Low-scoring All-Ireland final bucks recent scoring trends

It was a wet day in Croke Park, which is some excuse for the lowest scoring final since 2003. 

Just 21 scores were taken on Sunday , the same as in the finals of 1984 (also Kerry and Dublin), 1997, 1999 and 2003. Only three finals since 1975 have had a lower number of scores. The record low was in 1980 when Kerry beat Roscommon by 1-9 to 1-6, a total of 17 scores. There were two finals with just twenty scores, in 1983 and in 1990.

The highest-scoring final in terms of numbers of scores was the 1982 final when a last-minute goal by Offaly’s Seamus Darby deprived Kerry of five in a row. The final score was Offaly 1-15, Kerry 0-17, a total of 33 scores. There have been three finals since 1975 with 32 scores, in 1991 Down vs Meath, 1992 Donegal vs Dublin and 2004 Kerry vs Mayo. In more recent times, the Cork Down final of 2010 had 31 scores.

A low scoring final was a surprise given all the commentary about the forward skills on both sides. It is also surprising when you look at the trends in scoring in GAA championship matches.

The source of the data, used in this analysis, is the pages on the All-Ireland Football championship, published on Wikipedia. They  are not completely comprehensive (early rounds of the Leinster championship are omitted in the early years and some drawn games appear to have been excluded in more recent times) but the small number of games omitted are unlikely to change the results of the analysis.

The statistics show that the average number of scores per game was 25 or under, in 19 of the 21 years between 1975 and 1995 and fell as low as 21.7 in 1985.

From 1996 to 2012, the average number of scores had increased to between 25 and 27.2, except for 1999 (24.8) and 2006 (23.0). However, in the last three years the average has increased dramatically, with 28.2 scores per game in 2013, 30.1 scores per game in 2014, and 29.2 scores per game this year so far.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of games with 35 or more scores and some games have even had 40 scores. During the period 1975 to 1979 there were four games, all in the Munster championship, with 40 or more scores. One of  these, a replayed Munster final in 1976 between Kerry and Cork (Kerry 3-20, Cork 1-19) involved extra-time. A second between Tipperary (2-17) and Waterford (2-19) in 1978 was a replay and may also have involved extra-time. The other two games were comprehensive victories for Kerry over Limerick (1978) and Clare (1979). There were three other games with 35 scores but less than 40.

During the 1980s there were only two games with 35 or more scores. One involved extra-time between Wexford and Wicklow and had 40 scores. In the 1990s there eight games with 35 or more scores, four of them in the Munster championship. One, between Kildare and Meath in 1998, had 42 scores but involved extra-time.

The number of high-scoring games doubled in the years between 2000 and 2009 (there was a substantial increase in the number of games played after 2001, when the back door system was introduced). In that 10-year period there were 23 games with 35 or more scores but only one - a draw at 1-19 each between Wexford and Westmeath in 2002 - produced forty scores.

Since 2010 (six years) there have been 42 games with 35 or more scores. Eleven of these were in 2014 and twelve this year. Five games, two involving Dublin, had 40 or more scores. They defeated Wexford last year by 2.25 to 1-12 and Fermanagh this year by 2-23 to 1-15.

The highest score was 44 in the Connacht Final this year where Mayo (6-25) beat Sligo (2-11). This seems to be the highest number of scores in any championship match. 


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