Sunday 25 August 2019

Tyrone and Kerry rely more on frees than Dubs and Mayo

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte. Photo: Sportsfile
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Dublin and Mayo may have three of the best free-takers in football, but in purely statistical terms they are not as important to their teams' prospects of winning the All-Ireland semi-finals as their counterparts in Tyrone and Kerry.

It's because Dublin and Mayo get a lower percentage of their scores from frees than Kerry and Tyrone.

The reason for this is open to conjecture, but it adds yet another element to the intriguing mix for this weekend's action.

The biggest variation is between Tyrone, for whom 30 per cent of their championship scores to date have come from frees, and Dublin on 19per cent. Mayo are on 22 per cent with Kerry on 26 per cent.

It's not a new pattern either, as Tyrone and Kerry also had a much higher yield from frees than the other pair in this year's Allianz League.

Mickey Harte's men also topped that table, with 37 per cent of their seven-game total coming from frees.

Kerry were second there, too, on 33 per cent, followed by Dublin on 23 per cent and Mayo on 22 per cent.

Dublin's six-game, largely unchallenged, run to the semi-final may account for why less than one-fifth of their 14-124 total came from frees, with Cormac Costello scoring 0-17 and Dean Rock 0-14. Both are exclusive of 45s, which are not frees in the strictest sense.

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Dublin's attacking strategy is built essentially around holding possession, while moving the ball at various speeds and angles until a finisher is played into a good striking position, where markers find it difficult to get close to him.

Apart from greatly increasing the chances of completing a move with a score, its continuous deployment depletes the opposition's energy reserves. That, in turn, makes it easier for Dublin to drive on in the second half, which has been a feature of their four-in-a-row success.

Mayo have a similarly relatively low return from frees (an average of 21pc in 16 league and championship games) which raises the question - have their forwards been assessed unfairly?

If Dublin's high strike-rate from play is the product of intelligent creation of space and accurate kicking, does the same not apply to Mayo?

Cillian O'Connor is their top scorer (0-21) from frees in the championship, with Evan Regan (0-6), Conor Loftus (0-3) and Jason Doherty (0-2) also on target, but it still leaves 78 per cent coming from play, where Darren Coen (0-17), Kevin McLoughlin (2-7) James Carr (2-5) and O'Connor (2-4) lead the way.

It reached 80 per cent in their eight league games, which ended with a win over Kerry in the final.

The raw statistics suggest there's more to the Mayo attack than may be immediately apparent.

They may not have as much individual brilliance as Dublin but their high return from play suggests they create lots of room to get shots away than they are generally receive credit.

It further whets the appetite for Saturday's showdown where Mayo will be bidding for their first win over Dublin in league or championship since 2012.

The contrast in scoring between Dublin/Mayo and Kerry/Tyrone is interesting, with the latter pair relying much more on scores from frees. Seán O'Shea has pointed 24 frees for the Kingdom in their five championship games, having earlier scored 0-40 in the league, with David Clifford kicking 0-5 en route to the semi-finals.

Kerry's average score from frees this year is 29.5 per cent, 8.5 per cent ahead of Dublin and Mayo and four behind Tyrone on 33.5.

Three of every ten points scored by Mickey Harte's men were from frees, with Peter Harte (1-21), Cathal McShane (0-23), Conor McAliskey Niall Morgan (both 0-3), Kyle Coney and Darren McCurry (both 0-1) all on target in their nine-game run.

It would have been even higher if goalkeeper, Morgan were more consistent with his long-range efforts.

The higher yield from frees by Kerry and Tyrone may be down to them running at their markers more than Dublin and Mayo, but obviously the question also arises as to whether they are better at convincing referees they have been fouled.

If that were the case, it would put a completely different twist on the differentials between the four semi-finalists, increasing the focus on how referees deal with them.

Donegal (22 per cent) had the lowest score from frees of the other four 'Super 8' teams. Cork were on 23, Meath 2 and Roscommon 28pc.

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