Brendan Crossan: GAA goalkeepers are insanely ahead of the game

Rory Beggan has been a leader in the art of goalkeeping Picture: Seamus Loughran.
Rory Beggan has been a leader in the art of goalkeeping Picture: Seamus Loughran.

BEFORE the inter-county season concludes The Sunday Game is bound to put one of their exquisite montages together with accompanying music to Rory Beggan’s audacious piece of skill in Croke Park last weekend.

Who knows, there might be some clever social media nerd out there who has already super-imposed a cape onto the back of the big Monaghan goalkeeper with the theme music of Superman.

It’s worth recounting Beggan’s scandalous piece of play that will go down as the abiding image of the 2021 Championship.

With Mattie Donnelly bearing down on goal and Beggan in hot pursuit, one of the most remarkable aspects of the second-half incident that had Gaels off their seats in the stadium and living rooms was just how quickly the Scotstown man made up the ground on his opponent.

The thing about Beggan is he looks desperately one-paced. That’s not the worst thing to be when you’re so good at everything else.

Donnelly isn’t lightning quick but he has good pace and, crucially, he can always get away from opponents, which is all you need really.

The Tyrone forward had a good head-start – and yet Beggan gobbled up the ground to get a hand in to dislodge the ball.

The subsequent scoop up was something that Jay-Jay Okocha would have lauded. There were guttural roars and plain laughter at what had just unfolded.

It was one of the greatest pick-pocketing acts you’ll see on a football field.

It’s true that not all heroes wear capes.

At the other end, Niall Morgan was illustrating just how much goalkeeping has evolved in such a short space of time.

Unless you have behind-the-goal camera angles being beamed into your living rooms or if you're at the game, many people wouldn't be entirely cognisant of the kind of art form goalkeeping is becoming.

Morgan, among many other top 'keepers, has become part of Tyrone's press.

It's a matter of course now where Morgan marches out the field - left, right or middle of his defence - on the opposition goalkeeper's kick-outs. By doing so there's an effective and aggressive ripple-effect to the press. It also takes away a couple of options from the opposing goalkeeper.

What Beggan and Morgan were doing seemed absolutely insane - but it was so attack-minded and made for absolutely compulsive viewing.

In one-to-one interview with Niall Morgan a couple of weeks out from the Ulster final, it was abundantly clear just how much of a student of the game all the top goalkeepers are.

“I always try and play on the edge of the maximum distance a player can kick the ball," Morgan said. "If a player has a good kick on him, I’ll be 50 or 60 metres away from him. If it’s a player with an instep kick, I’ll press on out…”

Because goalkeepers like Beggan and Morgan are so aggressive they are going to make mistakes from time to time but what they offer their respective teams heavily outweigh those errors.

Goalkeepers are now Gaelic football’s match winners, the cerebral quarter-backs of the team.

Goalkeeping is sexy.

As we speak, goalkeepers like Stephen Cluxton, Beggan and Morgan are spawning a new generation of kids who no longer resist the idea of ‘doing their turn’ in goal.

Of course, given the spectacular backdrop provided by both Ulster final goalkeepers last weekend, there must be junior club ‘keepers up and down the country who are probably feeling the full weight of rising expectations among their team-mates.

Why can’t you kick it like Morgan? Why can’t you tackle and scoop the ball like Beggan?

Why can’t you help the press? Why can’t you turn water into wine?

The more you engage with goalkeepers, the more you realise just how far ahead of the game some of them are – right down to their body language during games.

One of the brightest goalkeeping minds around is Patrick Morrison. In an interview with the former Armagh ‘keeper, he went into great detail about the importance of a goalkeeper’s unhurried gait and uneasy relationship with referees.

He’d stand over the ball like an “arrogant Frenchman” surveying his options – as if to convey to the referee that the goalkeeper is in charge of kick-outs, not him.

“It’s a way of not looking hesitant and looking in control,” Morrison said. “Referees will always blow a ’keeper that looks hesitant.”

Morgan has a similar thought process before pressure kicks.

“That’s what I have learned over the last three years,” the Edendork man explained. “I’d always be quick to the tee anyway and even when I’m not quick referees think that I am quick because I usually am.

“And if I stand with the ball on the tee and step back and look around me I can take longer rather than flailing my arms and shouting at my defenders looking like I don’t have a clue what’s going on. I think that’s mainly why keepers get blown up because referees are looking at them and they think the keeper is panicking because he’s taking so long, and the crowd start going.”

Since the beginning of time, every outfield player firmly believed that for someone to actually want to be a goalkeeper prompted enquiry into their sanity.

Why would anyone want to be a goalkeeper when you could play outfield? Why would you want to be standing in the freezing cold while your team-mates were running around keeping warm?

Who would want to be that goalkeeper who sets the ball down and thumps it as hard as he can down the field?

Goalkeepers weren’t right in the head – they were the lunatics who’d escaped the asylum.

As it turns out, they appear to be the ones with the easels and the brushes, always studying and peering into a blank canvas - their canvas - and leaving an indelible mark on the modern game.

They're also the most interesting people to interview...