Dublin vs Galway : Analysis

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In the analysis I wrote on on Monday evening, I basically pointed out that, all in all, Dublin were fairly well organised, but were beaten by superior hurlers.

In short, up until the fortieth minute when Cian O’Callaghan was sent off, most of the textbook key performance indicators had shown Dublin to have matched, or slightly surpassed Galway.

By half time they had won nine percent more contested high balls (six to five), they had won seven percent more breaks off high balls (15 to 13) and they had conceded 16 percent less frees (seven to five).

Most significantly, they hadn’t conceded a free inside their own half, a testament to high defensive coaching standards, broadly speaking, at least.

The key performance indicator which separated the two sides and left Galway, not just three points up at half time, but looking like they could create scores more easily, was “Uncontested Strike Analysis”.

All other things being equal, or in Dublin’s favour, a big differential in the respective figures in this regard, you would typically expect to play out on the score-board.

By half time, Galway had earned 29 to Dublin’s twenty “Uncontested Strikes”. In the first five minutes of the second half, when Galway scored four points to zero, they earned four uncontested strikes to two, and most significantly, won four high balls to zero. This clearly tipped the scales, even before O’Callaghan was sent off.

So quite clearly, statistics illustrate that what has separated the sides was Galway’s ability to create free strikes, typically in and around the midfield and half back area.

So, the question to ask is, how did they manage that?

Typically, this can be a cause or a symptom. In Tullamore, it was probably a bit of both.

Undoubtedly, Galway showed themselves to have had a superior ability to cut inside opponents in tight positions and find a free player, where they could have taken the easier option to launch a long ball forward.

gal dub gr 17 2 free strike

Padraig Mannion could strike the ball long under pressure

gal dub gr 12 2 c free strike

But checks back

gal dub gr 17 2 c free strike

Allowing him to find a free man, Dáithí Burke, and Aidan Harte in turn as an option

gal dub gr 17 2 d free strike

Burke can then plant his feet, look up, and pick his target

gal dub gr 17 2 e free strike

Allowing him to put the ball into swathes space out wide for Joe Canning

gal dub gr 17 2 f free strike

Allowing Canning to ply the ball in in perfect circumstances

Lookiong at these images, you can see the significance of the 29 to 20 free strikes in the first half now. It’s the initial check back from Mannion which has created these ideal attacking circumstances. It was clearly part of Galway’s game-plan, and they had the players with the technical ability to apply it.

On aggregate, Dublin didn’t appear to have the same technical ability as Galway to create these uncontested strikes.

Undoubtedly, however, there were some tactical wars which saw each side look to get a spare man into the key defensive area, on some puck-outs at least.

For the most part, Galway dragged different forwards at different times into the middle part of the field, leaving them with an extra player in their midfield/half back line and leaving a Dublin half back, typically Liam Rush, holding space in the Dublin defence.

That Galway had this extra player in the key part of the field where attacks are created was undoubtedly a factor in their ability to create uncontested strikes from open play.

gal dub gr 17 1 sweeper

Galway could attack directly, but face two sweepers, albeit, only partially blocking the key space in front of the full forward line

gal dub gr 1b hand pass

But go back to where they have spare men

gal dub gr 1 c space

Who can plant his feet, and set up a point away from Dublin’s sweepers

The flip side of this was that it frequently left Dublin with a spare player at the back. To that end, the application of this free role would be key.

In a game, or first forty minutes (when the sides were 15 on 15) where Dublin had shown impeccable defending in terms of not conceding a single free inside 90 yards, their application of the sweeper, simply wasn’t as efficient as it would need to be as a pay-off for frequently allowing Galway a spare player in the middle third.

As pointed out already, the key performance indicator which separated the sides was Galway’s ability to create uncontested strikes. Most of these occurred in the middle third. If you’re allowing that, your sweeper needs to be as efficient as you’d expect a sweeper playing for Jimmy McGuinness’ Donegal or Mickey Harte’s Tyrone.

As the following example will show, Dublin’s application clearly wasn’t.

In the first image, you can see that Dublin have a spare player, Liam Rush, in the fray when Galways’ Conor Whelan gained possession of the ball. Credit to Rush, he deliberately tracked back into this position.

gal dub gr 17 3 libero

Typically, a sweeper can do one of two things. They can cover the inside forwards, virtually eliminating the chance of a goal, or they can look to apply pressure on the man in possession if the attacker looks to make key ground.

In football, you could write a section of a book comprehending which is the best option (I have). In hurling where a good forward is 80/90 percent sure to score inside 45 yards if they get a free strike, I’d argue that you should always look to double up on the man on the ball if it’s possible.

As you can see in this example, once Whelan tries comes back in-field to make an angle, Rush is more than close enough to press the space Whelan will obviously try to run into. In fact, he’s close enough to press either the man on the ball or cover the full forward.

gal dub gr 17 3b libero

But as you’ll see when Whelan comes back in-field, Rush remains static, instead of pushing into the zone where Whelan will want to go into, looking to double up.

gal dub gr 17 3 c

By the time Whelan strikes the ball for a point, Rush is actually in a position which neither exerts extra pressure on Whelan, nor covers the the space between Whelan and the full forward. If Whelan were adventurous in the way Brian Cody’s Kilkenny are, he may well have played the direct ball, looking for a goal.

gal dub gr 17 3 d

If it seems like I’m blaming Liam Rush for Dublin’s woes, I’m not. This is one example I’ve illustrated amongst a good number, involving different players.

To quote Marcus Aurelius from “The Gladiator”, “your failings as a son are my failings as a father”. This is just one example of one Dublin player, clearly unaware of the finer details of playing as sweeper.

Very few players have worked this out for themselves. And very few coaches appear to have given much instruction in this key area of modern hurling and football, even at the top level.

It’s an issue with teams up and down the country. However, when you don’t have the same raw ability as the opposition, it’s these fine details that can potentially close the gaps.

More significantly, if you’re going to allow the opposition to frequently have a free man in their half back line, allowing them free, uncontested strikes from which they can set up optimum attacks, you simply have to make your sweeper/s work with maximum efficiency.

The damage that Galway did to Dublin when they had their spare man in the half back line, simply could’t be justified by Dublin’s application of the sweeper. The manner in which Galway scored with Dublin having two sweepers in our first set of images, is a prime example of that.

Considering the fact that Cian O’Callaghan’s second yellow card was the first free Dublin had conceded inside ninety yards, Ger Cunningham has clearly done huge work on that, frequently costly, element of defending.

If you look at Tyrone or Donegal minor football teams, however, it appears obvious to me that coaching the entire defence on these sweeper principles, is a key and crucial element of their under-age coaching strategies. Typically, it gives their minor, and in turn, senior teams a significant advantage over the rest.

It seems clear from where I’m standing that Dublin’s current squad aren’t technically as good as the top five or six in the country. Neither, in my opinion, were Donegal’s footballers in 2012.

If Dublin are to have a serious chance of coming through the back-door, playing the system they are, against a Muster side, a much improved, clinically methodical application of the sweeper role is probably going to be required.

The video and statistical analysis in this article was compiled using the software of our official partner, GaaProstats, a newly developed, cutting edge G.A.A. statistics and video analysis program available to download for a free one month triallogo-gaaprostats-finished

By Stephen O’Meara