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Goalies so much more than just a safe pair of hands: How use of fly No1 is rising in both codes


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Monaghan goalkeeper Rory Beggan gallops upfield on Saturday night against Dublin before offloading to a team-mate. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Monaghan goalkeeper Rory Beggan gallops upfield on Saturday night against Dublin before offloading to a team-mate. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Monaghan goalkeeper Rory Beggan gallops upfield on Saturday night against Dublin before offloading to a team-mate. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

There have been several intriguing innovations on the pitch in recent seasons as the GAA continues to evolve and the latest addition seems to be the 'fly goalkeeper' phenomenon.

Acquiring an edge on the opposition is the name of the game and it looks like many managers in both codes are keen to exploit their goalkeeper - the only unmarked player on the field - for their team's benefit.

The primary job of the 'keeper had always been to prevent goals and launch kick-outs/puck-outs as far as possible but Donal Óg Cusack and Stephen Cluxton helped to change the way in which the No 1 was viewed.

Possession became currency with a huge emphasis placed on restarts and retention, and it looks like Monaghan are taking it to another level in football, with Rory Beggan playing as an extra outfield player where possible.

It was clear from the outset of 2020 that Beggan would be doing more than shot-stopping as Farney boss Seamus McEnaney is keen to promote thinking outside the box.

Impact

The Scotstown clubman has spent as much time out the field as he has between the posts in their opening three league ties, with 'Banty' eager for Beggan to have an impact at both ends of the pitch while maintaining faith in his ability to successfully carry out his primary duties.

"No, 100 per cent not," McEnaney said recently when asked if it is nerve-racking to see his goalkeeper outfield.

"He's very comfortable on the ball, the Monaghan players are very comfortable with him on the ball. We play it as we see it, Rory Beggan plays it as he sees it and I can tell you there are no restrictions on him."

German soccer goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was one of the first to act as a 'sweeper keeper' for his side by quickly coming off his line to mop up possession behind his defence and that theory has been expanded upon.

With a lot of goalkeepers playing outfield when on club duty, they are even more comfortable on the ball and have the ability to thread a pass, with former Offaly No 1 Alan Mulhall very impressed with the tactical shift.

"Five years ago you wouldn't even have considered this happening because the whole stand would be shouting and roaring and giving out sh**e but it's a great way for a team to create the overlap," Mulhall said.

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In hurling Enda Rowland has already been coming off his line to score from play for Laois this
season. Photo: Michael P Ryan/Sportsfile

In hurling Enda Rowland has already been coming off his line to score from play for Laois this season. Photo: Michael P Ryan/Sportsfile

"You would have often heard 'let the goalie have it' and the goalkeeper is nearly a get-out, the person with no one marking him is the easiest outlet and it makes sense to try it."

Laois's Graham Briody is another to utilise the role of fly 'keeper in recent seasons while Carlow custodian Robert Sansom totally abandoned his goal in the dying minutes of their recent Division 4 clash with Wexford as they chased a significant deficit.

Hurling has also witnessed sweeping changes with three goalkeepers - Laois's Enda Rowland, Waterford's Billy Nolan and Wexford's Mark Fanning - already scoring from play in this year's league campaign.

Waterford's Stephen O'Keeffe and Dublin's Alan Nolan have also both landed scores from play in recent championship outings as formation changes mean that there is often huge areas of space in defence which goalkeepers can exploit.

Tipperary legend Brendan Cummins scarcely thought he'd see such a day but with two players, and sometimes one, operating in many full-forward lines, opportunities are arising.

"A goalie can't come out the field if a team are playing three in the full-forward line, it's as simple as that. But when teams only play one in the full-forward line then there's 40 yards on each side," Cummins said.

"If the back wins the ball, then the goalie is the overlap. If everybody on the other team sits back and the ball is as light as it's ever been, then it only makes sense that you give the ball to your goalkeeper if he's there.

"If he can do it then have a dig, the worst that can happen is a puck-out at the other end or that it drops into the danger area and the spare man, or the sweeper, is dead in the water."

Some question the risk or reward involved should the ball be turned over and Mulhall insists that goalkeepers must know their role and retreat down the pitch when the initial overlap has been exploited.

There's no questioning the importance of the goalkeeper in the modern game, with Mulhall believing that they are the most influential player on the pitch, a creator-in-chief if given the responsibility to do so.

"They get more possessions than anyone else, they set up more attacks and more plays than anyone else. Every time the ball goes dead, they are the man in possession," he said.

"It's nearly like the quarterback position and when you have the ball in your hand, you're looking to get your team up and running and get them going. It's not just a case of getting it away from the goal any more."

As the games continue to evolve, so too do the various positions and it will be interesting to see if more teams adapt the fly goalkeeper role as the season progresses.

Irish Independent


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