Revealed - Kerry's alarming fouling stats give their rivals free pass
IN the ultra-professional amateur world of the GAA, circa 2017, every elite county possesses an army of statisticians to parse the various on-field data for important trends.
It’s safe to assume, then, that Kerry know they’ve a problem with their defence. Specifically with coughing up frees in the scoring zone.
And if they don’t tackle their tackling deficiencies, it’s equally safe to assume they won’t buck their Croke Park losing trend against Dublin.
An analysis of all eight teams operating in Division 1 has revealed a worrying statistic for Éamonn Fitzmaurice as he seeks that elusive victory over Jim Gavin in Sunday’s Allianz Football League decider. His team has given up way more converted frees and penalties than any of its seven top-flight rivals this spring.
In their topsy-turvy seven-match run to the final, Kerry conceded three penalties and 47 converted frees. That 3-47 figure becomes even more eye-catching when measured as a percentage of Kerry’s overall concession of 7-87 - almost 52 per cent.
Or even more alarming when compared to the rest of Division 1. The second-worst offenders were Monaghan (0-36) and relegated Roscommon (1-33) - a full 20 points less than Kerry’s 56-point tally.
In percentage terms, Monaghan gave up over 37pc of scores via frees – but that’s almost 15pc better than Kerry’s. True, percentages can muddy the waters – see Roscommon’s 24pc figure, attributable to their porousness in open play. That hasn’t been an issue for Fitzmaurice; eradicating cheap frees has been.
The irony is that Kerry’s most generous foul concession - 1-9 against Tyrone last Sunday - came in the midst of a seven-point Killarney cruise.
But while they could afford to give up a penalty to Peter Harte and nine pointed frees shared between Seán Cavanagh and Harte, similar stats contributed to their undoing against Mayo in February and their stalemate with Dublin last month.
Cillian O’Connor’s 0-9 from frees were central to Mayo’s comeback; Dublin equalled Kerry’s ancient unbeaten record thanks in large part to Dean Rock’s identical deadball haul.
In the immediate wake of that fraught draw, a frustrated Fitzmaurice mused: “Some of the frees, to me, looked to be easier to get down at that end than on our side.”
But the Kerry boss tacitly accepted that it wasn’t all down to the judgement of Tyrone referee Seán Hurson.
“You always have to look in the mirror, and we did after the performance against Mayo and it was one we had improved on.
“But we weren’t good enough at times in the tackle again tonight, and it’s something we’ll work on. It’s early days.”
Getting it right for championship is more important than reducing the free count on Sunday. Yet Fitzmaurice will appreciate that, against Dublin of all teams, Kerry’s tackling technique must be on the money.
Take last year’s All-Ireland semi-final: a captivating contest that went down to the wire, yet Dublin’s 0-22 to 2-14 victory was facilitated by Rock’s eight converted frees. By contrast, Gavin’s team coughed up 0-4 in frees landed by Colm Cooper. A four-point differential in a two-point game. True, Kerry were incensed by the free-in that never came shortly before Diarmuid Connolly’s coup de grace. Referee David Gough publicly admitted last month that he’d been blindsided for Kevin McManamon’s shoulder to the chest of Peter Crowley, saying: “I know I got it wrong”.
While referees will always make debatable or even patently wrong decisions, the overall league trend paints a picture that Kerry can’t airbrush. An average concession of 0-8 will kill them in the long run.
In the meantime, given all the tit-for-tat furore over Kerry’s supposed physicality against Dublin three weeks ago, spare a thought for Roscommon referee Paddy Neilan, handed the final even though he hasn’t officiated at any Division 1 game this spring.
He could be a busy whistler.