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Stats Attack : Vincent’s Na Fianna

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In keeping with the theme of last weekend’s statistical analysis of kick-outs, we’ve had a look at “Zone by Zone Kick-out Analyis” figures here. As it happens, on the surface,they’re not as striking as the other three games we’ve analysed, but breaking down the finer statistical and tactical details, there are some noteworthy patterns.

Firstly, ala Kerry at inter-county level, Vincent’s are the mould breakers by recording a positive ratio of one point from four delayed kick-outs to the full back line without conceding any upon turnover, a plus 0.25 of a point per kick ratio. GaaProstas figures show that, typically, sides concede more than they score from theses (counting scores conceded from a first possession turnover compared to scores gained from the initial kick-out).

Predictably, they scored one from three without conceding any upon turnover, from three quick kick-outs to the full back line, a 0.33 point per kick ratio. Also, ala Kerry, while not making a profit, they didn’t make a loss on delayed kicks to the half back line, coming in at one point scored and one conceded.

One area of concern should be the opposition’s kick-out. The final figures read five lost and two won from seven long Na Fianna kick-outs. The five to two loss itself shouldn’t raise massive alarm. Seven kicks is too little from which to be drawing conclusions on aerial ability. The break of a ball could be the difference between a 28% win ratio compared to 42%.

And the final tally doesn’t ring alarm bells either. A goal scored and a goal conceded. What should be of alarm, however, is the fact that from five long Na Fianna kicks which Na Fianna won, they went one on one with the Vincent’s keeper three times. They scroed once and missed twice. In an otherwise one-sided game, Sylvester’s caused similar problems briefly, when they dominated a period of Vincents’ long kick-outs in 2014. If they have an Achilles, this could be it.

Vincent's play catch up after losing the kick-out

Vincent’s play catch up after losing the kick-out

Looking at figures from Na Fianna’s kick-outs, unlike most of the other teams we’ve analysed this week, there’s no real standout pattern that could have been expected to have altered their fortunes significantly (at least in pure statistical terms). They were just beaten all round in play, for reasons you’ll see shortly.

In fact, going against broader averages, they actually recorded a neutral return of a point for each side on delayed kick-outs to the full and half back line.

Untypically, it was on their quick kick-outs to their defence that they coughed up a net loss. Typically, teams make a profit on these kicks. From eight quick kick-outs, they scored no points, and conceded three upon the first turnover, a negative turnover of 0.38 of a point per kick. The issue, which illustrates Na Fianna’s broader problems,  was the following.

To keep kick-outs statistically pure, Gaaprostats accounts for things in basic terms based on the time it takes to kick the kick-out, and the region of the field it goes to. In terms of quick kick-outs, however, the key issue, is actually how long it takes to cross the half way line. There’s no point in getting a kick off quickly to a corner back if he’s not going to move it forward quickly.

And this alludes to why Na Fianna had a negative turnover on this count. Let’s take a look at Vincents’ third point to illustrate how Na Fianna got the quick kick-out off, but why if fell into the textbook strategic set-up of delayed, short kick-outs, that tend to result in conceded scores upon turnover.

As you’ll see, the ball still isn’t over the bar from Vincents’ free and Conor McCarville in the Na Fianna goal is looking to get the ball out quickly. Na Fianna have clearly come to value the quick kick-out, a theme of the weekend.

McCarvillle is prepared to get the kick-out off quickly

McCarvillle is prepared to get the kick-out off quickly

We’ve left the timer in the images here to illustrate the timeline of this play. McCarville does his bit, getting the ball off in less than eight seconds.

McCarville gets the ball off quickly

McCarville gets the ball off quickly

The problem for Na Fianna is what happens next. The man who receives the ball takes it laterally, at barely walking pace. Scores got off the back of quick kick-outs are inextricably linked to how quickly the ball is moved forward over the half way line/”65″.

If you want to get a sense for Vincents’ manager, Tommy Conroy’s understanding of this, sit behind him in the dug-out and see what his reaction is if Vincent’s go laterally from a quick kick-out. Just make sure to bring something for your ears!

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Na Fianna delay by going laterally, slowly

Looking at the next image, by the time Na Fianna have reached the half back line, it has already been sixteen seconds since the kick-out, and there are still thirteen Vincent’s men behind the ball.

At this point, we’re already into tactical territory which pushes the move into the statistical bracket of a slow kick-out to the full back line. Even though Na Fianna have the ball, they’re now statistically much more likely to concede a score upon  turning over the ball than they are to score from their own current possession.

There’s also a second problem which alludes to the single biggest difference between the sides. No, not raw ability. Tactical structure. Look at the complete lack of width Na Fianna have.

Things weren’t great on the kick-out. But look at the next image. There are seven Na Fianna players within ten to fifteen yards of each other and nobody out wide. This represents a complete structural breakdown and makes it easy for Vincent’s to exert pressure on them.

The gap between the man on the ball and the half forward line is huge. The only attacking option is to carry it through this densely packed area.

Seven yellow jersey in close proximity while in possession

Seven yellow jersey in close proximity while in possession

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But no options to play the ball wide

Pepe Guardiola has a training game which divides the field into three horizontal columns and four vertical. This creates squares all over the field. Within three seconds of gainng possession, you’re not allowed to have two players in the same square at any time until you’re in goal scoring position, or unless one player takes the ball from another, already in possession.

You’re not allowed to have more than four outfield players in any vertical column (three, three and four) .This gives maximum structure to the play. When his Bayern side last scalped Manchester City, statistical analysis showed that Bayern had never once broken this training ground rule, but City had been in breach of it countless times. Despite City having  a higher paid team, possession stats were equally lopsided. See why City have availed of his services?

Look at the following image, taken three seconds before Na Fianna were forced to backtrack. There were six Na Fianna players in one “Guardiola square” and none in the lateral column out wide right. We’ll contrast this with Vincents’ play shortly.

The space dynamics forceed Na Fianna to attack in extremely unideal and tight circumstances. The man receiving the pass in the next image has opponents converging from three directions. Meanwhile, a man in the full back line who could have pushed up into the wide position to offer an easy out, and option to move forward, is sitting idle at the back, thirteen seconds after the kick-out. Interestingly, Emile Mullan, a wing back who I’ve previously noted clearly understands these concepts, was on the bench.

Na Fianna under serious pressure on the ball, with nobody offering a wide option.

Na Fianna under serious pressure on the ball, with no option out wide

Moving on, forced to attack through the eye of a needle, into a high density, narrow channel, a risky pass is attempted and the ball is turned over. This was 25 seconds after the initial kick-out as they initially slowed the game down and were then forced backwards in the tight space.

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Na Fianna are forced into a poor passing option and turn the ball over.

As Vincent’s take possession, you’re going to see a huge contrast in how they attack. At the point the ball is taken in the full back line, look at where Ger Brennan is, coming from a central position, at the left of the screen,where he was defending.

Ger Brennan is initially in a central position after defending.

Ger Brennan is initially in a central position after defending.

Immediately, however, Brennan moves towards the wing to offer an easy out and create space. There are two points to note here. Firstly, this image illustrates in blatant terms why a side who play delayed kick-outs (or in this case, delay after a quick kick-out) are more likely to conceded a score than score one.

A few images ago, we saw Na Fianna, having delayed on the ball after the short kick-out, trying to break down a defence with thirteen men behind the ball. Now, with possession turned over, one not particularly difficult pass, and Vincent’s will be on the counter-attack with Brennan, with the ball played goal-side of seven Na Fianna players in the Vincent’s half.

Brennan immediately gets into a wide position

Brennan immediately gets into a wide position

They don’t play the ball to Brennan, but look at the space he has created through the centre by pulling wide. Compare the amount of space which Vincent’s are now attacking into, compared to what Na Fianna initially attacked into. There simply is no comparison.

Vincent’s have six players in a “C” shape right across the width of the field, and one ahead of the ball. Their structure would qualify correctly into “Guardiola squares”. They have now bypassed nine Na Fianna players.

Vincent's have ample space to attack through the centre with Brennan pulling Na Fianna players wide

Vincent’s have ample space to attack 

As we move forward, you’ll not alone see that Brennan has come to the wide left position, but the Vincent’s forward on the far side is hugging the side-line too. This is is Jim Gavin or Jimmy McGuinness-esque and creates the perfect circumstances to make the Na Fianna defence open up like the Red Sea.

Crucially, also, a player ahead of the play, Diarmuid Connolly, comes to within easy kick passing distance of the man on the ball, giving Vincent’s the perfect structural shape. This gives them the option of a simple, forward kick pass which can speed up the counter-attack.

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Hugging both lines, Vincent’s create huge space to attack

With methodical tactical balance to their play, they play that ball to Connolly who simply hand-passes on to Hugh Gill who drives forward into the space from behind the ball and Vincent’s attack, man on man, into oceans of space.

The over-lap becomes apparent

The over-lap becomes apparent

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Hugh Gill drives forward from the back into oceans of space

The ball is popped into Mossy Quinn and he points in ideal attacking circumstances before the Na Fianna defence can get back.

Quinn picks off a score in ideal attacking circumstances

Quinn picks off a score in ideal attacking circumstances

This pictorial time-line has illustrated both the dynamics of speed of the short kick-out and the disparity of tactical efficiency and use of space of the respective sides.

As you’ll see, it was a constant theme throughout. In the following images, you’ll see the same pattern as Na Fianna attack from open play. Once again, there’s a complete lack of width and nine Na Fianna players are positioned within a horizontal line no more that fifteen yards wide.

If you drew a rectangle around the borders of these nine players and tried to play a nine on nine possession game in a training session, you’d abandon it because the space would be far too small. Almost two thirds of Na Fianna’s outfielders are in one “Guardiola square”. A tenth payer isn’t too far out of this scope. They’ve built this move from the back!

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Ten Na Fianna players converge in the same area

With precious little space to manoeuvre, once again, Na Fianna are forced to try to hit an extremely ambitious pass. As the Na Fianna player plays the ball in, under pressure, it’s difficult to see how Na Fianna could have won this ball. Both Na Fianna men in the full forward line are being marked from the front and they’re too far away to have a ball played over the top.

Na Fianna's lay-out, once again forces them to try to attack through the eye of a needle

Na Fianna trying, once again, to attack through the eye of a needle

Not surprisingly, the move breaks down again and Vincent’s are on the counter-attack. As Na Fianna recorded a mere seven scores, it’s not difficult to see why. Their structure saw them attacking in terribly unideal circumstances throughout.

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Vincent’s full back line intercept the pass                                                                                                                                                                                                          

By contrast, once again, we’ll see the structure to Vincent’s play. As they carry the ball into the attack, wing back Brendan Egan, loses his footing. It’s ideal territory for an ambush, but Vincent’s have width, so he doesn’t have numbers of yellow jerseys around him. As he hits the ground, in fact, you can see the man out wide right offering himself.

What’s noteworthy at this point is that Na Fianna have an extra defender in the picture (what appears to be a second defender is marking a man out of picture), but there’s no panic for Vincent’s who can maintain possession easily.

Egan slips, but has an easy out

Egan slips, but has an easy out

The ball is played to the wide man out right. The next play will illustrate the value of playing lateral ball at the right time. Earlier we saw Na Fianna play it at the wrong time, when they should have been trying to break at pace. But Na Fianna are already set up behind the ball here, so there’s no value for Vincent’s in rushing.

Look at how they’re lined up across the field, positioned to switch the play to where there’s more space. And once again, who is it on the most wide position with his hand up? Not a player in a wide position, but centre back, Ger Brennan.

Brennan offers himself out wide again

Brennan offers himself out wide again

Until Brennan receives the ball, he continues to walk backwards towards the side-line.When he receives the ball, he’s almost hugging the left wing. Na Fianna have been spread and now Vincent’s are attacking into the most spacious part of the Na Fianna defence. This is all accentuated by Ruairí Trainor also hugging the line in the left corner forward position. As we roll on, we’ll see how efficient this is.

Brennan carries it forward from wide again

Brennan carries it forward from wide again

Now Vincent’s are perfectly well set up to attack into acres of space. On account of Vincents’ structure and Brennan’s intelligent positioning, all he has to do now is to dink a simple ball in front of Joe Feeney at full forward.

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Brennan dinks a simple ball in to the full forward line

A simple hand-pass puts the runner, Nathan Mullins, through in acres of space. It’s noteworthy that there’s no way he should be allowed to ghost past his man the way he does, who you can see from the previous picture, was easily goal-side of him.

Regardless of this, however, the bigger point is that the structure of Vincents’ attack has allowed them to “pick and poke” their way through the Na Fianna defence into acres of space.

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Feeney hand the ball off to Mullins running through from half back

Mullins drifts in and kicks the point before a Na Fianna defender can meet him. From the time Egan falls with the initial possession, Vincent’s play five passes and haven’t had to take on and directly beat a single Na Fianna defender. In terms of GaaProstats “Score Concession Analysis”, that accounts for the worst type of score concession, a Grade 3.

Conceding scores without the opposition having to take on and beat a single defender also alludes to defensive structural problems. This score, quite simply, is a score based on know-how and the relative structures of the two sides.

Mullins kicks over uncontested

Mullins kicks over uncontested

There are other elements we could go into, but there’s enough here to get the picture.

It’s difficult not to notice a rather large element of irony looking at all of this. While the massive gulf in the relative levels of systematic structure of the two sides is clear, the key individual involved is Ger Brennan. Brennan, once of Na Fianna, couldn’t get a look in with Dublin during Na Fianna manager, Pillar Caffrey’s, reign.

Caffrey clearly didn’t place a value on what Brennan could bring to the team. Looking at this analysis, three All-Ireland medals later, it’s difficult to imagine that, in the late noughties, looking on at annual quarter and semi-final losses, Brennan wouldn’t have been a very frustrated man.

By Stephen O’Meara

@somearagaa