The stats point to a Kerry win but only just
Published 17/09/2011 | 05:00
I have no idea who will win tomorrow's final because I do not, as far as I know, have psychic powers. But I can make a rational attempt at anticipating several things that will probably happen when Joe McQuillan throws in the ball at 3.30.
Based on elaborate statistics -- provided by Vodafone to the media this week -- of recent games involving the finalists, we can state that Kerry look likely to attempt more scores from inside 21 yards than Dublin.
In four championship games this year Kerry had 61 such efforts by comparison to a miserly 20 by Dublin. Little wonder therefore that Kerry scored 4-81 in those four games as opposed to 3-55 by Dublin.
These are critical facts because one of the most discussed aspects of this game is the state of the Kerry backline. Based on these stats it would appear that the Kerry defence has less to worry about than the Dublin backline.
Now, this runs contrary to public opinion in recent weeks because Pat Gilroy looks to have manufactured a wonderful backline that has abolished the memories of recent defensive fiascos such as Kerry's demolition job in the first half against Dublin in 2009.
One other important statistic is that Dublin attempted 93 scores outside 21 yards while Kerry only attempted 72.
What these stats show clearly is that Dublin players are programmed to shoot for points, often from disadvantageous positions as reflected in their poorer scoring rate compared to Kerry, who are obviously more prepared to carry the ball close to their opponents' goal and seek to score either goals or points from close range.
In particular, when Dublin were under severe pressure for scores against Donegal, their players resorted to a series of 'Holy Mary' scoring attempts from very risky positions.
One tactical device which we know will be utilised by Dublin is to have at least three extra outfield players rush back to help out their backline the moment the ball crosses the halfway line.
No doubt Jack O'Connor will have his players well schooled to cope with that, which means we may see a very crowded scenario when the ball is directed towards Colm Cooper and Kieran Donaghy.
The extent to which this crowding is utilised will largely decide the tone of this game because if this tactic predominates we can forget any notion of a classic Kerry-Dublin final.
And neutral GAA fans around the world are really hoping for a top class game of quality to rescue a fairly dismal year quality-wise.
The Dublin backline of 2009, referred to at the time by Gilroy as "startled earwigs", have all been removed from that area of the team which in itself is remarkable.
Extra numbers is the device used to create a more efficient backline, in line with modern football philosophy. Kerry will be forced to play something similar but not to the same degree as Dublin and I feel Kerry will have a greater emphasis on attempting scores at every opportunity than getting paranoid about their backline.
Not many All-Ireland finals have been lost by Kerry because of inadequate backlines.
A massive operation has been launched by Gilroy and his helpers to lessen the infamous hype of which so many Dublin players seem to be afraid.
A code of Omerta has been applied to the majority of the panel members and Gilroy himself has done most of the talking. On the surface this has worked well and certainly the hype has been non-existent by comparison to previous Dublin finals.
But Dublin have lost two All-Ireland finals in hurling in the space of two weeks and this must have some ramifications on the footballers' mindsets. A win for the Dublin minor footballers tomorrow would be a big psychological boost. A defeat would be a setback.
The greater pressure is undoubtedly on the Dublin players after all the recent years of failing to win Sam Maguire. A huge amount of work has been done on getting their players' heads right, but only this game will show if it has worked according to plan.
Dublin simply cannot afford to fall behind by more than a few points if the recently constructed self-belief of the players is not to disintegrate.
Somehow I doubt if that will happen this time, so a close finish seems inevitable.
Kerry's mastery of the All-Ireland final format might just prevail yet again.