GAA Football

Cahair O'Kane: Look after number one

Monaghan goalkeeper Rory Beggan's excellence in open play and his passing ability are major assets for the Farney. Picture by Seamus Loughran.

THERE isn’t a member of the Goalkeepers’ Union that wouldn’t have winced when the ball slipped through the hands of Loris Karius in Kiev on Saturday night.

The first mistake to gift Karim Benzema the opener is actually worse than the second mistake.

The second is a clear sign that his head’s gone. He jumps as Gareth Bale’s shot reaches him. Why does he jump? To palm the ball over the bar. But the message didn’t make it to his hands, which were still trying to catch it. Nothing is set, his feet aren’t planted as they should be.

It was indecision that caused the error rather than the actual lack of the ability to stop the shot, but if there’s one thing that a good goalkeeper cannot be, it’s indecisive.

Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp, however, got what they deserved.

Spending £220m in two years is nothing unusual at that level, perhaps even light in comparison to others, but it’s how they’ve spent it.

Just £4.7m of it went on bringing Karius in from Mainz. Compare that with £30m for Sadio Mané, £34m for Mo Salah, £35m for Oxlaide-Chamberlain and £75m for Virgil Van Dijk.

You get what you pay for. They placed no emphasis on actually having a top-class goalkeeper, instead spending the year rotating Mignolet and Karius dependent on which of them had looked the closest to stable in recent weeks.

Granted, resources may be less finite at Manchester City, but Pep Guardiola knew the importance of a goalkeeper. He knew exactly what he wanted and dumped Joe Hart, replacing him initially with £16m Claudio Bravo.

And when the holes in his hands were discovered early on, Guardiola knew he had to dip again last summer, splashing out £36m on the practically unheard of Ederson.

David De Gea may be the best shot-stopper in the land but there is no doubting who the best all-rounder is. Ederson is not just a barrier to the opposition but the launchpad for their lightning counter-attacks. His 85.4% passing success this season was higher than that of Paul Pogba and Kevin de Bruyne.

Buying Ederson was about more than buying a shot-stopper. It recognised the importance of a goalkeeper in every facet of a team’s play.

The skillset is different and there remains a higher proportion of shot-stopping action in comparison to Gaelic football, but the principles are changing.

The last line of defence still needs to be solid, but they must also be the first line of attack. Confident. Brave. Brash, almost.

And Gaelic football was actually ahead of the curve on this one.

Most of the evolution in our game comes from mimicking other sports, but our innovators must take some of the credit for recognising the benefits of a goalkeeper being good with his feet and good in open play before even the great Guardiola did.

Last Sunday, we saw one of the finest exhibitions from the best goalkeeper in the country. Rory Beggan is now able to match everything that Stephen Cluxton can do with the boot, he’s his equal in shot-stopping and the Monaghan man is superior in the air.

And then there’s that delectable free-taking style. If he set a ball at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, you’d fancy him to float it into its crater. Even against the wind.

Cluxton was the trendsetter for a decade and his brilliance off the tee started Gaelic football down the road to becoming obsessed with possession. The game as we see it now is as much down to him as it is to Jim McGuinness.

And we are quick to forget that much of the latter’s success was down to Paul Durcan’s excellence. Aside from the saves he made, his ability to disguise his kickouts and kick as far as Michael Murphy at centre-forward were significant assets.

But ever since Beggan careered off up the field for Scotstown to kick a point from play against Clontibret last April, there has been a new focus on how goalkeepers can affect the game.

Armagh were laughed at when Paul Courtney tried it against Cavan three years ago, going for the return off all their short kickouts and supporting attacks. The crowd guffawed. It seemed haphazard that day, but then the unfamiliar always does.

This year has seen Graham Brody make a name for himself by constantly joining the attack for Laois. It paid dividends against Wexford when he ended up at corner-forward in injury-time, attracting and confusing defenders and creating space for the equalising score.

Fermanagh have converted Pat Cadden, who was a forward on their panel for the 2008 Ulster final but started his first Ulster Championship game ever last weekend against Armagh. That too was a change based on his ball-playing ability.

That reflects the new workload. Packed defences and the ability of opposition teams to kick 18, 19, 20 points a game has meant there is less shot-stopping and less high ball to deal with. 90 per cent, if not more, of the goalkeeper’s game is now played either off the tee or as a 15th outfield player in possession.

Look around the country now and some of the best passers of a ball are wearing the number one jersey.

Last August, Armagh youngster Blaine Hughes had ice for veins as he threaded the ball time and again through the Kildare press in Croke Park without a split second’s indecision.

In Celtic Park on Sunday, Shaun Patton’s right boot put on a display as good as any you will see this summer. He was responsible for Donegal’s two goals.

The first, Derry had pressed right up so he did a Durcan and drove the ball 80 yards over everyone’s head. Michael Murphy ran on to it and it ended up with Hugh McFadden netting.

The second goal came off a beautifully floated kick into the path of Caolan Ward, whose run to the stand side was timed to perfection. Cian Mulligan’s finish was spectacular but the real beauty was in its origins.

Cluxton keeps doing what he’s doing, and even he was seen being that bit more adventurous when he carried the ball right to halfway against Kerry in the league earlier this year.

The Australians have been at it for years in the International Rules. On the last tour, they often times left their goalkeeper Brendon Goddard actually out marking Michael Murphy or Conor McManus one-on-one.

It had the desired effect, freeing another man to join the attack, allowing them to overwhelm the Irish defence by actually outnumbering them.

And when you think about it, it’s a bit mad, the idea of a good footballer, most of them athletic, standing still for 70 minutes, afraid to get involved for fear that something might go wrong.

Why is the goalkeeper any different from a corner-back?

The smart ones have discovered that they aren’t different at all.

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