Dublin Ladies Football
Sinéad Finnegan in a League of Her Own
This article is brought to you in conjunction with Gaaprostats, a cutting-edge Gaelic football and hurling statistical analysis programme at club affordable prices
It will be a bitter pill for the Dublin ladies to swallow, not alone to lose to Cork for the third year in a row in the All-Ireland final, but the fact that they lost by the minimum having had a legitimate point waved wide in the first half.
Viewing things from a technical and statistical point of view, however, the writing appeared to be on the wall early on. While Cork systematically managed to get at least eleven behind the ball to defend right from the beginning, forcing the Jackies to try to etch out every score, Cork consistently managed to attack into a spacious, frequently four on four, Dublin half.
This was particularly the case in the first twenty minutes. Quite simple, this type of attacking formation is like Christmas for a forward line. That assumes, of course, that your centre forward acts effectively as a fulcrum in the attack.
It’s easy to notice the players who kick the big scores, make the driving runs or bring down the big catches. It is, however, the subtler but equally and sometimes more significant elements which normally go unnoticed. These are the subtle statistics taken by Gaaprostats.
With the figures to back things up, the reason that Cork managed such a meagre turnover, despite such ideal attacking circumstances, particularly in the first half, was stellar “man on man” defending all around, but particularly by Sinéad Finnegan. Quite simply, she gave a “man-marking” display and all round centre back performance that was off the charts.
From start to finish, playing 53/54 minutes at centre back (six/seven at corner back early on for some reason), her opposite number received the ball a mere five times! The average possessions for a centre forward recorded by GaaProstats in a sixty minute game is nineteen! Those who understand “man-marking” know that owing to the central nature of the position and the fact that many balls are being played to the centre forward from shorter distances, it’s by far most difficult of the six defensive positions to deny your opposite number primary possession. This “man-marking” statistic alone, quite frankly, is staggering.
Furthermore, four of those possessions on Finnegan’s watch were hand-passed to the centre forward, Ciara O’Sullivan, a possession which is virtually impossible to prevent. On three of these four occasions, a tackle or pressure from Finnegan forced a turn-over. In total, in sixty minutes, her opposite number (O’Sullivan for 53/54 minutes), under her direct attention, got the ball a mere twice without being forced to lose possession!
Significantly noteworthy is the fact that on three occasions where the dynamics of the game forced Finnegan to swap responsibility and mark another player briefly, the centre forward was fouled for a scored free, set up one point and set up a another point attempt that was kicked wide. It was a glimpse of what O’Sullivan, Cork’s captain, could have done without the scrutiny she was under from Finnegan for the majority. You don’t miss the water until the well runs dry!
On five attempts to play a kick-pass towards her opposite number, Finnegan managed to prevent her from gaining possession on four. Her understanding of the lines which are the crux of “man-marking”, combined with her accompanying balance and pace made for a simply astonishing “man-marking” performance.
Even the Cork goal which came from a hand-pass from O’Sullivan’s solitary possession received from a kick pass, wasn’t a black mark against Finnegan. Having initially appeared to have beaten Finnegan, she had made up the yard and was back with her arm near hand goal-side of O’Sullivan before she played a pass.
Had the entire defence remained in position, there had been no breach of the defence at the point at which O’Sullivan hand-passed the ball to the unmarked goal scorer. Statistically, I didn’t mark it down as a “Breach” against Finnegan.
If those defensive figures aren’t enough, however, there’s more. She was in possession from play fourteen times, never once over-turning possession and breaking the line seven times. A fourteen against five possession count from centre back, at this level, never mind with seven line breaks to boot, is virtually unheard of.
It will be little consolation in the circumstances, but if this type of performance against one of the best forwards in the country is the norm for Finnegan, by my statistical reckoning, it would take her above Cork’s Graeme Canty and mark her out as almost certainly the stand-out defending and all round centre back of the modern era, in both women’s and men’s football.
By: Stephen O’Meara