STUDYING the top goalkeepers in the Premier League is one aspect of improving the basic skills of young Gaelic football net-minders.
Specialist coaches, Billy O’Connor and Briain Morgan, who is the new Cork minor goalkeeping coach, highlighted its importance during the recent webinar on the development pathway.
Both honed in on the significance of footwork and ball-handling.
“Are you as coaches or as clubs focussing on the goalkeepers’ training?” asked O’Connor.
“The reality is probably not, but if the footwork is good, clear and clean then it will improve performances and it will certainly get you out of trouble.
“And Caoimhín Kelleher was talking recently about Irish dancing to improve his footwork.”
Morgan, who captained Nemo Rangers to Cork and Munster club glory in 2010, identified Man Utd’s David de Gea as a prime example.
“I’ve never seen a keeper make so many fantastic saves with his legs and this is due to his quick footwork,” he said.
Morgan also referenced the 1981 European Cup final involving Nottingham Forest.
“Peter Shilton’s training consisted of bouncing a ball off a roundabout in front of the team hotel to improve his handling. Forest won the game 1-0 and Shilton got the Man-of-the-Match award.”
Shot-stopping was the centre-piece of Morgan’s contribution, covering catching, hand-to-eye coordination and various types of saves and angles.
“We’re trying to get youngsters using what’s termed the W and M handshapes when catching the ball.
“The W shape is used from chest height and the M version is used below that. All this is theory and once we get back on pitches it will become much clearer.
“Improving hand-to-eye coordination is done by using a small ball, like a sliotar or a tennis ball and a rugby ball is also beneficial for reflexive saves because of the uneven bounce.”
Morgan also referenced ice hockey for body and leg saves because the keeper invariably saves with his chest, arm, knee and foot.
“Your body is the last line of defence for a keeper and you should always have it behind the ball when making a save.
“The majority of leg saves are usually from shots between five and 10 yards range and this is why footwork is so important. You have to be careful here though because some referees might penalise you for a foot block.
“And by making the goal smaller, you’re trying to put the pressure on the player taking the shot. In training, I would encourage coaches to maybe at the end of a session to get players to have 10 shots at the keeper from different angles.”
O’Connor from Cullen and a former Duhallow keeper, said good footwork allows the keeper to move freely around the goal, make saves and catches more efficiently and get closer to the ball quicker.
“We’re trying to get the idea across to youngsters that footwork could be the difference between saving a game or letting balls slip into the back of the net.
“The question often asked is what part of a goalkeeper’s game is footwork used and the simple answer is, in every facet.
“Patience is the key word in all this because it doesn’t happen overnight and cannot be rushed.
Videos showed the use of ladders on the ground or cones during training. “It’s quite simple. There’s nothing scientific about it, but it’s very effective at the same time.
“The key messages are that quality keepers develop footwork early in their careers and perfect it throughout, so starting early is important.
“It cannot be rushed and technique is developed over time. It also allows a fun element which is important for kids.”
O’Connor also dwelt on improving handling skills and posed the question of whether it was worked on in training.
“You start with uncontested drills in a variety of situations, high, low or to the side. It is a skill that needs to be developed.
“There are four basic handling techniques, scooping off the ground, into the midrift, high hands and diving.
“Those skills could be practiced during mini-games in training.”