The Euro 2012 qualifying campaign is nearing a conclusion. For the majority it will end abruptly, for a few it will give them something to do next summer and others have a few weeks of fingernail biting to go yet. It’s a good time to look at the goalkeepers of Ireland and Britain.
I wish I could come up with a catchier title, but essentially what I’m asking you to do is rank the goalkeepers of England, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. There may be disagreement about who should and shouldn’t be in the squad, but for the purposes of this debate we’re going with the goalkeepers widely regarded as first choice for their countries.
I’ve spoken countless times in the past about how I think concentration is the difference between a good goalkeeper and a great goalkeeper. There’s often little to choose between top keepers in terms of agility and athleticism so – in my opinion – the ability to stay focussed for long periods and use your ability with minimum drama when called upon is a seriously under-rated quality amongst sections of the football community. With that in mind, I would rate Shay Given as the pick of the keepers playing for the British and Irish nations. I make no secret of my Irishness, but i would like to think this is not a decision based on patriotic bias.
Given has been immense for Ireland down through the years and his recent performance in Moscow against Russia was typical of the type of gritty backs to the wall display he has assisted in for the national team. His concentration is superb and the paltry number of memorable errors he has to his name reflect this consistency. His agility and reactions are top class and although many people cite his lack of command of aerial situations – and that’s a fair point – once his defenders know the story – as Ireland’s do – it shouldn’t and hasn’t proved costly.
Joe Hart is more agile and commanding than Given, but his concentration needs to improve. There have been times when his wandering mind has cost goals and other occasions when he got away with it. Eventually I believe he’ll be acknowledged as the best keeper of the 5 nations, but this Achilles heel is the one chink in the armour for the moment. It will improve and finally England may have found their long term number 1.
Third and fourth on my list are Wayne Hennessy and Allan McGregor respectively. Both are immensely talented goalkeepers, but the Wales number 1 gets the nod over Scotland’s first choice. The reason is down to mistakes. Hennessy used to make a lot of them, but has worked consistently hard to improve. He has won his place back at Wolves and although there will be further errors in the future, the frequency is becoming less and less and his natural ability will become the first thing associated with him. McGregor is more experienced and that makes his mistakes all the more disappointing. The Rangers keeper is a brilliant shot-stopper, good in one on one situations and reliable with his hands, but once in a while he has the potential to let his guard drop and succumb to a howler. I’ve argued that although every goalie is allowed to make mistakes, it happens to him too often for him to be considered amongst the world’s very best.
Alan Blayney brings up the rear, but it’s not intended as a sign of lack of admiration. I saw a good bit of him during the Carling Nations Cup and he thoroughly impressed me. His shot-stopping and reflexes were outstanding, but I feel that in general he’s a little sloppy. He struggled to make the grade in England earlier in his career, but ironically he’s probably operating at a higher level now that he’s settled at Linfield. It’s no shame to be listed behind some of the names on this list which speaks volumes for the quality of goalkeeper currently at the disposal of the nations.
Who do you think is the best goalkeeper of the British and Irish nations?