Frank Roche: 'Time for the GAA to preserve history and invest in statistics'
When you’re as tunnel-visioned as Cillian O’Connor, you tend to be stuck in the moment. Even when it comes to breaking records.
After last Sunday’s win over Meath, the Mayo metronome was asked about eclipsing Colm Cooper as the senior football championship’s all-time record scorer, a week earlier.
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“I didn’t even know what one it was, I swear,” O’Connor protested of the 54th minute free against a rampant Kerry that sealed his place in history. “We were getting beaten, I was trying to get the ball over the bar as quick as I could . . . the game is going at 100 miles an hour, you’re not thinking about stuff like that.”
All very plausible. Yet we can think of another reason why he mightn’t have known which point put him top of the prolific pile: confusion.
Did he break Gooch’s record (of 23-283) with his fourth or fifth point in Killarney? It was actually his fifth, contrary to one tally that had given O’Connor an extra point somewhere along the way since his 2011 debut.
Now, at least, GAA ‘statos’ can state definitively that O’Connor’s running total stands at 24 goals and 290 points (362 points) thanks to his latest 1-5 haul against Meath.
Mind you, that rogue point hasn’t fully gone away: Wikipedia are still giving O’Connor 24-291. This uncertainty is just the tip of a statistical ice-cap. And who do we blame? Croker.
GAA HQ has myriad problems (the club fixture crisis, competition structures, lopsided county standards) of more fundamental importance than the marketing of its games.
These problems also happen to be fiendishly difficult to resolve. But there are ways to improve promotion that aren’t so intractable. They might cost a bit of money, a lot of time and effort, but surely they are worth it?
There is nothing like a freshly broken record to energise sporting debate and fuel interest. It also happens to be living, breathing history. That’s why the absence of an official repository of GAA statistics stands as an indictment of the association.
We understand there have been efforts to collate and confirm various statistics, and trying to clarify conflicting match reports of a bygone era can be the ultimate nightmare.
But that is no excuse to let the matter slide. If it means establishing a research partnership with a third-level institute, then go for it.
For too long, the media has relied on the devotion of statisticians such as Leo McGough, the Carlow-based font of all knowledge, to clear up records that should be available via GAA.ie at the click of a cursor.
In an era of more matches, records are tumbling: Stephen Cluxton broke the SFC appearance record last summer (he is now 103 not out); O’Connor has just set the new scoring benchmark; while, in hurling, injury scuppered Joe Canning’s chance to overtake Henry Shefflin this summer.
But if Joe does it next year, prepare for more confusion: Shefflin’s final haul is open to doubt (because of a disputed goal in the 2000 All-Ireland final, which replays suggest should be DJ Carey’s) while you will find two different tallies for Canning, depending on where you look on Wikipedia.
Ah, ‘Wiki’: in the absence of an official resource, he (or she) is often a journalist’s best friend, the unreliable type your parents warn you about.
Last week, compiling a graphic of the top-ten SFC scorers, we lost half-a-day (and the will to live) trying to confirm the tallies for Armagh’s Steven McDonnell and Monaghan’s Conor McManus. We still don’t know if we got it half-right.
This week, compiling stats on the top five SHC scorers for 2019, we stumbled upon a disparity for third-placed Jason Forde: Wiki give him two points more than the GAA’s own updates; after further delving, we concluded they’re both one point out!
But don’t take our word for it.