Tuesday 11 December 2018

Brody's roving role may not be a keeper

Laois ploy of allowing goalkeeper to roam carries more risk than reward

Graham Brody. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Graham Brody. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Two years ago the Armagh football manager Kieran McGeeney provided a convenient stick for his critics to beat him with after an eight-point defeat against Cavan in an Ulster Championship quarter-final with the selection of Paul Courtney as his goalkeeper.

It was very much a left-field decision as Courtney was predominantly a midfielder who had won an Ulster U-21 medal with the county in that position nine years earlier.

A back injury to the regular custodian Paddy Morrison created an opportunity and Courtney was pressed into action for his first experience in the position at that level in Kingspan Breffni Park that Sunday afternoon. Courtney's detail was to push out and join attacks when he could. He wore no gloves so that he could make that regular connection with outfield players.

Criticism cascaded down however as Armagh lost by 2-16 to 0-14. Some of Courtney's kick-outs didn't find their target but whether that was down to him, his intended receivers or good Cavan strategy on the day was open to question.

But while meaningful contributions to any outfield plays - he found himself on the opposition '45 at one stage - didn't really manifest, there were no blunders either. The setting was very much neutral.

Novelty

If anything the novelty of playing an outfield player in goals with the intention of spending some of that time outfield may have brought a bit of chaos to the minds of his colleagues. But that was only because they weren't accustomed to it.

The scale of the defeat however made it easy to pan the tactic and those who deployed it without any real evidence to say it spectacularly failed. It didn't work either but how attributable was it to an eight-point reversal? Two years on and the seed sown by Armagh appears to be dispersing into other areas.

A few weeks back the Mayo juniors enjoyed a dramatic late win over Roscommon in the Connacht Championship with Ciarán Boylan, son of former Meath manager Seán, scoring the winning goal.

In the build-up Matthew Flanagan, Mayo's reserve goalkeeper who had been sent into the action with just a few minutes remaining, had been involved, having pushed into the opposition half on his introduction as Mayo left their goals unattended. It worked and the tactic was hailed, unlike two years ago.

Last weekend the roving goalkeeper got another significant airing. The Laois goalkeeper Graham Brody found himself joining the attack beyond enemy lines on several occasions, while in Ballybofey the Monaghan minor goalkeeper Ryan Farrelly got forward far enough to take a shot that sliced away from its intended target.

It wasn't unfamiliar territory for Farrelly however as he had scored a point to put Monaghan four up in extra-time in their recent quarter-final defeat to Derry.

The Monaghan minor goalkeeping coach is the county's senior netminder Rory Beggan, no stranger to forward forays. Beggan has taken to planting himself 50 metres out of his own goals at times where he makes himself available to colleagues and pinpoints long, accurate passes into attack with good effect. Last year he soloed upfield to score a point for his club Scotstown in a league match.

The current Monaghan minor manager Seamus McEnaney believes Beggan has been a pioneer of a tactic that is seen as innovative by some or a risky gimmick by others. McEnaney says the main target of pushing a goalkeeper so far up is to create an overlap.

"With the style of football at the moment, any team going reasonably well have a strong defensive structure in place and it gives opponents that extra overlap that maybe can pull more defenders out of position," he said.

"As it goes on it will create more problems for the opposition than it will for the goalkeeper who is out the pitch because it creates a bit of pandemonium in their defence. 'Who's picking him up?"

McEnaney acknowledges the evolving role of the goalkeeper through conversion of frees and much more strategic kick-outs. Sweeping 'keepers are nothing unusual either. "I think in the next two years it will really develop. This a new level for it. But the key is that the ball goes dead to give the 'keeper more time to get back."

But do the benefits of creating that overlap and giving a defence an extra body to deal with outweigh the potential risks of a move breaking down and exposure to a quick counter-attack with just a defender on the line?

And it begs another question - if the tangible benefits were that obvious would Stephen Cluxton not have engaged in it much earlier in his career given that much of his club football with Parnells was as an outfield player?

A goalkeeper playing a more advanced role as an auxiliary to his defence like Beggan does for Monaghan carries less risk. But giving licence to a 'keeper to go further forward is something that may not realise returns that are worth it.

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