National Hurling League – Some Numbers up to Round 3

The National Hurling League has gone through three rounds of mud-battling to leave the public very confused. Cork were back, then Dublin were back, then Kilkenny were gone….and above all Wexford are back WOOHOO!

Unlike the many games of the Premier League or Major League Baseball, us hurling fans are not used to the week-in week-out changing nature of sports. We like to watch one-off matches and judge teams for that match alone. Players and Managers have been abused on the back of one poor performance – In baseball The World Series champions, the Chicago Cubs, lost 58 regular season games! Cody struggles with two.

I’ve had a look at some of the numbers behind the league to date…..

Selections

Looking at team selection details can tell you a little. Which teams are experimenting in the league, or which teams are picking a strong first team looking to win.

Looking at the three tables above you can see that both Galway, Laois and Limerick have been chopping and changing. Galway have had time to try out 30 different hurlers in the three rounds to date, Michael Donoghue is using their first trip to Division 1B to see their full panel.

Limerick have collected a good few years of strong under-age teams and seem to be struggling to find the best combination of young talent to start. Eamonn Kelly, meanwhile, is scouring his new county of Laois for talent, and they have worked hard at under-age in the past while so he may yet find a few gems.

On the other end of the scale Wexford and Waterford are working off of smaller panels. Seven of Waterford’s team has been constant throughout the 3 rounds. Derek McGrath has picked the same names in 5 defending positions and at goalkeeper, this is understandable as he has faced Tipperary, Kilkenny and a trip to Dublin in his first 3 games. Wexford have been pushing hard for promotion with opening games against Galway and Limerick limiting Davy Fitz’s selection policy.

Much has been made of Brian Cody’s search for a new Kilkenny team but the selection’s show he has built this new team around seven key players who have started every game – Eoin Murphy, Paul Murphy, Padraig Walsh, Conor Fogarty, Cillian Buckley, TJ Reid and Richie Hogan. These seven have had 18 different players tried around them in different lines of the pitch. Conor O Shea already looks like a solid addition to their side.

The Main Clubs

I’m always interested in seeing which clubs are providing the most key players to each county team. Last year Cuala had more hurlers selected for their county than any other club in Ireland, it is therefore no surprise to see them reach the All Ireland Club Final to face Clare’s Ballyea. This success of Cuala has had a major impact on Ger Cunningham’s Dublin in the league so far. Below is a table of the clubs who have had hurlers play the most minutes to date in the league.

Kerry hurling is clearly reliant on a small group of clubs with 5 clubs making the top 20. Kerry have picked their squad from 7 clubs in the county and Clarecastle in Clare.

The 2016 All-Ireland Club Champions, Na Piarsiagh of Limerick are alongside Borris in Ossory-Kilcotton (2016 Laois Champions) and Kilmacud Crokes with 6 hurlers selected for the league, an impressive achievement for any club.

The Set-Piece Battle

Looking at the results to date we can break down the scoring numbers for each county by their differential on scoring from set-pieces.

This table shows us that both Limerick and Wexford have outscored their oppositions by 9 points from frees, 65’s and sidelines. Wexford have made an excellent start to their league with tight wins against Limerick and Galway, this can only have been aided by conceding only 1-10 from placed ball in total over the three games. Limerick would argue that a blown penalty call in Wexford Park would see them further ahead in this table and also top of Division 1B!

On the bottom of the table you see Kerry and Dublin. Kerry have given away 2-27 from placed balls, seven points more than any other team and this is something they should be focusing on reducing. Dublin have a worryingly low scoring balance of minus 11. They have lost games against Waterford and Tipperary conceding 0-10 and 0-9 from placed balls in those games. Even in their win against Cork they were outscored 0-7 to 0-5 from placed balls. This leaves them 9 points below from their nearest Division 1A team, Kilkenny.

Top Scorers

Below are the top scorers from play for Division 1A and 1B. I have separated them out as Galway have been obliterating the table with huge scores against Laois and Offaly.

It is no surprise to see John McGrath top of the table. Stephen Bennett jumped up to the top after his 2-2 scored against Dublin at the weekend.

Division 1B sees a plethora of Galway men take over after their monster wins. Conor McDonald has made the top table after games against Limerick and Galway, in a team with a sweeper – no mean feat.

 

Notes

All numbers and information has been taken from our trusty newspapers and the42.ie. Any changes or emails from Podge Collins to lower John McGrath’s score is more than welcome!

 

Offaly Hurling – The Long Road Back

As a Wexford man growing up in the late 80’s/early 90’s I saw Wexford fall to great Offaly teams. Offaly stood for a long period at the hurling top table. Not only did they win two All Ireland’s in style in 90’s but they did so with great style.

It should always be noted that this period was against all odds, Offaly does not have a huge population (78,000) and is split between football and hurling – never easy for any county. Carlow is the only hurling county with a smaller population.

Currently Offaly are living up to the expectancy of a smaller county. Their hurling standard has dropped significantly. Many outside of the county have been surprised but the signs of decline have been clear to see for their Leinster competitiors.

Underage Signs – Minors

Over the past 10 seasons Offaly’s Minors have winning records in Leinster knockout stages against only Carlow, Kildare and Meath. Westmeath (2 wins – 2 losses) have made great strides in their underage hurling for some time now and have competed with Offaly.  Also in that period Offaly have lost to their neighbours, Laois, 4 years in a row (2012-15) including a 15 point drubbing in 2013.

Prior to the last 10 years Offaly minors had contested 10 Leinster Minor Finals from 1982 to 2003, winning 4 titles, their last in 2000. This drop in performance at minor level has also been shown in the Leinster Colleges “A” Hurling Championship where Birr Community School last made a Leinster Final in 2005.

Underage Signs – Under-21s

Not surprisingly Offaly have followed their Minor form into the Under 21 Championship. 2007 and 2008 saw the last hurrah of their Under 21’s with wins over Kilkenny and Wexford. Since then they have only succeeded in winning 4 Under 21 games against Laois, Westmeath, Carlow and Kildare.

Last year saw Offaly cling to hope of a revival at underage as their Under-21’s reached the Leinster Final but this was largely down to a fortunate draw which saw Kilkenny, Wexford, Westmeath and Dublin make up the other side of the draw.

Only 6 Offaly hurlers played in the Fitzgibbon knockout stages from 2013 to 2016, with only one hurler, Padraig Gunian playing significant time in the Fitzgibbon Cup weekend. Offaly hurlers played a total of 413 minutes of knockout hurling in the past 4 years of the Fitzgibbon, with Laois hurlers having more than double that with 926 minutes played, in contrast Tipperay are top with 10,579 minutes hurled. Offaly need more young hurlers competing at the top levels.

The Future

The purpose of this article is not to state anything obvious but more to remove the expectancy within and outside of Offaly of a quick revival. Underage development work leads to better players for senior teams. Offaly are only beginning to restructure their underage development system, Brian Carroll is now the Director of Hurling Development. The sad part is that it has taken a decade of decline for this to emerge.

Any hope of a quick fix at senior level would be based on hopes and wishes rather than reality. For Offaly to compete at the top table soon they would require extraordinary work by a manager with skills beyond that of Brian Cody. Patience and hard work are needed. Offaly hurling may even get worse before it gets better.