MIDWAY through the first half of extra-time in the 2018 Ulster club final, Gaoth Dobhair made a desperate attempt to prevent the ball from crossing the endline for a Scotstown 45.
That desperation from Gaoth Dobhair was because, with Rory Beggan on the other team, a 45 is effectively a score. It was on that occasion because Beggan nailed it.
Beggan had already landed one point in the first half of normal time before having the chance to draw the game late in the second half of extra-time.
The free was from about 47 metres, well within Beggan’s range, but the weather was atrocious, and the underfoot conditions were treacherous on that afternoon in Omagh.
It was an excellent strike in such desperate conditions but for the first time in an age, a Beggan shot did not have the distance, with the ball dropping just underneath the crossbar, and into the arms of Peter McGee.
Gaoth Dobhair deservedly got over the line but it was cruel on Beggan that — for once — the conditions denied him that extra metre of distance he needed to nail one of the most important free kicks he has ever taken.
By that stage, a Beggan free from that distance was almost taken as a given to be converted. The All-Star ‘keeper that season, Beggan’s kicking game went to a whole new level in that 2018 championship, scoring a remarkable 18 points in eight matches.
After the goalkeeper kicked his fourth point against Kerry in the Super 8s, Kevin Cassidy said in his TV co-commentary that he had never seen anything like what Beggan was producing. “Rory Beggan is virtually controlling the whole game with his kickouts and his freetaking,” Cassidy said. “It’s unbelievable stuff.”
Beggan nailed four points that afternoon. Some of those strikes were from such long distances that Beggan’s scoring ability from placed balls has made opponents redraw the areas where it is safe to commit a foul; in the Monaghan-Dublin league game back in February, Beggan casually slotted a free from 65 metres.
Apart from his enduring brilliance and longevity, Stephen Cluxton’s greatest legacy is how he has changed football with his kickouts and distribution. Cluxton was also the first goalkeeper to become a prolific scorer but Beggan’s scoring rate is setting him apart.
He first showcased that potential in the 2014 drawn Ulster semi-final against Armagh when kicking 0-5. It was the first time in Ulster championship history that a goalkeeper top-scored in a game.
Beggan has now kicked 48 championship points, the exact same number as Cluxton. Yet with Cluxton not having taken a free since the 2015 All-Ireland final, with Dean Rock taking over all free-taking responsibilities after that season, Beggan will soon stride well ahead as the highest-scoring championship goalkeeper in history.
Beggan and Cluxton’s closest rival, Tyrone’s Niall Morgan, is still 20 points behind, having clocked 28 points in championship to date. Yet Morgan is taking scoring to a new level again – in the 2019 league, he scored points from play against Mayo and Roscommon.
When Morgan gave a kicking display for the ages against Dublin in this year’s league, scoring 0-4 in a hurricane, Morgan had one shot from play drift narrowly wide.
Beggan scored from play for Scotstown two years ago and it was already clear in the 2020 league that Beggan would be expanding his sweeper-keeper role – he spent almost as much time out the field as he did between the posts.
“Rory Beggan plays it as he sees it,” said Monaghan manager Seamus McEnaney in February. “And I can tell you there are no restrictions on him."
Like Morgan, Beggan is regularly used as an extra body supporting the Monaghan defence when in transition. There are no limits on how far up the field they go.
Raiding upfield is not for every keeper but for those who have the confidence to do so, it can give a team a serious extra attacking option.
In an interview two years ago, Beggan declared how effective goalkeepers would continue to become in the modern game. “In the next year or two, some goalkeepers are going to start scoring from play,” he said. “I think it is inevitable, but I think it's adventurous.”
That kind of adventure was a turning point in Corofin winning the 2019 All-Ireland club title. In the drawn Galway final in October 2018, they were trailing Mountbellew-Moylough by one point deep in injury-time when goalkeeper Bernie Power joined the attack.
Mountbellew had everyone inside their own 45-metre line but when Power got ahead of the ball, he engaged two Mountbellew players inside the 20-metre line, which thinned their defensive cover as Micheál Lundy landed the equaliser in the 64th minute.
Tyrone sub goalkeeper Benny Gallan went a step further again in last year’s Tyrone club championship when scoring a goal from play for Aghyaran St Davogs.
Roscommon’s Shane ‘Cake’ Curran was the original trailblazer in the early 2000s, regularly haring up the field to set up attacks. Curran played underage and senior football for Roscommon as an outfield player, which meant he was more comfortable in those positions, but most modern goalkeepers are confident in possession now, wherever they are on the pitch.
Curran remains the only goalkeeper to have scored a goal (penalty) and point in the same championship match – against Sligo in 2004. But since Cluxton took free-taking and place-kicking to the next level, the trend has exploded.
Ten seasons ago, Cluxton was one of only three goalkeepers to score in that season’s Championship.
Now, all goalkeepers are at it. And they’re getting better, more influential, and are scoring more with each passing season.