Ballymun Kickham’s vs Kilmacud Croke’s – Tactical and Statistical Analysis

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I had put forward the suggestion in my preview that it was yet unproven that Croke’s had the capacity to break down a blanket defence with any sort of consistency against top sides.

I had further suggested that with John Small to mark Paul Mannion, the likelihood of him scoring or creating goals from nothing, like he has typically done, would be significantly less likely than on previous occasions.

To that end I had suggested that Croke’s going long on kick-outs to the biggest man on the field, Pat Duggan, would potentially be key in that it would create the possibility of creating man-on-man attacks straight off the kick-out. All evidence from previous games suggested that they were unlikely to break down a solid Ballymun zonal defence with any sort of consistency, otherwise.

With Ross O’Carroll being sent off in the twentieth minute, we didn’t get so much time to analyse these elements, but the twenty minutes was enough.

In fact, this twenty minutes was probably as good a case in point of the broader patterns of kick-outs in the game in general, and how and why Croke’s have fitted into textbook patterns, and did, again, last Saturday.

Before going into that, however, it is worth noting how effectively Croke’s were set up on Ballymun’s kick-outs. Even with Ballymun’s Evan Comerford delivering a few top-drawer kick-outs, to give Croke’s their dues, they had efficiently sealed up their problems in this regard since losing to Jude’s last year.

Despite the fact that they more or less went man-on-man on Ballymun’s kick-outs, they had clearly worked on shifting a man back seamlessly in front of the full back line when they lost them.

From seven Ballymun kick-outs, with Mun winning six from seven, including three out of three hit long, Croke’s only conceded a single point. This was evened out out by scoring one back upon the first turnover (before the red card). The one kick-out where they conceded, Ballymun got it off quickly and breached “the Killer Quarter”.

Comerford goes long

And it looks like deja vu for Croke’s as Whelan wins it in space

But as he’s turned, Duggan tracks back in the centre

Getting into a perfect sweeper position

In a reversal of last year’s loss, Crokes’ problems were , actually, created on their own kick-outs. Or more to the point, against a side with a proven record of breaking down zonal defences, defending efficiently with a zonal defence and creating more man-on-man attacks than Croke’s have done, they didn’t take advantage of an element they’d have needed to in order to compensate for all of this.

Going back to the broader patterns surrounding zonal kick-out analysis (worth reading here) – the problem with short kick-outs that aren’t hit quickly, or that don’t breach “the killer quarter” is that it allows the opposition to get men behind the ball, potentially setting up a textbook scenario for a counter-attack into space.

The problem with kick-outs to the half back line is that on top of this element, you’re looking at hitting a difficult kick, which puts your side in imminent danger if you get it wrong.

So, if you don’t have a proven pedigree in breaking down zonal defences, chances are, short kick-outs, unless you get them off quickly and breach “the Killer Quarter” quickly, aren’t likely to end in a score. As you’ll know by now if you read much of my stuff before, you’re far more likely to concede a score on the first turnover of possession.

For the twenty minutes at fifteen vs versus fifteen, Croke’s got off four quick kick-outs to the full back line or half back line, but none breached “the killer quarter” so therefore had the same value as slow kick-outs.

The time they spent playing the ball laterally allowed Ballymun to filter back with minimum fuss and get a spare man, typically Philly McMahon, who had gone in as a third midfielder not so long after the throw in, to sit in front of the full back line.

Croke’s go short quickly

But don’t try the obvious kick pass over “the Killer Quarter”

Instead they go laterally

And then backwards

It’s 25 seconds before they cross the half way line

And Ballymun have easily filtered a sweeper

Unsurprisingly, Crokes’ scored nothing from all four of these kick-outs. Equally unsurprisingly, they conceded two points on the first turnover from these four, totaling a -50% of a point per kick ratio.

Broadly speaking, percentages on the various kick-out patterns are similar with different sides across the board, with one huge exception. That is long kick-outs to midfield which aren’t hit within twelve seconds of the ball going dead. The figures on these sway radically from team to team depending on how good their fielders are and how good their keeper is at delivering them.

If you’re not likely to win at least 50/50, you may well be better off going short, even if your expected value is likely to be in and around neutral or even a few percent lower than neutral i.e. you’re likely to concede a little bit more on first turnovers than on initial possessions off kick-outs.

Because, if you’re not coming in at 50/50 or better, you may well have to resign to the fact that you’re most likely going to make a loss on your kick-outs anyway, but you’ll make less of a loss on the short ones than the long ones.

However, if you’ve got some obvious advantage on the long kick-outs, typically, unless you’re getting the quick kick-outs off and breaching “the Killer Quarter”, the chances are you’ll be better off going long, most, if not all, of the time.

The fact of the matter is that Zonal Defence Analysis had illustrated that Croke’s had a proven record of not breaking down zonal defences. Yet they had a midfielder towering above both of Ballymun’s. By my rationale, even before the game, it made a lot of sense to go long on the majority, if not on all kick-outs.

They did so on their first kick-out. Hey-presto, they won it with Duggan being fouled in the air. They by-passed eight Ballymun men straight off the kick-out and the ensuing free, and found themselves attacking man-on-man. Ballymun got men behind the ball, but they were significantly less organised than they would find themselves off the short kick-outs, and they conceded a forty metre free, which Mark Vaughan missed, but you’d expect would score significantly more than fifty percent of the time.

Croke’s go long

Forcing the foul by McCarthy on the taller Duggan

And O’Sullivan by-passes the mid section with the quick free

Leaving Mannion attacking man-on-man

With Mun retreating, Croke’s stretch them laterally

And force the free in space

And again, in the tenth minute, they went long again. Hey-presto, Duggan knocked it down for Craig Dias and they created another man-on-man attack where Paul Mannion ended up with a more or less uncontested shot, which again, you’d have expected him to have scored significantly more than fifty percent of the time!

Croke’s go long for the second time

Where Duggan rises highest again

And breaks it to Dias

Allowing Dias to create the quick break

Putting the ball in front of Mannion

Who gets off a free shot

On their other seven out of nine kick-outs before the sending off, they went short, or on one occasion they did something even more statistically likely to be costly – they went between the half back line and midfield for Pat Duggan to run onto, as opposed to standing in the middle where he had thus far won two from two and created man-on-man attacks and shooting chances on each occasion!

This kick-out alluded to a bigger problem. Unlike the set-plays created by all other semi-finalists, the end goal of the set-play appeared to be about the primary out-come, gaining primary possession, not the secondary aim, creating ideal circumstances from which to score.

It was the opposite to what Jude’s did to them last year, whereby Jude’s had created space over the top to kick the ball into, by-passing two thirds of the Croke’s team. Each of Jude’s and Vincent’s managed to do it against each other the same night, and Ballymun did it against Croke’s a couple of times.

Look at the problem with this kick-out. It’s being aimed into a space where it’s probably no more than a 65/35 to win it. But the net gain, when they do win it, is no better than playing it short to the full back line. When Jude’s, Vincent’s and Ballymun tried this, and Castleknock in previous rounds, they drew ten, eleven and twelve players into their own defence, hoping they’d be followed, so the kick could take out two thirds of the opposition team.

By the time it this kick-out breaks and they win the side-line, Ballymun could get thirteen behind the ball if they wanted to. Even if Croke’s had won it straight off, Mun were still in a position to get twelve behind the ball.

Croke’s create the set play

But it only by-passes four Ballymun players

And even still it’s in the melting-pot

Now Mun could get thirteen behind the ball if they wanted to

As it was, Mun had clearly had a policy of keeping at least three forwards up-field of the ball anyway, so for all of the risk involved in this kick-out, competed in the air, there was actually nothing particularly gained. Even working to plan it was inevitably leaving Croke’s in the same position as they’ve failed over and over again to put up high scores – breaking down a zonal defence.

From the off, they were setting up Ballymun to get men behind the ball and catch them on the counter-attack. That’s exactly what happened.

Mun over-turn it in a tight space at the back

And now Mun counter into swathes of space, created by the Croke’s set-play

They attack three on three and Paddy Small scores

In total, in this twenty minute period, Croke’s created two man-on-man attacks and ten attacks into a zonal defence. The two man-on-man attacks were created off the back of their two solitary long kick-outs! While they didn’t score off either, by my estimation, they should have been expected to have scored maybe 1.3 points from these two shots, coming in at a 65% attack to score expected value score ratio.

Their other ten attacks were into a zonal defence. They scored two points from these ten, a twenty percent ratio. You could argue that they created two goal chances from these, but actually, they weren’t really that clear-cut at all. On both occasions, the gap was so small, that Comerford was on top of the shooter. In fact, I suspect that a Dean Rock would have fisted both chances over the bar on account of the proximity of the keeper.

All the while, Ballymun, even though they had created eleven attacks to Crokes’ twelve, in the opening twenty minutes, had created four man-on-man attacks, double what Croke’s had. They had scored points from three of these, a 75% attack to score ratio.

Alluding to their overall quality, from seven attacks into zonal defences, they scored four points, an immense 57% attack to score ratio. This is roughly double what Croke’s typically get, and almost three times higher than what they had got against Ballymun at that point.

Croke’s have men behind the ball

The ball is dinked inside

Where Paddy Small wins it

He runs at the defence and draws four defenders

Before handing out to Rock

Who scores from outside nine defenders

An element which was previously a serious problem for Ballymun, breaking down zonal defences, has clearly been resolved since Paddy Carr has taken over.

All in all, Balllymun’s class shone through. There was no benefit in going into figures after the twentieth minute. Apart from the fact that they would be impure, Croke’s were in huge trouble already. There was simply no way that they were coming back after the red card.

By Stephen O’Meara



The analysis in this article was compiled using Gaaprostats, statistical and video analysis software, available to buy or download for a free one month triallogo-gaaprostats-finished