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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Leinster football: time for the harsh alternative facts

Dublin manager Jim Gavin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Dublin manager Jim Gavin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Leinster football has rarely if ever been stronger. That's a 'fact' - as four Sams already this decade will testify.

Leinster football has never been so weak. That's a 'fact' ... consider its underwhelming record in progressing teams to the business end of the season, aka the All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals.

This being the age of alternative facts - what you and I might call plausible fiction - no one should be overly surprised by the glaring contradiction contained above. So where, then, does the truth lie, presuming it even exists?

Having watched Kildare become the eighth consecutive vanquished Leinster finalist to fall at the very next qualifier fence, Curveball felt compelled to conduct a statistical trawl.

Cut-and-paste

At the heart of this painstaking research (which, sadly, no one else had compiled so cut-and-paste was not an option) was a simple question.

Namely, since the inception of the SFC qualifiers, which provinces have flourished through the back door and which have generally floundered?

The most basic yardstick for this, of course, is counting All-Ireland quarter-finalists ... for while every province is guaranteed one per year, the most competitive should produce at least one or two more every summer.

We've split our findings into two periods - the first decade of the qualifiers (2001-10), and the last seven seasons (2011-17) which happen to coincide with Dublin's emergence as serial All-Ireland winners, initially under Pat Gilroy and more especially under Jim Gavin.

Our notable discoveries included the following ...

(1) Between 2001 and 2010, you had 80 quarter-finalists - Ulster led the way with 25 followed by Leinster (23), Munster (17) and Connacht (15).

(2) For the period 2011-17, the quarter-final breakdown was: Ulster 20, Munster 14, Leinster and Connacht 11 apiece.

(3) Thus, the overall quarter-final breakdown reads: Ulster 45, Leinster 34, Munster 31, Connacht 26.

(4) On face value, then, Leinster is doing reasonably but not spectacularly well. Ever sense a 'but' coming? Leinster has ten 'back door' contenders every year compared to eight for Ulster and five each for Munster and Connacht.

So they aren't remotely punching above their weight ... even more so post-2010.

(5) More bad news? Dublin have reached 16 out of 17 quarter-finals in the qualifier era. Subtract that and you're left with just 18 from the rest of Leinster (broken down as Kildare six, Meath and Laois four each, Westmeath three, Wexford one).

(6) Delving deeper into the stats (excluding this year's incomplete tally but covering 2001-16), the semi-final breakdown is: Munster 23, Ulster 17, Leinster 15 and Connacht nine.

(7) And finally, All-Ireland finalists: Munster 13, Ulster eight, Connacht six and Leinster five.

Just as well, for the rest of Leinster, that Dublin's incredible recent run of four All-Irelands out of six conveniently buries that 'fact'.

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