Dublin Mayo Score Concession Pictorial Analysis

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I read a quote from a statistician recently which suggested that defending is more difficult to quantify than attacking and that only twenty percent of statistics in sports relate to defending. I beg to differ. On the contrary, in terms of how you can remedy problems and predict future outcomes, I’d say that defensive statistics should account for a majority.

A statistics program which I’ll have on the market by the end of October will have subtler scientific elements which should allow the Homer Simpsons of this world to quantify who their best defenders are, but in the meantime, we can stick with old(ish) school methods and simply go back over every score conceded with a fine tooth comb and see which defender was culpable (something I think all serious managers should always do).

In my initial post-match article on Sunday’s All-Ireland final clash between Dublin and Mayo, amongst other things, I had noted that Dublin had conceded six points and Mayo 1-3 needlessly and unnecessarily. Or as I call them, they had conceded “Grade 3 Concessions”.


“Grade 3” score concessions are logged when the opposition didn’t have to properly beat a single player in order to score/were fouled when not in a direct scoring position. If you’re looking to improve a team’s performance radically, eradicating these scores is the most efficient way to do so. In Senior club football almost fifty percent of scores are “Grade 3” while at inter-county level, over thirty percent are!

The teams who eradicate these scores efficiently make massive ground quickly. When Donegal won the All-Ireland in 2012 they conceded less than one of these a game. When Tyrone won in 2008 they conceded less than two per game (I never took figures from 2003 and 2005).

The following section goes through all ten “Grade 3” concessions from Sunday’s game (four from Mayo and six from Dublin) pinpointing just how avoidable they were and will most likely have fans putting their hand to their foreheads and saying “If only he didn’t….”

Apart from coming into the game as underdogs, this will be more so the case with Mayo when you realise that amidst an otherwise Trojan defensive display, three players breaking one basic defensive rule led to them conceding 1-2. That rule? When your man plays the ball…follow the man, not the ball.

To that end, let’s look at Mayo’s Grade 3 score concessions first.


Dublin 1-0

The cameras pick up the action late, but as Dublin’s Brian Fenton plays the initial ball, Mayo are defending man on man.




The key moment, however, is when Kevin McMenamon receives the ball. Séaumus O’Shea initially gets drawn towards McMenamon and the ball who/which Colm Boyle was efficiently covering. FOLLOW THE MAN NOT THE BALL


This allows Fenton to get in behind the defence unopposed.


From a point at which there had been no imminent danger, Fenton is easily allowed to go one on one with the keeper.


That it should end up as an own goal is of no significance from a technical defending point of view. Fenton had an initial clear shot on goal and Bernard Brogan had a second effort which could have gone in either.


The misfortune of the final touch by Kevin McLoughlin is a minor element relative to a greater technical defensive error which led to the initial one on one.


Verdict : Grade 3 concession against Séamus O’Shea.
Dublin 2-3
As John Small carried the ball up the flank, Mayo were completely comfortable in defence.
The cameras miss a key piece of action where John Small has hand-passed to Peadair Andrews. Colm Boyle had initially been marking Andrews. But as the hand-pass is played, instead of staying on Andrew’s shoulder which he should have, and you’d expect a trained corner back to do, Boyle sits in behind him. This leaves Andrews free to receive the ball.
This leaves Diarmuid O’Connor with no choice but to try step off Small, and onto Andrews. You’ll now see that Bolye is on Small and O’Connor is on Andrews. It should be the other way around which would have Boyle on Andrews shoulder. FOLLOW THE MAN NOT THE BALL.
Alas, it’s too late as Andrews, who should have had Boyle on his shoulder, gets the kick off before O’Connor can reach him.
Verdict : Grade 3 concession against Colm Boyle.
Dublin 2-5

This score initially sees Mayo in possession coming out of the back, with Séaumus O’Shea on the ball about to play a hand-pass.

The hand-pass is intercepted by Dublin’s John Small and Dublin are on the attack.
However, as you’ll see, Mayo are still comfortably set up with every Dublin forward accounted for and a sweeper at the top right of the screen (what appears to be a second sweeper is covering a man out of picture)
However, as John Small plays the hand-pass to Bernard Brogan, you’ll see that Colm Boyle makes the exact same error as on the previous occasion and instead of staying with the man he was on, Brogan, he follows Small and points to Keith Higgins to pick up Brogan.
This puts Higgins in an impossible defensive position, which alludes to the “follow the man not the ball principle” because Higgins can be easily side-stepped from this position, and he is. If Boyle follows his man and Higgins his, Boyle will still be running alongside Brogan’s shoulder. FOLLOW THE MAN NOT THE BALL.
However, as you’ll see, despite these two initial errors, it’s still far from panic stations for Mayo. They’re still man on man with two spare defenders inside the “D”. However, as you’ll see, nobody is taking responsibility for Brian Fenton in the centre.


On this occasion, Patrick Durcan correctly applies the “follow the man not the ball” principle, but Cillian O’Connor doesn’t. He also goes to move towards Brogan. FOLLOW THE MAN NOT THE BALL.



As the play moves on this causes the defence to open up like the Red sea and Fenton strolls through for an easy point when Mayo had two spare defenders.





Verdict : Despite initial errors by O’Shea and Boyle, Mayo should still have been comfortable at the point Brogan picked up the ball. I’d call it as a Grade 3 concession against Cillian O’Connor


Dublin 2-6


Mayo’s Chris Barrett was initially out of position for the breaking ball because he hadn’t received the short kick-out which he was in position to receive.He bursts a gut to try to make up the ground.




He’s over-enthusiastic, however, and is moving too fast when Eoghan O’Gara receives the breaking ball. It sets up O’Gara to beat him easily.




This, however, would constitute a Grade 2 breach. What qualifies it as a Grade 3, unnecessary concession is that Mayo’s Tom Parsons is in a sweeper position on the edge of the “D” ready to cover O’Gara’s direct line to goal. There’s absolutely no need to pull his jersey and foul him.



Saying that, Mayo supporters, look away now!!! Look at where O’Gara is fouled and look at where the free is taken from!!! All the more significant considering Dean Rock’s hugely below par form on the day.




So there you go. If Mayo could consistently apply the “follow the man no the ball” principle, it’s difficult to imagine that they wouldn’t have won!


Dublin for their part were responsible for coughing up six Grade 3 points, Their concessions, however, as you’ll see, follow a much more random pattern.



Mayo 0-1


When the ball was initially played in, Dublin were perfectly well set up. Andy Moran has the attention of two defenders and even if he wins the high ball will have a mountain of work to do to score. Dublin have five on three in the picture, but as we roll on you’ll see that one of them, John Small, at the extreme right, is guilty of “ball watching”.




Andy Moran does indeed win the ball but is forced backwards. Surrounded by defenders there should still be no imminent danger. Note than John Small is now behind the play.




As we roll on we’ll see that Tom Parsons arrives in unmarked to kick a simple point. On this viewing, it may appear as though Ciarán Kilkenny or Brian Fenton should have been tracking him. But as we go back to the start of the move we’ll see it’s not the case.




Going back to the beginning of the move you’ll see that both Kilkenny and Fenton were lined up directly against other players. Kilkenny (centre) is facing the man on the ball and Fenton is on his man’s shoulder at the extreme left of the picture.




But as we roll on we’ll see the key point. At the top right corner is Tom Parsons who would score. At the top centre you’ll see John Small is directly opposing him. Which is exactly what he should have continued doing. But he didn’t. He “ball watched” and Parsons drifted in to score an unopposed point when Dublin had spare defenders




Verdict : Grade 3 concession against John Small

Mayo 0-2

Dublin are coming out of the defence with possession and Philly McMahon tries to hand-pass to Cian O’Sullivan.




Cillian O’Connor gets a hand on the ball allowing Aidan O’Shea onto possession.




O’Shea, however, is running away from goal and Dublin have six defenders against five in the direct vicinity. Davy Byrne could do with pushing up faster on Andy Moran, free at the bottom left corner of the picture, but there is still no direct Mayo threat.




With O’Shea running away form goal, Cian O’Sullivan unnecessarily tries to tackle and hauls him to the ground for a free which Cillian O’Connor slots over.




Verdict : Grade 3 concession against Cian O’Sullivan

Mayo 0-3

As Mayo carried the ball slowly out of defence there was no overlap. By the time the cameras picked up the larger area of the field, you can see that Mick Macauley is being dragged unnecessarily towards the ball which Ciarán Kilkenny has accounted for. You’ll see that, number 12 Diarmuid O’Connor, is already getting in behind him. Mcauley should have dropped into the space to prevent this overlap.



As the play rolls on you’ll see he now has to play catch up. It’s textbook incorrect midfield positioning.




Despite this, by the time O’Connor has hand-passed towards Lee Keegan, you’ll see that Dublin are still perfectly well set up to defend with Brian Fenton ready to double up on Keegan. There is no imminent threat.



Then Macauley unnecessarily tries to make a tackle/take him down and fouls Keegan gifting Mayo a free which they convert.




It was, incidentally, as blatant as blatant can be a black card offence for a deliberate hand trip.




Verdict : From start to finish, a Grade 3 concession against Mick Macauley.

0-6 Mayo

This is the least clear cut and there’s an argument to be made for it being a “Grade 1”. That is to say that it was so methodical that it would have required an exceptional effort to stop. However, for reasons I’ll explain, I’d just about call it a Grade 3.

Initially Tom Parsons is carrying the ball and there is no imminent danger with Cian O’Sullivan perfectly positioned as sweeper.




He then checks back and Andy Moran enters the fray.




The hand-pass is played to Moran who is about to pull a wily move.




He cuts around outside Parsons and Fenton, using them as shield against the ensuing Jonny Cooper.





Cooper then crashes into Parsons.




This allows Moran the crucial second to kick an unopposed point.




There is an argument that there is little that Cooper can do to prevent this score. Undoubtedly, the wily fox that is Moran made it as difficult as possible to defend. But there are two things which put it in the Grade 3 bracket for me. Firstly, go back to the initial image. You’ll see that Cooper is marking Moran tightly from the front at the top right corner of the picture.



But as Moran comes into the fray, you’ll see that he he has stolen a yard on Cooper.




More crucially, from the point at which the ball is played to Moran, if Cooper is quick enough thinking, he should take a step back, ready to come in behind Parsons and Fenton, expecting that he’ll be forced to collide otherwise.




Verdict : Just about a Grade 3 concession against Jonny Cooper

0-9 Mayo

As you’ll see, when the ball is initially played in, it’s Davey Byrne’s to win.




However, he drops it and it ends up behind him with Cillian O’Connor still goal-side.






In an attempt to prevent O’Connor from getting on the ball, he clearly plays the man. At this point he probably feels he has no choice but to do this. Credit to O’Connor, who pulls the oldest forward’s trick in the book by getting his arm over Byrne’s shoulder making the foul look all the more blatant.




Verdict : A handling error as opposed to a technical defending one, but a gift nonetheless. A grade 3 against Davey Byrne.

0-12 Mayo

Dublin are in comfortable possession with Philly McMahon who is about to play a hand-pass to Davey Byrne.




Davy Byrne lets the Mayo man creep in behind him and make an interception (most players with a soccer background would argue it was Philly McMahon’s fault for playing a pass to a static teammate without calling “man on”). Regardless, at this point, Mayo are still only attacking man on man.




As it rolls on you’ll see that Cian O’Sullivan is faced by two Mayo opponents. What the image doesn’t show is that Ciarán Kilkenny is behind him as a spare man. The situation could have been nipped in the bud if O’Sullivan had dropped off the two opponents, giving Kilkenny the opportunity to push up man on man.




He doesn’t, however, allowing Mayo to overlap into a deeper attacking position.



As the play rolls forward, however, you’ll see that Dublin are still defending man on man. Kilkenny was always going to be in a position to pick up O’Connor.



It should have been very apparent that when the initial overlap would be covered by Kilkenny that Mick Fitzimons would be able to stay with/pick up Alan Dillon. He didn’t, however, and the ball was played to an unmarked Dillon,




The point is a defensive catastrophe from start to finish but there’s no good reason why Mick Fitzimons should have been so far off Alan Dillon who kicked over from an unmarked position.




Verdict : Grade 3 Concession against Mick Fitzimons


Is there a moral to the story? Well apart from pontificating on the loose defensive structure even at the very highest level of the game, there is one significant moral. Dublin’s six Grade 3 concessions came from varied types of errors from a host of different players.


A total of 1-2 from Mayo’s 1-3 Grade 3 Concessions came from the same error from two players….”follow the man not the ball”. Eradicate this before the replay, and it’ not rocket science to do so, and you’d have to make Mayo favourites.

By: Stephen O’Meara