Long Live Louth GAA’s “He Did Nothing Else” Free-Takers
Listed in one of the many blue notebooks piling up on our sports desk is a full and comprehensive list containing all of Louth’s club league goalscorers this season. Everyone from prolific snipers to single-shot wonders.
he book in question was in the hands of your writer when the topic of hotshots came up during a conversation before one of the matches recently held at Clan na Gael Park. After informing interested parties of who topped the leaderboard in each grade, there was an air of disdain towards the numbers being scrutinized.
“How many of them were free? was a recurring question. It was a question I didn’t have an answer to for several reasons. Considering that there are no more double heads in the big game and that, therefore, it is simply impossible to have a dedicated representative for each championship. match, some reports do not always contain the concrete details of free points, 45s or points scored.
And it’s not like points accrued from dead balls are worth less than their “in-game” peers. Thus, a player’s tally should not be discredited for being a free-taker, although it is only fitting that the “what did he do with the game?” line to throw in a conversation in this context.
An acquaintance who is interested in statistics recently made an interesting observation: about 40% of the shots taken in the game result in a score, while the success rate is over 70% with the free shots. Ultimately, when you foul, you give the opponent’s more accurate kicker the chance to get in unopposed.
Second, how many times have you heard the “did they get a free-taker…” story after a game where a team lost because they didn’t take a chance on dead balls?
So why are people so quick to question the merit of a freely inflated point total when ultimately it was scores earned by good play that saw the opposition feel compelled to quit attack by means beyond what is permitted in the rulebook? Having a specialized free-taker is not something to be ashamed of or blamed for having. Not having one simply reduces your chances of winning close matches, especially championship-type ones.
Dublin have won at least two All-Irelands because they had Dean Rock, an unflappable kicker from the ground. Cillian O’Connor had the same opportunities for Mayo in the decisive moments but was not so reliable. Had he taken a chance he probably would have won Footballer of the Year at least once and Connacht County’s divorce from Sam Maguire would have been over… I would have another uncle if my aunt had him do…
If Dundalk Young Irelands had been clinical from the free games they won against St Kevin’s in the mid-quarter quarter-final clash, instead of three different shooters shooting off target four times combined, it could well be they who are looking forward to a decisive date as opposed to the natives of Phillipstown.
What has often distinguished Sam Mulroy from Naomh Máirtín at the national level is his ability to convert frees from different angles, ranges and degrees of difficulty. We’re so used to seeing the Louth captain quietly caressing the top that his three wide against St Patrick’s was the talk of Castlebellingham in the recent quarter-final.
And yet, for as much as Mulroy fell below his usually high standards in the afternoon, he was still the Jocks’ game-winner, scoring the only goal of the game with his side down at half-time and then clocking in with a minute remaining to push Fergal Reel’s hold into an ultimately unassailable two-point advantage.
Given the pressure they’re used to, when it’s just them, the ball and the goals in the equation, free-takers can often be like Mulroy in that their seemingly minimal contribution from the game can often be the primary switcher.
One is inclined to think of Cian Connor of Cooley Kickhams in this regard. The teenager was a free-taker of some distinction on Kickhams’ route to last season’s intermediate showpiece and was accurate in the semi-final win over Kilkerley Emmets. However, his most piercing contribution on that wettest night was from the game as he coolly seized the winning point deep into injury time. There’s probably no one else you’d want in a position like that other than your place-kicker, someone who’s used to handling pressure and adept at finding the target when it matters most.
Long live the “he didn’t do anything else” free-taker.