GAA video analysis: Analysis ‘war room’ key focal point

Donegal and Kerry seek crucial edge ahead of All-Ireland football final with off-field dissection of players and strategies by video boffins

“You can measure everything, but how important is the piece of information is the important thing. You could end up with paralysis by analysis. It can go wrong if you’re spending too much time trawling over data with little effect” – Cork manager Brian Cuthbert. Photograph:  Russell Pritchard/Presseye/Inpho

“You can measure everything, but how important is the piece of information is the important thing. You could end up with paralysis by analysis. It can go wrong if you’re spending too much time trawling over data with little effect” – Cork manager Brian Cuthbert. Photograph: Russell Pritchard/Presseye/Inpho

 

Pep Guardiola, who is widely lauded as the most original thinker in soccer coaching at the top level, says his favourite part of the job is when he’s locked in a windowless room on his own in the bowels of a stadium watching DVDs. In the days before his team’s next match, he likes nothing more than dissecting old matches of the opposition to discover what makes them dangerous and, crucially, their pain points.

The attraction is understandable – the belief that a coach can use technology, or old film footage of the opposing team, to attempt to manipulate the fate of a frenetic ball game. It’s a very modern act. In Gaelic football, Tyrone manager Mickey Harte is known to obsessively pore over the videos of training and competitive matches, particularly through the lens of a behind-the-goal camera perched nine metres (30ft) in the air.

Television’s standard side- on camera views aren’t good for perspective. Their focus is on the player with the ball. They don’t capture the layout of the field and the runs that teammates are making in the background. A tinkerer like Harte wants to see what’s happening up ahead. He wants the bird’s eye view that helps locate that precious commodity in the game – space.

Identify patterns

Eamonn Fitzmaurice

One of Gooch’s points in particular, as Kerry sailed to their last All-Ireland title, stemmed from a filched kick-out.

The broad brushstrokes of Donegal’s game plan are fairly well signposted. They’re a classic counter-attacking team. They invite opponents onto them and soak up the punches – or allow long-range shooting in the case of the first 20 minutes of their semi-final win over Dublin – before taking advantage of the spaces that are left vacant in their opponents’ half.

Malachy O’Rourke, who came up short by a few points against Donegal as manager of Monaghan in this year’s Ulster football final, offers some insight into Donegal’s tactics.

“For example, a lot of the kick-outs that Donegal would have used against Dublin, we would have noticed them using them early on in the year. We would have seen that in our videos. We would have been prepared for that. They would have been isolating somebody like Neil Gallagher in the middle of the field, and playing a lot of their midfield and half-forwards out deeper than that; and if he won the ball, they were then coming towards him at speed, and exploiting that space that was left in the forward line.

“It did work against us once when they got a point, but that was the only time in the game. It was a thing we would have picked up. Anyone who watched their game against Antrim in the Ulster semi-final, particularly in the second half, would have seen kick-outs like that happening on four or five occasions. It would have been something that you would have been forewarned about.”

Avenir Sports provides performance analysis tools to most of the country’s top Gaelic football teams, including Kerry, Dublin and Mayo, and to hurling outfits, Cork, Tipperary and Clare, as well as to the overlords of Ireland’s soccer, rugby and hockey communities.

Tommy Conneely, the company’s managing director, draws a parallel between their service and war games.

“If you go into certain counties, they’ll have an analysis room – you could call it a war room. Some have 10 or 12 of these; some have two or three. Their analysts will have coded matches. The players can go in there and say: ‘I don’t want to look at the whole match. I just want to look at all the shots at goal from a certain area of the pitch by a certain player.’ Bang. You can go back through the last five matches and automatically throw up that information, or, say, all the tackles by any player over 10 matches over the last five years.

“A Bernard Brogan or a James O’Donoghue will only get stuff that’s relevant to them individually. They’d have a five- minute video analysing Donegal over the last three matches, and a presentation on their own play: ‘James, here are areas of your own play. Here are areas that need to be modified.’

Tasks coded

“It’s down to what the manager thinks is pertinent. If you were looking at a certain full- back in Connacht, if you’d seen him play, you’d notice he’s very good at coming at a ball straight, but if you put a ball in across him diagonally, which doesn’t come down in on top of him, he struggles in a big way. You would have seen that exploited by a full-forward recently.”

Martin Lally, Mayo’s video analyst for the last four years, cautions, however, against bigging up the opposition too much. “If you were to take an opposition team’s forward and you were to show all the really good stuff across four or five games, and you show it to your defender and say, ‘Look at this guy. He’s absolutely brilliant at kicking points with his left foot and his right foot’.

“There’s a tendency to build him up to be something he’s not. You could almost defeat the purpose of the analysis.”

The videos are also used to see how teams transition from defence into attack, which is the lifeblood of a counter-attacking team like Donegal. “Is it long ball? Is it hand-pass? Is it diagonal? Is it up the left flank? Donegal up until the semi-final would have kicked the ball an awful lot once they crossed the 45. Now they carried it against Dublin. What Kerry and Donegal are doing is that they’re not really sticking to a game plan all year, which makes it hard to analyse them,” says Conneely.

Brian Cuthbert, Cork’s manager, mentions his team weren’t expecting Kerry to be so defensive in this year’s Munster final clash. “They played well on the counter,” he says.

Analysis dangers

“You need to be very sure what you’re trying to find out. You can measure everything, but how important is the piece of information is the important thing. You could end up with paralysis by analysis. It can go wrong if you’re spending too much time trawling over data with little effect.

“It’s key you break the game down into its most simple components that are measurable and targetable. Things like kick-outs, the opposition’s and your own, turnovers, entry into the opposition’s half, the amount of shots and the amount that are successful, transition time.

“They determine how a game is going to go. You need to be sure in how you’re measuring them.”

Analysis ‘war room’ becoming key focal point as top teams seek out opposition flaws and weaknesses

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