Plunkett’s Vs Castleknock : Statistical and Tactical Analysis

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Incredulously by my assessment, Castleknock went into this game as 3/1 outsiders with the bookies. It never added up to me in what I’d described in my preview as what “I see as virtually a 50/50 game”. And 50/50 it surely was, even level entering the final minute of extra-time.

I’m happy that my hundred quid lost because Knock didn’t win in normal time represented an outrageously good percentages bet, one that you’d make huge margins off if the same game were played ten times.

It’s easy to pick statistical holes (and I will) when you’ve watched the video four times with statistical software, but on the whole, both managers appeared to get most in- game tactical elements absolutely spot on, with meticulous preparation evident on both sides.

In the end, in a game which Castleknock had more than enough chances to have wrapped up in sixty minutes, it was their impeccable discipline which won the day.

Let’s take a look at the game in different elements.

Raw ability versus athleticism

I’d said in my preview that Plunkett’s had six players who can create scores from nothing while Castleknock had one, but that Knock would look to over-run the opposition. The figures show this to have been exactly the case.

In normal time, alluding to the superior athleticism of Knock, Zonal Defence Analysis showed Plunkett’s to have had 23 attacks, while Knock had 33!

Plunketts’ score ratio was 74 percent while Knock’s was fifty percent, alluding to superior technical ability up front.

To be fair, it also alluded to Gareth Smyth and Alan and Bernard Brogan playing clever lines to negate the effect that Castleknock’s sweeper could have.

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Smyth’s position makes it impossible for the sweeper to cover him and Brogan

In fact, when you break the figures down you’ll see a bigger gulf in terms of raw attacking ability (up front).

Of Plunketts’ 23 attacks, they only managed a man-on-man attack twice, created three turnovers in Knock’s defence and attacked into a zonal defence on eighteen occasions.

From those eighteen attacks, into a zonal defence, they scored a massive 1-9, a 67 percent scoring success rate.

Knock on the other hand, faced a blanket defence 22 times and only managed six points, a score ratio of 27 percent.

There’s no doubting that my initial assertion relative to the respective sides’ ability up front, was spot on.

Granted, it was helped by the space created by Knock playing a 7-2-5 while Plunkett’s played a 6-2-6.

The key, however, as predicted, was that Castleknock created an overlap five times against zero such attacks for Plunkett’s, while they created three man-on-man attacks to Plunketts’ two.


Knock created four times more man-on-man or overlapped attacks in normal time

From their five overlaps, they scored 1-2, a one hundred percent ratio, while they scored another 1-2 from their three man-on-man attacks, a 167 percent ratio (a point scored represents 100 percent, while a goal represents 300 percent).

This quite clearly alluded to Knock’s superior athleticism, though credit has to be given to their ability and desire to attack vociferously from the full back line and half back line, which alludes to the big key element of the game, the kick-outs.


I’d given the following chess analogy in my preview “for me, this game is going to be won and lost on kick-outs. Knock’s whole game plan is based on getting off the kick-outs asap (so) for me it’s Plunkett’s who have to knock Castleknock out of their stride, not vice versa”.

This proved very much to be the case. In order for Knock to over-run Plunkett’s and create more attacks and more favourable attacks, they simply had to get the kick-outs off quickly. This kick-out war was clear from the off.

What is particularly interesting is the fact that from what you would imagine would be, and had previously been, a key scoring opportunity for Knock, the quick kick-out to the full back line, they actually recorded a deficit in normal time.

Zonal Kick-out Analysis showed that they scored a reasonable three points from eleven quick kick-outs to the full back line (less than 9.5 seconds after the ball went dead), but actually conceded 1-1 from the one they lost/Plunkett’s first possession upon overturning the ones which Knock had initially gained possession on.

Plunkett’s had clearly worked on choking these off, putting intense man-on-man pressure on the short kicks, but Knock had equally obviously worked on evading these markers. Had the goal not been conceded, you’d have said that they won this battle, but in the end, Plunkett’s turned this key element of Knock’s game on its head, in normal time at least.


Plunkett’s apply huge pressure, but Knock still gain possession

The key was that on the four kick-outs that Connolly hit long, they won them all, breached the Killer Quarter quickly (the quarter of the field ahead of where the kick-out is won) on all four occasions and scored 1-2!

Plunkett’s on the other hand, couldn’t go with the quick kick-out. Paul Curran knew they wouldn’t have the legs, and needed the rest in play to try to cope with the fit Castleknock side.

Therefore, they had to prepare the long one meticulously, knowing they’d have to win more than their fair share. They did, initially at least. From eight in the first half, they won seven and lost just one, and scored five points to zero from this source, a massive 72 percent kick-0ut to score ratio.

It wasn’t actually that Knock weren’t prepared for the breaks, but that the potential break winners frequently got too close to the ball and frequently saw it by-pass them.

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Knock’s Shane Boland gets close

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And the ball by-passes him

In my preview, I had suggested that owing to the need to use their superior athleticism in the middle third to over-run Plunkett’s, it might be wise not to inter-change James Sherry and Ciarán Kilkenny between in midfield and the full forward line, like usual. I figured Kilkenny’s engine in the middle would be key.

In the end, this wouldn’t have made sense, and this very switch by Lar Norton at half time, more than any other, was a key game changer. At half time he made the switch, putting the taller, more experienced fielder, Sherry, in the middle.

From 14 long second half Plunkett’s kick-outs, with Sherry in in the fray, Plunkett’s would win just five while Knock won nine, with a net outcome of three points to one for Knock coming directly off the long kick-outs.

Meanwhile, Kilkenny scored a goal and was fouled for a penalty within the first fifteen minutes of the second half from the full forward line!

Statistically predictably, on the two kick-outs where Plunkett’s did go short, but not quickly, they conceded a point upon the first turnover on each occasion.

Plunkett’s would dominate long kick-outs again in extra-time until the final minutes, accounting for what kept them in the game with weary legs. They won their first three, scoring two points and gaining a missed free. They won four from five in total, conceding a point from the one they lost, and predictably, conceded upon the first turnover on their one short kick-out to the full back line, again.


Dunleavy won more than his fair share at midfield

Crucially, and tying in with previous figures more than in normal time, Knock got off five kick-outs to the full back line in extra-time, four of them inside 9.5 seconds and scored three points from that.

The benches

Plunkett’s were always likely to run out of steam late on, and the athletic Darragh Brogan’s black card in the second half didn’t help matters. Curran had prepared meticulously, leaving some normally key players to introduce in the final quarter.

Conor Walsh came on with a strapped leg, presumably less than a hundred percent fit, Paul Brogan also came on late (I can only speculate if he was injured or not), so too did the versatile and athletic Seán O’Connor, and James O’Donoghue, who wouldn’t typically see championship football, came on late at the back and continuously burst forward.

Extra time saw Conor Gurn, sprung, who I suspect never played senior championship for Plunkett’s before, and Leigh Herron came on too. It was meticulously planned to keep Plunkett’s from being over-run late on.

The one question I’d ask, considering the fact that Conor Walsh would play the last ten minutes of normal time, plus all of extra time, was why he didn’t replace Paul Galvin earlier.

Galvin was in possession significantly less than average for a wing forward, didn’t make a single “Positive Penetrative” or “Mildly Positive” play in the entire game, hadn’t the legs to track Ross Mullins who created an overlap for Knock’s second one-on-one that hit the bar, was directly taken on and beaten for Mullins’ point, and won just one break throughout. In a game where athleticism was always going to be their biggest issue, it seemed to me to be a swap that was crying out earlier.

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Galvin couldn’t track Mullins for this goal chance

Saying that, Plunkett’s were two points up nearing injury time, and drew even scores from forty to sixty minutes, where you might have expected Knock to run away, so you have to give credit for the way the pack was shuffled.

As for Knock, with Colm Neville, one of last year’s regular starting corner backs, just back from injury, struggling on Bernard Brogan early on, Paul Bourke, also not long back from injury, was introduced and kept a reasonable and noteworthy watch on Brogan.

The big decisions

Where do I start? From the time Gareth Smyth was incredulously not black carded for a textbook pull down to ground, things appeared to spiral slightly out of control. The notion, however, that Plunkett’s were robbed, couldn’t be further from the truth.

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Smyth clearlty drags his man

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And pulls him to ground

Similar to Kerry’s complaints against Dubln in the 2011 All-Ireland final, based on two late calls that shouldn’t have gone against them in that game, people seem to largely have forgotten what went on earlier in the game.

In 2011, moaning Kerry supporters, and indeed players, conveniently forgot the opening minute when Dublin were deprived a blatant “45” and that the referee gave a free and not a penalty when Kerry handled the ball inside “the square”.

Yes, Alan Brogan was incorrectly deemed to have fouled James Sherry for Knock’s equalising free. Seriously though, you’d swear it was the only soft free of the game!

We’ll deal with Brogan’s reaction shortly, but for now, suffice to say, as it happens, it was Brogan himself who was awarded three of the softest frees you could ever imagine in the opening half of the game.

The first saw Tom Quinn make a perfectly legitimate near-hand tackle and perfect shoulder, which the referee deemed to have been illegal, after Brogan had shot wide.

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qqqqThen he somehow considered a shoulder to shoulder race, where if anybody was fouling it had to have been Brogan, to be a free, which was converted when there was no threat what so ever.

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And after Quinn made a perfect interception a few minutes later, the ref somehow deemed it top have been a foul.

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Quinn’s reaction said it all, but crucially, he didn’t do anything to allow the ref to move it up, and Plunkett’s missed a free you’d really expect them to have scored. Had Quinn complained, it would have been moved up to 14 yards and been virtually umnmissable!

More significantly, Paul Galvin should undoubtedly have been sent off right before half time. One video angle shows what could be conservatively described as a closed fisted push on Ross Mullins’ neck by Galvin. By the letter of the law it was at least “striking with minimal force”.



However, our wide angle camera showed this to be the lesser of three contacts made by Galvin in the same incident. Still images don’t illustrate it as clearly as the video, but Galvin can be seen making a movement towards Mullins’ face twice, prior to this. The second appears to be significantly more forceful than the third (shown from the wide angle). Mullins left the field at half time bleeding from the mouth.

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plunketts castleknock gr 17 2 galvinAnd as for Plunkett’s second goal. Graham Hannigan, who would have gained easy possession from the kick-out, was clearly dragged and prevented from gaining possession, and should have been awarded a free as soon as Plunkett’s gained possession.


Niall Walsh clearly pulls Hannigan as the ball is kicked

Yes, Alan Brogan was outrageously adjudged to have fouled James Sherry in injury time of normal injury time. On aggregate, it was undoubtedly Castlknock who were fleeced, not Plunkett’s.

And don’t get me started on Ciarán Kilkenny’s penalty. This one reminds me of the nonsense that was spouted when Bernard Brogan “only had his jersey pulled a small bit” in the last minute against Kildare a few years ago.

A foul is a foul is a bloody foul. It doesn’t matter if the man on the ball is stopped by being pole-axed and hospitalised or whether he was ever so slightly pulled. If the aggressor has deliberately put an illegal hand on the opponent with the intention of gaining an advantage, it’s a bloody foul.

And Shane Lyons clearly puts an illegal hand on Kilkenny’s shoulder with the intention of gaining an illegal advantage. Kilkenny’s right foot is ever so slightly outside the box, clearly putting his left foot and left shoulder inside the box. Therefore, the foul is inside the box.

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Lyons clearly pulls Kikenny’s shoulder

Lyons has deliberately put his arm on Kilkenny’s shoulder to impede him and slow him down. It’s a foul and it’s a penalty. Simple as! That he pulls his jersey, slightly, when Kilkenny goes to turn doesn’t even matter. One foul had already been committed.

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I noted earlier that despite the “foul” on Alan Brogan being the third outrageous decision against Tom Quinn in one half, that despite his obvious bemusement, he said nothing to the referee and gave no reason for the free to be moved up.

You’d probably have put the free at a 95 percent chance in a senior championship game, but had it been moved up, it would have been a 99 percent plus chance. Quinn kept his powder dry and Plunkett’s missed the free!

That Alan Brogan must have known that he had been awarded one dubious, and two outrageously soft frees earlier on, is actually neither here nor there in the bigger scheme of things relating to Knock’s injury time free.

With the dust settled, a veteran county player with two All-Ireland medals, will surely have to size things up along the following lines. Two minutes into injury time, a point up, the opposition were awarded a less than easy free which a free taker with nerves of anything less than steel would have been shaking at the prospect of kicking. I made it maybe a 60/40 or 65/35 free at best, excluding the pressure involved.

Brogan’s  reaction resulted in that free being moved up to a 99/1 chance, such that I could have come down from the stand in my motorbike boots and kicked over myself.

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Brogan boots the ball skywards after the free is awarded

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The free is moved up to virtually umnissable distance

As it happens, he was one of three players whose reaction would have warranted the free being moved up.

All the more incredulous, however, was what happened in the final minute of injury time. At level scores, just outside the distance from which Séamus O’Carroll would have attempted a kick for a point (he hadn’t attempted two closer ones earlier), exposed man on man, Declan Lally intelligently fouled Ciarán Kilkenny.


David Kelly had other ideas, however. From what was actually a position more statistically likely to end up in a score for the defending team on the counter-attack, as they now had men behind the ball, Kelly remonstrated aggressively with the referee, leaving him with no choice but to move a 52 metre free up to 38 metres!

I almost literally couldn’t believe my eyes, and wasn’t sure if I’d really seen what I thought I did, until I watched the video.



O’Carroll pointed, putting Knock in the lead, only to see equally incredulous scenes unfold in the next Castleknock attack, entering injury time. With Knock having won the ensuing kick-out, Graham Hannigan looked like he had just run into trouble and out of steps, offering Plunkett’s a chance to get their hands on the ball and seek an equaliser.

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That Shane Lyons took it upon himself to lose this opportunity at a turn-over and take Hannigan to the ground in a headlock, was equally incredulous as the previous incident.

That Lyons only saw a black card for what could surely have had more extreme interpretations of the rule book than “pulling an opponent to ground”, was in my eyes, by far the worst decision of the night.

shane lyons knacker

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From the time the free was awarded to Hannigan to the point they would hit their third free on the trot a minute later, Plunkett’s really should have had at least five players sent off even by a conservative referee, and a sixth by my take.

When Hannigan was grounded and hurt by Lyons, he would find himself on the ground with the full weight of another Plunketts’ player, knees first, on his chest. After the next free, Ciarán Kilkenny was choke-held by one player from behind, while simultaneously punched in the face by one player and struck in the back of the head by another.

Even what you’d generally consider to be the most disciplined and mentally balanced of players, Declan Lally, was sent off for striking, albeit clearly verbally provoked. For me, Lally’s was the least sinister of the six incidents in injury time.

Adding in the Paul Galvin incident in the first half of normal time, Plunkett’s should undoubtedly have had six players sent off, and I’d personally have made it a seventh for the strangle hold from behind Kilkenny. That’s on top of black cards for Darragh Brogan and James Brogan, and what should undoubtedly have been a black card for Gareth Smyth. That totals ten, six of which happened before the game looked out of sight.

david kelly knacker

You really only could speculate as to what came upon a side I’ve associated with utter discipline since I saw them beat Croke’s in 2014, to completely, thoroughly and utterly lose the plot, and gift the draw to Castleknock in normal time and gift the game to them in extra-time.

Tom Quinn walked away quietly after the third shocking call against him in the first half. Ross Mullins literally turned the other cheek and took three contacts to the neck and face in quick succession, and walked quietly to the tunnel with a bloodied mouth. Graham Hannigan was choke-held to the ground and bore the weight of an opponent, knees first on his chest, with his back on the surface. He got up quietly and walked away. Ciarán Kilkenny was choke-held from behind and simultaneously struck in the face and the back of the head by two different players. He walked away.

More significantly than all of that, Plunkett’s gave away five frees in normal time where absolutely no direct threat existed, and three more/frees moved up from outside scoring distance to scoring distance in the final minutes of extra-time.

Excluding two of Quinn’s “fouls” on Alan Brogan, Castleknock conceded just one free where no direct threat existed, once again demonstrating a superbly well schooled and disciplined defence.

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Plunkett’s had spare men against the forward with his back to goal

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But needlessly conceded the free

When two sides are so evenly balanced, the width of a post, or the under-side of the bar, as was the case here, the break of a ball, or one big call by the referee can be the difference. You can’t account for that.

You can, however, account for discipline. If Castleknock’s discipline hadn’t been so meticulous, in a game where they lost the lion’s share of the questionable calls, they wouldn’t have been within a bad refereeing call of equalising in normal time to begin with.

Amongst other thing, their impeccable discipline undoubtedly won the day!

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