Archive for the ‘Historic’ Category

Derry v Down 1994 Ulster

April 23, 2020

This is the third game in the historic series (the 1985 All Ireland final between Kerry & Dublin can be found here whilst game4 of the 1991 Leinster series between Dublin and Meath can be found here) and a few observations highlighted in those games still hold true.

The game was different. The component parts – kickouts, fielding, shooting – were the same, and the current metrics we have for measuring them are probably a fair comparison, but the overarching principles that underlined how teams approached the game were different. Very different. Possession was not as important as it is now – clearing your lines was the first thought. This led to a lot more contested balls which in turn nullifies some of the metrics (points per possession, Attack Rates) we now view a game through (see note1).

In this game there were 113 team possessions with 31% of those possessions having just one player control the ball. 60% had no more than two players control the ball. No team possession had more than seven individual player possessions. This was very similar to that aforementioned 1991 game where there were 114 total possessions with 32% having one player possession, 63% having two player possessions and only one possession in the whole game having more than six individual player possessions (incidentally that was Kevin Foley’s goal!).

Compared to recent years? The four finals in the last three years have averaged 91 total possessions with 7% involving one player, 21% involving no more than two players and a whopping 35% with seven or more players controlling the ball. The game was different.

When Down had the ball

Overall Down had three fewer possessions throughout the game but managed to produce three more shots. (Incidentally that is now a clean sweep in these historic games for the team losing the possession count but winning the game). In and of itself this tells us something about that Down forward line; when they got the ball they were able to manufacture a shot. Again for the four finals in the last three years the Shot Rate (getting a shot off from possessions inside the 45) was 79.5%. Down produced a Shot Rate of 89% here.

Disc = score, X= miss; yellow = deadball, red = attempt on goal, black = point attempt from play 1st half, white = 2nd half

That Shot Rate was somewhat inflated by the sheer volume of deadball attempts – eleven in total (10x frees and 1x 45). Eleven is high both when compared to current trends (last two years have seen an average of 6.4 deadballs per team per game) and historically. The four teams in the previously mentioned historic games averaged 8.0 shots from deadballs per team. Greg McCartan had an off day from the ground returning 0-04 from 10 which is about 0-03 below (Expt pts -2.96) what the modern free takers would be expected to return (see note 2)

Given the shots they attempted Down were expected to score 1-18 (Expt pts of 21.5). We have touched on the poor returns from deadballs above but their shooting from play was more or less in line with modern returns (1-10 from 21; 52% Conversion Rate & Expt pts -0.74). They had three clear cut goal chances, which, incidentally, were their last three attempt from play, returning 1-00 leaving a stat line of 56% (0-10 from 18) and Expt Pts of -0.23 for point attempts from play. This is good shooting in an All-Ireland final (point attempts from play were 53% for the four finals from 2017) and, as we will touch upon below, was greatly aided by their decision making.

Mickey Linden was exceptional scoring 0-06 from 8 (Expt pts +1.41). Three with the right, two with the left and one fisted effort … all after missing a very simple fisted point with his first attempt. In the first half he was 0-05 from 7 whilst also being directly involved in the build up to two further shots. Derry got to grips with him in the second half, ostensibly by moving McKeever across to pick him up, however he was still pivotal getting out in front and shifting the ball with quick hands for McCabe’s goal and also letting the ball into the forward line for the Whitnall attempt that was pulled wide.

Part of Linden’s success was his link play with Aidan Farrell. Farrell, as the starting target man, “only” came away with 0-01, however he was the primary assist on six Down shots in the first half including 0-03 of Mickey Linden’s haul. In a nod to his flexibility, and ability, he was then brought further out to field to try and stymie the influence Gilligan & Tohill were having there.

McCabe must go down as one of the most impactful substitutes. He was only on the pitch for 10 minutes but was centrally involved in all three of Down’s goal attempts, which were condensed into a four minute period from the 63rd minute, whilst also shifting the ball to Whitnall who was then fouled for the last score of the game. Incidentally there is a great interview with him from 2019 here

When Derry had the ball

Derry were not as efficient as Down, either in terms of manufacturing shots from attacks (a shot rate of 78% versus 89% for Down), nor in converting those shots (a Conversion Rate of 45% versus 53% for Down).

Derry’s deadball returns were below what was expected (50%; 0-04 from 8 Expt pts -1.60) but not as poor as Down. Their goal attempts (1-01 from 2) also returned more than Down’s did. Which all leads to a very poor day on their point attempts.

Disc = score, X= miss; black = point attempt from play 1st half, white= 2nd half

Derry’s point attempts are outlined above. The majority of them came from “outside” where their accuracy fell apart in the second half; they missed all seven after going 0-03 from 5 in the first half. In fact when we compare the Down shots from play, versus the Derry ones, we can see a clear distinction.

Disc = score, X= miss; black = Derry point attempt from play, white = Down

A lot of Down’s comparative accuracy can be attributed to where the shots came from. The aforementioned decision making. Expanding the inside/outside zone (granted I have made this fit the argument but still …) Derry had 10 shots from outside the bulk of Down’s shots and scored just 0-02 from those 10 attempts. Inside both teams were more or less as accurate as each other; both returned 56% (Derry 0-05 from 9 and Down 0-09 from 15). Down’s chances were just heavily weighted to the more favourable scoring opportunities.

No one had a “Mickey Linden” day for Derry but Joe Brolly was very good. Not only did he convert both his attempts but he was also the primary assist in seven more shots including winning three frees and setting up McCusker for the goal


Generally speaking Derry dominated the kickouts. They gained 11 extra possessions (27 won versus 16 for Down) on the 43 kickouts without the volume being skewed towards them. They won 64% of their own kickouts (14 of 22) but also 62% of Down’s (13 of 21). They were dominant. Using current rules I had them claiming seven Marks, to Down’s three, with Gilligan & Tohill bagging three apiece (hence why Farrell was moved out)

But they didn’t turn this dominance into a scoreboard effect. Derry scored 0-05 directly off the kickout possessions won, which results in 0.19 points per possession (ppp). Down scored 1-05 from the 16 kickouts they won for 0.50 ppp

Unlike the modern game short kickouts were not really a “thing” with only five (12%) of the 43 kickouts dropping short of the 45. For context in the last four All-Ireland finals 58% of kickouts went short.

The kickout rules were different back in 1994. If a kickout was taken after a score it was taken from the 20m line. Otherwise it was taken from the edge of the small square. This had a huge variance on the length of the kickout and from Derry’s perspective the outcome. Below is their kickout chart with those kickouts post a score in white.

Disc = Derry gained possession, X= Down gained possession; white = after a score, black= after a wide

You can see that all bar three taken post a score made it past the 65 – basically onto Gilligan & Tohill – with two dropping just short of the 65. Derry dominated around the middle winning 10 of 14. But when the kickout was taken from the edge of the square Down managed to win 4 of 7 … three of these seven, circled in red, came in the last six minutes two of which led to the McCabe goal chances. Looking at the length of these three kickouts compared to the other four is it possible that the sheer volume of long kickouts emptied McCusker’s leg?

As an example of the differing emphasis there were 29 possessions started outside both team’s 65s in this game compared to an average of 7.75 over the past four All Ireland finals

This is another area, along with the possession count, that the modern day game distances itself from these historic games. And puts the accuracy of modern day free takers, such as Dean Rock and Séan O’Shea, into context. In the three historic games reviewed so far the teams combined for a deadball return of 49% (0-25 from 51). The average from the past five Championships was 72.6%. Rock, in the most pressurised of games, is running at 73% in All Ireland finals.

The three historic games’ deadballs are below. Now they have taken more long range pot shots than you are likely to see today but as a rule of thumb the target for current free takers is 85-90% “inside” and 50% “outside”. These historic returns are below expected on the “inside” (82%; 0-18 from 22) but well behind on the “outside” (24%; 0-07 from 29)


Dublin v Meath 1991 Leinster Game4

June 19, 2019


For the second game in this series (Kerry v Dublin 1985 final here) the team that came out on top of the volume metrics (Possessions, Attacks, Shots) was beaten. Again, similar to 1985, the team with the better Conversion Rate came out of top but unlike that game here the impact of goals, both those scored and those missed, were of greater importance.

A big focus of the 1985 final review was the very high volume of possessions at 145. Here, just six years later, the volume has dropped to 114. At first glance it would appear that the intervening rule change of allowing frees to be taken from the hand has helped teams retain possession. Whilst this is probably true it is slightly deceiving in the context of this game as there was a large gulf in half splits here with 49 possessions in the first half and 65 in the second. That 65 is more in line with the 1985 final than modern trends but the first half was low predominantly due to the vast volume of shots from frees early doors (10 shots in the first 21 minutes of which 9 were deadballs!) as opposed to either’s teams increased focus on retention of possession. Indeed much like 1985 32% of all possessions had only one player control the ball.

When Meath had the ball

Goals, goals, goals. They win games. Meath had three shots at goal scoring 2 – 00 including one of the most famous goals of all time. The most interesting aspect of Kevin Foley’s goal – from a numbers perspective – is that it is the first time we have seen a team hold onto the ball. 114 team possessions in the game and there was only one with a sequence of more than six passes – the goal. There were 12 different player possessions in that move. In the aforementioned 1985 final there were 145 possessions with none containing more than seven player touches.

At a macro level Meath’s Attack Rate of 43% is very poor however it is a consequence of the type of game that was in vogue at the time. The primary concern was to clear your lines rather than retain possession. The Shot Rate of 87% was excellent however. Meath struggled to get the ball into Dublin’s 45 but once they did they were extremely effective at getting a shot off.

Outside of the goal attempts their shooting was a touch below average; Stafford took all deadballs scoring 0 – 06 from 8 (7x frees + 1x 45) for a 75% Conversion Rate and Expt Pts of -0.17 whilst they were a combined 0 – 04 from 9 (44%, Expt Pts of -0.54) on points from play.

Whilst he didn’t trouble the scoreboard during this game – only the one long range effort in the first half that drifted wide – Colm O’Rourke was highly influential throughout the game. He was the primary assist for 0 – 04 (won three frees that Stafford converted as well providing the pass for McCabe’s point in the 59th minute) as well as being central to both goals – providing the final ball across the box for Stafford’s goal as well as, miraculously given the state of the game, finding a pocket of space to receive the ball and flick it on to Tommy Dowd in the final throes of the Kevin Foley goal.

When Dublin had the ball

Dublin’s 1985 loss could, quite easily, be laid at their poor shooting (36%, Expt Pt -3.73). Superficially that is not the case here with a 56% Conversion Rate from play and 50% overall however their shot chart tells a different story.

The expected return, for the shots they attempted, was bang on average (0 – 10 from 18 for a Conversion Rate of 56% and Expt Pts 0f -0.03) when compared to modern returns. This despite missing five shots from within ~25metres. Their issues came from deadballs.

Combined Charlie Redmond and D Sheehan had 10 attempts from frees converting 0 – 05. In and of itself a Conversion Rate of 50% is below average however when we overlay the current “inside”/”outside” range on to their frees it becomes obvious that they converted all the ones they should have (0 – 03 from 3 “inside”) but didn’t score enough of the “outside” attempts. Add Jack Sheedy’s desperation attempt at the end and their “outside” free taking returned 25% (0 – 02 from 8).

Unfortunately for Dublin their deadball woes did not end there. They were three points ahead when Keith Barr dragged his penalty wide in the 61st minute. Missing a penalty happens (probably a much more regular occurrence then as the penalty was taken from the 13m line thus making it a lot harder) but what is most remarkable about this one is just how close Mick Lyons was allowed to be when Barr is striking the ball.

I’m not sure Mick Lyons would ever be described as subtle … but that’s not even trying!


Returns were even with Dublin winning 21 kickouts to Meath’s 20. Dublin went short five times and were relatively successful with them manufacturing three shots and scoring 0 – 02. Meath didn’t go short but that didn’t hinder them as they won the possession battle 20 – 16 on kickouts that travelled past the 45.

The “old” kickouts rules were still in place however we began to see some changes when compared to 1985. Dublin were trying a more directional kick out to the sidelines than either team did in 1985; especially on those from the small square (noted in black on the below chart)

Kerry v Dublin 1985 All Ireland Final

February 17, 2019

The stand out metric from the game, when compared to how the game is played currently, is the number of possessions. Over the last four years the average number of possessions per game was 96. This year in the Super8s onwards it was 90. The very highest I have recorded is 116 (both from Dublin in 2015 – against Kerry in the rain in that year’s final and against Longford in Leinster). Here it was 145!

That 145 gives a snapshot into how the game was played – including the effect that the rules (see note1) then in effect had. Possession was not as coveted and instead clearing your lines, and contestable balls, were much more de riguer. 52 (36%) of the possessions had just one player on the ball. Throughout the game just seven (5%) possessions involved sequences of six or more passes (Kerry twice had sequences of seven pass). As a point of reference in this year’s final there were 94 possessions in total of which four (4%) had only one player in possession and 31 (33%) had sequences of six passes or more.

These high possession volumes have knock on effects on metrics such as Attack Rates, Shot Rates and points per possession. The ratio of turnovers to kickouts is also skewed.

So what of the game itself? From the television coverage there appeared to be quite a strong wind which is borne out by the fact that 3 – 14 of the 4 – 20 scored was into the Hill16 end. Kerry played into that end in the first half and opened up a sizeable lead that Dublin sought to furiously claw back.

The time series chart above shows how Kerry got ahead early. This was achieved through both their excellent shooting (82% conversion rate (1 – 08 from 11) & +3.40 Expt Pts) in the first half and also Dublin’s very poor shooting (20%; 0 – 02 from 10 & -3.53pts). Kerry had a lead of 0- 09 despite only having one more shot. Had both teams converted their chances at modern rates (see note2) the lead would have been 0 – 03.

The fact that Dublin were always in the game, despite the scoreboard, is highlighted by the fact that the two teams Expt Pts crossed somewhere around the 40th minute. Dublin created the chances – they just were nowhere near as clinical as Kerry.

When Kerry had the ball

As has been touched on both teams’ use of the ball was of the time so Attack and Shot Rates are much lower than we are used to. That said however Kerry’s shooting was as good and efficient as any team in the modern era with a 64% Conversion Rate and Expt Pts of +2.63. Kerry struggled to get shots off but when they did they were excellent ably led by Jack O’Shea & Pat Spillane who combined for 1 – 06 from just 9 shots.

Kerry they had four shots at goal returning 2 – 01 (Timmy O’Dowd’s only two shots in the game were both at goal!) whilst also returning 57% on all point attempts (0 – 08 from 14; Expt Pts of +1.83). Looking at the shot chart in the Appendix there was only really one long range or wide effort – from Eoin Bomber Liston at the end of the first half – which really helped their returns.

Bomber only had that shot in the game but he was immense for Kerry overall moving out to the middle third to shore that area up but also being involved in Kerry’s link play providing five main assists and also being involved in two other shots. Next on the assist chart was Ambrose O’Donovan who was involved in the set up for three point attempts and also being involved in the build up to both of O’Dowd’s goal attempts.

When Dublin had the ball

Dublin manufactured six more shots than Kerry but the majority of that was through deadballs (eight shots at goal from frees plus one 45 as against four frees from Kerry). Given that all frees were taken from the ground there was a bit of subjectivity overlaid on all the above shots in yellow to satae that they were indeed shots but … Rock struggled on the day converting just 38% (0 – 03 from 8). Duff missed the sole 45.

Point taking was also poor. Dublin attempted 16 point attempts returning just 0 – 05 (Expt Pts -2.21). Their “outside” shooting was fine retuning 0 – 03 from 6 with John Kearns popping over two fine efforts in the second half – one out on the defence’s right at 60 minutes and another from ~40m just right of the D. It was their “inside” shooting that let them down returning just 0 – 02 from 10 attempts with 0 – 01 from 6 in the first half when Kerry jumped out into their lead.

One noteworthy point was the fact that only six Dublin players attempted a shot throughout the game and only five from play (all of Barney Rock’s attempts were from frees). All six were their designated forwards (Tom Carr being a direct replacement for Charlie Redmond). Nothing, in terms of shots, came from their midfield back (see note3).


(note that the TV pictures missed where a few landed – a bit of subjective overlay required on those!)

The make-up of kickouts in 1985 was very different than today with just 7 (19%) of the 37 kickouts taken going short. Indeed of those the TV cameras picked up only three kickouts were “deliberately” short or clipped out to a player.

Of those taken after a wide (see note1), and thus from the small square, the kickout team won the possession battle 8 – 7. Similarly when the ball was placed on the 20m line, after a score, the kickout team won possession 11 – 10. There was no discernible difference in whether the kickout team won the ball depending on where the kickout was taken from.

When we look at it by team however there is a difference. Dublin had 19 kickouts with 4 going short. Of the remainder (those that went past the 45m) Dublin won 53% (8 – 7) however when the kick went longer, after being placed on the 20m line, Dublin won 64% (7 – 4). Kerry were able to attack the kickouts from the small square that went past the 45 getting their hands on 3 of 4. There was also something about O’Leary’s trajectory as none of his kicks were claimed through a clean catch.

Kerry on the other hand struggled. They claimed both of their own kickouts that went short however on their longer ones they lost the possession battle 6 – 10. Given the small sample size there was no discernible trend on those taken from the small square (lost 3 – 4) as opposed to those taken from 20m line (3 – 6).

Again we have to be careful overlaying modern sensibilities on the game (but are going to do it anyway!) however Dublin must have been disappointed with their return here. They were on top of Kerry’s kickouts but only produced 2 shots and 0 – 01 from the ten they won. Kerry scored 0 – 02 of the seven Dublin kickouts they won.

Note1; Major rule discrepancies between now and then
• All free kicks, including sidelines, had to be taken from the ground. This led to many long, contestable balls from half back and midfield into the forwards
• Differing kickout positions depending on whether you are taking a kickout after a score (thus from the 20m line) or from a wide (thus from the small square).

Note 2; We may be doing these historic games, and thus their participants, a disservice by comparing their accuracy to current regimes given the differences in the ball (heaviness) and much surer underfoot conditions in the modern game but it may also be instructive.

Note3; Kerry had eight different shooters. Again all six forwards (John Kennedy as a direct replacement for Ger Power had one shot – Power didn’t have a shot in the game) as well as Jack O’Shea and Tommy Doyle. Let alone score Doyle was thus the only back in the entire game to attempt a shot.


Kerry shot Chart

Kerry kickouts (if missed by TV they have been left out of the below)

Dublin kickouts (if missed they have been left out of the below)