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The CURIOUS CASE OF STATS IN GAA

In modern day GAA every team is looking for an edge !


For many, they are trying to sharpen performance through collecting data and analyzing statistics.

This additional information could be the difference between winning and losing. Just that one piece of data or stat that could forge the golden bullet for success.

And teams love it!!


Clubs and counties are spending time, money and energy on statistical and performance analysis. From junior to the elite level teams are busy collecting and managing data.


Now data collection is hardly a “skilled” activity, counting how many times a player touches a ball or makes a tackle doesn’t require a high level ability to “read” the game, as a matter of fact, many teams delegate this role to younger less experienced members of the club or school. Once the box ticking is finished what are we left with?


Data , lots and lots of data.


However data doesn’t equate to knowledge. As a matter of fact , data (without context) is just noise!

This noise is misrepresentative at best , misleading at worst.

Possession ,

Total tackles,

Total shots

All stats without context are meaningless.

Let me expand..


A stat that a lot of coaches like to hang their hat on is possession.

“Men we have had 60% of possession in that first half so are we 3 points down”. Yes I’ve heard that exact quote from a high profile manager a number of years ago in a county final.

This manager was implying that if his team had possession of the ball for longer they should have been winning the game. Think about it , all he was really doing was highlighting his teams ineffectiveness while in possession without any real objective process to refer to when trying to address the situation. In reality, perhaps the opposition where comfortable letting his team have the ball but decided to be more efficient and effective when they were in possession. After all there is an energetic and cognitive cost to being in possession of the ball and yes the opposition can be in control of a game without having the ball. His stats wasn’t helpful in any meaningful way.


Another stat coaches like is total tackles. Yes it can be a useful generic marker but again misleading without context. If your team are making most of their tackles in the full back line then I’d bet they already in big trouble. The idea that a higher number of total tackles is a positive thing is also a misnomer, perhaps it highlights that your team are not effective tacklers or that they are not in possession of the ball. In reality the better prepared teams will have a tackling strategies, identifying and measuring tackles made in certain areas of the field. The oppositions 45 for example, the principle here would be to slow down or terminate the opposition transition from defense to attack. A sub principle would be that this in turn allows time for your defensive structure to take shape. However, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow comes when players terminate, isolate and dispossess a player and now can construct an attack closer to the scoring zone and take advantage of the oppositions compromised defensive structure. And of course with my S&C hat on I’d like to add that this now reduces the high speed running requirements of the half back line and to a lesser extent midfielders as the genesis of the attack is now closer to the opposition goal.


By now you will have noticed that performance analysis stats with the game model. This gives context and eliminates distracting noise. Both hurling and football can be broken into 5 game moments.

1- Defense

2- Transition from defense to attack

3- Attack

4- Transition from attack to defense

5- Contest for possession.

These 5 game moments will dictate how a player moves in a given situation on field. Now developing your performance analysis in line with your game model gives a new level of contexts to what you are measuring (See image 1).


Image 1- Statistics and potential KPI’s in relation to the game moments of the game model.


As a coach you can now identify where your game model came unstuck in a game scenario.


For example, if we look at ATTACK many teams will measure scoring chances and report it such


Scoring Chances


Team A First Half 4/13 - Second Half 10/16 Total 14/29

Team B First Half 6/9 - Second Half 8/11 Total 14/20


Not that not useful as it lacks context. What area where the shots taken from ? A pot shot from the side-line isn’t a scoring chance in my book it’s a symbol of desperation or a poor decision. In offense we must designate a scoring zone so that we apply the law of probability in our favor. The law of probability would suggest that we will score a higher % of shots if we shoot from areas that create a higher probable chance of scoring.

If you are lucky you might get report like this


Attacks (inside opposition ’45)


Team A - Total Attacks 43 Shots 29 Scores 14 Turnovers Against 12 Conversion Rate 48%

Team B Total Attacks 39 Shots 20 Scores 14 Turnovers Against 15 Conversion Rate 70%


This report gives a little more context as now we have defined an attack as a shot from inside the 45 at least. Additionally we now have a ratio or percentage because every action has to be a subset of the game in order to be accurate.


Now let me propose a report.

Firstly, remember the number of scoring chances created determines the effectiveness of our game plan.

The number of chances converted determines the efficiency of the game plan.

This is the effectiveness / efficiency ratio (E/E Ratio).


Offence (sub principle – win the ball inside the scoring zone)


Team A

No of ball played inside the scoring zone 43

No of ball won inside the scoring zone 32

Shots 29

Scores 14

E/E Ratio 48%


Team B

No of ball played inside the scoring zone 39

No of ball won inside the scoring zone 32

Shots 20

Scores 14

E/E Ratio 70%


Now we have a report that follows a logical sequence.

2) How many ball did we win inside the scoring zone?

3) How many shots did we get off inside the scoring zone?

4) What was our efficiency like?


The goal is that you want players to do what is being assessed. If it’s being measured its being monitored. This allows the coaches and players to highlight key performance indicators and in essence a shared metal landscape for how the coach and players interpret the game. Therefore KPI’s become teaching ques as much as they are assessments for players.


Of course that was just the report from the offensive game moment, the reports becomes clear when we link all the moments of the game together.


Transition from defensive to attack (Sub principle – move the ball to attack as fast as possible)


We could measure ball speed to the opposition 45m line as ball speed is essential to the opposition defensive disorganization.


We could measure kick passes as a subset of ball speed.

Average ball speed from defensive to attacked could become a KPI for the team.

If we continue to this for the 5 game moments then data becomes contextual, representative of how the team wants to play but even more importantly it informs training design as it highlights key moments that require more favorable ratios and percentages.

Your performance analysis must answer 2 simple questions:

1- What do we need to improve ?

2- What data to we need to collect and analyse to support those improvements.

Performance analysis must be a holistic model that look at qualitative and quantitative analysis of the game just looking at numbers in black and white can be misleading.


If your sport is Gaelic games, an evasion sport in which the outcome is to score within a fixed space, then space creation and manipulation is your key performance indicator. Creating spaces in your oppositions scoring zone and compressing space in your own scoring zone is the key to unlocking results. This is difficult to measure with a single metric (apart from the final score) therefore understanding that space creates time and that time on the ball within the scoring zone or distance from your closest marker while in possession of the ball in the scoring zone would give an objective score of how much space your team created.


So just to wet your appetite, green could be 2 meters, yellow could be 1.5 meters and red 1 meter. The ultimate goal would be to achieve as many GREEN possessions as possible within the scoring zone. This way we are measuring how many times we created scorable space within scorable positions on the field.

We should also consider the opposition when reporting analysis. What did the opposition do in relation to our game plan and how did we respond to their actions?


As Mike Tyson once said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”.


Responding vs reacting.


Considering the opposition in our game analysis provides another layer of context for players and coaches alike. Over time it provides more analogies for players to draw from, providing insight into potential flaws or opportunities in the game model. This allows us to respond to certain situations when presented as opposed to reacting in a certain way.


This is a constant loop that we must keep active to ensure our game model is developing in line with the opposition’s plan to counteract against it. Now this is where the performance analysis we undertake actually has an impact on our overall performance as a team as opposed to just being numbers on a sheet. If the performance analysis isn’t a pathway to inform the training process and improve the team then it’s a waste of valuable resources.


So now I have given you a little taster perhaps it’s time to do an audit on your numbers. Is what you are collecting effecting the scoreboard? Outline and identify your game model. Outline the principles and sub principles of each game moment. Finally, measure what matters.

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