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Time to hit the spot and make 'keepers pay the penalty

Kevin McStay
Ballina's David Clarke

Time to make ‘keepers pay penalty

Kevin McStayI   TOOK a penalty in a Connacht final a long time ago and the ball hit the ground about six times before it trickled over the line and in. Which is a long-winded way of saying my luck was really in because it was truly a horrible effort that somehow exacted the maximum return.
In those days referees rarely awarded penalties so the whole science of this critically important facet of play was neglected.
We practiced the odd evening but never sat down with a coach or indeed a goalkeeper to try and figure out a best way.
The geometry involved in such an important opportunity was never discussed and we just got on with it. The options were simple and straightforward enough: drive it or place it.
The subject of penalty taking was raised a few times this season on The Sunday Game because it is a subject of interest to both Anthony Tohill and myself.
I am attempting to get the overall statistics for penalties in 2007 and 2008 at senior inter-county level to see if they confirm what we believe to be the case.
We both have some experience taking league and championship spot-kicks and for starters let me tell you it is not easy to beat a goalkeeper in Gaelic football when the goals are narrow and the kick is 13 metres away.
I don’t know young Tohill’s statistics or conversion rates but am pretty sure my own are unlikely to break the 50-50 mark. Which means the coach should have considered changing the kicker after a single season.
Let’s establish the context in which penalties are awarded and taken. Generally, the attacking team is about to score a goal when the foul is committed. You are close enough to the goal to signal intent and the defence warrant you and the situation to be dangerous enough to haul you down.
Of course there are penalties for technical fouls (defenders pick the ball off the ground, hop it twice in a row, over-carry and such like, all in the small rectangle) but we agree the majority are for the former; opportunities when the attacker was likely to score himself if not fouled.
Thus, the advantage must be with the penalty-taker and the rules should be loaded in his favour and want him to exact maximum return for cynical tactics.
In soccer this is the norm and they have 90% success rates.
The reason is simple enough: the goal in soccer is 1 metre wider and their spot-kick is only 11 metres out (the old 12 yards of the garrison game) compared to 13 metres (14 yards in the pre metric game) in Gaelic football.
Both games agree in one respect; the goalkeeper cannot advance off his line before the penalty is struck.
However, my experience is Gaelic football referees rarely if ever have the nerve to call for a retake when keepers advance prematurely and the kick is missed or saved. And be assured, keepers do this for just about every penalty taken.
The referee is asked to police the area of the 20-metre line and the arc (exclusion zone) and again if defenders break those lines before the ball is struck, and the penalty is missed, then the kicker must be allowed to try again.
Reality suggests the goals will never be extended and so the option of moving the ball nearer might be explored.
Of course, that change alone will have little significance if the officials continue to ignore the custodians advancing off their line before contact is made with the ball.
The defending teams continue to abuse and take advantage of this rule which for some reason (lack of cajones when a big game demands a big call?) is allowed to give the advantage right back to the perpetrators. Could you ever see a referee on All-Ireland final day signal a penalty to be retaken because the rule was broken?
A funny story to finish. I took a penalty in Boston once and as I was about to strike the ball I was semi-tackled by a defender who obviously broke the line a day or two early. His contact with my hip as I hit the ball meant it sailed harmlessly wide. I waited for a few seconds to have the ball retrieved so I might replace it and go again. Only to be told by the referee (now that’s calling the man names!) that I already had my chance, ‘tough sh*t, it’s a kick out to Boston’.
Ah, the good old days…

Our minors should go for it

OUR final interest in the championships at inter-county level enters the arena next Sunday and those in the know say we will be up against it in the minor semi-final.
At this level, I take that type of prediction with a pinch of salt. I followed the Roscommon minor winning campaign of 2006 closely and this team was underdogs in just about every match they played that season. Yet they won the All-Ireland after a replay.
They beat a highly fancied Kerry team too and when you pull that result off after a draw there can no doubt how richly you deserve it. So, young men of Mayo, Kerry are beatable!
Truth is every team is beatable on a given day. If you doubt me give a few of the Dublin footballers a call this week and enquire what they think about being raging favourites.
I got to see the Connacht minor final and was kinda’ impressed with the quality on offer. While Roscommon could mount an argument about who deserved to take the cup, both sides had another day out a few weeks later and now only Mayo remain. They are there on merit.
It has been a slow burning season-incremental improvement means they head for Dublin in pretty good shape.
Mayo expected to win their province and they did. They expected to beat Monaghan and they did that too. Now, the question of expectation and belief arises again: do they expect or believe they can beat Kerry?
The matter of mental strength at All-Ireland level is a crucially important aspect of team preparation and so this will occupy Ray Dempsey and his fellow mentors this week.
Kerry have nothing but their reputations and a handful of good footballers to bring to the game. Same as Mayo really. Why then should we worry about them? After all Kerry have not won a minor title for a long time. Again, like ourselves.
After watching a serious amount of football this year already, I notice a common thread for success: the teams that have a real cut, throw themselves into the fray and have a lash, are the ones coming out the other end with the big W.
My advice then? Forget about winning or losing, just get ready and see where it brings you. Don’t die wondering; take Kerry on from the start and take the game to them. Don’t bother yourself wondering about things you have no control over. Of course Mayo can win this match.