"The goalkeeper is without a doubt the most important position on the field nowadays" 2 months ago

"The goalkeeper is without a doubt the most important position on the field nowadays"

Paul Hearty remembers a different world well.

Kicking the ball as far as he possibly could was the name of the game and he'd have spent his days learning how to lamp it into another orbit. 60, sometimes 70 yards down the other end up until one day, when a brainwave from manager Joe Kernan changed everything.

It was the 2005 Ulster final between Armagh and Tyrone and with Hearty's missiles landing in the crowded Tyrone half back-line, Kernan called for a bit more precision.

"I was landing it in the Tyrone half back line and by the time it would come down, a load of players would be bunched under it. It would have been tough for our lads to win it, so it definitely made sense to cut a bit of power off it and to try and pick a man out..."

'Take a few yards off it,' he said

Hearty will never forget it.

That represented a significant change because back in his day, goalkeepers were conditioned to kick it their level best every time.

"At the start, that was what it was all about - get it out as far as you can, that could be 60 or 70 yards and you'd be working on getting it further.

"You were in goals for another reason too - to prevent goals - I wasn't a high-end outfielder either so even though you'd have notions and I'd have had big dreams of running up the field and kicking the winning point in all All-Ireland final - taking a bounce and passing it on would have been the height of it. It was never anything too hectic in terms of bursting out the field because you were so focused on preventing goals and minding your own area," he recalls.

It's all change now.

Football owes a debt of gratitude to Paul Hearty

Hold your breath. 19 Armagh club titles 11 Ulster club titles 6 All-Ireland club titles Wait so...

"The way the thing has gone now, I think there's no doubt about it that the goalkeeper is the most important position on the field. Between the kick-outs evolving, to the 'sweeper-keeper' and not forgetting the most important thing, preventing goals - they've plenty of responsibilities..."

Which brings us to goalkeepers' newest task. The role of the 15th outfielder.

"You can see where it's coming from. Like the team could have possession and you're going over and back, the keeper joins in then and it creates an automatic overlap. It's immediately 15 outfield players against 14 and if you can shift the ball quick enough then you're onto something. You can see the defenders gravitating over towards the goalies too, because they're not used to it and that can create space on the other side of the field then..." he says.

With the reward comes risks too, That was seen last weekend when Laois' Graham Brody was caught out but for the most part, Hearty feels that if goalkeepers' and their full backs are sharp enough to recover from being dispossessed, there shouldn't be too many problems.

"If they do get dispossessed, it can become a problem if it's in your own half especially but usually, a full back is able to sit back and cover the goals for you."

On the whole, while the game is evolving for keepers, the 19-time senior Armagh county champion feels that kicking and saving will always remain their most important duties.

"Kicking is obviously 60 or 70% of the game for a goalkeeper now because you do it the most. You have to be able to spread it out to the wings, to chip it short, to do lots of different things with your kicks...On top of that though, you have to be a goalkeeper on the back of it all, preventing a goal, having your handling right," he says.

Master those and you won't go too far wrong.