In one of Craig Fulton’s last games in charge of the Irish men, he witnessed fine goalkeeping displays from David Fitzgerald and Jamie Carr in a 2-1 win over Germany in the absence of David Harte.Asked about his performance, Fulton was quick to say “we have four top goalkeepers and that’s down to our hidden gem”.
The “secret weapon” he was referring to was Nigel “Nidge” Henderson, the former Irish skipper who has been working with Irish keepers for over a decade, working with two time goalkeeper of the year David Harte since as far back as 2006.
The “hidden” side of Nidge’s involvement, though, has been blown out of the water this summer following Ayeisha McFerran’s breakout tournament in London this month.
Following the India quarter-final win, McFerran was asked by The Hook’s English equivalent – The Top of the D – what makes Irish goalkeepers so special.
“Nidge.” came the slightly puzzling reply for The Top of the D. “Nidge is phenomenal.” beams McFerran. “The amount of work he puts in with the goalkeepers on the pitch and mentally too, he’s amazing.
“Whenever I’ve struggled he’s been able to help me to overcome whatever’s troubling me. The training he gives us is second to none and he’s the reason so many good goalies come out of Ireland.
“We’re really grateful to him for his work and without him, Ireland wouldn’t have so many good goalkeepers. Many of us wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Henderson was one of the leading lights with Pembroke during their golden era from the last 90s into the early noughties. A relative latecomer to international hockey, he made his debut at the age of 28 but went on to captain the side in 48 of his 68 caps.
He was known for his fearlessness between the posts and only finished up with Ireland at the age of 37. In an interview with The 42 today, he explained how he wanted to give back some of his knowledge and he was quickly co-opted into the men’s setup by Paul Revington.
David Harte took on the first choice goalkeeper role in his stead at Pembroke and Ireland and is similarly glowing about what he does on the coaching front.
“Bloody hard work haha!” Harte told The Hook when asked what kind of things he does with the keepers he coaches.“From match situations, penalty corner drag flicks to reflections and baseline exercises. He tries to cover all aspects of our game that we could face.
“Nidge is such an incredibly humble and hardworking man in and out of hockey. His own personal accolades as a keeper are not to be overlooked.
“He has been there and done that and what makes him even more special is his mental toughness and resilience which he imparts onto his keepers – sending us different books to read at times from a goalkeeping perspective like ice hockey, a game he loves too.
“He’s not on social media and barely knows how to text – he’ll kill me, haha – but he’s always there whenever his keepers need him; 7am pitch sessions in scorching heat or sub-zero temperatures, he’ll be there setting the pitch up getting exercises ready from his infamous ‘black book’!
“He’s an inspiration to us all and has the backing of his family and amazing wife, Kathryn.
“I’m just so glad he has been given the recognition he deserves. He must be a Hall of Famer and he continues to be one of Ireland’s most important servants to hockey, both as a player and as a coach. I can’t thank the man enough for what he has done to help me personally and I know every keeper he comes in contact with thinks the same!”