Cahair O'Kane: Why so determined to put goalkeepers back in their box?

The lack of goalkeeping influence on the punditry circuit saw Shane Ryan's performance against Mayo on Saturday reduced to 'ah sure that's his job'. Picture: Sportsfile
The lack of goalkeeping influence on the punditry circuit saw Shane Ryan's performance against Mayo on Saturday reduced to 'ah sure that's his job'. Picture: Sportsfile

IF there’s a word to describe Tom Brady’s infamous 2000 combine photograph, it would be shapeless.

The man that would go on to become the NFL’s greatest quarterback, a seven-time Super Bowl champion and five-time MVP in the showpiece, was a walking dad-bod.

All lanky and hunched over, he lacked any of the athletic definition you’d associate with someone that would go on to achieve what he did.

His performance that day reflected his physical conditioning.

Brady’s time in the 40-yard dash, 5.28 seconds, remains one of the slowest times ever recorded by a quarterback at the combine.

His vertical jump of 24.5 inches was equally unimpressive by NFL standards.

The New England Patriots didn’t care.

"It's not that we said we wanted to draft a tall, lanky quarterback that ran a 5.3 in the 40 [yard dash].

"We were looking for the mental makeup... [Patriots coach Bill] Belichick did a lot of homework on him, along with our staff, on his mental makeup,” said Jason Licht, a member of the Patriots’ personnel staff when Brady joined, in 2014.

It didn’t matter that he was slow or ungainly or couldn’t jump. That wasn’t his job.

The Patriots wanted him because he could make decisions and he could throw.

American Football, as a sport, valued his skillset.

The NFL didn’t change their rules to stifle Tom Brady.

On Sky’s popular Monday Night Football a few years back, Jamie Carragher argued that full-backs in soccer were only ever failed wingers or centre-backs.

“Nobody grows up wanting to be a Gary Neville,” he quipped at his fellow pundit.

Plenty are growing up wanting to be a Trent Alexander-Arnold.

In pushing at the imposed statutory limitations of playing at right-back, he and Andy Robertson on the other wing became the two most important generals during their title-winning season.

Only Kevin de Bruyne has more Premier League assists this season than Alexander-Arnold, same as in 2020. Only Mo Salah had more last season.

His role is what he’s made of it.

Whatever defensive limitations there are in his game, Liverpool have had to sort for themselves.

Soccer didn’t change its rules because Trent Alexander-Arnold was setting up too many goals.

Sports tend not to be against positive evolution.

So why are we so determined in Gaelic football to put goalkeepers back in their box?

Yesterday’s announcement of a trial that all kickouts must bypass the 45' is the latest assault on the role.

It feels a bit like somebody’s appointed Danny Kennedy to sort the thing out and he’s picking on goalkeepers rather than looking at the actual problem.

Three years ago, a rule was imposed that outlawed possession from a kickout being delivered straight back to the goalkeeper.

It took teams approximately six weeks to work out a way around it.

Now they all run the exact same set-play where a second defender comes short, takes the first pass and then gives it to the goalkeeper.

The rule has made absolutely no difference other than to subvert the role of the goalkeeper.

For 130 years, nobody made anything much out of the position.

Being picked to do nets was considered a grave insult reserved for the runt of the schoolyard litter, the lad that had no earthly place being on a football field.

Stand in there, try to stop the ball going in the net, kick it out as far as you can but whatever you do, don’t try anything.

In the last decade, it has become attractive.

For the first time, goalkeeping feels important.

That is thanks to the individuals who have made it so.

When it comes to how goalkeepers are seen by coaches, it’s becoming more about the possibilities their role gives them than any limitations.

Yet it remains grossly misunderstood.

We saw that in evidence at the weekend, when Shane Ryan’s performance was downgraded in some quarters to the Roy Keane vibe of ‘ah sure the shots were straight at him’ and ‘that’s his job’.

You go through the entire punditry stable in Gaelic football, from TV to radio to newspapers – is there one goalkeeper, anywhere?

In a sport that claims to value kicking the ball so much, why don’t we value the skill displayed by goalkeepers?

If Sean O’Shea was delivering the kind of platter service into the run that Niall Morgan or Rory Beggan regularly do, it would be spoken about in very different terms.

BBC added Maurice Deegan to their coverage for the Ulster final to give a referee’s perspective. It was a worthwhile addition.

When referees are better represented than goalkeepers in the media, it’s not good.

Now they want to mess with the kickouts.

What exactly is this rule supposed to achieve?

The team in possession will have two choices.

One is that they all abandon station and cross their own 45, leaving the front door to their goal wide open should they lose the kickout.

The other is to keep bodies back and take a chance that you might get hands on it despite being vastly outnumbered in the middle of the pitch.

Whichever they choose, it will virtually eliminate the skill of the placed kickout from the game.

There will be no space in the middle third to kick it into. Kickouts will almost certainly have to be lumped down the middle.

Do we end up inadvertently shutting the like of Brendan Rogers out of midfield roles because teams have to go back to the biggest lad in the parish just to stand there, catch the ball and handpass it off?

Ultimately the game’s administrators are trying to wrestle with defensiveness without acknowledging the most basic issue: if players can physically run 10km in a game, they’ll run 10km in a game.

They are going to continue dropping back into defence when they lose the ball because they can.

The only rule that can possibly stop that is to make the game 13-a-side. Even that could potentially have the opposite effect.

Kickouts all having to go long is a rule chases after a game that’s already dead.

It kills the art of goalkeeping.

And in the process it delivers a message about how much value is placed on the position and how much understanding there is of it – absolutely none.