It's a game that lasts 70 minutes and both sides have 15 players each and anything can happen — once upon a time that was how things were looked at before a big game. Sure, one team could have beaten all before and behind them in style, while the other scraped through to get to the big day. But at the end of the day all that mattered was what happened over the 70 minutes, that's still true today but only in part.
As players have become fitter, stronger, more professional, everything else has moved along with the times including the work done in the background, not just on strength and conditioning but on the statistical analysis of the game in forensic detail. Every club game you go to you'll see a guy with a clipboard or more probably an iPad tracking every play in the game from winning the kick-out to who turned over the ball where and what came out of that turn over to shot rate and expected returns.
Sabermetrics is a phrase that was coined in the 1960s in the USA for "the empirical analysis of baseball, especially baseball statistics that measure in-game activity." While wildly written off at the time by traditionalists, it led to a more fully rounded understanding of why teams won and how different performance indicators could be used to show how much a player is worth to a team, even if it wasn't represented on the box scores. Of course baseball is a wildly different game to Gaelic Football and lends itself more to serious statistical analysis, with its slow pace and easily recordable events. But that doesn't mean that GAA teams haven't embraced statistics. Mayo have five strong video analysis and stats teams working at each game constantly feeding information as the game is going on to the management team with much more in-depth analysis dispensed post-game, while Dublin have an even larger team working behind he scenes.
There's a wealth of information to be gathered from games nowadays and there's a hunger for information like this, one such source is the Don't Foul blog and twitter account @dontfoul where you can find a treasure trove of statistical information broken down for your digestion. Kindly @dontfoul has allowed us to use some of the stats they have acquired to flesh out some key details ahead of this Sunday's showdown.
In Mayo's six games, excluding their championship opener against London, they have scored 9-84, with 2-24 of that coming from winning their own kick-outs and 2-20 from winning possession from their opponents' kick-outs. For possession origination Mayo have won 107 of their own kick-outs and 52 of their opponents over the the six games. They have won possessions were won in their own third of the field, 38 possessions in the middle third of the field and 11 in their opponents third, with 17 being won in an area of the field.
When you look at Dublin's possession origination over the five championship games they have played they have won 93 of their own kick-outs and 48 of their opponents. Winning possession from those 141 kick-outs has seen Dublin score 3-58 over those five games, while Mayo have scored 4-44 from winning the ball on kick-outs in their six games championship games (London excluded ).
When it comes to total possessions over their championship run, Mayo have had 326 possessions in their six games and average of 54.33 per match and have used that to create 248 attacks or 41.33 per games, an attacking rate of 76 per cent per possession. From those 248 attacks they have had 185 shots scoring 9-84 a conversion rare of 50 per cent per attack.
Dublin on the other hand have had 255 possessions or 51 per game in their five championship matches and have created 214 attacks from that possession (42.8 per game ) an attacking rate of 84 per cent. From those attacks they have had 169 shots (33 per game ) and scored 5-98 a conversion rare of 61 per cent. Going on the stats through the championship Mayo are going to have to significently up their conversion rate if they are to live with Dublin come Sunday afternoon.
Both sides top shot takers have taken a similar amount of shots, with Cillian O'Connor taking 55 shots for Mayo and Dean Rock 53, no surprise really with both men being their sides' free takers. Rock has scored 1-45 from his 53 shots while O'Connor has notched up 2-28 from his 55 efforts. Dublin's next two highest shot takers Diarmuid Connolly and Bernard Brogan have taken more shots 31 and 20 respectively and scored 1-14 and 1-9 from their efforts than Mayo's second highest shot taker who is Evan Regan whose taken 19 shots and scored 1-9 — Regan didn't start Mayo's last two championship games, instead being used from the bench. Diarmuid O'Connor who has also only started four of Mayo's six games being counted here is next in line with 1-9 from 15 shots.
Last year's two meetings between both sides was very evenly matched on the stats side with Dublin's ability to get goals ultimately the deciding factor. Over the two games, both sides had roughly the same amount of shots 52 for Mayo and 54 for Dublin, with Mayo actually edging the conversion rate at 60 per cent to Dublin's 59 per cent, but Dublin hit five goals compared to Mayo's two which was ultimately the deciding of the game. Mayo's over reliance on Cillian O'Connor was borne out by the fact he scored 2-15 over the two games from his 20 shots, whereas Dublin's leading shot converter was Paddy Andrews who scored 0-7 from eight shots.
At the end of the day, the stats will only tell one side of the story and as the saying that is attributed to Benjamin Disraeli goes, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." But they do give us another interesting window into the game.