We are in the midst of a goalkeeping development in Gaelic football
Rory Beggan wasn’t the first Monaghan goalkeeper to do that. But when a certain Patrick Kavanagh appeared on the field in the 1930s, it was seen as a fundamental betrayal of a goalkeeper’s duty to the safety of his team.
According to Antoinette Quinn, the poet’s biographer, Kavanagh did not carry out these raids as part of a radically new strategy hatched by the tactical minds at his club, Inniskeen Rovers. No, Quinn wrote in 2001, it’s because he “gets bored of standing around when there’s nothing going on around him.” And so he acquired “the bad habit of leaving his post to rush onto the field and taking scarce frees, and quickly retrieving it before the action returned to its end.”
Today, that “bad habit” is considered a good habit. As always with a prophet, Paddy K was greatly misunderstood in his homeland. What was heresy then is wisdom today. Any goalie worth their salt these days should step off their line and become part of the outfield game when needed. We are in the midst of a goalkeeping evolution that has become an ongoing innovation in Gaelic football that is still ongoing.
While the early stages began over a decade ago with Stephen Cluxton becoming the first keeper to turn his kickouts into a quasi-quarterback, the current streak is bringing the keeper into the general game like never before.
It’s almost common now for the number ones to become the link in defense as they try to force the ball out from behind. Goaltenders are also more likely to come off their line to act as backup on opposing kickouts, allowing the full-back line to push a bit higher and the half-back line to do the same. And to push the boundaries even further, we begin to see them venturing beyond the midfield and 18th-century explorers breaking new ground for these most bound athletes to date.
For example, in January, Monaghan was playing a league game against Tyrone when a tall figure dressed head-to-toe in black appeared outside. He didn’t look like he belonged to any team as Tyrone wore red and Monaghan wore blue. But Beggan was fine. He had ghosted all the way upstairs, unnoticed and unnoticed; he accepted the pass and swept across the point from the 20-yard line, completely unmarked.
“In general, there are always new ideas in sport,” says Gary Rogers. “People are always trying to make progress in different areas and there has been massive progress in goalkeeping. The position has been completely turned upside down. It has become such an important part of the game.”
Rogers spent 22 seasons as a goalkeeper in the League of Ireland. He has won five Premier Division titles and five FAI Cups. He played Gaelic football and grew up at St Ultan’s in Meath. He has been the goalkeeping coach at various times over the last ten years for teams Cavan, Meath and Monaghan.
“I would have worked with Rory last year [and] how he accepted being that extra player [outfield]and I think that was part of the evolution. [First you had] The kick out strategy, I suppose we owe that to Stephen (Cluxton) who put a massive emphasis on the kick out, Stephen revolutionized the position. And now the way [they’re] Embrace it being that extra player in the game… I think Stephen would always have been an extra option to support his defenders and be that outlet, but he wouldn’t have his own 50 yard line now Going out We see goalkeepers playing much higher up the pitch, they can score from play… and goalkeepers in general, a lot of top inter-county goalkeepers play outfield with their clubs so they feel very comfortable in their positions well.”
Shane Curran calls them “hybrid goalies”. Long before it became acceptable, let alone fashionable, Curran was known to be a ball-playing, ball-carrying and risk-taking goaltender. The collective panic that ensued among spectators as he squirmed and squirmed around tackles didn’t properly appreciate how good his ball skills were. Curran was a brilliant corner striker before becoming a full-time warden. Curran’s solo ability and quick, evasive footwork allowed him to do what no other goalie could at the time. The Roscommon legend has long been a student of the position. He remembers a time when goalies were so limited in their skills that many of them couldn’t even perform kickouts. And at a time when they just needed to illuminate it as much as possible. (The Galway goaltender in the 1974 All-Ireland Final, for example, didn’t take the kick-outs.) “Basically he was in the goal and he was in the way [of a shot] If he was lucky enough, he’d punish the full forward as best he could, put it down if he could, and that’s about it.”
Gradually the job was modernized by top practitioners such as Billy Morgan, Charlie Nelligan, Paddy Cullen, Gay Sheeran and John O’Leary.
While playing outfield at Castlerea St Kevin’s as a boy and teenager, Curran scored goals for local football team Castlerea Celtic FC. From there he moved to Athlone Town and made his League of Ireland debut in 1992 aged 20. He spent six seasons with the club. It was back at Roscommon and later at his new club St Brigid’s where he established a reputation as an unconventional pioneer of the position.
While Cluxton became a one-man revolution on kick-out in the early 2010s, Curran dabbled in short restarts in the early 2000s. Under Tommy Carr, they practiced it for certain games, such as Roscommon’s qualifier against Offaly in the summer of 2003.
“And we completely destroyed them with short kick-outs against a midfielder in the left-back position,” he recalls. “Destroyed them. And the inspiration for that came from Martin McNamara [the Galway goalkeeper] in 1998. He actually made brief kick-outs in 1997. Roll that down to 12 months, McNamara and Kevin Walsh [Galway midfielder] Hammer Kildare [in the All-Ireland final] with kick-outs off his right foot against Walsh on the Cusack Stand side and Kildare can’t get close to him.
So the short kick-out, or at least the targeted kick-out, predated Cluxton at least in part.
The former Dublin goalkeeper is considered one of the most influential Gaelic footballers of all time. But again, the trend of goalies coming forward to kick long-range free kicks and 45s, which he also popularized, had occasionally been made earlier. In a Connacht Championship game against Sligo in 2004, Curran scored 1–1: the goal was a penalty, the point a 45-metre free-kick from near the touchline at Markievicz Park, with the sides level and injury time beckoning. Curran thought he had the reach to execute the kick, so he came running from his gate. It wasn’t the finished thing back then.
“Tom Carr and Jimmy Deane [selector] yelled at me to get back in the goals,” he recalled in his 2014 autobiography. And Sligo players weren’t exactly impressed by a goalkeeper who had the audacity to volunteer for a free-kick with such high pressure, either and high chances to report. “Where are you thinking you bloody Muppet?” was the general tenor of the Sligonian feedback. The ball sailed between the sticks with free space.
Curran has always believed that the goalkeeper is an under-utilized asset in Gaelic football. A few developments, he says, helped pave the way for the position’s contemporary transformation. In 2010, the GAA changed the rules so that all kickouts are performed from the 13-yard line. Before that, you took it from the six-yard line after a wide goal or the twenty-yard line after a goal. As a result, a short kick-out from the edge of the small court was prohibitively risky, as the ball landed dangerously close to their own goal.
“Stephen Cluxton started it [pinging short kick-outs] when every kick-out came from the 13-meter line. It was almost physically impossible from the six-yard line because the ball had to travel at least 15 or 16 yards before it hit the 21 — but usually it was a nearly 40-yard kick diagonally to the corner-back. That was a very important change.”
The introduction of the tee in 2005, he says, also made it easier overall for goalies to vary the length and trajectory of their restarts.
The trend in recent years to retreat to the middle third has also created a lot of space for goalkeepers to dare with the ball in their hands. “If you take a snap when Rory Beggan or Niall Morgan come out of the goal with the ball now, no striker will be within 45 yards of him. So why don’t you come out? Why wouldn’t you take this room? It allows you to push your full-backs up and your half-backs up so that they become part of the team’s attacking mechanism and the goalkeeper plays an integral role in that.”
The downside of the revolution for Curran is that it produces goalkeepers who are better footballers than goalkeepers. The basic defensive tasks threaten to be neglected when looking for ball-playing keepers. “We see examples of goals being conceded that a good specialty goalkeeper wouldn’t allow. I looked at 20 goals conceded this season in Division 1 of the National League and I would estimate a good specialty goaltender would have stopped almost 80 percent of those goals.”
And sometimes goals are conceded because the goalkeeper made a wrong decision with his free kick or took the free kick badly and gave the ball to an opponent. A mistake like this, even one, can be devastating.
“Remember,” he says, “team confidence is directly and inseparably linked to the goalkeeper’s skill and confidence. Period.
“If the goalkeeper isn’t sure that he can implement the required skills, then the team’s self-confidence is also lost.
So the goalkeeper was always a crucial figure, even in the bad old days when he was something of a second-class citizen.
He and she are first-class citizens now. They have never been more important.
Number one is number one in more ways than one.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/gaelic-football/we-are-in-the-midst-of-a-goalkeeping-evolution-in-gaelic-footbal-41581639.html We are in the midst of a goalkeeping development in Gaelic football