Blaine Hughes urged to build from Antrim performance

By Niall McCoy

A FORMER Armagh goalkeeper has said that Blaine Hughes has quietened his critics for the time being, but warned that they will soon find their voice again if the kick-out strategy falters in the Ulster semi-final against Monaghan.

Philly McEvoy is currently working with the Oriel county as their u-20 goalkeeping coach, and having spent seven years with the Orchard county he is well aware of the pressure placed on net-minders if the kick-out strategy falters.

Hughes has had to deal with plenty of recent scrutiny too, especially after Armagh’s National League North draw with Donegal, but he responded in the perfect manner with a Man of the Match performance in the Ulster quarter-final win over Antrim.

“Blaine showed the full repertoire of skills that are required to play in goals at intercounty level,” said McEvoy.

“He had great variation on his kick-outs leading to a 90-per-cent-plus success rate from Armagh restarts. He was able to play sweeper-keeper when needed, particularly in the first half, and also he was able to deal with any high balls under pressure.

“On top of that, he pulled off a great save at a crucial stage of the game so I was delighted that Blaine got to demonstrate his full range of skills on such a big stage as the Ulster Championship.”

Expanding on the criticism that comes the way of goalkeepers, McEvoy said that supporters needed to realise that blame – and praise – needed to be a shared experience.

“Sometimes when kick-outs don’t work out, a lot of people give ‘keepers stick when they say ‘there was no movement out the field’ because they see that as an easy excuse.

“If you were to ask Blaine I guarantee you that the first thing he’d say is that he had great options out the field. The way it works is that when it goes well, it’s on the back of some great work out the pitch. That comes from great work from Blaine and his goalkeeping coach Ciaran McKinney.

“The full panel though is entrusted with the kick-out strategy and the Antrim match showed that there is great work being done, group work as opposed to a goalkeeper just going and practicing his kick-outs. It has to be a collective part of training.”

The 38-year-old, who has represented Dromintee in the Armagh Senior A league this year, has warned though that Hughes and his teammates must hit those heights again in their last-four clash with Monaghan.

“The thing about goalkeeping is that it can quickly turn. I was delighted to see Blaine win Man of the Match, but it’s all about the next game now and Monaghan will bring something different to the table.

“There’ll be a lot more pressure on the kick-outs from Monaghan. They’ll have their own strategy to counteract the Armagh kicks-outs, so it’s up to the goalkeeper and the team to get as much preparation in as possible before the game.

“Also their reaction times in the game itself will be crucial. They will have to find their own strategy to try and repeat that 90-per-cent success rate. If they manage that, they will have a great foundation to reach a first Ulster final since 2008.”

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