With every passing winter the rhetoric from retiring GAA players seldom differs. Phrases like ‘levels of commitment’ and ‘increased professionalism’ are bandied about and while no-one argues that county teams are increasingly professional in their application, perhaps the worst excesses of the ‘professionalism’ of the game can be seen in the evolution of goalkeepers.
Increased specialisation in coaching is most attributable to American football. They have been market leaders in diversifying the head coach’s role. The Premier League was quickest to follow suit and hence the birth of the goalkeeping coach.
In the GAA the goalkeeping coaching fraternity is predominantly made up of ex-goalkeepers and it has proved to be a beneficial stepping stone from retiring as a player to becoming team coach.
The basic role of the goalkeeper used to be preventing the ball entering the goal and taking a long kick-out. As tactics and game plans evolved so too has the role of the keeper. The quality of their shot-stopping is now secondary to their ability to play the ball and distribute kick-outs accurately. We have seen numerous examples of keepers going one-handed and punching the ball around the post when a simple catch looked the better option.
The goalkeeper’s union have defended their position, stating that it is safer to punch the ball away than risk dropping it in the square. One would expect more talking points in the summer as coaches instruct their net-minders to reach across their bodies with the far hand to make a save rather than go with the hand nearest that side. When it goes wrong it doesn’t make for pretty viewing as exemplified by Petr Cech at Christmas after he was caught in a muddle of which hand to go with and gifted Liverpool a goal.
In Gaelic football and hurling the latest buzzword for a goalkeeper is ‘restarts’. The 2018 version of a keeper should be able to play outfield, be comfortable in possession, take long-range frees and is encouraged to go forward when the opportunity arises. With greater reward comes greater risk and the positioning of goalkeepers and the ability to organise a defence has suffered, particularly in younger players.
In an effort to play the ball out from the back last weekend we saw Tyrone and Down suffer game-changing goals when poor kick-outs and even worse passing gifted the opposition free nets. Hurling keepers last summer were regularly seen pucking short to the full-back line only to take a return and get an extra ten yards on their strike.
Wexford stopper Mark Fanning was brave in possession last Sunday when he received a backpass only to take on the forward and be dispossessed. He can count himself a lucky man that Shane Kingston missed the goal at a critical juncture in the game.
The dictionary definition of a goalkeeper is a player whose chief duty is to prevent the ball from entering the goal. For championship 2018 goalkeeping coaches may be better off not looking to justify their position with new risky ideas and focusing on the basics of what that definition means.
When it goes wrong as a keeper there are is no hiding place.
Check out the latest episode of The 16th Man, where we defend the Kildare footballers and discuss Shane Dowling’s wonder-strike for Na Pairsaigh in the club championship.