Free taking from the ground. The dying art in Gaelic Football.

Quite often, the topic of many conversations leaving football matches is about the dubious decision that the referee made, the black card and how “no way was it a black card”, the point that was waved wide, the guy that pulled out of the 50/50 ball or the calls that were made on the line. All are valid talking points and have every reason to grind people’s gears as there is no doubt that they frustrate me too. The most frustrating thing for me, though, is leaving games weekend after weekend at all levels including inter-county level and watching frees being kicked wide from relatively easy positions. Why does this annoy me so much? The answer is simple. These frees are being taken from the hands. As an organisation, as managers and as coaches we have totally neglected the art that is free-taking from the ground. Coaches nowadays simply do not encourage it and because the rules allow it now, the easiest option for the kicker is from the hands.

I have always been a free-taker and my preferred choice was always striking from the ground. Yes, there were many frees that I took from my hands but only about 10% of my total and this was because of the conditions or elements that I was facing. As a coach now, this is what I try to encourage with my players because on every team that is successful, there are top quality free-takers. Dean Rock is the best modern-day example that I can use. He is exceptional at striking from the ground. Bryan Sheehan is another prime example. For me though because I played with him for many years, Oisín McConville was the best dead-ball specialist that I ever saw. He had it all but what made him stand alone was that he never missed a free under the most extreme pressure. He was coolness personified in those situations because he trusted his routine and mastered it.

Think about this: how many inter-county players take scoreable frees from the ground now? You can count the number on one hand yet striking from the ground proves to be more successful. What is the reason for this? It’s simple. You are striking a ball from a stationary position so you are only depending on a clean run-up and strike on the area of the ball that you focus on with a good follow-through. From your hands, as you are preparing to strike the ball you are moving your whole body, legs, waist, shoulders, arms and head in the hope that you make a clean connection. More can go wrong this way. You also don’t have a clear focus on the area of the ball that you want to connect with like you would if the ball was placed on the ground. I would much prefer the reliable intention of a clean strike than the hope of one.

For any free-taker, the most important thing that you must have is a routine; a routine that you are comfortable with and that you trust. Think of Jonny Wilkinson and how his routine served him so well throughout his career. What is involved in a routine for a free-taker? Everything, from placing the O’Neills football on the ground the exact same way time after time. A tip here is to ensure the logo on the ball is always the correct way. The way that you place it always as it is in different areas of the ball on both sides. What direction do you want the valve on the ball to face? Your steps back, then to the side. The area you want to strike and a few good deep breaths to focus your mind. Clear your head of all negativity and concentrate on that clean strike and follow through. If there are any negative thoughts, go and start your routine again. If the strike is crisp and clean, then the chances are that you will score a point.

I grew up in an era watching unbelievable free-takers such as Ross Carr, Anthony Tohill, Brian Stafford, Maurice Fitzgerald and Colin Corkery. These guys perfected the skill because it’s how they practised. It’s a lost art of our game that I would love to see more of. It’s a skill that can be revived but only if the coaches encourage it.

11 thoughts on “Free taking from the ground. The dying art in Gaelic Football.

  • Excellent article Steven. Watch out for Galways Barry McHugh over the next few years, he’s come through a few league games already this season. Excellent striker of a dead ball and very calm under pressure

  • The phenomenon of Goalkeepers coming upfield to take free kicks and 45s is relevant to this discussion. They are the ones who practise the art most of all and have come to be trusted to take some vital dead ball kicks..A good forward, if he practised as much kicking as a goalkeeper, should have a high success rate.

    • Well Artie,
      I hope you are keeping well. I fully agree with you here. Forwards that are tasked with being the free taker for any time must spend time practising but must also be afforded time in training sessions by the coaches to do so. This is so important in our game, so much so that most tight matches are determined by the quality of a free taker on either team. Practice is key here.

  • My father can’t stand watching players taking frees from their hands. He favors your point wholeheartedly and I agree with it as well. Thanks for the article; I’ve already posted it on my club’s Facebook page. All the best, Kevin

    • Thanks very much Kevin. It’s hard to believe that it’s now 10 years since we met. I hope you are keeping well and it’s great to see that you are still keeping up to date on Gaelic Football.

  • Great article Steven, I was only thinking about this on Monday and was trying to recollect the vital, last minute frees to win or draw matches over the last 20 years have been taken from the ground. Or more importantly how many of those taken from the hands have been missed. The point being, that there is less to go wrong when kicking from the ground. All players practice kick passing, handpassing drills ad naseum these days so that the exercise becomes second nature, why not do the same with free taking?
    Thanks, As a former free taker, I really enjoyed this piece.

  • Thanks for interesting article. However just watched the player mentioned (Dean Rock) take a free from the ground in the last minute of added time in the all Ireland, that he unfortunately missed. Would a free taken from the hand in this instance have gone over and won Dublin the five in a row ? Who knows ?

    • To be fair to Dean Rock, he rarely misses frees in pressure situations and this particular kick was extremely difficult, given it was right on the sideline. His normal routine may have been slightly different becuase of the lack of space also. On top of this, it was in the 77th minute of an intense game of football so it would have taken a monstrous effort, from his hands or off the ground to kick the point. My belief stays the same, off the ground is more accurate but I could certainly understand if he had selected to take from his hands yesterday. All to play for again which is brilliant for football in general.

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