The Christy O'Connor column: Jeepers keepers are worth risk

The Christy O'Connor column: Jeepers keepers are worth risk
There are more than 3,000 applicants on the Cork City Council housing waiting list. Photo: Eamonn Farrell.

BERNIE Power, the Corofin goalkeeper, has certainly made a name for himself lately, especially after the kicking exhibition he gave in last month’s All-Ireland club football final against Dr Crokes.

Power was arrowing kick-outs past Crokes’ screens all afternoon but, with Power always offering himself as an option for back-passes, he was lasering sublime long kick-passes to Corofin players throughout the match too. One-60-yard missile into space in the second half led to one of Corofin’s best scores.

Power has been a huge part of Corofin’s success. He’s a solid shot-stopper but his kicking game has given Corofin a whole different dimension; his 70-yard boomer over the Ballintubber press to a sprinting Gary Sice created the decisive goal for Corofin in the Connacht final last November; Power gave a kickout masterclass in the All-Ireland semi-final in February, especially when Gaoth Dobhair pushed up on Corofin and had them under huge pressure in the second half.

Power’s relaxed personality almost reflects his free-spirit as a goalkeeper because he is always willing to try something. His kicking game is adventurous and unorthodox but his career to date has been too. Power was Corofin sub keeper in 2016, and hadn’t been one of five goalkeepers on the Galway panel that winter when he was drafted in almost out of nowhere for the Connacht semi-final against Mayo in Castlebar.

He was solid that evening in Galway’s win because Power has the ideal temperament for a goalkeeper; composed, relaxed and confident, especially in his own ability. 

He neatly fits into the Corofin mindset too because for a team which have patented attacking and flair football, Corofin have tapped into Power’s adventure and willingness to try something different; they have trained with Power becoming an extra forward if they were chasing a game late on and needed a goal.

The goalkeeper’s remit has certainly changed in recent years. Goalkeepers are far more than just shot-stoppers anymore but the role of the more ‘adventurous’ goalkeeper’ came into the spotlight last week when Laois goalkeeper Graham Brody made one of his trademark runs up the field in the Division 3 league final against Westmeath. 

When Brody’s pass didn’t find its intended target around midfield, the Westmeath counter-attack led to a Ger Egan goal. The score was critical because Westmeath won by three points.

There were plenty of defenders back behind Brody when Laois lost possession but the score still added fuel to a debate which has smouldered in recent seasons, but which has ignited even more this year.

In the All-Ireland Intermediate semi-final in January, An Spidéal goalkeeper Maghnus Breathnach went on a driving run but when he fumbled a one-two around the 45-metre line, Naomh Éanna’s Joe Maskey picked up the ball and superbly finished to an empty net. 

In the last round of the league in March, a miscommunication between Galway full-back Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh and goalkeeper Ruairí Lavelle was capitalised on by Tyrone’s Mattie Donnelly who intercepted the ball and kicked it to an empty net from 25 metres.

On League Sunday that evening, Kevin McStay criticised the performances of the two goalkeepers in that Galway-Tyrone match, Lavelle and Niall Morgan. McStay effectively said that goalkeepers should not be getting as involved in open play, and that short kick-outs are more risk than reward. 

In his analysis, McStay said that he counted 2-8 of which was “directly attributable to goalkeepers.” Morgan was also criticised for getting beaten to a high ball by Danny Cummins, which resulted in a Galway goal. 

McStay had a point about Morgan on that score but his comment on short kick-outs was misplaced; there will always be an element of risk with short kick-outs but it’s still a fundamental part of the modern game, both in how teams try to control possession, and in denying the other team the attacking platform from winning opposition kick-outs.

Niall Morgan of Tyrone. Picture: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile
Niall Morgan of Tyrone. Picture: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile

Mistakes from adventurous keepers always risk being ruthlessly punished but the reward is still often worth the chance. Brody’s trip up the pitch late on against Wexford in last year’s Leinster championship, where he ended up about 30 yards from the opposition goal, led to Laois’ equalising score, which took the game to extra time, and in the long run, to a Leinster final.

In injury time of last year’s Galway Intermediate final, Maghnus Breathnach’s dramatic late intervention pushed the game into extra time. An Spidéal were a point down when Breathnach left his goal, took a ball on the run, and won a free that he superbly converted. An Spidéal went on to a win the game, and a Connacht title.

Goalkeepers can always become an extra attacker when they have the ball. In last year’s Leinster U-20 championship, Wexford’s Ivan Meegan scored a brilliant point from play against Dublin. Meegan picked up possession near his own goal and played just one return pass before pointing from around 55 metres.

Morgan also kicked points from play in two league games this spring, one of which – against Roscommon – was crucial to Tyrone securing a draw, and their first point of the campaign.

When Laois played Wexford last May, Laois’ first attack saw Brody make one of his routine forays up the field. And if Alan Farrell’s pass had managed to get through to him, Brody would have been in on goal.

Brody may have been unluckily caught out last weekend but he has still played a key part in evolving the modern goalkeeping role. It’s not for every keeper but for those who have the confidence to raid upfield, it can give a team a serious extra attacking option.

In the modern game, most teams have certain players who fall back into a defensive formation when a rapid counter-attack is on. And the same tactic could be applied when a goalkeeper goes forward.

The risk will always exist. But the rewards for using a goalkeeper as an extra attacking player could be potentially far greater.

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