GAA Football

Breakdown: If the world stopped now, who'd be in the Allstar full-forward line?

With the Super 8s approaching, thoughts are starting to turn to who will be picking up Allstars later in the year. Cahair O'Kane examines the inside forwards in contention and analyses how much their scoring returns count for...

Kerry’s Sean O’Shea, Dublin’s Cormac Costello, Cathal McShane of Tyrone and Donegal’s Jamie Brennan have raised flags with great regularity in 2019. 

THERE are some things that just are the way they are. The GAA’s Allstar system is one of them.

With good reason. The best team wins the All-Ireland, and they’re generally the best team because they’ve had the best players.

An Allstar team that hadn’t been loaded with Dubs for the last four years would have not only looked strange, but would have been unfair to them.

All awards systems the world over are naturally rigged in favour of victorious teams. Better players tend to end up in the better teams, which then comes back full circle in terms of individual awards.

The GAA is slightly different to professional sports by its nature in terms of playing for the county of your birth, with a very limited scope for movement.

But just for argument’s sake, what if we stopped the world now when it was relatively fair?

The provincial championships have just ended, the qualifiers are over, and that leaves the big six, Meath and Cork scrapping for Sam Maguire from here on.

As with all things GAA, there is no perfect equity. Cork, for instance, have played three championship games, while Tyrone have played six.

Ulster tends to be that bit trickier too, especially for forwards, given that only two counties this year operated outside the top two tiers in the league.

Connacht had three Division One teams, while Leinster had Dublin on their own and Munster had Kerry on theirs.

How the weighting system works.

If you go and look at the odds, the three favourites right now to go into the Allstar full-forward line are Cormac Costello, Paul Mannion and David Clifford.

Inside forwards are one of two groups (along with possibly goalkeepers) that’s it’s still possible to measure by numbers. Their primary role is to put the ball between the posts, whereas pretty much everyone else is so fluid.

It’s very hard to accurately define even a man-marking full-back, given how often the game rotates around them now.

But for full-forwards, it’s still about scoring.

And when you take it in that context, then Paul Mannion and David Clifford aren’t currently Allstar material.

In terms of championship alone, the top three scorers are Cathal McShane (2-30), Adam Tyrrell (1-31) and Rian O’Neill (3-21). That includes scores from dead balls.

The top scorers from the 2019 championship so far.

However, when you remove the imbalance the number of games player, Costello actually comes out on top. Even though he’s only hit 1-24, and just 1-6 of that from play, he’s played only 191 minutes of championship football. That is exactly half the time McShane has spent on the pitch with Tyrone.

Costello is averaging 0.141 points for each minute played (ppm), while McShane’s rate of scoring is 0.094ppm.

Mark Collins and Brian Hurley (though the latter mostly on the back of hitting five goals) are the two closest to Costello in terms of points per minute played.

There’s always a but. Such stats are heavily weighted in terms of free-takers. And when you boil it down to just scores from play, the picture changes completely.

The top scorers from play in the 2019 championship.

Cormac Costello isn’t in the top 15 scorers from play this summer. That’s a list again headed by McShane (2-16), with Hurley (5-4) behind him. Jamie Brennan (Donegal), Adam Tyrrell (Kildare) and Jamie Malone (Clare) have all amassed 17 points one way or the other, but Brennan’s ppm rate is higher than the other two.

Once upon a time, a really good National League campaign might have squeezed you a nomination. It has happened in the recent past, most notably with Mark Lynch in 2014.

But it’s rare. Out of interest, though, the top scorer in Ireland by a distance this year is Westmeath’s Ger Egan. Across 707 minutes, he averaged a point more than once every ten minutes.

The top three scorers on the whole are Egan, Séan O’Shea (Kerry) and Mickey Newman (Meath), but even the latter’s inclusion is a bit imbalanced as he’s had a league final, a good run in Leinster and a qualifier. He’s played 150 minutes more than Egan, for example.

The top scorers across the whole of the Allianz Leagues and provincial and All-Ireland championships so far in 2019.

In terms of points per minute, Evan O’Carroll – left out by Laois the last few weeks – had the third best return. His 1-57 in 718 minutes was marginally better than Conor McManus’ 0-52 in 614 minutes. Yet they’ll tell you McManus had a poor season.

There are all kinds of curveballs thrown about by the breakdown of it. Clare, for instance, have three of the top 20 scorers in this year’s championship, and all of Jamie Malone’s 2-11 came from play – the same as Jamie Brennan. Yet which one will be talked about for an Allstar, and which one probably won’t be nominated?

Shane Walsh was in the top 15 scorers across league and championship, but just 19 per cent of his scores came from play. Meanwhile, 63 per cent of David Tubridy's 4-42 was from play.

Ryan Murray (3-23 of 3-43) and Shane McGuigan (5-17 of 6-32) both scored heavily from play all year but their figures have the asterisk of Division Four football against them.

Should there be more weight attached to Bernard Allen’s numbers, given how badly Offaly struggled in Division Three before having a good summer run?

And what about Fergal Conway – midfield for Kildare, hitting 2-9 from play in the championship, and only shut down when Mattie Donnelly clamped down. Will their failure to make it past round four draw the curtain on his worthy claim for individual recognition?

It’s only when you apply weighting that it all falls back into place. Taking into account the strength of opposition, and giving a different score for efforts from play as opposed to frees, separates the wheat from the chaff.

When you do that it changes the results dramatically – but they’re no less startling.

With the weighting applied (which is not an exact science, of course), the top three forwards across the whole of 2019 have been Mickey Newman, David Tubridy and Sean O’Shea.

But when you turn it to championship alone, the top three are Rian O’Neill, Cathal McShane and Adam Tyrrell. Despite being 20th in the list in terms of actual scores, Jamie Brennan is fourth when the weighting is applied – given all his scores have been from play, and that he’s played against two Division One sides and a Division Two side.

In terms of the top forwards from play, all three are from Ulster. Brennan heads the field from Rian O’Neill and Cathal McShane.

There is no perfect answer, but when the individual gongs are ready to be fought over, best to be armed with the evidence.

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