St. Vincent’s vs Na Fianna : Statistical and Tactical Analysis

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My initial analysis of the Vincent’s Na Fianna game was that it should probably have been closer than the five point winning margin for Vincent’s had suggested. I’d speculated that if Aaron Byrne (not Conor McHugh who I had thought in real time, and originally written) had netted in the 43rd minute, that it would have gone into the melting pot, with just a point between the sides.

And obviously, that fact remains. Na Fianna were literally within an inch of going within a point of their local rivals with seventeen minutes remaining.

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However, lo and behold, the value of statistical analysis which overrides false human perception, with the benefit of our GaaProstats video analysis, our Estimated Value put the expected score-line based on chances at 20.1 to 15 points for Vincent’s. That’s almost exactly a five point winning margin, actually with both sides probably scoring a goal/few points less than you’d have expected on the night.

For example, Diarmuid Connolly, amidst scoring 1-4 on the night, failed to convert four more point chances, two of them we’ve called as ninety and 95 percent chances.

In fact, by our estimation, on a more average night for Connolly, based on the chances he had, you could expect him to have scored a point more than he did.

In total, in fact, Vincent’s were completely dominant in the first half, with fifteen attempts on goal to seven, with an Estimated Value of a score-line of 12.8 points to seven at half time.

It is worth noting, of course, that Vincent’s two goals, while superb from a Vincent’s point of view, were in fact, very avoidable. Enda Varley, before hitting his superb cross-field pass to set up Quinn, had actually made a dispossession where he really had no business to do so.

Na Fianna got what were otherwise very efficient zonal defence lines completely muddled for Vincents’ second which left Mossy Quinn completely unmarked to play, what it must be said was a superb pass, for Connolly to score.


So, despite the seven point half time deficit not being too far off the mark in terms of Estimated Value, and despite Vincent’s having had over two times as many efforts on goal, it could have been quite different.

For all of Vincents’ chances, on average, Na Fianna’s chances in the first half were far more clear cut than Vincents’.

There was undoubtedly a new depth to this Na Fianna side, who by my take from this game, are definitely a top eight side again, and I’d be extremely confident would have beaten three of the sides in the quarter-final draw and possibly another two or three.

Their zonal defence, for the most part, as we’ll see, was extremely efficient, and they attacked with a new and improved balance and method, bringing the use of width as an advantage to their game.

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There was undoubtedly, however, one major element which ran hugely against Na Fianna on the night, which undoubtedly cost them heavily. That was kick-outs.

It was perfectly clear that they’d methodically worked on their kick-out and that it was intended to serve as the foundation of their game-plan, as is the case with many of the modern top brass managers.

It seemed perfectly clear that they intended to spring the same trap for Vincent’s as Jude’s sprung for Croke’s last year.

That is to get the entire defence to come close to the keeper with a semi-bluff that they wanted the kick-out (prepared to receive it but preferring to be a decoy), but in fact, really trying to leave space to it the kick over the top of them, for midfielders or forwards to run onto, avoiding the necessity to compete in the air with the towering Dáithí Murphy.

When it worked, it worked a treat. From one such first half kick, they took out ten Vincent’s outfield players and the monstrous kick was directed straight in Conor McHugh’s path. McHugh, attacking into a man-on-man, four on four defence, ran sixty metres and scored himself.

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There were, however, certainly two and probably three problems for Na Fianna.

The first, as noted in our match preview is that this side, under this management, had actually never played together before. One league match and one championship match, missing at least one third of their starting team against Vincent’s, they had no choice but experiment with a new set-play in the heat of battle. You’d have to imagine that if they had a few more games with a full side, they’d have tweaked a few things.

Secondly, Vincent’s aren’t Croke’s, they’re Vincent’s. They are undoubtedly, individually the most intelligent side in Dublin, and collectively, probably only second to Slaughtneil in the country. Trying to out-fox these individuals is a big ask. They simply have too many players who can spot what is going on and alter their own plan/shape to match, and they did.

As you can see, on the following kick-out, Na Fianna tried the same gig as for McHugh’s point, but Vincent’s drop two players into the space, all the while, splitting the full back line as efficiently as possible.

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They know, what we know, on the basis of heaps of statistical analysis we’ve taken (zonal kick-out analysis) with the GaaProstats software, that you’re far more likely to concede a score off a long kick-out won than you are off a short one, even if the long one is hit later than the short one.

Vincent’s tried to avoid the short one, but knew it was far less risky than leaving swathes of space in the middle third, as happened for the aforementioned score.

As you can see, two players dropped into the hole, the keeper had virtually no reasonable option, and the kick went straight to Nathan Mullins and he scored!

The same thing happened for the next one, Mullins won it, unchallenged, and Vincent’s scored

The third problem for Na Fianna, once again illustrates the value of modern, cutting edge statistical analysis. Six of the kicks they attempted, were to a zone which our software has shown up to be a virtually guaranteed loser. That’s kick-outs to the half back line that aren’t hit inside 11.5 seconds of the ball going dead. Even Stephen Cluxton and Dublin concede more than they score off these.

They tried six of these and lost three of them, two in an almost inevitable highly dangerous position. The other problem with these kicks is that even when you do win them, it’s almost guaranteed to set the opposition up with at least eleven men behind the ball.

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From the six they tried, they scored nothing and conceded one point.

What is particularly noteworthy is just how successful they were when they hit kicks to the full back line. Normally, you can be virtually guaranteed that quick kicks to the full back line (less than 9.5 seconds after the ball goes dead) should result in a profit, especially if your side hit the killer quarter quickly. From the one that Na Fianna got off, they did indeed breach the killer quarter, and did indeed score, leaving you to wonder might have been had they got more of these off.

The figure which alludes to superb ability to attack methodically, is slow kick-outs to the full back line (more than 9.5 seconds after the ball goes dead). Most teams make a loss on these. Na Fianna hit seven and scored three points and only conceded one upon the initial turnover!

In total, Na Fianna hit eight kick-outs to the full back line and scored four points and conceded just one upon the initial turnover, a 0.38 kick per point ratio.

They tried fifteen over the top of the full back line, to either the half back line or midfield, and scored one while conceding three, a 0.12 kick per point ratio loss!

Statistical calculation suggests that if they had/could have gone short on every one, and not gone long or tried to hot the half back line, they’d have scored 5.6 points more and conceded three points less!

What’s bloody noteworthy is that Phil McElwee is clearly cognisant of modern tactical and statistical evolution because, going against the grain of a tactic which many club managers are aping from inter-county, without understanding the reasons why, he allowed Vincent’s the short kick-outs, uncontested, as long as they weren’t quick ones. That broadly ties in with being statistically logical, against almost all sides, but typically not Vincent’s!

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Similar to Dublin, Vincent’s life-blood is the quick, short kick-out. Na Fianna reduced Vincent’s to a lower than average five, but critically, illustrating clearly the calibre of manager we’re dealing with here, they only allowed them to breach the killer quarter once. They only conceded one point from these five, a 0.2 point per kick ratio, significantly lower than Vincents’ average.

The key was the efficiency with which they dropped off and defended space, not allowing Vincent’s to run at them.

They allowed Vincent’s seven short, delayed kick-outs. Critically, by taking that policy, you’re essentially backing yourself to say “go on, have the ball and see can you break us down on our terms”. For the most part, with a highly efficient structure, they looked like they were right to back themselves.

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On the whole, it’s fair to say that there was a correct method in the theory. Vincent’s typically rack up a plethora of scores from quick kick-outs to the full back line that breach the killer quarter or by going direct to the midfield, where Murphy typically dominates, and scoring directly from that route.

That Na Fianna allowed Vincent’s two long kick-outs, neither of which they conceded from, and just one short kick-out which breached the killer quarter, is testament to a meticulous and superb tactical strategy.

However, one flawed application of the strategy made the whole thing blow up in their faces. Getting their zonal defence lines muddled on a delayed kick-out, they left Mossy Quinn completely free inside the “65” which allowed Diarmuid Connolly to be man-on-man inside. One pass to Quinn and one pass to Connolly and it was a goal!

Vincents’ total figure would read that from eight delayed kick-outs, all to the full back line, they scored 1-2 and conceded one point upon the initial turnover. Statistically typically, Vincent’s concede upon the first turnover one the one delayed kick they played to half back line.

Take out that one kick-out where Na Fianna got it all wrong and conceded the goal, and the total figure from Vincents’ kick-outs would read three points scored and two conceded from fifteen, a 0.06 kick to score ratio, what would have represented an off the charts low for Vincent’s in Dublin championship since I’ve been watching them!

All in all, you have to say that Na Fianna looked virtually as well prepared and set up as the situation possibly allowed for. They systematically choked off Vincent’s textbook supply line.

But it’s all well and good in theory. That’s the problem against Vincent’s. One systematic error and you’ll be ruthlessly exposed, as they were for the second goal.

It is worth noting, however, that based on these figures, with some tactical tweaking based on the kick-out figures, they could well, and could have won.

Of course, that all assumes that Vincent’s wouldn’t have had another gear to push up if the need arose. You always have to ask that question when analysing Vincent’s.

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