The day before the 1982 All-Ireland final, Armagh corner-back Joe Murphy, fresh from a semi-final loss to Kerry, was interviewed by the IrishIndependent about the team going for five in a row.
Offering advice to Offaly for the decider, Murphy explained: “In just a 10-minute period (after half-time) Kerry up gear and if Offaly could hold them during that period, they would really have a chance of doing well. The difference between the two sides I feel is the Kerry forward line. They are so hard to stop.”
Imagine. Thirty seven years on, and the third-quarter blitz is still very much in vogue. In Australian Rules Football they call this period ‘Championship Quarter.’ When Donegal won theAll-Ireland in 2012, they prided themselves on doing huge damage to the opposition immediately after an extended half-time break, during which time they would leave them waiting on the pitch, preferably in the middle of a shower before catching them cold.
Joe Turley of Performa Sports, the performance analysis company, looks at these things with a clinical eye. His company are on the books of many leading teams, mainly Gaelic games but across 16 sports in 20 different countries after his brother started it all off as a 17-year-old, helping Armagh minors to an Ulster title.
Later that year, Joe Kernan brought him into a senior set-up populated by some of the most feedback-hungry players Gaelic football has ever known. You must wonder what these fleet of people in county tracksuits, iPads under their oxters actually do when they take over some real estate in the stands. Wonder no longer.
“One of the things we look at is time periods of dominance. We break it into 10s and then we look at the last five,” says Turley. “One thing we found quite consistently with Dublin, for example, is that it is really their power periods. Or, the 10 minutes before half-time and after, so they are really high-scoring in those periods.
“And the only team to break that was Mayo when they played them this year. They pushed everything into them in the first half. But then you can see the power play came back in the second half and they basically implemented that ruthless efficiency at the start of the second half.”
Nothing is new. The only thing that changes is how further the detail goes. And nobody does detail quite like Jim Gavin. Oisín McConville tells of how when Dublin were playing Roscommon in the second round of the Super 8s this year, Gavin spent most of the game standing down the sideline staring at his defence.
Occasionally he would return to his laptop, opened to a page with a pitch graphic and make notes before resuming his position of intently studying the shape of the defence. McConville reckons he missed around 1-8 of Dublin scores and barely looked up.
Almost everyone fancies themselves as a football tactician, but the depth of analysis required would soon disabuse the Average Joe of the notion. Performa Sports’ link up with the Ulster University gives them access to research and theory over what a manager can see and process. It’s estimated that coaches can only recall 30% of what they see in live performance. This is where the stats geeks come in.
“It can be skewed on some occasions by emotional biases and if you are too engaged in the game, you lose that bigger perspective,” explains Turley. “We try to provide live insight. It helps coaches to make a better, informed decision or at least their attention can be drawn to something they might not have noticed and they can explain it. Or maybe they have a gut feeling and can back it up. That’s how we work with these guys.”
How does it manifest it?
“There is a lot of focus for example on Stephen Cluxton’s kickouts. He’s a supreme master of the kickout having honed the skills over the past number of years. But it’s the movement of the players in the middle of the field thatcreates that space to work.
“It’s trying to work out what the relationship is between movement and where the ball ends up, and the next pattern of play. You look at the key event, but also how that key event influences the next event — you try to link things together.
“Our starting point is the outcome and we work our way back. This is where the coaching perspective comes in, we try to build it back up again; where the ball was turned over, how the play built up over those sequences, and how quickly it happened.
If it’s a defensive perspective, at what point do you press and stop? Do you lay a trap, or do you allow the ball to come in knowing it is coming to this area? Or do you create the space on the other side?
Turley states the company have a ‘friendly relationship’ with Dublin. “What they do — they do the simple things brilliantly,” he says. “That would be their approach, they are very shrewdly managed and as you can see, it is a very much player-driven environment. They have athletes who are high achievers and they push each other on.”
As for Kerry?
“We know some of the people, but again they do their own thing as well. We deal with the analyst down there, we would have worked with her in the past on different projects, but they would do their own thing and keep itin-house as well.”
If there is reluctance towards the technology, it comes from the bean counters at committee level.
“It’s just because they don’t know how to place a value on it because they might not have had exposure to it when they played or coached or were involved in teams,” says Turley.
“We see some coaches are a lot more open to it, but are not exactly sure how to use it or apply it, and that’s something we can help with as well. It’s like everything else, once you put it in place, you want to be able to help it to be used and not just sit in the corner.”