Gaelic GamesThe Middle Third

Darragh Ó Sé: Penalties show the value of a goalkeeper like Odhrán Lynch

If you can’t win a match in normal time or after extra-time that’s what the penalty shoot-out is for

You can say what you want about the penalty shoot-out. That it’s a lottery, it’s all too foreign, an awful way to lose a game. But don’t try and tell me that it’s not good fun and entertainment. Good for those in attendance, good for those watching on TV.

Amid the fun and games at the end of Sunday’s Ulster football final we also learned that shoot-outs are made for the traditional out-and-out goalkeeper. We’re seeing more of the Rory Beggan, Niall Morgan-type goalkeepers. Ethan Rafferty from Armagh is also in that bracket now. More utility players than ‘keepers, moving more and more out the field.

But when it comes to the penalty shoot-out we saw the value of a goalkeeper like Odhrán Lynch. The situation, in reality, came down to pure goalkeeping and Lynch has been playing pure goalkeeper since he was knee high. He would have been hoping for this outcome, the chance to put himself in that shop window. His two saves to his right-hand side were outstanding, exceptionally timed with brilliant touches of the hand.

When Rafferty found himself facing down the barrel, then having to shoot one too, a lot of that would have been still a little new to him. Rafferty is an outfield player, bringing his own style of goalkeeping to the party. But it would have been a bit like Niall Quinn going into goal for Man City for a shoot-out back in the day.


Ultimately it can be the winning and losing of a game, and that’s exactly what it came down to on Sunday. Lynch made those big saves and that was that.

With the shoot-out in the GAA because of the size of the goal the goalkeeper will almost always be cast as the hero or the villain. I don’t buy this notion it’s an awful way to lose a game either. The reality of it is if you can’t win a match in normal time, or after extra-time, that’s what the penalty shoot-out is for. The rules of engagement are clear to everyone now from the outset.

Sunday was a tight, marginal game, but in these situations the better team normally gets over the line first. When Armagh went two points ahead in extra time, after Stefan Campbell came on and scored twice, I really thought that was game over. But Derry were relentless, wouldn’t give in, wouldn’t roll over. You can’t just put it all down to Armagh losing on penalties.

In fairness to Kieran McGeeney he didn’t have too many complaints about the manner of the defeat even if they were also down the same road too last summer against Galway. The shoot-out is here and here to stay. I can’t see a whole lot of push back from it even when used to decide a provincial final.

We have to remember that a draw after extra-time is still unusual. Yes, Armagh must feel like lightning has struck twice, but the law of averages dictates most teams will never find themselves in the same situation.

The art of the penalty has moved on a good bit. I remember when I was playing minor for West Kerry and we were messing around with penalties at training, I had no bother scoring for fun. When it came to the actual game and we were awarded a penalty they handed the responsibility to yours truly – needless to say I made a complete mess of it. That was my first and last experience of penalty-taking.

When it came to senior Dara Ó Cinnéide and Maurice Fitzgerald were generally our penalty-takers for as long as I was on the go. We played Tipperary in Tralee once, got a spot kick, and Dara stepped up and missed it. Then we got a second, Maurice stepped up and he missed it too. I remember Maurice saying afterwards that if you miss the first you should always be allowed take the next one as you’d have learned from your mistakes straight away.

Since they’ve brought the ball in a few yards it does put a bit more pressure on the goalkeeper. The older style penalty was a bit of a nightmare, kicking into such a small goal target compared to the size of a soccer goal.

You still have to practice, get your five best kickers ready with that rota decided in advance. What you see in soccer is that they generally put up their best players early. Armagh tried that on Sunday, putting up Rian O’Neill first, only he missed. It goes to show that there’s no hard and fast rule.

The penalty as it is now will always favour the good kicker, but in fairness Kerry don’t have a great record in penalties in recent times. Seánie O’Shea missed that one against Dublin in the first half of the semi-final last year – although he was made wait a long time to take it by Dublin goalkeeper Evan Comerford.

It has always been part of training, only more so now. You get the two goalkeepers involved at the tail end of a session, which is ideal because it mimics the end of extra-time when you’re naturally out on your feet. There’s no excuse for teams not being used to it.

As we head into the football stages the fact you have three of the four teams coming out of each group would suggest that we’re looking at a long, roundabout way of just having extra games.

Mayo coming to Killarney could present Kerry with a test. It’s hard to know what Cork will be like, and I think Louth were found out by Dublin.

Mayo will be keen to get their season going again after beating all the big teams in the league, Kerry included. But Kerry will be up for it. They looked sharp in the Munster final, have a great record in Killarney and should win out. I would, though, be looking for a little more form from the likes of Seánie O’Shea. Especially if he steps up for a penalty.