Who would want to be a goalkeeper anyway? A good performance isn’t always worthy of praise while every mistake is carefully dissected under a microscope. It really does takes a special type of breed to go between the sticks.
On Saturday, Westmeath defeated Laois in the Division 3 League final on a scoreline of 1-13 to 0-13. It was a poor game overall with Croke Park feeling more like a funeral than a final.
Ger Egan’s three-pointer 11 minutes from time was enough to separate the two sides and it was a well-taken goal following a brilliant move from Westmeath, probably the best of the game. However, all anyone will remember is the person that lost possession in the lead-up.
For detractors, it will be used as a stick to beat the Portlaoise man with. A reason to hammer home why he’s making a mockery of the position.
“A goalkeeper’s job is to stop the other team scoring goals.”
That is true, traditionally the main job of the goalkeeper is to tend the goals, but we’ve already seen the position evolve exponentially over the last few seasons thanks to Stephen Cluxton and a kick-out strategy that has opposition teams at ‘sixes and sevens’.
What if this is just the next step in a natural line of progression that mirrors the evolution of the game?
What if the fly-keeper is here to stay? Is that really such a bad thing?
In an era of blankets and swarmed defences teams are consistently struggling in attack. Graham Brody’s style of play offers a counteract to this, his consistency in joining the Laois attack throws a spanner into a system that at this stage has become foolproof.
When Brody begins on one of his marauding runs up-field it isn’t some headless chicken running around without any purpose. Quite often he is Laois’ most inventive player, their most effective player. He is smart with his passing and relentless in his running and he knows when too much is too much.
Now we come to Rory Beggan, 2018 All-Star goalkeeper. An excellent shot-stopper, can kick long or short, reads the game well and is Monaghan’s second-most important player. If McManus is their scoring wide-receiver, Beggan is the quarterback.
Beggan is also fond of venturing upfield and his dynamic range of passing is the fulcrum of many Monaghan attacks.
Then we have Tyrone’s netminder, Niall Morgan.
Morgan was arguably the best goalkeeper across each of the four divisions in this year’s Allianz Football League. When Tyrone’s league campaign got off to a most horrendous start, Morgan was the only player worth talking about.
The Edendork man has come under intense scrutiny throughout his inter-county career, however, there is no doubt that Morgan added to his already impressive repertoire throughout the 2019 league.
His bombing runs forward were the best thing about Tyrone’s attack in their opening three games. He kicked two points from play, one of which was a last minute equaliser against Roscommon (they went on to win the next four).
While Morgan is as decorated as they come in terms of goalkeeping having minded the nets for Tyrone, Ireland and Dungannon Swifts on the soccer pitch, he is equally adept out the field, hence why he was chosen at full forward on this year’s Tyrone Club All-Star select.
It seems quite logical that Mickey Harte saw how effective Beggan and Brody were for their respective counties in 2018 and decided to clip Morgan’s wings and give him that license to roam.
These three men are at present, on form, the top three goalkeepers in Ireland. Why?
Because their role as the ‘fly-keeper’ allows them to have more of an influence on the game. The valuation of their performance doesn’t rest on how many goals they concede but how their play affects the outcome.
Is it a risk? Possibly, but let’s put some perspective on this. It’s Gaelic football, not soccer, anyone can become a goalkeeper at any given moment.
What if they make a mistake? So what! It won’t be their first, it won’t be their last and you can be damn sure that they won’t be the only player to have made a mistake.
Was Graham Brody the only man to make an error on Saturday? Aspiring goalkeepers take note; don’t let what happened to Brody curtail your game!
The ‘fly-keeper’ is just the latest manoeuvre in a game that continues to evolve and revolutionise. Instead of trying to play down its effect and tell goalkeepers they aren’t playing the game correctly, we should be encouraging them and willing on this type of football.
Above all, this style of play is entertaining to watch. It gets the crowd on their feet and leaves supporters hearts in mouths and that’s what we want.
With all that has happened Gaelic football in the last decade, should we really be turning away that entertainment value?