Statistical analysis report reveals the essence of modern Gaelic football
By John Harrington
The GAA today published a comprehensive statistical analysis report that provides a very revealing insight into how Gaelic football has evolved as a sport over the course of the last 13 years.
Building on previous research by the Standing Committee on Playing Rules, a small group led by John Tobin, Chairman of the National Coaching and Games Committee, and assisted by Shane Flanagan, National Head of Coaching and Games, and Jack Cooney, GAA National Player Development Lead, set out to capture the essence of the present game.
These metrics were then fed to Rob Carroll and Darragh Culleton of Gaelic Stats who used them as the parameters by which to develop a comparative analysis of 521 senior inter-county championship matches from 2011 to 2023.
Their report can be viewed and downloaded at the bottom of this article, and it paints a revealing picture of how Gaelic football has become a more possession-based, risk-averse sport over that period of time.
A marked increase in hand-passing, uncontested kick-outs, and passes backwards as well as a simultaneous decrease in turn-overs and contests for possession are just some of obvious trends we’ve seen develop.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and while some people view the modern game with a jaundiced eye and long for more contests for possession and unpredictability, others believe it to be a superior product than it was previously.
Whatever your view, John Tobin hopes that by now establishing the facts of how the game has evolved and by providing a snapshot of how it is currently played at the highest level we can at least have a more informed debate.
Tobin also hopes that when people read the full report that they will recognise the cumulative effect of the actions that have allowed the present trends to emerge.
“The state of Gaelic Football and how it is being played is contentious and topical and opinions are many and varied. Hopefully our evidence will inform the debate,” Tobin told GAA.ie.
“Of great assistance along way was the work previously done by the Standing Committee on Playing Rules because their previous research allowed us to make a comparative analysis between the game now and the game in previous years.
“I also want to sincerely thank all the coaches who contributed to the identification of the metrics and the support we’ve gotten from GAA Director General, Tom Ryan, and President Larry McCarthy.
“As more information is collected, we'll be able to make comparative studies between the game now and into the future so that we can have a regular picture of where the game is at at any particular moment in time.
“We wanted to look at the emerging patterns and trends and also identify our propensity to execute the primary skills of the game.’’
After the long and arduous process of collecting and collating the information Gaelic Stats produced their statistical analysis report, Tobin convened a consultation group in Croke Park to parse through the information.
As part of the process, they engaged with representative group of Managers, Coaches and Players. Among those that attended the forum were, Colm O’ Rourke, Paul Rouse, Michael Murphy, Enda McGinley, Philip Kerr, Derek Savage, Kevin McStay, Kevin Feely, Mickey Ned O’ Sullivan, Billy Morgan , Malachy O Rourke and Tom Hunt from the Playing Rules Committee. Unavoidably absent on the night were Colm Cooper, Dara O Cinneide and Pat Gilroy.
The group objectively reviewed the material, leaving aside their personal allegiances and there was unanimous agreement on 4 main points.
1: That the Association should collect similar data on a regular basis.
2: This Data should be made available to all.
3: Many difficulties are emanating from the Blanket Defence and the kick out.
4: Any intervention should focus on Rewarding the Risk.
Tobin is keenly aware that there’s a huge variance of opinions about the current stage of Gaelic football and he’s not about to hit anybody over the head with his own thoughts about what might be done to make it a better game.
Instead, he hopes that this report will provide a blank canvas based on facts that will allow us to now have a more informed debate.
Having managed at all levels himself up to senior inter-county he has great empathy for the pressures facing the managers and coaches and is acutely aware that the measurement of success and the key outcome for them is winning.
“All our information in this report has looked at the game itself, not in the context of winning or losing and I confident that the concept of winning and the integrity of the game and its skills are not mutually exclusive,” said Tobin.
“The spectators must be a key part of this discussion. Yes, they want their teams to win but it’s no accident that so many people are flocking to Fossa’s games at the moment.
“The quality and skill-levels of our players has never been higher. We have magnificent players and we have had some fantastic passages of play and brilliant individual performances.
“However, interspersed with that we are experiencing a growing number of stagnant and sterile periods of play.’
“I think what has happened over the years is that our coaches, who are very creative and resourceful, have constantly challenged the game as is their duty. However, we as keepers of the game must respond to this challenge with our responsibility to maintain the integrity of the game.
“What constitutes good football is always going to lead to subjective opinions and this is the peoples’ game and all the constituents have to be consulted.
“I hope that what we have produced in this report will stimulate a more informed and successful nationwide discussion.”