The PK

Ciaran Kelly, saves 4 out of 4 penalty kicks in a shootout to capture the 2010 FAI Ford Cup 


Goalkeepers use various tactics to defend penalties and determine where the ball is headed before it is struck to gain a competitive edge against the shooter. All goalkeepers are taught to make themselves as large as they can possibly be in the goal mouth... a save with the tip of the toe is still a save. You will also often see goalkeepers spreading their arms to look larger or bounce laterally along the goal line... all in a psychological effort to make the shooter feel uncomfortable.

As far as which direction a goalkeeper chooses to defend, these tactics can include:

1. Shooter Approach - a narrow approach to the ball by the shooter can indicate the shooter targeting across their body. A wider approach can indicate the opposite. This tactic is less effective at the professional level as shooters do well to disguise their direction based on approach.

2. Shooter Body Position - Very difficult. The body position just before the shooter contacts the ball may reveal an opening of the shoulders, hips, knee, and ankle which can indicate a right-footed shooter shooting right, or a left-footed shooter shooting left. With a right-footed shooter, the GK must plan to go to the shooters left (goalkeeper’s right) unless they see the body open... then they must make a split second decision to change direction to the shooters right (goalkeeper’s left).

3. GK Best Guess - basing the directional decision on film study or a gut feeling.

4. GK Reaction - Pure athleticism and quickness.

It may appear that Silgo Rovers GK Cirian Kelly is basing his directional decision solely on GK reaction (tactic #4), but If you look closely, it’s more likely the based on the shooters body position (tactic #2) prior to contact. Look at Kelly’s first two saves... pause the video just as the shooter is about to make contact. In each instance the shooter opens their body position and Kelly makes the decision at that point to go that direction.

In examining Ciaran Kelly’s most impressive save versus the 3rd shooter, Kelly seems to make an initial decision to go to his left. But when the shooter does not open his body, Kelly quickly changes his directional decision to go the opposite direction. Kelly is actually in no-man’s land and stuck in the middle of the goal. He is fortunate that the shooter chose to shoot down the middle rather than choosing the corner. A quick, brilliant, reaction gets his hand to the ball as his lower body goes one way and his upper body the other.

In the end It’s part art, part science, part athleticism, and mostly luck. But this is the most impressive shootout performance I have