There has never been a more popular era to be a goalkeeper.
It has become the most widely discussed and dissected position in Gaelic football for a number of reasons. Partly because the days of just stopping shots and kicking the ball 50 metres are long gone, goalkeepers are expected to do more now.
The restart has become an important facet for the launchpad to attack. The rise in the number of ‘fly-keepers’ has added an extra element to combating defensive screens while goalkeepers, now more than ever, are taking frees and they are even scoring from play in some cases.
Tyrone’s keeper Niall Morgan scores from play pic.twitter.com/P3DA3i6SJa
— The GAA (@officialgaa) February 3, 2019
Above all else, lest we forget, our game’s greatest and most successful servant is a master of the art who you would confidently put up against any goalkeeper in any sport.
However, the increase of number ones operating as more than just shot-stoppers isn’t a new concept to Gaelic football. Between club and county, Shane Curran spent two decades playing at the top level and across those 20 years, the Roscommon legend was known for his crusades out the field, kicking scores and even taking penalties.
The only difference is that in Curran’s era, he was seen as an outlier, an enigma, a mad man and a maverick.
It would be easy for ‘Cake’ to look at how the modern-day goalkeeper is being championed through gritted teeth, however, he could not be happier at seeing how they are being allowed to express themselves.
“Well, it’s funny, in my day I was seen as a maverick and a mad man for coming out of goal and taking frees,” Curran told Pundit Arena.
“I look at Niall Morgan, Cluxton, Rory Beggan, Shaun Patton, Rob Hennelly from Mayo and I think that’s brilliant, I think it’s great to see our games played in a different way, it’s great to see players coming out and expressing themselves, what do we want, to put them into a fucking box?”
Reflecting on his own career, Curran is happy to let others judge him admitting that he often came in for criticism for being an “attention seeker”.
However, he is content in the knowledge that he had a long and successful career, playing a style of football that no manager ever tried to curtail. After all, Curran was first brought into the county set-up as an outfield player, long before ever going in goal.
“Look, people can judge Shane Curran whatever way they want to judge him in terms of his playing career. I’m happy to say I had a great career and I enjoyed my career. Of course, everyone gets criticism but this is part of the narrative that comes around the game from individuals. I only finished playing really about four or five years ago so while I was at that stuff 20 years ago, I still played into my 40s.
“I won an All-Ireland club in my 40s, I think in the All-Ireland final I came out to the half-way line and put a pass into the full-forward line. So these things that you know, I can look back on my career and say, ‘fuck you know what? I really enjoyed it, I had great craic with great people, the game was brilliant and we could go for a pint afterwards’.
“Did I get criticism for it? Of course, I did because I was probably the first out of the box. Reporters and journalists were saying this guy’s an attention seeker, he wants to get out, he wants this, he wants that, he wants the other. But that was my way of playing the game and the reason was, I could play that way. I was an outfield player first and foremost, I spent six or seven years playing outfield for Roscommon at inter-county level before I ever played in goal. I played for my club for ten years before I ever played in goal.
“Like Niall Morgan, I played League of Ireland soccer, all my soccer career was in goal, I never played outfield but all those skills were adapted over two games and I was lucky to have that. I was fortunate, I had great managers who encouraged me, John Tobin, Marty McDermott, Tommy Carr, they all, Kevin McStay, all encouraged me. Liam MacHale, they were all really encouraging to me in how they seen the game evolving over time.”
Now more than ever the goalkeeper’s position looks like the most important role to fill. Increasingly, goalkeeper’s are becoming more like quarterbacks, only they combine the role of orchestrating attacks with being the last line of defence and it feels like they are finally getting the recognition their efforts deserve.
Curran feels the position has always been undervalued citing players such as Martin Furlong and John O’Leary as men who could certainly play outfield as well. It wasn’t something of its time for those men but Curran is delighted at how the position has evolved to the point that it has now become “sexy” to play in goals.
“They are, if not the most important cog in the wheel, certainly one of them.
“The goalkeeper has always been undervalued because it’s like everything in life, the fella who puts the ball in the back of the net gets the big roar but if it’s the goalie who lets the ball slip out of his hands, he becomes the duck and that wipes out all the good things he does and that’s always been the case.
“But if you look at even now the way goalkeeping coaching has evolved across all sports, goalkeepers now have to be able to play. I was probably one of the first goalkeepers that could play outfield, Martin Furlong probably could have done it but they were curtailed by management or by the time not to do it. A lot of goalkeepers through the years have been great outfield players. Like John O’Leary, he was a great outfield player and a brilliant goalkeeper but he didn’t come out. Was he capable of coming out? Of course, he was. Was he able to kick 45s? Of course, he was.
“But it didn’t suit the coaching regime at the time and nowadays, the goalkeepers are being facilitated, sometimes out of necessity, because they are the only ones that practice that core skill of striking the ball off the ground. Then they’ve got a 360-degree skillset in that they can play outfield, they can play in goal and they are very confident.
“I think it’s great to see that, I really do, in terms of making the position sexy for clubs. Clubs have been struggling for a long, long time to get goalkeepers and it’s a big problem in ladies GAA as well. It’s now becoming really sexy to play in goal and I think that’s a good thing. I just hope that the keyboard warrior culture that we have now, the first one that gets criticism now if anything goes wrong is the goalkeeper because they did something different and you have to just get over that, that’s a whole other discussion. I’m just happy to see the likes of Patton and Beggan and Morgan being allowed to showcase their array of skills.”
Read the first half of our two-part feature with Shane Curran here.