The last time we saw Donegal was in the league semi-final against Cork which was fairly unremarkable apart from both teams’ ability to get shots off at a high rate – in the mid 80% against an average of 77%. It is only one metric but a fairly large indicator of a game lacking intensity.
One thing that did peak my interest however was the performance of Colm McFadden. In a high scoring open game he only managed 0-02 from play and did not attempt any frees. I had a vague recollection of noting a declining performance throughout 2014 so decided to have a look. Thanks to the BBC’s coverage of the Ulster Championship we have all bar one of Donegal’s game over the past three years and below are McFadden’s returns over that span.
Not bad. His shooting from play is bang on average but given the volume of shots he takes that’s ok. Average does not equal bad! His deadball accuracy however is very good – perhaps only below Cluxton and O’Connor in terms of per kick weighting. In truth there’s nothing to see here but the more you do this the more you understand that averages can hide a lot.
McFadden was stupendous, both from deadballs & from play, in Donegal’s march towards Sam in 2012. But he was so good on that run that when we take the average from the last three years it is masking a very big drop off in both categories.
McFadden’s deadball accuracy has dropped from the unsustainable highs of 2012 to just below average over the last two years. Although his combined Success Rate for 2013 & 2014 is high at 77% the negative weighting shows you that he is taking easy, or at least easier, frees – he should actually be converting closer to 80% (similarly the high weighting in 2012 shows you that he was converting more difficult frees more often).
The real drop off has occurred with his shooting from play however.
McFadden was never prolific from play but he was always above average in his returns. That was until last year. During the six 2014 games McFadden had 14 attempts at a point – and only converted three. And all three were simple attempts from around the penalty spot. He did not convert one point attempt from outside the 20m line in six games.
It was not as if he was trying harder shots in 2014 – the opposite actually. Of his 14 point attempts in 2014 ten, or 71%, were in the optimal shooting zones of 5 & 8 (see the shot chart above). In 2012 & 2013, when he was converting at ~50%, only 35% of his shots were coming from these central areas. There was nothing in terms of pressure to explain the drop off. Last year 57% of his shots were taken under pressure – in 2012 & 2013 that figure was 66%.
The data on file begins in 2012 which is unfortunate for McFadden. It was, as Ciaran McMonagle of the samsforthehill blog pointed out to me, a career year for McFadden when Donegal were purring and they were playing to his strengths. 2013 was a bit of a washout for Donegal but in this case was instructive as to how easily Drew Wylie handled McFadden in the Ulster Final. Monaghan were on the lookout for McFadden’s favourite play – the loop inside from the right hand side curving the ball over with the left – and completely snuffed it out.
2014 was a down year but was that McFadden or the way Donegal set up? The loop play disappeared but a lot of that was due to the fact that Murphy spent considerable chunks of time in the middle allowing closer attention on McFadden. Alongside that we saw the further emergence of two left footers in MacNiallais & McBrearty. McFadden’s space narrowed, his foil was missing and he’s not blessed with speed. Not a great mixture.
What does 2015 hold? Usually when you have big swings in data like this you’ll get a regression to the mean but will McFadden be given the space, and as importantly the game time, to rack up the shots? Interesting year ahead.