Numbers game just another means of ensuring that all-important edge

Analysing various match statistics now part of the brief for any top-class hurling coaching team

Pucks out won/lost, hooks/blocks made and the free count are just some of the statistics of interest to top hurling coaching teams.   Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Pucks out won/lost, hooks/blocks made and the free count are just some of the statistics of interest to top hurling coaching teams. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Fri, May 16, 2014, 01:00

At every level in all sports, getting the edge has almost become a science in itself. How does a team get this edge in the gym, on the training field, on match day, in the nutritional preparation, in the hydration and supplements fields?

Hurling has long joined the search for this edge and many intercounty teams now have access to a nutritionist, a strength and conditioning coach or two, a doctor, a physiotherapist, a skills coach, a goalkeeping coach, a video analyst, a statistician and a psychologist. Yoga and pilates, amongst other forms of stretching and core routines, have also made their way into many hurlers’ preparation.

The S and C coach is endeavouring to make his charges big and powerful, and develop acceleration and speed as well, and a specialised individual weights programme is central to all that. When he can get his players to put force behind velocity he is creating powerful players.

Each year the standard of preparation is getting more professional and more demanding on all involved.

The attention to diet has also become very important. Most players are (or should be) extremely careful about calorie count and portion size.

Cutting edge
Statistics are also hugely important in many sports. Hurling is a little behind football in the stats department. Like the psychology, there’s a bit of apathy around the importance of stats in the hurling world. But, value them or not, they now play a part in the cutting edge of top-class hurling

The past ten years have seen a growing attention to numbers, trends and patterns in hurling games.

Cork’s puck-out strategy of the middle noughties drew a fair bit of attention. The pucks out won and lost count then becoming an important number at half-time. Simple enough. How many of our own pucks out and how many of our opponents’ did we win or lose in the first half? Did that equate with how the team did overall in the first half? I suppose generally it did but did the team who won the puck out numbers always win the game? I don’t think so.

In the 2006 final, Kilkenny (who then, never admitted to paying much attention to stats or tactics) successfully closed down the middle third of the field, denied Cork puck-out success and won the second phase game by a considerable margin. They also had more scores on the board when the final whistle sounded.

Last decade
Then in the three exceptionally hard-fought All-Ireland finals towards the end of the last decade between Kilkenny and Tipperary, the hooks and blocks count became the most important numbers to have in your team’s favour (after the final score of course) with the winning team on each of those occasions having the highest hook/block count.

The tackle count is now also being used as a fairly definitive indicator of dominance around the field.

All fairly simple you might think. So at half-time the management basically might demand a number of figures. Pucks out won /lost, hooks/blocks made and tackles made.

But is it really that simple?

What about frees conceded? How important is that figure? The zone in which they were conceded is obviously very important in determining whether they are having a big influence in the half- and full- time score.

What about the forwards attack and shot outcome? How important are those figures at the break? How many goal /point chances were created? How many were converted from play or frees? What was the shot to score ratio? How effective were the full forward line?

Is there an optimum shot scoring zone?

A wider question might be is there a link between creating shots in the optimum zone and winning?

Is the term “turnover” an important area to be assessed in hurling? What is a turnover?

Bad pass
First a definition... a turnover occurs whenever the team with the sliotar loses possession to the opponent as the result of what they call a steal in basketball, a bad pass, conceding a free, dropping the ball etc.

How important are turnovers in the greater scheme of things? Or is the next phase after the turnover more important?

In 2014 is the puck out won /lost as important as it was a decade ago or should managements be focussing more on winning the next phase?

Winning the ball, of course, is important but what happens next has to be worthy of even more intense scrutiny.

What about our defenders? How are we going to assess them on the Excel sheet? The poor ould corner back whose pace or lack of is easily identified by all and sundry but what about the three assists for scores that his opponent provided which went unrecorded. How important is that figure? How often has the defender been dispossessed, hooked or blocked? How often have his passes gone astray?

Is concession of frees by defenders recorded?

How important, in the overall scheme of things, is time on the ball compared to total ball time in play or the number of touches for one team compared to another?

So there we have the discussion document for the weekend. How important are stats in the game of hurling? Do they matter at all?

Or does it all come down to the team who wants it most (and scoring most) always winning. Oh that it were that simple! Or maybe it is.

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