They’re Keepers!

May 30, 2018 by

Saturday, 26 May was a big day for nine special footballers at the Brisbane Strikers football club.

They were the nine goalkeepers in the Brisbane Strikers Skills Acquisition Program (SAP) who came along to showcase their skills ahead of the Brisbane Strikers v Lions FC senior men’s NPL fixture.

As part of their day, they got to walk out on to the pitch with the senior players for kick-off and to take part in a photo-shoot and critique the performance of senior team goalkeeper Nathan Archbold (who turned in a Strikers man-of the-match performance) – all organized by Brisbane Strikers head goalkeeper coach Steve O’Connor.

O’Connor, now in his fourth year with Strikers, oversees all goalkeeper training at the club – from the juniors in the Strikers Academy right through to the senior team. That means he coaches seventeen Brisbane Strikers goalkeepers in total and he said that, for him, Saturday had a twofold purpose.

“My intention for the day was to give the kids the opportunity to sample game day for the seniors, and to shine the light on our goalkeeper program,” O’Connor said.

“I wanted all the players and their parents to know just how much the club value them.”

In general terms, the value Strikers are placing on their goalkeepers is evident from the investment the club has made in its Academy, its SAP goalkeeper training and in having O’Connor on board as a specialist goalkeeper coach since 2014.

Few clubs around Brisbane employ a goalkeeper coach at all, let alone one as qualified as O’Connor. At the risk of making a bad goalkeeping pun, the Strikers’ goalkeepers are in good hands.

Originally from Liverpool, England, O’Connor is about to start his Level 2 goalkeeper coaching licence. As a youngster O’Connor spent three years at the Everton FC Centre of Excellence, having been scouted for his goalkeeping prowess. While a professional playing career never eventuated, he played amateur football in Liverpool and had a stint with Conference Division club Altrincham before a move to Brisbane, where football with Capalaba Bulldogs and Rochedale Rovers followed.

In 2008 back and shoulder injuries led to him hanging up his gloves and taking up coaching for the Bulldogs. He began with their juniors and ended up coaching the senior team’s goalkeepers. He has followed a similar course at Strikers, joining the club as its juniors’ goalkeeping coach in 2014 before adding the senior goalkeepers to his ‘stable’ in 2016 and becoming Head Goalkeeper Coach as the Strikers Academy got into top gear this year.

“The SAP Goalkeeper program is designed to introduce basic goalkeeper skills, such as setting position, footwork, hand positioning and diving techniques,” O’Connor said.

He added that one of the most important tools at his disposal was a constant stream of filmed footage of his goalkeepers.

“We video all our home games and I am provided with footage of the ‘keepers, which we then use in classroom sessions where we sit down with the players to see where they are improving and, more importantly, where they need to improve. It’s priceless for me, O’Connor said.

Central to O’Connor’s philosophy behind his coaching is a conviction that goalkeepers should be encouraged to enjoy the game and to value their own contribution to it.

That’s not always easy to achieve in a game where the glamour and prestige is most often attached to the players who try to get the ball past them.

“Kids usually grow up wanting to be the next Messi or Ronaldo,” O’Connor said.

“So getting kids to be interested in goalkeeping is difficult. The best keepers have a natural ability, natural agility and good hands. The hard part is convincing them to become a ‘keeper and to realise that it could be their best chance of making it as a footballer.”

If O’Connor is right, perhaps the game needs to make more of the exploits of its Mark Schwarzers, Dino Zoffs, Gianluigi Buffons, Peter Schmeichels and Mat Ryans. Because there’s no doubt that when a team has a top-quality goalkeeper he is worth his weight in gold and his dependability infuses the whole of his team with confidence.
And if O’Connor has his way, that’s exactly the kind of goalkeeper the Strikers’ Academy program will produce.

“It’s our first year as an academy so things are only going to get better,” he said.

“My aim as goalkeeper coach is that we will take a SAP keeper all the way to being our senior team keeper, or even to a higher stage.”

Group photo (left to right): Charlie McKendrick, Tomislav Mesaric, Kurt Huppert, Connor Dyer, Nash Walker, James Cutijar, Zac Turnbull, Isaac Gonzalez, Lochie Winter, James Munro

Photo: Michele Pitman

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