Friday 20 September 2019

Beggan heading for No 1 in charts

Beggan is certainly in the conversation when it comes to the top keepers in the country. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Beggan is certainly in the conversation when it comes to the top keepers in the country. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Peter Canavan

Pat Spillane got tongues wagging after Monaghan's win over Tyrone when he declared that the Farney goalkeeper Rory Beggan was better than Dublin's Stephen Cluxton.

When I left Omagh after that game, I had no doubt Beggan's influence on the game had been significant. But when I looked back over the recording of the match and kept a note of his contributions, it became clear just how much he had done to bend the match Monaghan's way. His value to the team went way beyond the traditional contributions goalkeepers generally make.

It wasn't his brilliant saves that marked him apart but his use of the ball and his ability to launch Monaghan attacks from the ground or from the hand.

A crucial part of the game now is kick-outs. Cluxton has brought that into sharp focus over the last decade. By my count, Beggan had 20 restarts in the game and Monaghan won possession from an impressive 18 of those.

They are normally the numbers you'd see if the opposition was giving up the kick out and retreating to set up a defensive line further down the pitch. I've seen it said that Tyrone did that in the game but that wasn't the case at all. Monaghan were made earn most of those and they did through clever runs, accurate kicking or a combination of both.

In fact, Beggan went long with just four of his kick-outs and even then they had a system. He'd hold his right hand up if the ball was going to his right, then wait a couple of second before letting loose.

It's not the most scientific system but those few seconds gave the half-backs and half-forwards the chance to get around the ball. They employed a similar system if the ball was going left. By the time the kick-out was contested they'd have six or seven bodies flooding that area, giving themselves the best possible chance of winning the thing back. They won two of the four long kick-outs that way.

They had one other move that saw the half-backs and midfielders move towards Beggan, who would then aim for Kieran Hughes who was stationed at the centre forward position.

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Hughes is strong in the air and if he can't catch it he can generally break it in the direction of a team-mate.

And when the ball went over their heads, three or four Monaghan players would race up to support Hughes. They did that once to good effect and it gave them a run at the Tyrone defence and led to a point for Conor McCarthy.

Of course it's one thing to have a goalkeeper with a cultured boot who can put the ball wherever he wants under no pressure - I have come across many keepers who are very accurate with their restarts - but it's another thing entirely to have the temperament to make the right calls at the right time on the big days. And Beggan chose brilliantly in Healy Park that day.

Tyrone did the right thing and tried to make life hard on him. Almost every time he looked up after placing his tee Tyrone showed him a different picture.

Sometimes, they'd go man-on-man while at other times they'd have four across the 20-metre line. On occasion, Tyrone's half-forwards moved two or three yards towards the midfielders if they thought the kick-out was going there.

It didn't really matter to Beggan. He could chip it out to his corner-backs, find the small gap or dink it to the free player just 40m from goal or hit the man on the run. The margin for error for goalkeepers when they are doing that is tiny. If it goes wrong, there's a good chance it'll end up in the back of the net but Beggan is good enough and smart enough to make the right calls at the right time. And when you throw in his excellent place-kicking you can see the argument Spillane was making. His two points against the wind in particular looked totally effortless.

There's still room for improvement however. A couple of years ago I'd have said that he didn't look quite assured when in possession. You always felt that he could be hassled into making a mistake by maybe over carrying and coughing up a cheap free but I think he's much better now.

We saw how comfortable he was when he advanced forward to kick a point from play in a club game last year. We've seen Graham Brody wander well up the pitch with Laois too. Goalkeepers are being used in all sorts of different ways. And the way things are going I don't think it will be too long before we see a goalkeeper kick a point from play.

The other area for Beggan to work on is dealing with high balls. Tyrone's goal came off a '45' that they won after a high dropping ball that perhaps Beggan should have dealt with as Connor McAliskey came in to challenge.

Maybe that's being hypercritical. He's a brilliant keeper, the envy of most managers in the country I would say. The comparison with Cluxton?

It might be unfair given how long the Dublin man has been at the top and how much he's won and what's he's done to change the game.

But on form this season, Beggan is certainly in the conversation when it comes to the top keepers in the country.

Beggan and Co will have to deliver more of these types of performances and that starts with Fermanagh on Sunday in the Ulster semi-final.

It feels a little like the Down game last year for me. Twelve months ago I remember Monaghan supporters seemed to be talking more about an Ulster final with Tyrone than the game with Down and they were caught on the hop.

So I think they will have learned that lesson. Fermanagh's result against Armagh didn't surprise me at all.

I had heard they were going well and if Monaghan are any way complacent then Fermanagh can hurt them.

Seamus and Sean Quigley are good players and if they can get Tomas Corrigan back into the mix, it will be a big lift for them. He's a different type of player to the two boys and would give Fermanagh a really potent inside line.

And it will be hard for Monaghan to get back to the same pitch as they were at for the Tyrone match. They will have targeted that from the day the draw was made so they need to refocus and quickly.

Still, I think they are once bitten twice shy and in the likes of Conor McManus might have the extra bit of quality that can bring them through to another Ulster final and within touching distance of the Super 8s.

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