In the opening round of the Allianz Football League Division 2, Donegal beat Cork by 11 points.

A 1-20 to 2-6 defeat is comprehensive in any man’s or woman’s language, but often the bare scoreline might hide underlying factors. Stephen O’Meara, an expert in GAA analytics, noted on social media

(@somearagaa) that the expected score — that is, if the teams performed to the norm given the quality of the chances created — was a lot closer. The end result was the same — Donegal on 19.2 points and Cork on 16.4 — but far less one-sided.

As O’Meara, who owns GAA Pro Sports and has worked with county teams as well as coaching club and college sides, was able to show, Jim McGuinness’s team had a banner day on the shooting front, kicking a number of points from distance that would be considered low-percentage, while Cork failed to make the most of the opportunities that they made. The shot-conversion rate was 78% to 47.

Having qualified as a teacher, O’Meara initially started keeping stats for St Oliver Plunkett’s Eoghan Ruadh in Dublin, using pen and paper, but he soon evolved his methods and developed software.

As demand for his services grew, the hobby became the full-time job and the popularity of his podcast The Square D has grown in tandem with that.

Obviously, statistics on their own are useless without context but the question many coaches would like to know is if there is one silver-bullet metric that can provide an insight as to the destination of victory?

Sadly not, but the numbers can tell us which players are good-value and which are bad-value, essentially if the team scores more when the ball passes through those competitors’ hands than if not.

Gaelic football

It also perhaps gives an insight into why the average Gaelic football fan might be left dismayed by a caution-first approach.

“If you put a junior A club footballer in at corner-forward,” O’Meara says, “and all he does when he gets the ball is hand it straight back where it came, nice and safe, risk-free, on average that team should still be breaking a blanket defence 40% of the time.

“In order to have value, it’s all relative to that four out of ten figure.

“With an inside forward, that figure is three out of five or six out of ten. You have a skilful forward who kicks five outlandish points, people will remember those high-end plays, but if he also kicks five wides, his value actually becomes negative.

“I’d love to fix the rules of Gaelic football to make those player higher-value but, as things stand, they are not.”

Obviously, hurling and football are still bracketed together but they are of course, two different sports and the increase in the education on analytics has allowed for tailored approaches.

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O’Meara gives an example of one inter-county team in a big game in Croke Park where the puckout strategy might have looked counter-productive but was really a variant on the Ireland team under Jack Charlton and the, “put ‘em under pressure” approach.

“When they went to the full-back line, they won nine and lost one, whereas they had lost seven out of ten going long,” O’Meara says.

“The rationale there would be to go short as you’re getting your hands on the ball more. The thing is that you have to count the first possession after that.

“Now, they had only scored a point from the three long puckouts won. But, they kept turning over the opposition and scored 1-2 from the seven they had lost.

“If you didn’t have the right data or the right intuition, you’d say, ‘We’re losing the long puckouts, we need to start going short.’

“While the one-dimensional data said one thing, they were still right to keep going long. That, essentially, is the Jack Charlton theory.

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“If you keep going over the top, you can’t be turned over in the middle third and then you either win it in their middle third or try to turn them over close to their own goal.”

Montage illustrates a change for sportswomen

Rachael Blackmore is just one of a number of Irish sportswomen who have excelled on the international stage over the last three decades. \ Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Last week, you might have seen that the great Charlie O’Leary turned 100.

In any great sports team — and some not-so-great ones — the kitman is a key figure, not least because the bare job title falls well short of what they actually do.

During the Jack Charlton era, O’Leary, like his counterpart Patrick ‘Rala’ O’Reilly with the Irish rugby team, was more than just a bag-carrier, he was a confidante, counsellor, sports psychologist, and more.

When the Ireland squad met Pope John Paul II before their World Cup quarter-final against Italy in 1990, it was Charlie — a spiritual, God-fearing man in the best sense — who helped to arrange it and he was brought front and centre with the pontiff for the photo.

Greg Molloy, who runs the KillianM2 TV archive on YouTube, was looking for footage of Charlie and came across the montage RTÉ produced prior to that Italy game. Set against the stirring strains of Whitney Houston singing One Moment in Time, it shows great Irish sporting feats of the previous decade. Barry McGuigan, Stephen Roche and Eamon Coghlan are among those who feature prominently.

Obviously, those compiling the montage could only work with what was available, and things like Jimmy Magee’s iconic commentary for John Treacy’s silver in the marathon at the 1984 Olympics or Christy O’Connor Jr’s wonderful shot to two feet to all but win the 1989 Ryder Cup are still great to see.

However, what was very notable was the complete absence of any women.

The only female in the montage was Dawn Run, the first mare to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, at a time when an Irish win in the event was rare — she was the first since 1977 and it wouldn’t happen again until 1996.

Since then, Rachael Blackmore has broken all kinds of glass ceilings in riding winners in the Gold Cup and the Aintree Grand National.

In 1990, there had been no female medallists for Ireland at the Olympics — in the millennium alone, there has been eight. The national rugby and soccer teams have performed better than ever before, the hockey team have made it back to the Olympics and Leona Maguire is contending at the top level of women’s golf.

We can often take for granted the access to sport that young girls have nowadays, and there is of course, still a way to go in terms of achieving proper equality. But an equivalent montage made today would be a lot more diverse and for that we can be thankful.

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