Monday 16 September 2019

Breaking down the stats: Beaten provincial finalists out to buck trend against qualifiers

Peter Kelly of Kildare in action against Brian Kennedy of Tyrone during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 3 match between Kildare and Tyrone at St Conleth's Park in Newbridge, Co. Kildare. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Peter Kelly of Kildare in action against Brian Kennedy of Tyrone during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 3 match between Kildare and Tyrone at St Conleth's Park in Newbridge, Co. Kildare. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Former Tipperary manager Liam Kearns. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

If past trends involving beaten provincial football finalists in Round 4 qualifiers are replicated next weekend, it's advantage Clare, Laois, Mayo and Tyrone.

All four have re-established momentum by winning two qualifier games each, whereas Cavan, Cork, Galway and Meath are coming off defeats.

Beaten provincial finalists have a bad overall record in the 18 seasons the qualifiers have been in operation, with only 26 of 72 winning. There have been 46 losers, with Leinster and Connacht faring by far the worst.

Leinster haven't had a winner since 2009 and only four from 18 attempts overall. Connacht's return is only marginally better, with five wins from 18 games. Ulster are 9-9, with Munster on eight wins and 10 defeats.

The last Munster winners were Tipperary in 2016, beating Derry in Breffni Park, before going on to demolish Galway in the All-Ireland quarter-final. They then lost the semi-final to Mayo.

"Going into Round 4 after losing a provincial final can be difficult, although it depends very much on how and when you lost the final," said manager Liam Kearns, who experienced the challenge with Tipperary (2016), Laois (2007) and Limerick (2003 and 2004).

Meath will be attempting to become the first Leinster runners-up to win a qualifier since Kildare beat Wicklow in 2009. Since then Louth (2010), Wexford (2011), Meath (2012-13-14), Westmeath (2015-16), Kildare (2017) and Laois (2018), have all lost. Apart from Kildare in 2009, the only Leinster winners in 18 years were Wexford (2008), Laois (2005) and Dublin (2001).

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Leinster's dismal record - especially over the last decade - underlines the weakness of the province once Dublin are removed from the equation.

Kearns expects Meath to end the losing run against Clare on Sunday, on the basis of their good league record against the Banner in recent years.

He also believes that the reaction to Meath's heavy defeat by Dublin in the Leinster final was overly harsh because they scored only four points.

"There will always be criticism when a team has such a low score, but you need to look at the overall game. Meath did very well defensively for a long time. They were particularly good in most facets of play in the first-half, except when it came to scoring," he said.

"They had 11 scoring chances to Dublin's nine in the first-half, but were still 0-5 to 0-1 down at half-time. That was demoralising because they had put in so much hard work. They kept the effort going into the second-half, too, but the scoring rate didn't improve.

"It became a rout for Dublin, but that can happen against a team that has put in such effort for so little reward. It doesn't mean Meath won't recover. They know they are better in attack than that. Getting to the 'Super 8s' after being promoted to Division 1 earlier on would mean they had hit two big targets for the year," said Kearns.

The time between provincial finals and qualifiers is longer than it used to be, giving teams more opportunity to recover physically and mentally. Kearns believes that's very important.

"It was crazy some years ago. I remember going into qualifier games with Limerick six days after losing Munster finals. It was a ridiculous situation. You might as well have told beaten provincial finals not to bother with the qualifiers," he said.

Meath, Cavan and Cork will all have had two weeks between the provincial final defeats and Round 4, while Galway had a week more.

"Two weeks is okay, but three is a lot better. That's a big break for Galway. They had a week to feel sorry for themselves and then two weeks to build up again. Getting the mental side of recovering after losing a provincial final is very important. That's nearly always dependent on how you lost.

"I remember in 2016 when Tipperary lost the Munster final to Kerry. We were disappointed, but still had a good mindset. It was three weeks to the qualifier against Derry and we built everything back up again. We felt it was unfair to ask us to travel to Cavan as Derry had played the previous round there, so we used it as a motivation. I was 100pc confident we'd win. The three weeks had worked wonders for us."

He expects it to have a similar impact on Galway, who recovered from a nine-point defeat by Roscommon in the 2017 Connacht final to overwhelm Donegal (4-17 to 0-14).

"If they are right, they should win, especially with injuries hitting Mayo so hard," he said.

Kearns backs Tyrone and Cork to win the other two qualifiers against Cavan and Laois respectively.

"I'd fear for Cavan. They put a huge effort into getting to the Ulster final for the first time in many years. The build-up must have been draining, so there would have been a big comedown after the defeat. Tyrone was the last draw they wanted," he said.

"Cork are in a different position. They came out of the Munster final feeling fairly good about themselves. Mind you, there's big pressure on them. Doing well against Kerry will count for nothing if they don't make the Super 8s now.

"John Sugrue is doing a good job with Laois, but Cork just might have too much for them," he said.

If Kearns is correct in his predictions, it will be 3-1 in favour of beaten provincial finalists, a split which last happened in 2014.

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