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Fly-keeping role hits new heights in Ulster final clash

IF this year’s Ulster final was a harbinger of things to come, then goalkeeping is transforming into something even more unrecognisable from the days of old.

The art of goalkeeping has already changed in recent years – short kick-outs, goalkeepers taking frees and all the rest of it – but Niall Morgan and Rory Beggan’s daredevil performances on Saturday had the watching audience wide-eyed with admiration.

For a more forensic analysis of exactly what transpired at Croker, we’ve touched base with renowned goalkeeping coach Liam Swift (a Monaghan native who has past experience working with the Fermanagh men’s team as well as the Tyrone, Monaghan and Dublin ladies’ teams).

An obvious place to start is the first half, and the intelligent deployment of Tyrone custodian Niall Morgan in the half-back line for Rory Beggan’s restarts, a move that undoubtedly unsettled his opposition counterpart.

Swift said: “It was a masterstroke by the Tyrone backroom team, I’d rewatched the Fermanagh-Monaghan game and you could see what Fermanagh were doing to Monaghan on the press.

“It got him so frustrated that a couple of times the referee had to throw up the ball because he couldn’t decide where to kick the ball out.

“We all know Rory likes to kick out to the number 10 or 12 position, so blocking that channel off did frustrate him.

“If you look at the statistics, Monaghan only won 60 percent of their own kick-outs which by any standard is poor. When Tyrone played Donegal, Niall actually did the same thing, it just wasn’t highlighted as much – Shaun Patton has a long booming kick-out and Niall was there was an extra defender when Tyrone decided to press high.”

Swift also noted that Morgan is definitely availing of the fact that Tyrone have two midfield players well over six foot to launch the ball towards, namely Brian Kennedy and Conn Kilpatrick. Rory Beggan attempted to counter-act that in the middle by leaving his station in the second-half.

“Again you could go down the stats route, Niall had a 100 percent record on his short kick-outs and 79 percent on his long kick-outs.

“In previous years, Tyrone tended to go short, but now he has so many options in midfield. Rory came out to the middle in the second half, but it’s not the first time he’s done that, he was an extra outlet against Armagh in midfield and he was very effective. If you have a ‘keeper who is capable of playing out the field, it’s a bonus as not all keepers are capable of doing that.”

While Beggan was lauded for his performance on Saturday, he was almost caught out when Conor McKenna flicked the ball on to Mattie Donnelly from a Tyrone kick-out. Beggan was behind the action but made a miraculous recovery to dispossess the two-time All-Star. Swift accepts that leaving their goal leaves ‘keepers open to blunders.

“I hate saying this because of the goalkeepers’ union, but eventually a mistake will pop up. Then it’ll be highlighted and the fly-keeper topic will enter the conversation again. It’s a tricky one but to be honest I think it’s brilliant the way the goalkeeper position is evolving, even though it puts more workload on the poor goalkeeping coach.”

Beggan scored two frees from way out the park on Saturday, and it’s remarkable how much distance he gets despite having such a languid kicking style. He’s worked on his game, but Swift believes natural talent undoubtedly plays a role.

“I did a goalkeeping camp in Clontibret about nine or 10 years ago, and I asked Rory to come down to it. I’ve got the video on my phone of Rory doing his kicking, and it hasn’t changed from that day until now. His technique is so relaxed, it’s the same technique as if he’s kicking the ball 20 or 60 yards.

“To me it’s a natural talent, he just has it. He does work hard, I know when he started he used to kick across the pitch, not up and down the pitch. He didn’t use the tee at the start as well, but he changed that and he gets perfect contact with the ball. It’s just so relaxed, he never forces things.”

As for any other observations, Swift was a bit surprised by how much space his native county afforded the Tyrone players in the first half.

“I suppose it’s something that’s been highlighted already, Monaghan kinda stood off Tyrone in the first half which to me was surprising, and no doubt ‘Banty’ had the hatchet out at half-time.

“When the intensity picked up they played a lot better and that they at least deserved a draw to get into extra time. In the second half Monaghan’s tackle count was a lot higher. But even though we lost, what a game to witness, and watching Niall and Rory was brilliant, they’re definitely two of the best in the country.”

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Gaelic Life is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
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