GAA Football

Cahair O'Kane: Beggan taking on Cluxton's mantle and changing the game again

The stats show that Rory Beggan deserved his Allstar ahead of Stephen Cluxton. Picture by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

TWO things happened in club games at the weekend that we will see a lot more of in future.

One was Rory Beggan coming up the pitch to kick a point from play. The first time we’d seen it from him was in a league game for Scotstown last year. Since then, he’s been no stranger to the opposition’s half.

The other notable occurrence was what Castlerahan did when they went down to 14 men against Eoghan Rua. Rather than sacrifice their attacking instincts, they got creative.

Goalkeeper Jamie Leahy became their 14th outfield player in the second half, effectively playing at half-back, and with the Coleraine side not reciprocating the numbers were effectively evened up again.

It’s an innovation straight out of the International Rules. The Australians did it brilliantly in the last series. When they had the ball, Brendon Goddard stepped out to full-back and marked either Conor McManus or Michael Murphy. Granted, he wasn’t a natural goalkeeper, but that didn’t change the concept.

It allowed the Australians to commit another man to their attack, which was a major influence on them winning the series. The spare man constantly broke the line at midfield. It was simple yet brave, and it was hugely effective.

Gaelic football is laced with innovative coaches and Donal Keogan is perhaps the first to take such a bold step in such a high-profile arena. It certainly didn’t affect Castlerahan’s defensive performance, and because of it they managed to press right up and claw themselves back into a game that looked gone.

It’s the latest step in the evolution of goalkeeping in Gaelic football.

Last week saw Beggan named as the Allstar number one for the year, which left Dublin legend Stephen Cluxton sitting out in the cold at the Convention Centre for the fifth winter running.

The decision naturally sparked widespread debate. How does a man that has such a deep-rooted impact on a team winning four consecutive All-Irelands not win an Allstar in that time?

When the chapter closes on Stephen Cluxton, he will go down as the man that changed a sport. From starting out with a helping hand from Shane Ryan’s wing-to-wing runs, the Parnells goalkeeper has altered the way we look at the game, the way we play it, even the way we enjoy it.

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Rory Beggan's 2018 Championship
Kickouts taken | 158
Kickouts won | 138 (87.3%)
Kickouts lost | 20 (12.7%)
Uncontested kickouts | 76 (48.1%)
Contested kickouts | 82 (51.9%)
Uncontested kickouts won | 76 (100%)
Uncontested kickouts lost | 0 (0%)
Contested kickouts won | 62 (75.6%)
Contested kickouts lost | 20 (24.4%)
Goals conceded | 6
Errors leading to goals | 1
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For years now, teams have been so scared to push up on him for the fear of what kind of carnage he’ll inflict in the spaces in behind (eg kick to Niall Scully v Tyrone in 2017).

Over the past couple of years, there’s been something close to a realisation that you’re not just standing off him, but standing off a behemoth that will just steamroll you if you give them free ball. So slowly teams have begun to press that bit more regularly.

And you find that sometimes the fear of something is greater than the reality.

There was great debate over whether Cluxton should have been given the Allstar this year. The flat answer is that he shouldn’t.

The statistics back it up.

Dublin won 85.5 per cent of the kickouts he took in this year’s Championship. That’s an exceptionally high figure. Rory Beggan’s 87.3 per cent is marginally higher but basically the two were on a par in terms of the overall.

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Stephen Cluxton's 2018 Championship
Kickouts taken | 159
Kickouts won | 136 (85.5%)
Kickouts lost | 23 (14.5%)
Uncontested kickouts | 113 (71%)
Contested kickouts | 46 (29%)
Uncontested kickouts won | 112 (99.1%)
Uncontested kickouts lost | 1 (0.9%)
Contested kickouts won | 24 (52.2%)
Contested kickouts lost | 22 (47.8%)
Goals conceded | 6
Errors leading to goals | 2
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The difference comes when you analyse how other teams set up against them.

Teams are petrified of Dublin. They aren’t petrified of Monaghan.

And perhaps, in terms of catching the eye, that’s what works against Stephen Cluxton now. His own consistent brilliance coming back to bite him, if you like.

Across his summer, the opposition pushed up just 46 times out of 159 kickouts. That’s just over a quarter of the time.

Compare that with Rory Beggan having to contend with a full-court press for more than half of his restarts (52 per cent).

Therein lies the difference. Because no matter how you slice it up, Beggan was better.

Far better, in fact. On contested kickouts, he hit his target 75 per cent of the time. Quite simply, that is an astonishingly high success rate.

Cluxton found his man 52 per cent of the time when teams pushed up. No shabby figure in itself, and what Dublin do off that 52 per cent can be devastating.

That fear is a huge part of what Dublin are, and that is solely down to the consistent brilliance of their kickout strategy across their All-Ireland winning years. It has been the jewel at the heart of everything they’ve done, and everything they’ve won.

But those figure surely add significant weight to the idea that more has to be done to put pressure on him more often, and that doing so can bring success.

Beyond that, there is his discomfort under a high ball. He has never been particularly strong in that area. Cluxton not only got beaten to balls against Wicklow and Galway that led to goals, but he also got lucky on a number of other occasions.

Beggan’s failure to put Eoin Donnelly through the turf was held up as the mirror, but his comfort in the skies far outweighed that of the Dublin man across the year.

And then there’s the comfort on the ball. In recent years, Cluxton has seldom crossed his own 21’. When he was given a ball in open play this year (which was seldom), he didn’t even venture to kick it. He’d mostly wait for someone to come and take a handpass off him.

Beggan spent half the year in the half-back line. Come the All-Ireland series, he ventured further still. He shouldn’t have kicked the ball away against Tyrone at the death, and that was used as another stick to beat him with, but it was the first mistake he’d made with hundreds of possessions across 2018.

Stephen Cluxton brought goalkeeping into a new world, and not only that, he’s maintained his levels for more than a decade. He will be a Hall of Famer, a legend that retires with a mantle layered with medals. His name will always have a place in football’s scripture.

But Rory Beggan, and even third Allstar nominee Graham Brody (who has been even more adventurous in attack), are following in Cluxton’s footsteps by changing the game again.

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