The key to goalscoring in football is knowing when to go for the jugular

The key to goalscoring in football is knowing when to go for the jugular
Rob Hennelly of Mayo makes a save from David Clifford of Kerry. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

DEEP into injury-time of the recent NFL Division 1 final Mayo managed to work an opening from their own kick-out to get Ciaran Treacy through one-v-one on the Kerry goal.

Mayo were a point ahead and Rob Hennelly had only just made a game-changing save from David Clifford.

There wasn’t a whole pile of time to weigh up the options for Treacy but in hindsight there were two – play safe and fist over a handy insurance point or clinch the game properly by banging a goal, with the risk of that not happening and consequences of course.

We don’t know if it even entered Treacy’s head not to go for the goal but you’d imagine the thought process differs depending on the position/ mentality/experience of the player. It was fascinating for instance to see the difference in opinion afterwards, the split between admiration for the positivity to have the go at goal and the slight implied criticism that maybe it was a little reckless.

Aidan O’Rourke went so far as to call it typical Mayo, that sort of naïve lack of game management at the crucial time that might have backfired in other circumstances.

Looking at the video there doesn’t seem any indication of a lack of assurance or any doubt in Treacy’s actions, it looks like a goal was the only thing in his head, and this would be the case for many (perhaps any) natural forwards here.

James Masters had an eye for goal with Nemo. Picture: Kieran Clancy/SPORTSFILE
James Masters had an eye for goal with Nemo. Picture: Kieran Clancy/SPORTSFILE

I remember a good few years back now, a club championship game in Newcestown where Clon looked to have Nemo beaten by a point very deep into injury-time until a long ball conjured a penalty from nothing for Nemo.

As James Masters got his hands on the ball you could see the Nemo sideline screaming for his attention and indicating he was to tap it over the bar and take the draw. He followed the instruction but it stuck in my head as a curiosity for ages until the next time we met and I asked about whether he had decided himself what to do before he got word from the management.

He replied that not going for the goal hadn’t even entered his head as an option.

Again, that difference in how a forward looks on being presented a goal-scoring chance, a free strike at goal really, when you’ve been taught your entire playing life since the age of six probably to take a shot at goal when presented with a one-v-one, and how a management team or less instinctively attacking footballer looks at the opportunity.

Some forwards will always spot a goal chance where others can only see a potential score (the more extreme example might be a genius player like Colm Cooper), maybe just noticing an extra space or an overload of numbers to create a strike at goal. and you can always tell in the movement of the goal-creating player when he gets the ball, that little spark of extra speed when the occasion arises.

There’s a change of course in the art of goalscoring, in how goals are made and the frequency of goal chances created in the top games especially can be desperately low.

There are games where you’d wonder whether teams actively do any work on the sort of movement and combinations that might open up a goal opportunity, when you see the fill of bodies inside the 45 and it’s hard to imagine finding the spaces to get a shot for a point, never mind to work the ball close enough to take a worthwhile strike for a green flag.

Goalkeepers are there for kicking the ball out now as much (if not more so really) as saving shots at goal. There are wonderings every now and then about rewarding the goal even more by making it a four-pointer but we’re unsure if that works, where some naturally see chances to score more, others will see need to concede less and button up the spaces even more.

Perhaps a ban on punching points might work, is there anything more disappointing than a flowing move ending with player punching over the bar? And still so many games are won and lost on goals.

Look at the recent county championship run of games. At senior level every winning team had at least one goal and no team lost while outgoaling the opposition, it only happened in twice across 25 games at senior/premier intermediate/intermediate.

Conditions played a part in the importance of them but a large part of the Ilen Rovers win over Ross last weekend was two early goals that kept them out of reach for the entire game. The exact same thing kept Clon ahead of Newcestown the week before, that ability to open up a defence and get in on goal a couple of times and in Sean White’s case, to go for goal when he could easily have tapped a point, that won and lost the game.

Fermoy nicked a famous win over Haven on the back of an early goal that altered the flow of the game, same as Kiskeam’s two early goals gave them belief they could take rivals Mallow this time.

Nemo always have goals anyway, but for a team like Dohenys say, where Mark Buckley and Fionn Herlihy combined for three goals out of four in their win over St Nick’s, that kind of scoring ability can change a club.

Mark Buckley, Dohenys, hit the goal-trail recently. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Mark Buckley, Dohenys, hit the goal-trail recently. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

There haven’t been many goal finishers produced for a while, the kind of forwards where you’d almost have a goal next to their name before the game, who’d have it as their first instinct to go for goal in a one-v-one situation against a defender rather than sit back and loop the point. 

It’s probably more about the decision making process now, where rather than having specialist goalscorers inside corner-forward the teams that can recognise goal-scoring opportunities and be clinical about taking them are the more successful.

You could probably say the last three, maybe even four, senior county finals have been won by game-changing goals, by teams seeing the chance and having the bravery to go for it.

It still makes a difference.

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