Tuesday 22 October 2019

Eugene McGee: Free and easy 'keepers kicking up a storm

Goalkeeper Niall Morgan’s
accuracy from long range
frees and 45s are a
major asset to Tyrone
Goalkeeper Niall Morgan’s accuracy from long range frees and 45s are a major asset to Tyrone

Eugene McGee

Years ago goalkeepers were largely the forgotten players on Gaelic football teams. Up to the 1970s, most 'keepers did not even take kick-outs, with the member of the full-back line who had the longest kick off the ground filling that role.

However, all that has changed in modern times. Goalkeepers are now as athletically impressive as other players and have become pivotal figures because of their kick-out skills. In the past they would simply launch the ball as far up the pitch as possible, but they have learned to vary the length and direction of their kick-outs to gain the maximum advantage for their team.

It has got to the point where Stephen Cluxton has perfected the art of wandering from his goals to fire over '45s'.

This development reached another peak last Sunday when Tyrone No 1 Niall Morgan was one of his team's leading scorers in the Allianz NFL Division 1 final against Dublin, converting four long-range frees, some from almost 50 metres.

It's an interesting example of what tactical imagination can do to brighten up the game, but inevitably whenever something like this lands on the GAA's lap there is controversy of some kind.

Last week, for instance, Shane Curran, goalkeeper of All-Ireland champions St Brigid's, said that he believed that netminders who attempt these long kicks outfield should be allowed to use the same tee as they do for kick-outs.

Now with 'Cake' Curran, as he is more commonly known in Roscommon, you never know if he is serious or having us on.

As a smart man, he must know well that if goalkeepers are allowed to bring their little tee in their back pocket everywhere they take a free-kick, then all the other free-takers will want to do the same. I would think there are two chances of that being allowed...

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Another, more valid point on the subject was made by Kerry free-taker Bryan Sheehan last week when he mentioned the delay being allowed for goalkeepers to come out to take these free-kicks.

Sheehan surely remembers the closing minutes of the 2011 All-Ireland final when it took Cluxton a minute to walk all the way up the Hill 16 end to take the historic free that snatched the Sam Maguire Cup away from Kerry.

The average time for taking kick-outs in football at county level is 18 seconds and that includes retrieving and placing the ball. It would be shorter for outfield free-kicks, except, of course, when 'keepers are involved.

Sheehan asked the perfectly reasonable question: "Would I be given that long for a free-kick or would the referee throw in the ball for time wasting?"

I timed how long it took for the first two long-range frees that Morgan scored against Dublin to be taken.

Awarded

From the free being awarded until he kicked the ball, the first took 41 seconds and the second 39.

Clearly there is a serious anomaly here. It seems unfair that goalkeepers should be given three times as long to prepare themselves for a potentially decisive free as outfield kickers.

And, of course, there is also scope for time wasting if a 'keeper takes over a minute to go up for a close-range free when time is running out.

Referees have discretion to prevent deliberate time wasting by free-takers, but it is rarely acted upon. And Cluxton and Morgan have not been wasting time, in my view. If the present trend being adopted by goalkeepers expands, I can see a rule change on the horizon very soon.

One good thing about the goalkeepers' action is that it restores the skill of kicking frees from the ground, which had been virtually destroyed in the past 20 years when frees from the hand were made legal.

Future's bright for Tribesmen

GALWAY football must surely be moving in the right direction, having won the All-Ireland U-21 championship twice in the past three years and with some very talented players on both teams.

Their captain this year, Fiontan O Curraoin (right) from the Micheal Breathnach club and DCU, undoubtedly has all the makings of an outstanding midfielder and what a joy it has been to watch his catching of the high ball throughout the season.

Based on his brilliant and authoritative captain's speech, delivered mainly in his native Irish, he could also be a natural leader of Galway football teams for some time to come.

If Mayo want to grab an All-Ireland senior title, they would need to do so in the next year or two because a definite Galway revival seems to be on the cards within a couple of years.

'Runners' lowering tone

When the GAA brought in 'runners' to communicate with players on the pitch, it seemed a good idea at the time, and certainly managers and players were happy to see the new development.

But in the GAA we specialise in capitalising on new ways of cashing in on even the simplest things such as the advent of the 'runner'.

There have been several outbursts of physical and verbal violence involving 'runners' even at the highest level in Croke Park whenever that role has been filled by a member of the county team panel, either because he was injured or in some cases because he was suspended.

This pathetic form of behaviour lowers the tone of the game and this seems an ideal time for the GAA authorities at provincial and national level to stop current panel members filling the role.

If 'runners' want to start trouble, let them wait until they are playing.

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