Cian O'Leary's influential role in Cork's 2019 All-Ireland minor triumph showed the importance of a reliable goalkeeper

His quick-thinking to get the ball into play as quickly as possible after Galway scored a late goal reflected the late John Kerins from 32 years previously in the 1987 Munster final against Kerry
Cian O'Leary's influential role in Cork's 2019 All-Ireland minor triumph showed the importance of a reliable goalkeeper

Cork's Cian O'Leary, seen here with Neil Lordan, played a major role in the 2019 All-Ireland minor final victory over Galway at Croke Park. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

GAELIC football has changed beyond almost all recognition in recent times, but yet some aspects remain a constant.

We all recognise the importance of key individuals like a reliable free-taker, a dominant midfielder and a controlling centre-back. And you can throw in the role of goalkeeper into that category, too.

Back in the 1987 Cork-Kerry Munster final on a sun-baked afternoon at a thronged Pairc Ui Chaoimh, John Kerins helped Cork out of a sticky situation.

His quick-thinking after Mikey Sheehy thought he had plundered a dramatic late winning goal led to a Larry Tompkins’ equalising point from a free at the other end.

Cast your mind more recently to the 2019 All-Ireland minor decider between Cork and Galway when something similar happened.

Galway pounced for a goal to seemingly snatch the title only for Cian O’Leary to have the presence of mind to take a quick kick-out which resulted in a levelling goal from Conor Corbett to bring the game to extra-time.

It was all of 32 years between the two incidents, but still showed that essential basics like game management, composure and fitness stand the test of time.

What has altered, though, is how players’ performances are measured, like, for instance, O’Leary from Douglas having 39 possessions that memorable day.

It was three more than man-of-the-match Corbett (Clyda Rovers), who finished with 1-7, while Buttevant corner-forward Michael O’Neill led the way on 56 en route to contributing 0-6.

A video clip shows O’Leary taking balls from under the crossbar, saves into his body, making one-on-one saves, stopping goals and setting up attacks.

“He had 29 kick-outs, including his crucial restart immediately after Galway netted before the end which allowed Cork equalise with a goal of their own seconds later.

“Cian had a really big influence on Cork winning the All-Ireland that day, including having 10 possessions,” said goalkeeper coach Ray O’Neill at last week’s webinar.

A study of the 2019 season showed keepers had an average of 30 possessions during a game, separated into 23 kick-outs, five catches and two attempted saves.

“These are all little pieces but stuck together make the bigger picture. I think it’s important to get a handle on that and understand it,” O’Neill commented.

Yet, the Éire Óg man posed a pertinent question as to whether coaches were training that high number of kick-outs.

“You might have a keeper taking six, seven or eight kick-outs in a short space of time after a team gets a run on you.

“We all see it, the kick-out gets worse and worse and that is essentially fatigue because the leg muscle hasn’t been trained efficiently.

“It’s also where the range of kick-outs comes in because you can’t be one-dimensional and go down the middle all the time.”

Keepers’ timing, handling and decision-making were stressed in dealing with in-coming bombs as were aspects such as footwork, body position, strong hand, bravery and dealing with shot angles, all of which underpin a number 1’s role.

Alan Quirke, Cork’s netminder in the 2010 All-Ireland winning season, outlined the principles of goalkeeping, kick-outs, shot stopping, handling, general football skills, communication and organisational skills.

The Valley Rovers clubman made some interesting observations on talent selection.

“It’s an area that probably hasn’t been looked at in any great detail in the past,” he said

“What type of player is playing in goals for your team? We’d like to think along the same lines as you would for your free-taker, which is obviously a very important role.

“You need a good base of football ability, game intelligence, calmness, communications and resilience.

“Of course, you can’t always expect youngsters to be good talkers on a pitch but it’s something that can be developed over time.

“Another consideration might be to play someone up an age. For example, you might have a talented 14-year-old who is a strong centre-back, midfielder or centre-forward in his own age.

“If he has an interest in playing in goal he could play there at U15 though I know different clubs have different policies.

“The three key points are ‘what makes a good keeper, how are we selecting youngsters and now are developing them?’"

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