Lies, damned lies and statistics are taken far too seriously in GAA

IT'S that time of the year again.

The time of the year for, what's referred to by one well-known commentator, as winter talk. We excel at winter talk in the GAA. Some lads, you'd swear, almost prefer winter talk to the real thing.

If ever there was an example of winter talk it was to be found in last weekend's Sunday Independent. On the pages of that newspaper last weekend you could read the views of a one-time statistician with the Kerry team.

The statistician seemed to think that his observations about the amount of ball going into the full-forward line and coming straight back out again led to the positioning of Kieran Donaghy at full-forward in 2006 in that famous qualifier against Longford.

Perhaps he's right. Perhaps that's what tipped the balance in Donaghy's favour, but regardless of what anybody tells me that was the most logical thing the Kerry management could have done at that point and was part of the public conservation long before Longford rolled into town.

A similar point was made about the positioning of Colm Cooper at centre-forward for the Kingdom this summer instead of his traditional number 13 berth. The stats showed, apparently, that Cooper wasn't getting on enough ball in the corner and history was made. Cooper would play for Kerry on the forty.

Let's just say I'm not convinced. If memory serves me well – and I think it does – I'm pretty sure his club were playing him in that role long before, as former Kerry manager Pat O'Shea set about maximising his potential for the benefit of the Crokes.

This probably comes as no surprise to regular readers of this column. I've often said I'm no great lover of stats. They're not nearly as scientific as they purport to be. For instance, what excatly constitues a possession? What exactly constitutes a tackle?

It's all in the eye of the beholder .For some it seems that if a player puts a hand on another's shoulder that's a tackle – not in my book – and if a player gives a handpass to another and gets it back from him that's considered two possessions. Heaven's above. Think about it for a second. What does any of that actually tell you? I just don't see it.

Don't get me wrong here. I'm not a complete luddite. I know that any information you can gather will be a help if – and this is the crucial thing – you know what to do with it. It's a wood from the trees situation. Burying your head in facts and figures and failing to see what's right in front of you.

Most good managers will have a good idea and trust of his team and will select accordingly. He will have an alternative plan in his head if things are not going according to the first plan. That's why I always think it's important to try and imagine what is going through the head of an opposing manager.

What do you think he might do if things are not going well for him? And can you anticipate and counteract what he might do? That's what good management is about. There will be days no matter what you do it won't work, but that's football for you.

All the stats in the world are of no benefit if a manager hasn't got the players and if he doesn't know them well. Sometimes you will see something akin to a conference taking place on the sideline during a game. A sure sign that no great thought has gone into reading the opposition's possible changes during a game.

That shows the folly of statistics to me. Football is played in the here and now. Statistics are great... in hindsight. In newspaper columns, in the bar-stool conversations the week after a game.

Friday Night Lights

DISCUSSION of Friday night games is taking centre-stage at the moment.

The first thing to consider about all of this is the potential impact on players. Players in work, players out of work, they're the important thing to consider, not potential gates, not TV ratings and the likes. The welfare – physical and financial – of the players must be paramount.

It's interesting that this discussion is taking place at the same time the GAA seems to be opening the door to Sky TV – something this column always predicted would happen. Friday night – and midweek – games seem tailor-made for Sky.

The money men will consider the bottom line, but I'd urge them to consider the welfare of the players before all else. This is now where the GPA come into play. They have done okay so far, but the real test is just beginning.


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