, had been thrust into action after just 17 minutes when Mark Anthony McGinley had to withdraw injured.
The Ballyshannon man’s first task was to pick the ball from his net as Stephen O’Brien netted the first Kerry goal. Donegal could have won and perhaps should have won, but went down 2-18 to 3-14.
It was a busy afternoon for Boyle, but as baptisms of fire went it was nothing like a July Saturday last year when he’d had to replace the black-carded McGinley during the ill-fated qualifier against Galway in Sligo.
“It’s tough coming in,” Boyle, who will start against Galway in Sunday’s League fixture at O’Donnell Park, says.
“It’s different for an outfield player, they get a warm-up and instruction. For us, the gloves are on, the jumper is off and you’re straight in.
“As a sub goalkeeper, you know when you come off the bench that something bad has happened. The last day it was Mark Anthony’s injury and last year was the black card and the penalty.
“Declan said to me on Sunday that it was a baptism of fire, but Galway last year was the baptism of fire.”
When Jim McGuinness managed Donegal in a League game for the first time, against Sligo in 2011, it was Boyle who was the number 1 at Sean MacCumhaill Park.
Before Paul Durcan took over and went to new heights, Boyle – the goalkeeper for McGuinness’s Ulster-winning Under-21s in 2010 – started that first League fixture.
In 2012 when Donegal won the All-Ireland, Boyle headed to America and missed out on the year of years.
The life of the replacement goalkeeper can be a lonely and frustrating one.
“You have to put yourself in the frame of mind that the worst is happening,” Boyle says.
“You have to prepare the same, eat the same food, drink the same liquid, do the same preparation. If you don’t do that, you’re onto a loss and be behind everyone else. You’re always thinking in the head: ‘I’m getting a game today’.
“We have three keepers in there and they’re all trying to attain the dame level. When any of us go in, you’re trying to make the best out of a bad situation.
“Declan has a good headache. The three of us are on a similar level. We’re different styles of goalkeepers. He has a great choice. I was lucky enough to get the call on Sunday, but the next day it could be Shaun.”
Bonner has hinted at a changed vision and gameplan for Donegal this year and Boyle believes they can make hay from the back up.
“I thought we did well around midfield on Sunday,” he says.
“We have good big men there. Football in the last couple of years has been all about statistics and getting the ball off short. When you have men around that size around the middle of the park, you have to make the most of it. We have the big men and we have e the likes of Ryan McHugh and Martin O’Reilly feeding off them. That’s a great platform.”
Talk of Galway is enough to make Boyle wince as the mind goes back to July.
“If it’s based on last year, we got a hiding,” he says.
“Everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
“But it’s a new year and a new team. It’s been very positive up to now.
“We have to go in and be the best we can be. We know their key players, Damien Comer, Shane Walsh stand out. Paul Conroy is at midfield and Sean Armstrong still has to come back.”
Boyle was born in 1992, when Gary Walsh, a fellow Balllyshannon native, was winning the All-Ireland with Donegal. In Boyle’s formative years, his club, Aodh Ruadh, were jousting at the forefront of the Donegal SFC. After a lean spell, the Ernesiders are back in Division 1 for 2018.
Boyle can’t avoid the comparisons by the Erne.
“I was born in ’92, that’s what you hear about in the club and you still hear about it,” he says.
“You’ll always be compared to people in the club.
“You look at Paul Durcan, who was much-maligned for a while and got criticism, but he went on to become the best goalkeeper in Ireland. I was lucky to work with him for a year or two.”
Boyle came through on a crop of U21s that included Michael Murphy, Paddy McGrath, Leo McLoone and Mark McHugh. A recent gaze around the dressing room confirmed the feeling that he was now one of the experienced soldiers in the squad.
He says: “Before the Queen’s game, I took a look round, usually you’d have Michael Murphy, Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Eamon McGee, Rory Kavanagh, more experience players. But we have to stand up now and take the lead.”Tags: