Friday 17 November 2017

Strikers paying penalty in battle of wits

Kilkenny's TJ Reid. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Kilkenny's TJ Reid. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The expected increase in the percentage of penalties converted to goals since they became 'one to one' between striker and goalkeeper may not be materialising, if a count from the top two flights in the opening two rounds of the Allianz Hurling League is any gauge.

Granted, the conditions at this time of the year may be a factor, but some of the most lethal forwards in the game - Kilkenny's TJ Reid, Tipperary's John O'Dwyer and Clare's Tony Kelly - have all been denied by alert goalkeepers so far.

In fact, by our count, just three goals from eight penalties have been scored in the 12 matches to date, with Limerick's Ronan Lynch scoring a point from the spot last weekend against Kerry.

The one-to-one penalty was introduced at Congress in 2015 on the recommendation of the Hurling 2020 Committee chaired by Tipperary's 2010 All-Ireland winning manager Liam Sheedy.

It replaced an abridged version where the striker still faced three goal-line opponents but could not pass the 20 metre line, something that was traditionally allowed in the past.

When two goal-line opponents were removed it led to fears that crisp and powerful strikes would not be kept out and that the conversion rates for goals would be somewhere in the region of 80-90pc.

The Hurling 2020 Committee disputed that, pointing to their own trialling and the count they were keeping in the early stages of the new rule.

A log the committee kept in pre-season competition revealed that from 36 games played, nine penalties were awarded and from those nine there were two goals, a point, a wide and five saves. That amounted to a 22pc goal conversion rate.

When the one-to-one penalty was trialled in Thurles in October, the committee were legislating for a 62pc conversion rate, based on their findings.

But even Sheedy acknowledged that as familiarity developed the conversion rate would rise.

By the end of the 2015 Championship, however, the conversion rate from seven penalties awarded had edged up to just 43pc. The low number of penalties given reflected a more cautious approach to tackling in the area but the figures over the first two rounds of the League point to a change in approach again.

Without recourse to Championship statistics last year, it is difficult to get an accurate guide.

But so far in this League the quality of shot-stopping by goalkeepers has been exceptional, especially from penalties.

Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash has led the way with saves from Kelly against Clare on the first weekend and again from Dublin's Donal Burke on Saturday night.

Reid had his effort in Ennis blocked by Donal Tuohy, while Waterford's Ian O'Reagan had the measure of John O'Dwyer.

Three penalties have been scored by our count: Kerry's Padraig Boyle against Laois on the first weekend and Galway's Joe Canning and Wexford's Mark Fanning in Salthill on Sunday.

Goalkeepers, it is felt, are more confident dealing with the shot on their own than they were with the traditional 'double guard' of the past.

Irish Independent

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