Saving penalties, misplacing kick-outs... the highs and lows of a GAA goalkeeper

Saving penalties, misplacing kick-outs... the highs and lows of a GAA goalkeeper

Duhallow goalkeeper Patrick Doyle has suffered disappointment in the last two senior finals. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

THREE weekends ago, Patrick Doyle, the Duhallow goalkeeper, stepped into a losing senior county final dressing-room for the second year in a row.

His division was devastated. Doyle decided he’d give it Monday and Tuesday to get over the loss and then, with his club training on Wednesday night, refocus, to go again, for the intermediate county final.

Most players have a winter to let those regrets linger, but Duhallow had a week to put things right.

The following weekend, Doyle saved two penalties as Knocknagree beat Gabriel Rangers by a few points. The beauty of the county semi-final/final circuit at this time of year is the ups and downs, sometimes both within a week.

Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

First, those penalties. A few weeks ago, Tim Krul made headlines for Norwich by saving two penalties against Man United and still his team lost. Doyle got to be the hero. Ask him about the saves and you’ll get critical self-analysis. And this willingness to be hard on his own performance is why he made those saves.

Doyle says his kickouts were not the best. Gabriel Rangers were pressing intensely and so he was glad to make a contribution with those saves. There’s no great secret, either.

“There’s a fair bit of luck,” he says. “Mainly, you’re just trying to read a player, wait until he’s placed the ball and stepped back, pick a side, and hope you make the right decision.

“The first penalty was a left-footed taker and the second was right-footed, which was kind of unusual, so I went different directions each time. I would do some extra work on penalties at training.

“Anthony O’Connor takes our penalties and he would call me over before or after training, for maybe six or seven penalties, most nights, so if I get near some of those, I know I’m doing ok.”

Doyle got his tells spot on at vital moments. Eoghan McSweeney said afterwards how vital they were in stopping opposition momentum. John Fintan Daly was delighted for his young goalkeeper: Doyle’s only 22. Another club person mentioned Doyle’s dedication and there is definitely something of the modern goalkeeper in his approach.

Being a Chelsea fan, Petr Cech was always a hero of Doyle’s. And he learns with, and from, clubmate Damien Browne.

Doyle was in school a year behind Shane Ryan, the Kerry goalkeeper. Dublin goalkeeper, Stephen Cluxton, gets a name-check as the major influence. But Doyle thinks about his craft.

Kick-out stats are important. Clean sheets are a priority — “We always say, as a defence, that if we can stop goals, our forwards with Knocknagree are so talented that they they’ll always work up a winning total” — but there’s more to a position that is so open to analysis.

Being a goalkeeper has a different skillset now and the emphasis on kick-outs has changed the position completely in the last decade or so.

Doyle goes on, “Of course, we do a lot of video work and analysis of games with Duhallow and Knocknagree, always looking at the things that didn’t work to try and find ways to improve. And, yeah, if we have an average of 17/18 kick-outs in a game, you’d probably target winning 80%-90% of your kick-outs, depending on the game. But then, you have to be careful. I could be happy with winning 100% of the kick-outs, but all of them could be to the corner-back, who’s under savage pressure, then, to work the ball out.

“There are times to just boot the ball out and try to win possession further out. You do need to think about giving the advantage to your team in the right way, and it wouldn’t just be my call or management’s; it would be a group decision that might change from game to game, as well. If we were up against a team with a very strong midfield, we mightn’t hit as many long kicks, or, if a team liked to press, it might change where you’d put the kick-outs,” Doyle says.

Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Picture: Eddie O'Hare

There are bad days, of course. Ask Doyle what’s been the most unpleasant experience so far and he painfully remembers the county final with Duhallow last year, when his kick-outs directly led to 1-1 for the ’Barr’s in a short, vital spell. He knows that making those kind of mistakes is basically the only way of learning on the job, though. But Cluxton’s big advantage is his reaction to adversity.

“My father (also a goalie) used to say that one mistake is fine, but not to let it be followed with a second and a third, then, to kill a game off. I just think Cluxton’s temperament is unreal and that’s the biggest thing he has, the way nothing seems to faze him. He can make a mistake and he’s back focused again, or if a team thinks they’ve rattled him and he just keeps going.

“You try and stay calm and move on and you hope you’re improving all the time at that and, in some ways, it’s not something you can really train for,” Doyle says.

Doyle scored a goal in the All-Ireland junior final at Croke Park last year, a 45 that sort of arrowed into the top corner of the net. He’s had these wretched county finals, conceding goals and losing games.

He’s saved two penalties and won. Already, he’s talking about next year with Duhallow and doing more with Knocknagree, but, first, there’s lip sync night in the GAA club.

Doyle has already experienced many of the variables of being a goalkeeper.

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