In a previous article, we took a look at which All-Ireland champions had exceeded expectations the most in order to win their championship. Here, we’re going to take a look at those who came close but fell short. Assuming that the same teams would reach the final each year, were there some that stood out as winning when it mattered more or less often? Which counties came prepared when given the opportunity to play in an All-Ireland final, and which counties have a tradition of bottling it?
Similar to the aforementioned ‘Underdog’ article, we took a look at the odds the BAINISTEOIR rating system gave each team going into an All-Ireland final. If a replay was required, only the odds for the replay are taken into account. Initially slight baseline error existed; out of 130 All-Ireland finals, the average favourite was expected to win ~61% of the time, whereas they actually won 63% of the time. Therefore, on average, the favourite in a given final has a baseline over-performance of 0.02. This baseline difference was factored into the final results. Each county who had reached an All-Ireland final at least once was measured by their wins over expectation. This gives us a value for the difference between how many All-Irelands they won, and how many All-Irelands they would have been expected to win, given the number of finals they reached and their odds of winning each final. Following this, the average performance minus expectation was also calculated: this gives us an idea of how much they exceeded expectations when playing in All-Ireland finals, on average.
Average performance minus expectation
The chart below displays how much each team over or under-performed, on average, across every All-Ireland final they participated in.
This chart works well for counties who have appeared in a large number of finals, in order to give an idea as to how well they perform when they are finalists. However, it does produce outliers for counties like Kerry and Antrim, who have only appeared in one and two finals, respectively.
This chart produces some interesting results. Despite appearing in a huge number of finals, Tipperary are comfortably the best non-outlier team. They’re the only team to both reach a large number of finals (40 in total) and still perform so far above expectation. Despite appearing in nearly a third of all finals, they almost always came through as genuine competitors, and not through lucky breaks or flukes.
Clare and Offaly, though reaching fewer finals, also both performed well. Both teams struggled for much of the history of the All-Ireland, before having breakthroughs in the 90s and 80s. They were not good enough to reach as many finals as Tipperary, Cork or Kilkenny, but when they did get in, it was them at their best.
Interestingly, Kilkenny don’t have massive differences between their actual and expected performance, with only Laois having a smaller margin. It’s possible that their presence in more finals than any other team, 62 to date, has allowed for a greater regression to the mean. Perhaps it’s simply that, over the last 20 years, they’ve been so dominant that their wins have been more expected than the average team, so even a strong performance is not that far above the odds they were given. Whatever the reason, it appears that their position as the greatest winners in hurling is justified.
Down towards the other side of the graph, the biggest under-performers (aside from the outlier of Antrim) appear to be clear; Waterford, Galway and Dublin all appear towards the wrong side of this table. Waterford is perhaps affected by appearing in fewer finals (7 to date), and had they won last year, their under-performance would only have been at around the level of Wexford. Dublin and Galway, however, both have enough final appearances (21 and 24, respectively) that they’ve reached a reasonably stable mean. Galway’s results are a bit easier to excuse; for years, the All-Ireland format would enable them to reach a final by winning only one or two matches. A lucky break, or a weaker match-up, could see they reach a final they weren’t quite ready for, despite not being one of the strongest teams that year.
Redistribution of finals
So, from the above information, if everything had gone according to expectation, how would the roll of honour look? How many All-Ireland championships would each county have in the average alternative universe?
Taking the wins above expectation, and rounding them to the nearest whole numbers so that the total number of championships still add up to 130, the following graph was compiled:
Here, we can see how many championships each team ‘should’ have, had they performed to expectation. Here is how each team is affected:
Only two counties remain the same; Laois and London are allowed to keep their sole All-Ireland wins. London’s win was against the odds, but the championship structure allowed them to play in the final every year for a period at the start of the 20th century. As a result, though they were the underdog every time, they were still in the final enough times that they were expected to still come away with a single win.
Kerry lose their sole All-Ireland, and Clare and Offaly both go from 4 wins to 3. Kerry were only finalists once, and were comfortably underdogs.
Limerick, Wexford, Waterford and Antrim all gain one. Antrim were never favourites in the couple of finals they contested, but their odds were reasonable enough that they would have been expected to win one out of two.
Tipperary lose a whopping 6 All-Irelands, highlighting how much they’ve exceeded expectations. The other members of the big three have more modest losses; Cork lose 3, and Kilkenny lose 2.
Both Dublin and Galway make the biggest gains, taking 5 apiece.
All in all, the rankings, from most to least All-Irelands, would be as follows:
All in all, most counties have won close to what they ought to, given their number of final appearances. However, there are some that have definitely done better or worse. Galway have made a bit of an improvement after last year, but still have a lot of ground to make up, given how many chances at the Liam McCarthy they’ve earned. Dublin also did poorly, and have had long periods struggling to be competitive since their heyday in the first half of the 20th century. They're also taking a while in getting any opportunities for redemption, having not reached a final since 1961. On the other side of things, Tipperary and Cork have done an incredible job of playing at their best when it matters most. Still, for the most part, counties seem to end up with close to what they deserve. Each county has their own regrets about certain years it got away, but for every one of these, there’s mostly an equivalent story of how they held on to win it in the end.