The 2017 Leinster final in detail

This year’s Leinster final, with a record attendance of 60,032, was expected to be a very intense game. Though it lived up to that billing, the final scoring margin was a lot greater than many expected, including those watching the first half. In this article, we go in depth through everything that happened in the match in order to see how this lead was built.

Method

For this article, the Leinster final was re-watched, and notes were taken on a wide variety of events. Additionally, a shot chart was created for the match, though with some slight adjustments to the previous ones made for this site. 

Unlike many of the other article topics, this had very little automation: software was written to make recording these notes faster and with greater accuracy, as well as creating video controls to help prevent constant rewinding, but overall this article could be replicated with a pencil, paper. and a recording of the game The stats recorded included a wide variety of events, including passes (subdivided into hand passes, short passes, long passes, passes from frees, passes from sideline cuts, short puck outs and long puck outs), shots, frees, penalties, goals, points, wides, saves, 65s, turnovers, completed passes, fouls, cards and substitutions. The software was capable of recording the time of the event and the player involved, though for the purposes of finishing this article within the year, as well as the emphasis on team play rather than individual play in this article, the players were not recorded for this analysis.

In the shot chart article, it was discussed how certain decisions had to be made on what defined a shot. Do you include wides that were clearly meant to be long passes, for example? In the end, for consistency, certain decisions had to be made about whether or not certain events were recorded in certain ways. This was no different. As with the decisions about what constitutes a shot, decisions also had to be made about every other event listed: When does a short pass become a long pass, for example? Without more advanced ball or player tracking, this is one parameter that just had to be estimated, and so some of the results may differ here versus if you recreated this analysis at home.

Another example is pass completion and interception: there are many occasions where a pass results in the sliotar being swatted back and forth by both teams, with neither actually getting in real control of possession for quite a long time. In these situations, the ball hasn’t been turned over yet, as neither team has the ball. It was decided that in these situations, the pass wouldn’t be marked as completed or as a turnover until one player had definite control of the sliotar, either by catching it, or being comfortably able to dribble it, either on the ground or on their hurl, without interference. As a result, the pass statistics below are often less about the accuracy of the passer, and more about the grit of the player receiving the pass. Though it would be nice to acknowledge a clean catch from a long puck out, in the end what matters is whether or not possession was maintained, regardless of how pretty it looked.

Defining turnovers should also be clarified further: this analysis defined a turnover as any time a team loses possession to the other team that wasn’t as a result of a shot. This includes passes being intercepted, the sliotar being stolen from a player who isn’t passing (e.g. The sliotar being knocked off his hurl, and then picked up by an opponent), the ball going over the sideline (though some sideline balls are the result of a deflection by the team without possession, so no turnover occurs for either team), or the team in possession committing a foul.

In addition to the above inconsistencies, it should also be noted that there is possibly a certain amount of error simply from recording events incorrectly; with several hundred events recorded, with many coming less than a second after the previous, mistakes are inevitable. Hopefully, these errors have all been caught, but should you notice anything you suspect to be a mistake, feel free to get in touch at mail@takeyourdatapoints.com, or by twitter to @TYDatapoints.

The shot chart worked largely as it did in the previous article, though with a few adjustments to provide a bit more context to how the shots happened. As before, a white dot indicates a point and a green dot indicates a goal. A black dot here only indicates that the ball wasn’t on target (wides, crossbar hits, or post hits), whereas a red dot indicates that the ball was saved. There are also borders to indicate where shots were taken from set pieces; yellow for penalties, blue for frees, magenta for sideline cuts and cyan for 65s. This will, hopefully, give a bit more of a clue as to why a given shot was taken, and how it succeeded or failed.

Overview

The table below gives a breakdown of some of the key pieces of information recorded for the match, divided by the first half, second half, and the entire match. This should give some indication of where each team outperformed the other:

First Half Second Half Full Match
Event Galway Wexford Difference Galway Wexford Difference Galway Wexford Difference
Points 14 11 3 15 6 9 29 17 12
Goals 0 0 0 0 1 -1 0 1 -1
Frees 7 6 1 6 6 0 13 12 1
Penalties 0 0 0 0 1 -1 0 1 -1
Shot attempts 22 16 6 22 13 9 44 29 15
Points per shot 0.64 0.69 -0.05 0.68 0.69 -0.01 0.66 0.69 -0.03
Turnovers 22 28 -6 18 29 -11 40 57 -17
Possessions 44 44 0 41 40 1 85 84 1
Turnovers per possession 0.50 0.64 -0.14 0.44 0.73 -0.29 0.47 0.68 -0.21
Points per possession 0.32 0.25 0.07 0.38 0.21 0.16 0.34 0.24 0.10
Total passes 58 65 -7 60 71 -11 118 136 -18
Passes completed 43 41 2 46 49 -3 89 90 -1
Pass % 0.74 0.63 0.11 0.77 0.69 0.08 0.75 0.66 0.09
Fouls 6 7 -1 8 7 1 14 14 0
Yellow Cards 2 2 0 1 1 0 3 3 0
Red Cards 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Looking through the table, it becomes clear very quickly that this wasn’t a match that was won though one team scoring goals, or conceding frees, or shooting far more accurately than the other. The key detail which seems to have made the difference is the turnovers: Wexford turned the ball over 17 more times than Galway did. From this one stat, you can derive some of the other differences: For example, as a result of getting fewer turnovers, Galway were able to take far more shots, and so could afford to shoot with less accuracy. Wexford can also be seen to have passed the ball far more often: was this a reaction to Galway’s ball-winning, taking more short, low risk passes rather than fewer long balls? Or, was their over-passing the cause of Galway’s success? The key to this game, and indeed, most games, was the successful conversion of possessions into scoring opportunities. Let’s take a more detailed look at how both teams fared in both their shooting, and in their passing.

Scoring in detail

The above charts show the order in which both teams scored, as well as the total scoring difference. From this, we can see that it remained close up until about 5 minutes into the second half. However, after Wexford brought the match to within a point at 0-14 to 0-13, Galway were able to counter with 7 points in a row. Though Wexford managed to eventually counter with a goal and a few more points, Galway continued to build on their point total, and finished the match with the scoring margin at its widest, with a 9 point difference.

While we’ll get into why this happened from a possession standpoint in the next section, let’s first take a look into the types of shot each team was taking:

The above charts show where on the pitch each team was taking their shots. As a refresher on what the dots mean: white is a point, black is a wide/hit the post/hit the crossbar, red is a save. A blue border is a shot from a free, cyan is a shot from a 65, magenta is a shot from a sideline cut and yellow is a shot from a penalty. No border means the shot was from play.

Ignoring shooting efficiency and volume, which will be gotten to in a minute, it’s clear that both teams were very sensible about shot selection. Galway in particular took very few shots beyond the 45 metre line, and Wexford took zero shots from play beyond the 65 metre line. Wexford appeared to attempt goals more frequently, whereas Galway were happier to settle for easy points (both of their ‘saved’ shots appear to be efforts at passes or points which fell short, judging by the distance), but neither team could be accused of taking stupid shots. Both teams appeared to have a healthy mix of shots from play versus from frees. While the locations of shots can often be very revealing about what separated the teams,  especially if one team is taking far more shots from difficult angles or from distance, this was not the case for this match. However, the shot chart does show more than just shot location, and it’s clear that there are far more dots on Galway’s charts than Wexford’s, particularly in the second half. Having said that, Wexford's shooting efficiency looks good, so let's delve more into the numbers there:

The above chart shows how many points per shot each team managed, and in different categories: Total shots, shots from play, and shots from set pieces (i.e. Frees, penalties, 65s, sideline cuts). On the basis of this, Wexford appear to be in pretty good shape. Their free taking was poor, with lower returns than their shots from play, but their shooting from play was so much more accurate than Galway’s that it doesn’t appear to be a major issue, and in the end they were slightly more efficient overall. So how did they lose by so much?

Let’s move away from efficiency, and look into volume:

This chart paints a very different picture. Galway’s volume of shots was tremendous. Even if Wexford had scored a point from every single shot they took, they would have only levelled the game. By the same token, Galway could have only scored a point from half of their shots, rather than from 2/3rds of them, and would still have won by a couple of points. Short of scoring endless goals, a tough task against the Galway full-backs, there was nothing Wexford could really do to win this match in terms of greater shooting accuracy. Instead, we must break down where all of their turnovers came from.

Possession in detail

The above chart shows when the turnovers in the match occurred. It also looks extremely similar to the shots over time chart earlier in the article, and this isn't surprising; it’s very difficult to score when you don’t have the ball. The only real difference between these two charts is that it appears to indicate that Galway started to pick up momentum about 15 minutes earlier than when it started to really show on the scoreboard. As we’ve indicated earlier, Galway tended not to score as efficiently from play as Wexford, and so it took a bit of time for them to convert these extra possessions into a solid lead.

So how did these turnovers occur? Interpreting turnovers can happen through a variety of means: a pass can be intercepted, a player in possession can commit a foul (such as taking too many steps), the ball can be hit over the sideline, or a player can simply take the sliotar out of another player’s hands or off his hurl (labeled as ‘Steals’ in charts).

It’s clear from this that the vast majority of turnovers happened from intercepting passes. Galway were forced into a few on-the-ball fouls, Wexford lost a few possessions due to Galway players simply taking the sliotar off them, but all in all most of the losses in possession occurred when passes failed to meet their mark, mostly through interceptions, and some through going over the sideline. As such, let’s go deeper into the stats for each team’s passing, and see if there are any specific areas where the majority of these turnovers came from:

Considering the final difference between the teams, this chart appears fairly surprising. There isn’t a massive amount between the two teams overall, and though they fall behind overall, Wexford actually performed a little bit better in certain categories. There does seem to be a dip in performance for Wexford’s long puck outs, compared to Galway (whose own puck outs were phenomenal, with a higher success rate from these than from all passes combined), but can this really account for so much of the difference between the teams? Just as with the shooting, we need to look beyond the efficiency and get into the actual numbers to find out:

Yes. The long puck outs were definitely to blame, no doubt about it. Both teams failed on a lot of long pass attempts from play, but these largely cancelled one another out, and eitherteam did a bit better or worse in other categories, but the difference in the long puck outs is staggering. Galway absolutely dominated their own long range puck outs, coming away with possession in 17 out of 24 attempts. By contrast, Wexford managed only 13, despite having 32 attempts. If anything, the passing efficiency slightly hid the impact of the puck outs, as Wexford’s larger number of attempted passes makes any decrease in the percentage of successful ones all the more impactful. In other words, you can have any number of successful passes in a single possession, but it only takes one bad one for a turnover, so completing 60% out of 100 passes is probably a lot worse than completing 60% out of 50 passes.

Pinning down where the fault lies, and how Wexford should proceed is a trickier matter. Did their keeper have an off day? Are Galway simply better at positioning themselves during these set pieces of play (potentially relevant, as Wexford were much better at competing for long passes from play)? Were they simply unlucky? None of the above are mutually exclusive, and perhaps all three factors played a significant role. It also shouldn’t be ignored that Galway’s own puck out success was well above average for the distances they were sending the ball, and so they should be admired at least as much as Wexford should be criticised.

Summary

In this article, we can see the value of deeply analysing a game in this manner. In this particular example, we were able to see how a difference in puck out quality led to more turnovers, which led to more shots, which led to more scores and, eventually, a win for Galway. Beyond this particular match, we’re given hints at where each team’s strengths and weaknesses lie, and where they should aim to steer matches to make use of their talents: In Galway’s case, forcing the other team into 50-50 balls or awkward passes allows them to employ their physicality and ball winning ability, as they can be confident that they will come out on top the majority of the time in these situations. However, if they can’t make use of this, they may struggle to outdo their opponents in a straight shoot-out. Wexford, on the other hand, were still a strong passing team apart from their long puck outs, and may do well from patiently working the sliotar up the pitch for a low-risk shot, to be taken by one of any number of scoring threats. This match should serve as a warning for them that there’s still work to do on set pieces, such as sideline cuts, frees and, of course, puck outs, all of which they struggled with.

However, as is always the warning for these kind of analyses: you can’t solely rely on what the numbers tell you, A huge amount of context and other information can be lost, and actually sitting down and watching the match is still massively important. As was mentioned above, a completed pass may mean anything from a clean catch to finally being the player coming away with the ball after fighting over it for half a minute. Obviously retaining possession is the main point, but both scenarios require very different skills to achieve the end result.

Finally, for all the detail the analysis goes into, it’s still limited by what can and can’t be put into numbers. One of the enduring challenges for analytics in almost any team sport is how to measure defence, for example. This analysis can’t show how tightly a shooter was marked, how many potential shots were turned into passes, or how many wides were as a result of inaccuracy versus good defending. Wexford’s habit of having their defenders take shots looks great when you get into the statistics after the game, but how do we weigh up the benefit of these extra scores against the risk of giving up more points on the other end? It’s always crucial for analysts to remember that just because it can’t be measured, doesn’t mean it’s not important. and vice versa. These kind of analyses can massively help to bring certain issues into focus, and remove personal biases where the viewer may have paid too much or too little attention to certain elements of the game, but they are far from being the whole story.

Sometimes the eye test needs to be tempered with hard numbers, and sometimes hard numbers need to eye test to corroborate the evidence. One without the other will never provide a full picture, but both in tandem can be greater than the sum of their parts.