St Vincent’s vs Ballymun Kickham’s Final – Tactical and Statistical Analysis

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*unfortunately, a match video promised to us never transpired, so some statistical figures are from notes taken during the game which we can’t double check. It’s not beyond reason that there could be slight inaccuracies, but on the whole, none could be so wrong as to affect the points being made*

As I’d said in my preview “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. Ballymun were significant favourites with the bookies, but Vincent’s had won three of the last four championships. Should we really be surprised that they won again?

In my preview, I’d looked at a number of things potentially in Vincents’ favour. The key elements were Diarmuid Conolly, Vincent’s capacity to re-shape when the opposition have the ball, their capacity to win long kick-outs, crucially, their capacity to create and score off short kick-outs even when they’re not hit quickly, and most importantly, their temperament.

In the end of the day, as we’ll see, all five of these elements ran in their favour.

Diarmuid Connolly

The Connolly factor is obvious – he scored 1-1, and had a centrally key role in two more scores, including one outrageous free kick landed over Eoin Dolan’s head into Varley’s lap.

Credit to Varley for the extremely clever run which played brilliantly on the angles. Further credit to Connolly for playing what would have been a brilliant kick to a static target, to the space while Varley was still running the other way. It wasn’t just technically brilliant, it illustrated a frighteningly adept comprehension of a footballing situation.

Literally the moment before Connolly kicked there was no clear option

As he kicks there’s still no clear line

Yet he nails it into the space for Varley

Long Kick-outs

Once again, the kick-outs were key, not just in Vincent’s winning more than their fair share of long ones, but in terms of net scores gained off the kicks.

I’d speculated in my preview that it could be necessary for Vincent’s to play one of their big men, Éamonn Fennell or Dáithí Murphy, in the middle in order to dominate the long kicks. It would seem that Brian Mullins may have had the same idea – go with the more athletic midfielders and see A) if there would be many long kick-outs that would warrant the big men, and B) see how Vincent’s were faring on them without the big men.

On aggregate, Vincent’s had won 2/1 on long ones to midfield in the first half, but crucially, Mun’s resurgence, at 1-4 to 0-2 down, coincided with them forcing Vincent’s long on two kick-outs in a row and winning both, shortly before half time. They scored directly off one. It had left the long kick-out to midfield tally at 3/2 to Mun at half time, with the possibility of the beginning of a pattern that Mun were choking off Vincents’ short ones.

Mullins took remedial action and brought on Murphy at half time. Vincent’s won 2/1 long in the second half.

McCarthy had Murphy to deal with in the second half

Crucially, in total, Mun only forced Vincent’s long on three out of eleven in total, and as pre-final patterns had suggested, this wasn’t enough.

Short Kick-outs

Again, my preview suggested that Mun would need to force at least half of Vincents’ kick-outs long if they were to be the more likely winners.

Time and again, Vincent’s have shown their ability to “pick and poke” their way to scores, even off short kick-outs when the opposition are set up with their whole team behind the ball.

Time and again, all other Dublin teams concede more off the counter on the first turnover on short kick-outs, not hit quickly. This played itself out to the tune of  significant margins in the final.

Vincent’s got off seven kick-outs to the full back line and scored two points while conceding nothing off the turnover. It would have been three had Tomás Quinn not taken a minute and 23 seconds to kick a fourteen yard free before the ref threw it up in the 54th minute.

Even if we just count kicks to the full back line after 9.5 seconds, they still scored one plus this 13 metre free out of five.

On the other hand, from Ballymun’s eleven kicks to the full back line they managed three points, but crucially, conceded the game’s only goal on the turnover from one of these, as well as conceding a missed free.

Mun gained possession on the short kick-out

But were turned over for the goal

So, while Vincent’s gained 0.28 of a point per short kick-out (0.42 had Quinn pointed the free), Ballymun came out with a neutral reading (-0.9 had a Vincent’s free been converted). Both of these figures run more or less along the lines of previous patterns from each side against top opposition.

Starting to see why I marginally fancied Vincent’s if Ballymun didn’t choke off their short kick-out on at least fifty percent of occasions?


The key element in terms of predicting outcomes of games is how many attacks that sides typically create which are “man -on-man” or into “zonal defences”, and what proportions they score off these.

For all of Ballymun’s assets, there was never any evidence that they, nor any side in Dublin have the capacity to re-shape the way Vincent’s do to get an extra man or two into sweeping positions as opposition attacks unfold. In the absence of a video to do a full “Zonal Defence Analysis” we can only go off real time perception and an example or two.

When Ballymun attacked, Vincent’s constantly re-shaped with Ger Brenna, Brendan Egan and Craig Wilson constantly switching responsibility for the players they were marking in order to allow one, typically Wilson, to sit in front of the Ballymun full forward line, particularly Paddy Small.

Vin’s keep there shape, with Wilson free out of picture

I’m fairly confident Ballymun didn’t create a man-on-man attack all night. Every score, except one free, required doing something proactive to break down a zonal defence.

Mun attack into a zonal defence

And draw defenders to create the free man

Of course, Wilson had the guile to try to break into attacks late, with no direct marker. An aerial shot of a point he scored in the first half shows a stark comparison between the efficiency of the respective defences in re-shaping.

Wilson has come from deep in his own half, but Ballymun hadn’t re-shaped efficiently. You can see the dotted orange lines accounting for man-on-man situations (two Vincent’s men are out of picture) but Wilson has come from goal-side of two free Mun men, but nobody has tracked him, and Mun haven’t defended with anything like the efficiency of Vincent’s. This was ultimately the difference.

On a number of occasions in the first half, they left Vincent’s with a two-on-two full forward line, with no sweeper.

You can have more raw ability and/or athleticism than your opposition, but if you’re attacking into more difficult situations than your opposition are, then there’s no guarantee that this will be enough


I’d also suggested in my preview that the side with more experience and more experience of playing and winning tight championship games are more likely to hold their nerve in a tight situation. Equally, they’re more likely to react well when things are going badly. They’ll have proven their calibre to themselves, and the value of that shouldn’t be undervalued.

A team used to winning the big games can go behind early on and still hold their composure and still have a swagger. A team who aren’t, will almost inevitably come to doubt themselves in such situations, at least for a period.

There’s no doubting the fact that Vincents’ efficient tactics choked off typical Ballymun routes to scores throughout, so it would be all too easy to talk about temperament as an excuse for everything. A lot simply had to do with cleverly applied tactics from Vincent’s and a technical inability to consistently find a way through that from Ballymun. At least that’s how the first 25 minutes ran.

It was 1-4 to 0-2 at that point, but it could easily have been 3-6 to 0-2. An Estimated Value would probably have put it at 2-5 to 0-2.

Saying that, two of Vincents’ three goal chances in the first half came off basic technical errors you just wouldn’t expect from the particular players.

It’s also difficult to conclude that John Small shouldn’t have been black carded and Alan Hubbard red carded in the first half for indisciplined reactions to situations.

These more obvious things aside, however, there were more subtle elements that alluded to Ballymun not having a swagger about them coming into this game that a team used to winning championships would have.

The first two scoreable frees conceded by them were completely unnecessary, something that hasn’t been a feature of their game. It alluded to being less than cocksure of themselves. You can see in the two images below that Enda Varely, who was under pressure, had his back to goal, near the side-line, was fouled by two different players.

From my game game notes (one), and the scores shown on DubsTV (four), five of the points/scored frees conceded by Mun as well as one of their three goal chances conceded came off the back of players tackling with their outside hand, and being beaten or fouling.

Paddy Christy is one of the top technical coaches in the country. I know all of the players who have come through him have been coached this element of tackling. I’ve rarely known some of the players in question to be guilty of this in the past. But finals are different. There’s a different psychological element at play which can affect decision making.

Probably the best example, somewhat subtle though it was, was one of Quinn’s goal chances in the first half.

To be fair to Philly McMahon here, defending a player coming from the end-line is very difficult. You can tear up the coaching manual on offering channels because both sides of the defender put the attacker heading towards the goal/best shooting position. It’s no coincidence Quinn moved from the “14” to take this line.

Look at what happens next though – with a second Mun man ready to press Quinn, McMahon just has to shepherd him. But he’s too keen to get the ball and puts his near hand on Quinn’s back and tackles with the outside hand.

The 35 year old, Quinn, goes round the corner/full back who has kept Colm Cooper and Aidan O’Shea quiet in recent years. I simply refuse to believe that McMahon doesn’t know better than this.

But Whelan covers him and McMahon gets a second chance. Quinn, after dummying Whelan, plays the hand-pass. Once again, I’ll be amazed if anybody who Paddy Christy has coached hasn’t been taught to follow the man in this situation, not the ball.

Carl Keely was in a better position to cover the man receiving the ball. I’ve rarely, if ever, seen McMahon do anything other than follow his man here. If you followed the ball like that against Colm Cooper you’d be had for breakfast.

But after Quinn rounds Whelan and faces McMahon again, he does what I’m more or less certain he knows better than to do, and dives in, leaving Quinn the easy “one-two”.

Quinn received the “one-two”, unmarked in the box and shoots against the post.

By my count, Vincent’s made one such error all night (unnecessary foul or far hand tackle) that resulted in a score or goal chance. It’s that swagger that comes with being in a team who expect to win – in all circumstances.

And, of course, as noted in my initial article, with ten minutes left, Vincent’s got off the short kick-out, and held possession for three minutes, keeping Ballymun eight minutes, with just two of normal time remaining, before they crossed the half way line with the ball again!

On the whole, a lot of Vincents’ scores came more easily. Except for one, Ballymun’s required more proactive effort up-front.

Vincent’s had more composure and, as ever, Vincent’s knew how prevent the opposition from building effectively at “Phase 1” and “Phase 2”. That’s why they beat what is possibly a technically superior and definitely athletically superior side.

By Stephen O’Meara