GAA Football

Analysis: How Galligan took the gloves off the greatest

Stephen Cluxton has won six Allstars and a Footballer of the Year award, yet his omission from this year's team has stirred the same debate it does each year that he's not included.

FOR the vast majority of the 800-plus Allstars in the GAA’s history, they are the legacy left by a career.

It is only the truly fortunate who earn one. There are many top players who have gone through their playing days producing big displays but never lucky enough that their team went on a run.

Even in the goalkeeping position in the last 20 years alone, you think of the likes of Fergal Byron, Gary Connaughton, Brendan McVeigh – men whose historical standing is forever elevated because they got that run.

The local newspaper editor never loses the number of an Allstar. They’re known to the dinner dance circuit. They never stop being a relevant voice.

Stephen Cluxton’s legacy will not be defined by how many Allstars he wins, or has won. As 2019’s Footballer of the Year, he earned his sixth Allstar.

Only three footballers in history have more, if you consider only two of Jimmy Barry Murphy’s were in the big ball code.

Six Allstars and a Footballer of the Year gong is a fitting legacy but long after the shine has worn off the crystal, Cluxton’s effect on the sport will be not only remembered but felt.

The growing trend of converting outfield players into goalkeepers was started by him, and has ironically cost him the 2020 Allstar.

Raymond Galligan was a very good outfield player, good enough to have floated around the Cavan panel for a few years as a forward before Terry Hyland offered him a shot at doing goals.

Galligan’s skillset was feet and hands. Any observer of the Cavan goalkeeper will have seen that his performances in last year’s championship were nothing new.

He has consistently been one of the best kickers off the tee in the last five or six years.

Yet, in another twist of irony, it was the learned skill of the traditional shot-stopper that separated Raymond Galligan from Stephen Cluxton this year.

Nobody expected Cavan to go on the run they went on. When they were struggling at half-time against Monaghan, it looked like the kind of short campaign that has become the norm.

A month later, Raymond Galligan had tears in his eyes as he stepped into the Athletic Grounds stand and raised the Anglo Celt for his county, the first man to do so in 23 years.

Monaghan had three brilliant first half chances turned away by the Lacken man. He spread himself to deny Stephen O’Hanlon, stood up strong to turn away Ryan McAnespie’s drive and then read the flight of Karl O’Connell’s bullet to get into the flight path.

Stephen Cluxton's 2020 Championship

Kickouts taken: 81
Kickouts won: 64 (79%)
Kickouts lost: 15 (18%)
Kickouts hopped: 2 (3%)
Uncontested kickouts: 38 (47%)
Contested kickouts: 43 (53%)
Contested kickouts won: 28 (65%)
Contested kickouts lost: 15 (35%)
Goals conceded: 0
Saves: 1
Scored: 0-0
Goal chances created: 0

With Conor McManus finding the net, Monaghan would have been long out the gate and halfway home had it not been for Galligan.

His day is best remembered for the last-kick winner from the middle of Clones town, but it would all have been irrelevant had it not been for those saves.

Same for his stops from Caolan Mooney in the semi-final and from Jamie Brennan in the Ulster final. He denied Patrick Gallagher at a crucial stage, although you sense Cavan would still have found a way past Antrim in any event.

There was also a fine save from Niall Scully towards the end of the first half against Dublin. In all, he would make seven brilliant saves in the Championship, compared with the one superbly strong left-wristed block by Cluxton from Meath’s Joey Wallace.

That’s really all that stood between them. The kickout battle was pretty much a dead heat.

Dublin won 79 per cent of Cluxton’s restarts (64/81), while Cavan won 75 per cent (79) of Galligan’s 105 kickouts.

As has been a trend in evidence since the rule change on taking them from the 20-metre line rather than the 13’, teams are contesting more of the opposition’s restarts.

Kickout stats won’t lie outright, but they can tell business fibs about a goalkeeper’s performance.

Raymond Galligan's 2020 Championship
Kickouts taken: 105
Kickouts won: 79 (75%)
Kickouts lost: 24 (23%)
Kickouts hopped: 2 (2%)
Uncontested kickouts: 34
Contested kickouts: 71 (68%)
Contested kickouts won: 47 (66%)
Contested kickouts lost: 24 (34%)
Goals conceded: 3
Saves: 7
Scored: 0-1
Goal chances created: 1

You have to consider the strength of fielders too. Stephen Cluxton was without Brian Howard for most of this year and were it not for the ridiculous ability of Brian Fenton and the superb season enjoyed by Con O’Callaghan in a role at times very close to midfield, his numbers would have struggled to hold up.

Yet the same applies to Galligan, who at times was kicking long into big clumps and seeing Thomas Galligan or Gearoid McKiernan come out with the ball.

The first half against Down, for instance, was played in a mudbath. Down contested 10 of his 13 restarts, the ten of which all went long. Cavan won nine of them. That was partly on their goalkeeper but a lot too on the men further out.

Stephen Cluxton is unquestionably a victim of how good Dublin are defensively. That they didn’t concede a goal this year was, in reality, very little down to him. He had two shots at him. One, from Evan O’Carroll, rattled the post. The other, from Wallace, he stopped superbly.

It’s hard to look outstanding as a goalkeeper when so many in front of you excel. Cluxton remains a steady, reliable presence, but there has been evidence that teams are growing less scared of him.

When a similar study was taken on the 2018 championship, teams pushed up on just 29 per cent of his kickouts. This year, it was 53 per cent.

It may rile some that a man who will go down as the best goalkeeper ever to play the game isn’t the Allstar number one every year. That’s the beauty of the system.

Stephen Cluxton’s legacy is long secured.

But so too now is Raymond Galligan’s.

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