2012 Season Review – Part I

Possessions Shots Shot Rate Scores Success Rate
2010 (36gms) avg 83.7 56.7 67.7% 28.2 49.8%
2012 (25gms) avg 70.6 54 76.6% 27.9 51.7%

Possessions are defined as a team having control of the ball within the opposition’s 45m line. In the space of two years the game has seen a reduction in c16% in possessions. Normally two data points is not enough to make sweeping statements (is the swing “normal year to year fluctuation”) but 16% is very high and appears to be a change in how the game is played rather than normal variance.

In 2012 12% of games had a possession number of 80 or greater – in 2010 75% of games had 80 possessions or greater. Indeed in 2012 the game with the highest number of possession, with 84, was the Dublin V Louth game; this number was surpassed by 15 games in 2010.

Rule changes impacting style of play?
What is driving this fundamental shift in how the game is being played? The only rule change I can think of that might have had an effect would be the new square ball rule. It could be argued that teams used this to aim more long balls on top of the full forward thus leading to more broken ball & less possession. I am unconvinced. Whilst some teams did put a greater emphasis on putting the big man on the square (Tomás O’Connor in Kildare & Nicholas Murphy in Cork) I don’t believe it had any major bearing on how the game was played.

If not rule changes then …?
Gaelic Football is a copycat game. Once one team hits on a winning formula then others will look to emulate. 2010 saw the introduction of the Dublin defensive gameplan which, whilst altered throughout the 2011 season, saw its ultimate reward that September. 2011 was witness to the birth of the Donegal defensive gameplan. Again whilst adopted throughout 2012 it received its ultimate reward 2 weeks ago.

To my mind there is no doubt that teams are changing their attacking philosophy based on the emergence of these winning teams. The change is two-fold – what you do with your own ball and what you do when the opposition has the ball. The two feed off each other.

The ball has become a precious commodity. Possession must not be given up easily which leads to less 50:50 balls being given. Teams are methodically bringing the ball out; ensuring the ball is within the opposition’s 45m line less often and when it is in there play has become more deliberate. Keep the ball, recycle, look for a better opportunity. Both the shot rate & success rate improving would lend credence to the belief that the attacking teams are using the ball better once they get it inside the 45.

To counteract this teams are building defensive strategies against slower ball; against running possession games. Sweeper’s are in vogue; half forwards turning and sprinting back to their own half when a team loses possession are in vogue. Defensive ‘shields’ around the 45m line are in vogue.

The defending team’s 45 is now crammed with bodies; teams don’t risk quick, 50:50 ball into the inside forwards. Hold the ball up and look for a better option.

Effect of changes
The tactic, at a macro level, is working. As we will see below teams have gotten better at shooting from play. There are now 18.7 points per game from play in 2012 as opposed to 18.5 in 2010. A greater percentage of shots – 6% – end up being successful. So, despite the fact that possessions are way down this year, these possessions end in better shot selection

From play

Shots Scores Success Rate
2010 (36 games) avg 42.0 18.5 44.0%
2012 (25 games) avg 40.3 18.7 46.5%

I say better shot selection above, rather than better shooting, because where the shots are coming from has differed. The more deliberate, careful, restrained formula of attacking means that more shots (6% more) are coming from more centralised segments (segments 5 & 8) where the success rate is higher.

I did find it interesting that the biggest increase in shots came from directly in front of goal. This is at odds with the perceived wisdom that you have to kick over the blanket defences from further out the field. Perhaps it is a function of the running game – the likes of Donegal & Cork bursting through the middle with 2 or 3 runners allowing teams to carry the ball further

Segment 2010 2012
1 0.2% 0.3%
2 1.7% 1.8%
3 0.7% 0.3%
4 20.6% 19.0%
5 20.9% 22.4%
6 17.8% 15.6%
7 9.7% 9.0%
8 19.9% 24.2%
9 8.5% 7.3%

Given all this I had expected to see the proportion of shots coming from frees increase in 2012 – more probing of tightly packed, well marshalled defences would lead to (a) more forwards back making forwards’ tackles or (b) the defence running out of patience. I was wrong. The table below shows that despite the changes in the nature of how teams are attacking the split of shots has remained unaltered.

2010 2012
Shots 2,041 1,351
Shots per game 56.7 54.0
Shots from play 1,513 1,007
% of shots from play 74.1% 74.5%
Shots from frees 447 296
% of shots from frees 21.9% 21.9%
Other (sideline, 45s, penalties) 81 48
% of shots from Other 4.0% 3.6%

Other pieces of interest
–> Free taking success rates have remained fairly static

Shots Scores Success Rate
2010 (36 games) avg 12.4 8.7 69.8%
2012 (25 games) avg 11.8 8.4 70.6%

–> Your free taker has to hit 70% to be average. Average!!
–> The Dublin-Mayo game, when all 6 were converted, saved the 2012 conversion rate for 45s. This increased the 2012 success rate from a very poor 30.6% to a meagre 40.5% (17 from 42). In 2010 this was 49.2% (29 from 59)
–> In the 61 games I have yet to see a penalty saved. 12 penalties in total with 11 goals and 1 point scored (the point was a deliberately taken in a game that was long past over).
–> That means there is a penalty, on average, every 5 games

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2 Responses to “2012 Season Review – Part I”

  1. Dublin V Mayo 2013 League | dontfoul Says:

    […] Possession stats like these, whilst well above the 2012 Championship average, are not unknown. In the 2010 Championship Dublin were involved in 5 separate games with 87 or greater possessions; the drop off in possessions from 2010 to 2012 is discussed more in-depth here. […]

  2. Review of Basics | dontfoul Says:

    […] but have not used these in the averages mainly because the possessions numbers moved so much (see here). I do not know if the movement from 2010 to 2012 was random variance or a change in how the game […]

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