In focus: Rory Beggan – a unique goalkeeper

By Niall Gartland

WHAT was your most memorable moment of the Ulster Senior Club Championship to date?

It says it all that Rory Beggan has produced two of the stand-out moments – and neither were saves.

His last-gasp winner against Kilcoo, an inch-perfect free where the ball flew like an arrow from its original station near the sideline, almost overshadowed his monster point earlier in proceedings, casually pinging over a point in open play from all of 60 metres, the type of effort mere morals wouldn’t even countenance.

Trillick paid him the ultimate respect a game later, tasking James Garrity – a scoring forward, by the way, with marking the big Scotstown goalkeeper. It did go some way to curtailing Beggan’s influence, but it’s all in a day’s work and Beggan will be central to Scotstown’s strategy for taking down Glen in Sunday’s Ulster final.

It’s hard to believe Beggan is still only in his early thirties (if he goes down the Stephen Cluxton route he could be Monaghan’s number one goalkeeper for the remainder of the decade) and he’s been on the go at senior intercounty level since being drafted into the Monaghan panel back in 2011.

One of his colleagues on the team that won Ulster Championship titles in 2013 and 2015 was tigerish defender Dessie Mone, who saw at close-hand how Beggan worked on and improved his game over the years.

Mone said: “He looked and the likes of Stephen Cluxton and his own game and looked at where he could improve. I remember in the ‘Super Eights’ clash against Kerry in 2018, he kicked a pass to Finty Kelly on the far 20-metre line. It was one of those moments that stick in my head as an example of the things Rory could do. I was in awe of the distance he got on that kick.

“That’s the problem opponents have when dealing with Rory, if you push up on him he can pop the ball over the top and he’s great at creating space all around the pitch.

“Other goalkeepers and managers are looking at how they can copy that, the way he can pin-point passes. Yes you have to deal with the players out the field but they’re also spending time trying to stop Rory Beggan’s kick-outs and it’s a lot for a team to get right on any given day.”

Elaborating on Beggan’s progression down the years, his former team-mate continued: “He’s definitely improved his game and to be fair to him he’s worked very hard. When I was at Monaghan you could see him before and after training, working away.

“A couple of very good goalkeeping coaches came in that really nailed down his kicking ability and you could see that in good effect against Kilcoo. He missed a couple in the first-half but he regrouped and got that massive score from the ’65’ and then he got that brilliant free to seal the deal for Scotstown.

“That’s typical of Rory and he’s improved a lot in open play in recent years, he’s causing a lot of problems for teams and he was man-marked against Trillick, Garrity followed him out on the kick-out.”

An eagle-eyed viewer on Twitter (erm, we mean ‘X’) spotted that Beggan was wearing a GPS tracker following their dramatic extra-time victory over Trillick. He’s no slouch and a glance at some old pictures will show you that he’s beefed up over the years as well.

Mone commented: “Rory’s a big towering keeper but he’s also mobile. He was wearing a GPS under his jersey so obviously he’s getting his Kms up. He is playing out the field a lot, even by his standards. Scotstown have a lot of height in the middle and throwing Rory into the mix is a big advantage to them where clubs in particular don’t have that height.

“I know people comment about how it leaves them vulnerable in goal but even if the opposing team win the ball it’s going to take a seriously well-placed ball to trouble them. It seems to be working for Scotstown anyway, they’re not coughing up any chances so why not keep doing it?”

While Scotstown are stacked in the middle sector, they’re coming up against a team this Sunday with arguably the best midfield pairing in the country at midfield level. Conor Glass captained Derry to this year’s Ulster Championship while another county star, Emmett Bradley, is a man mountain with plenty of football ability.

Mone commented: “You’ve essentially got four intercounty players going head-to-head in club football so it’s going to be a fascinating battle. It’s a bit similar to the Trillick game in that respect, Richie Donnelly caught a few lovely balls but he didn’t have it his own way against Darren Hughes either. Michéal McCarville did really well and it’d be no surprise to me if he gets some game-time next year for Monaghan. Emmett Bradley isn’t with Derry at the minute but he’s intercounty standard so it all makes for a fascinating battle, you have Kieran Hughes around and Ethan Doherty coming in for the breaks so it could be the winning and losing of the game.”

Meanwhile, Beggan was already an established county star when he lined out between the sticks for UUJ in the 2014 Sigerson Cup final against University College Cork. To give you an idea of the quality of that Jordanstown team, manager Adrian McGuckin could call upon players of the calibre of Chrissy McKaigue, Mattie Donnelly, Killian Clarke, Kieran Hughes, Jamie Clarke, Connor McAliskey and Ronan O’Neill. They lost the final to a dubious late point from Conor Dorman, which looked like it had actually drifted wide in the swirling conditions, but it was still a memorable campaign and McGuckin enjoyed his time working with Beggan.

“Rory was 100 percent to work with, he was very friendly and soaked up all the information. He was a quiet lad.

“He’s an excellent goalkeeper, a good ball-stopper and his kick-outs were very good. It was a bit different back then, it was still common-place to bang the ball out to the middle of the field but he had all the qualities of a brilliant goalkeeper and was a brilliant lad.

“He was typical of the Monaghan lads, and I have to say the Tyrone lads as well, they’d give you everything.

“There was a strong Monaghan contingent at that time, those lads are all salt of the effort, they love their football and give it their all no matter who they’re playing. It’s no surprise to me that Scotstown are going so well with lads like Rory and Kieran on the team.”

Derry native McGuckin helped establish a tradition of footballing excellence in St Pat’s, Maghera and the vast majority of the current Glen team came through the ranks at the school. They were once the nearly men of Derry football but they’re now the reigning Ulster Champions and McGuckin believes they can go all the way to the All-Ireland.

“Glen have been absolutely brilliant, they had super underage teams but everyone doubted them as they had brilliant players in the past but had never won a senior championship.

“But I had no doubts about this particular generation as they were winning minor and U-21 titles for fun. St Pat’s won the MacRory Cup in 2013 and I think they had a dozen Glen boys on the panel.

“They’ve developed into a super team and their defence is brilliant. They’ve a brilliant midfield and maybe they don’t have marquee scoring forwards but they have a good spread of players who can take a score. They have such a good defence that if they score 11 or 12 points they’re going to win most matches and I think the team that beats them will win the All-Ireland. In saying that, they’d be my choice to win the All-Ireland this year.”

Time will tell whether Glen will follow in the footsteps when it comes to negating Scotstown’s versatile number one. Their manager Malachy O’Rourke elected against a man-marking job when they met two years ago, but Scotstown have improved in the mean-time and he’ll surely be thinking about it. For now he’s keeping his cards close to his chest.

He said: “It’s a way the way the game has gone, goalkeepers coming out and creating the extra man makes a big difference and it’s another thing for opponents to contend with. Rory has a great skill-set, his kick off the tee, his kicking out of the hand, he has a great range of passing and he can obviously score as well.

“It’s something we’ll look at and see what the best way of approaching it is. We played them a couple of years ago and we didn’t go down that route but Rory is coming out the field more now so it’s something we’ll look at.”

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