General responsibilities of GAA net-minders continuing to evolve
THEY say you need to be stone mad to be a goalie. I once endured a brief flirtation with the lunacy as a young lad in secondary school, writes Martin Carney, Connaught Telegraph GAA analyst.
In selecting a team for an Ulster colleges’ senior game many moons ago our coach, Mr. Cullen, decided that, though young (I was in third year) and light (a horse in Epsom would have been at ease with me on board), I could suitably fill the vacancy between the sticks. Alas by half time I had conceded five, got buried in the net for two of the goals, was substituted and decided that life thereafter might be less stressful in an outfield setting.
Our ‘keeper in the Connaught final, Robbie Hennelly, rightly earned plaudits for his exceptional penalty save. Pre-determining where to dive carried a risk, yet we have to admire the sharpness of the reflexes, his arm strength and the courage it took to make the decision. It was, by any standards, an outstanding stop.
In a more general sense, the responsibilities of the net minder are continuing to evolve year on year in Gaelic football. Aside from possessing a good temperament, having an ability to think quickly, being able to organise and communicate, the goalie needs a wide repertoire of technical skills. Chief among these is his reliability on restarts. Kickouts, which can amount to anything up to 30 per game for a goalie, are increasingly seen as a vital part of his match-day locker.
With optimum emphasis placed on possession, hours are spent working out strategies and possibilities that guarantee accuracy and, hence, ball retention for his team. Stephen Cluxton has set the standards in this regard but, in an earlier era, this was a department where Cork’s Billy Morgan excelled.
Coaches now recognise that in preparing to face the Dubs, frustrating their kick-outs is a basic requirement if one expects to beat them. Traditionally, it was the job of a forward to score but in the modern game it comes as no surprise if defenders and even goalkeepers end up on the score sheet.
In legislating that free kicks could be taken from the hand the GAA unwittingly heralded the slow death of place kicking from the ground with the result that many players, with the exception of the ‘keeper, have never learned this skill or practiced it sufficiently. Eight different goalkeepers have registered scores in this summer’s provincial championship games from placed balls. Indeed the Monaghan goalkeeper, Rory Beggan, earned a deserved man of the match award on the back of his five-point haul in the drawn match with Armagh.
Despite nailing three 45s in the opening league game with Kildare, Robbie has remained at base since and relied on the accuracy of Alan Freeman or Cillian to take care of this need. Mayo is well served now by an incumbent who has first class competition from the likes of David Clarke and Kenneth O’ Malley. Calm in the face of chaos is a common characteristic with this trio. All are thick-skinned and resolute to move beyond the occasional mistake.
Having mental strength to withstand criticism is a must. Their error is often the one that lingers longest in the minds of the supporter. These are just some of the attributes they require. And, by the way, possessing a dollop of madness still helps!