Home sweet home

Home advantage is a well established truism which states that, everything else being equal, the team playing at home will win more often than not. It is a concept which exists in many, if not most, sports, and has had a variety of explanations put forward as to why it occurs: The psychological edge of having the majority of the crowd on your side, a familiarity with any idiosyncrasies of the pitch, or even simply being better rested from not having to spend several uncomfortably cramped hours on a bus. In this article, I intend to investigate how home advantage plays its part in intercounty hurling. By dividing match results into home, away and neutral games, in combination with looking at how the teams typically performed overall over the same period, we will hopefully get an idea of how much playing at home contributes to whether a team wins or loses.

How much of an advantage is it?

So, getting straight to the point, yes, it is an advantage to play at home. If you want to reduce everything down to a few numbers without factoring in any other context, teams won 53.96% of their home games, 40.21% of their away games, and 46.38% of games on neutral ground. Teams drew 5.79% of home games, 5.81% of away games, and 7.24% of neutral games. Teams lost 40.24% of home games, 53.98% of away games and 46.38% pf neutral games. Got all that? Here’s a chart to help you visualise it:

So, yes, home advantage definitely appears to be a thing. While the numbers can’t reveal everything about why this creates such a boost to teams, it certainly supports the concept of teams playing better at home. With this conclusion reached, let’s take a look at the outliers: Which teams play disproportionately well at home, away, or on neutral ground?

Home birds

The above chart displays the difference in winning percentage at home and overall winning percentage, for the five teams with the greatest difference, and compared to the average difference for all senior intercounty teams. As mentioned above, this only applies to matches from 2012 to 2016, inclusive. The average difference is seven percentage points, while these teams range from a difference of 17 up to 25 percentage points.

Kilkenny, despite already having an enormous overall winning percentage of 70% overall, manage to have the greatest improvement when playing at home, as their success rate at Nowlan Park is a phenomenal 95%. Tipperary and Clare also managed to maintain an overall winning percentage of over 50%, while upping their home winning percentage to 75% and 74%, respectively. Dublin only managed an overall winning percentage of 43%, but brought that up to a very nice 60% at home, despite typically not receiving priority over their footballing counterparts. Finally, while they may not be a team typically talked about for their hurling, perhaps that could change for Derry if afforded more home games: they go from only winning a third of their games overall to winning just over half when playing at home.

Road warriors

This chart displays the difference in winning percentage in away games and overall winning percentage, again for the five teams with the greatest difference, and compared to the average difference. In this case, the average is a decrease in winning percentage by almost 7 percentage points, demonstrating just how good these teams are playing away. Alternatively, you could also assume that these teams are all just terrible when playing at home. However, none of these teams have a below average winning percentage, so the likelihood is that they just play solid hurling (for their level of competition) regardless of where they are.

The biggest away improvement comes from Fingal, who in fact opted out of competition in 2017, and so we will not get to see how this trend progresses for them.

Runner up is Limerick. However, Limerick may actually be an indicator of one of the flaws in this analysis: Limerick have been stuck in a kind of limbo in the league over the years analysed, constantly finishing in second place in division 1B (or, in 2013, having the most points but, due to a different format, losing to Dublin for the promotion spot). Unable to progress to 1A, Limerick have been stuck playing a large portion of their away games against inferior competition, and so their disproportionate away winning percentage has emerged.

Waterford are the only other top-tier team in the top five; it’s possible that their home record is tarnished due to splitting their matches between Waterford city and Dungarvan, or it could simply be that there’s truth to the commonly espoused notion that they regularly have some of the better turnout for their away games. Similarly, if a large part of the home advantage effect is the psychological edge of having your supporters on your side, it would make sense that Tyrone and Kildare should appear, as these teams are somewhat lacking in hurling support no matter where they go.

Big match teams (?)

This chart displays the five teams with the biggest improvement between games at neutral locations versus their overall winning percentage. Similar to the away games, the average is negative.

I had opted to name this section ‘Big Match Teams’, as my initial guess before looking at the numbers was to imagine games at the knockout stages of competition being the ones played on neutral ground. However, looking at the teams involved, it seems more likely that these are teams that may be more used to having their home games elsewhere due to scheduling conflicts, as well as a low level of hurling support.

London tops the list, but this draws attention to another issue with the data: sample size. London only had a couple of games at neutral grounds over the last few years, both of which they happened to win, bringing them up to a 100% success rate on neutral ground. Of the five teams listed, only Wicklow have had more than 12% of their games on neutral ground, with  a total of 17% played neither home or away, which is still very slightly below the average for all teams. Kildare are the only team on more than one list, also making an appearance on the list of best away teams. Clearly, Kildare are a team who are always up for having a nice day out.

Implications of home advantage

What conclusions can we draw from all the above? Well, it does seem to validate the idea that there is a tangible benefit to a team playing at home. While this may not benefit coaches looking for ways to gain an edge over other teams (or at least not coaches lacking in brown envelope money), it is certainly a factor to be considered when making predictions about team performance.

As such, be sure come back to the site for our follow-up article, in which we’ll make the first major adjustment to our rating system, by factoring home advantage.