Dublin vs Kerry : Tactical and Statistical Analysis

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Let’s face it. For all of the hype, Dublin and Kerry last Saturday was no more than a dress rehearsal with a bit of an edge.

That edge? Regardless of the broader relative insignificance of the game, Kerry didn’t want to lose to Dublin again, and they certainly didn’t want to lose three on the bounce at home.

Dublin players will no doubt have had at least a subconscious eye on the 34 game record, and will always be happy to further turn the screw on the idea that Kerry just can’t beat Dublin.

But let’s face it. The likelihood is that none of Dublin’s likely championship starting half back and half forward lines of Jack McCaffrey, Cian O’Sulllivan and James McCarthy and Paul Flynn, Diarmuid Connolly and Kevin McMenamon started.

Kerry had five regulars lined out for Croke’s in the All-Ireland final a day earlier and were also without James O’Donoghue and Kieron Donaghy.

Saying that, looking at things from a tactical and statistical point of view, there were five key elements which probably give a fairly accurate picture of what we can expect later on this summer.

1 Breaks and Stephen Cluxton

Yes, it’s broken record time again. Dublin didn’t win a single break off their own kick-outs. Our Break Analysis shows that they lost five out of five, and were overwhelming odds on to lose four of these five.

dublin kerry 13 breaks

Kerry dominate all break winning positions

dublin kerry 21 breaks

And it’s the same again

Smug t-v commentators tend to bask in having a go at Stephen Cluxton when he puts a kick-out over the side-line or into the lap of an opponent. What’s lost on them is that for every one of these, three or more are put into the laps of Dublin players. Considering how poor Dublin are on breaks on their own kick-outs, Cluxton’s kicks are key.

That Dublin’s long kick-out total was eight won and eight lost means that Dublin won eight to three on long kicks that were won cleanly. Cluxton remains by far the most significant piece in Dublin’s jigsaw.

Kerry for their part have clearly worked on this element which single handedly cost them the All-Ireland semi-final last year, losing their own kick-outs to Dublin. They won three and lost two of their own breaks and have clearly worked on being competitive in the break winning zone.

dublin kerry 29 breks kerry good

Kerry’s corner back, Ronan Shanahan, is a step ahead and wins the break

2 Long Kick-out score conversion

With winning breaks at the core of things, Kerry turned one element of their key All-Ireland semi-final loss on its head. Whereas they lost twelve to six of their own on that day, our Zonal Kick-out Analysis shows that they won nine and lost five last Saturday.

All is not rosey in the Kerry garden, however. Last August they conceded six points from those twelve long kick-outs lost, a fifty percent concession rate. On Saturday night, they conceded five points from the six they lost, an 82 percent concession rate, illustrating that they still have a complete incapacity to prevent Dublin from scoring when Dublin win the Kerry kick-out.

Had Conor McHugh converted his one on one, or Eoghan O’Gara bundled the rebound over the line, that figure would have been 1-4 conceded from six Kerry kick-outs.

Dublin breached The Killer Quarter within three to five seconds for four of these five points!

Kerry were doomed to concede once Lowndes won the kick-out

Kerry were doomed to concede once Lowndes won the kick-out

They scored two points from the nine they won, up from zero from six last August. However, it still represents a net loss of five points to two from their own long kick-outs, or a total of 0.19 points conceded per kick.

Coming in at a point scored and a point conceded upon first turnover from three delayed short kick-outs, this remains their statistically best option if they can’t get short ones off quickly. Remember, they scored a massive five from ten of these without conceding anything upon first turnover last year!

Paul Flynn

Much has been said about Paul Flynn’s apparent under-performance last year, most of it nonsense. The style that Dublin have played since 2015, more “pick and poke” than the swashbuckling go-go-go of 2014 and beyond doesn’t play to many of Flynn’s attributes.

However, he was always and is still worth his weight in gold for one reason. Inch for inch, he’s the best fielder in the country. Put him midfield and he’ll be conceding four or five inches on his man. From wing forward, he’s normally toe to toe, meaning he can dominate aerially.

When Dublin have struggled in the air, he has always been the go-to man. In fact, Kerry putting 6 ‘5″ Mike McCarthy on him in the 2011 All-Ireland final was key to Kerry’s aerial dominance that allowed them to dominate the Dubs for most of that second half.

With Dublin being eaten alive on breaks, AGAIN, Flynn came on and won two cleanly. On top of that, his sheer presence forced a free for a crucial point late on when he was needlessly hit late.

dublin kerry 31 flynn

Flynn, circled, won this one with Kerry queued up for the break

Kerry’s Defending

There’s no nice way to put it. Amidst a highly structured defence which the Dubs could barely penetrate, Kerry simply gifted Dublin the majority of their scores.

Dublin were forced to these type of shots when Kerry didn't foul

Dublin were forced to these type of shots when Kerry didn’t foul

Our Score Concession Analysis illustrated that from the 13 which Kerry conceded, eight came from frees which were absolutely needlessly conceded. That is to say that they fouled a player who was running away from goal, running into a Kerry pack or, in the aforementioned case with Paul Flynn, fouled a player after the ball, when Kerry were going to take possession.

Despite t-v commentary to the contrary, our analysis shows that every one of them was indeed a foul.
At half time for instance, Dublin had scored five points. Two came directly from Kerry’s Dublin Achilles, losing their own long kick-out. The other three had come from needlessly conceded frees.

dublin kerry 1 frees

Kilkenny was fouled, under pressure, running away from goal

dublin kerry 2 frees

Macauley was fouled just before running into another Kerry defender (out of picture)

dublin kerry 6 frees

Andrews was pushed in the back trying to pick the ball up, running away from goal

dublin kerry 7 frees

Macauley was pulled just before being double teamed

Carthy was pulled as he was running into a spare defender

Carthy was pulled as he was running into a spare defender

Kilkenny was pushed in the back, surrounded, on his knees and with his back to goal

Kilkenny was pushed in the back, surrounded, on his knees and with his back to goal

Flynn was hit late when with Kerry's full back line about to take possession

Flynn was hit late when with Kerry’s full back line about to take possession

dublin kerry 17 frees

Conor McHugh is fouled, surrounded by four defenders

Under extreme pressure, Conor McHugh has his armed pulled

Under extreme pressure, Conor McHugh has his armed pulled needlessly

Ciarán Kilkenny is fouled as he runs into a Kerry pack

Dean Rock is fouled as he runs into a Kerry pack

McMenamon might have scored, but the foul handed Dublin the free

McMenamon might have scored, but the foul handed Dublin the free

It could have been ten needlessly conceded points had Dean Rock converted a couple more frees.

In total, Kerry conceded just one point that wasn’t a “Grade Three” (no defender beaten for the score) or else directly from losing their on kick-out.

Anthony Meaghar was particularly guilty, conceding two of these frees in his 19 minutes on the field, as well as gifting Ciarán Kilkenny a free on a kick-out which was about to be won by Kerry.

Meaghar fouls needlessly as Kerry were about to win the kick

Meaghar fouls needlessly as Kerry were about to win the kick

Dublin, for their part, conceded only two “Grade Threes” on the day, one missed, the lowest we’ve seen from them, interestingly.

Dublin’s Intelligence

We know Kerry are intelligent, and always have been. That’s why they’re Kerry. It used to be a big advantage against Dublin. Not any more.

As I’ve explained in my upcoming book “Understanding Gaelic Football, a Theoretical Guidebook”, Jim Gavin has not just picked a lot of athletic players. In the middle third, he has selected a number of highly intelligent ones.

To contrast with Donegal in the 2014 All-Ireland final, or Slaughtneil against Croke’s last Friday, for example, Dublin showed an understanding of the game at a crucial stage, a point down, two minutes into injury time.

How many sides have you seen in the modern age, ape-like in their zonal defence based tactical plan, allow the opposition easy possession on a short free, late on, when they can run down the clock with possession? Not the Dubs.

At the crucial point, two minutes into injury time, they went man on man and forced Kerry to have to earn possession. It forced a bad free, from which the Dubs won possession and equalised. Most sides we’ve seen in recent years, in a similar position, have failed to even try to exert such pressure.

Dublin go tight, man on man for the free

Dublin go tight, man on man for the free

And force the turnover

And force the turnover

Key to the Dubs’ success in recent years, as much as their athleticism is the intelligence of players like Brian Fenton, Ciarán Kilkenny, Cian O’Sullivan, Dean Rock and Bernard Brogan, to name a few on the field for that key play.

The stats in this article were compiled using the newly developed GaaProstats statistical and video analysis program. This program has been specifically designed for Gaelic football and hurling. It is now available for all clubs to download free for a month’s trial. logo-gaaprostats-finished

By Stephen O’Meara