herald

Monday 23 October 2017

Ignore Babs: the stats prove it was a classic

OUR head is still spinning from Sunday's intoxicating fare in Croke Park so, as a sobering antidote, we'll start with an excerpt from an expert. Here goes ...

"Because of some non-performances on the Tipp side and all of those errors in Kilkenny's play, I find it hard to agree with pundits who have been quick to hail this match as one of the greatest. It was exciting in the second half because it was so close, but the first 15 minutes was played at a pedestrian pace and was dismal."

So wrote Babs Keating in his newspaper column yesterday.

We could add that the mastermind of two All-Ireland titles with Tipperary (three if you include his, eh, motivational input into Offaly's '98 success) went on to excoriate the nine-time All-Ireland winning Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody, for a "failure to coach his team properly" and for allowing bad habits to "fester".

We could quote his assertion that hurling is being ruined by the light sliotar which pinballs from one end of the pitch to the other, robbing the contest of "real intensity".

Yes, we could do all of the above and immediately launch a fulminating response to each Babsian barb but ... well, why bother? This column is in far too good - and giddy - a mood to condemn any contrarian voice amid the fawning consensus.

Instead, just to show that not everyone agrees with the perfectionist ex-Premier supremo, we shall hit you with a statistical sledgehammer to underline the magnificence of last Sunday.

The aggregate points score of 62 - four goals and 50 points - established a new benchmark for a 70-minute All-Ireland final, and was the highest tally since the 80-minute decider of 1970, when only a glut of goals (11) propelled winners Cork and Wexford to a total of 64.

No previous SHC finalist has come close to Tipp's 29 scores (1-28) without winning the All-Ireland. No team has scored 1-24 from play and failed to scamper off with Liam MacCarthy. Moreover, the 3-22 that Kilkenny amassed would have easily won each of the previous nine All-Irelands garnered on Cody's watch. His team's highest previous concession while winning was 0-23 (against Tipp in 2009); and 4-17 when losing (to Tipp in 2010).

Now, we appreciate that some pedants will view a scoreline of 1-28 to 3-22 as evidence of defensive chaos allowing forwards the time and space in which to thrive. Yet we implore any sceptics to look back on the video, at some of the heroic block-downs; or the savage pressure applied to forwards as they got their shots off; or especially at the frenetic, hell-for-leather, claustrophobic passage of play that preceded Michael Fennelly's 28th minute point for the Cats. Then try telling us that this was a free-and-easy scorefest lacking true intensity.

Now for a breakdown of that red-hot scoring rate. Of the 4-50 tallied, a staggering 4-40 came in open play. Ergo, this was no foul-fest officiated by a whistle-happy referee presenting a plethora of handy tap-overs for the dead-eyed likes of Séamus Callanan and TJ Reid.

As a natural follow-on to the above, Sunday was unusual in that we'd a handful of forwards shooting big individual tallies while, simultaneously, we'd a multiplicity of different scorers. How many? Twenty in all - 11 from Tipp and nine from Kilkenny - found the target.

Of these, seven achieved a minimum of four points from play: Richie Power (2-1), Richie Hogan (0-6) and Reid (1-2) for Kilkenny; John O'Dwyer (0-5), Callanan (0-5), Noel McGrath (0-4) and Patrick 'Bonner' Maher (1-1) for Tipp.

Here's the even stranger bit: Sunday could have produced another six goals if you factor in the intervention of the woodwork (Lar Corbett's stunning effort) and the goalkeepers (Eoin Murphy made four saves, two from penalties, while Darren Gleeson denied Reid in the first half) ... and several more if you include some butchered final passes with goal chances looming. Yet this doesn't weaken our thesis: key misses, every bit as much as scores, contribute to the wonder and glory of a true classic.

Finally, let's look at the wide count: six for Kilkenny - and not one in the second half. Just four for Tipp. Ten wides in total - a metronomic benchmark only matched in recent years by Kilkenny/Tipp in 2011. All other recent finals contained more wides - we had 14 in the '09 epic, 12 in 2010, 21 and 18 in 2012, 12 and 14 last year.

According to RTE stats, Kilkenny converted 25 of their 34 chances and Tipp managed 29 out of 35. Given the high-octane pace and the pressure of the day (the sides were level 12 times) these figures are off the charts.

Suffice to say, the replay better be truly amazing or we'll almost feel cheated and starting moaning like ... oh, never mind!

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