GAA must invest in a proper system to track hurling and football career stats

GAA must invest in a proper system to track hurling and football career stats
Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash reacts as Séamus Callanan of Tipperary wheels away to celebrate his first goal during the Munster Hurling clash in 2019 at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

WHEN Seamus Callanan scored his goal against Clare in Ennis in June 2019, he appeared to become Tipperary’s highest championship goalscorer in history.

His 30th goal (Callanan is now on 35) moved him one ahead of Lar Corbett but Callanan has made a habit of making and smashing records. By scoring 1-3 that afternoon Callanan leapfrogged three storied legends — Christy Ring, Eddie Keher and Nicky Rackard — into becoming the second-highest scorer from play in championship history behind Henry Shefflin. By the end of last summer though, Callanan was the undisputed number one on the list.

Or was he? Statistics compiled by Gerry Callan last year showed how Callanan is only joint sixth (with Keher) on the all-time list of championship goalscorers. Up to last year though, Callanan was regarded as the joint-third highest goalscorer from play in history, behind Nickey Rackard and Tony Doran from Wexford.

Callan’s research also showed that Callanan is not Tipperary’s highest goalscorer. That status belongs to Martin Kennedy, who scored a mammoth 54 goals in a career that began with a debut hat-trick against Cork in May 1923.

Rackard still sits at the top of the list with 59 goals but Kennedy may be even closer to Rackard than the five-goal margin. At the time of Callan’s findings, he was still researching previous games Kennedy played.

Most modern records of individual feats – especially in hurling - only go back as far as 1930, but it was also unfair to previous generations in that match reports in the early part of the last century rarely noted if a particular score originated from a free or open play.

During Callan’s research last year, he also discovered that four of the next five players on the goal-scorers list behind Kennedy had never been included in any previous ranking: Jimmy Kennedy (Cork), Matty Power (Kilkenny and Dublin), Mike ‘Gah’ Ahern (Cork) and Bob McConkey (Limerick).

Kennedy from Carrigtwohill, who ended his career with 42 goals, raised seven green flags in a provincial semi-final hammering of Waterford in 1916. Ahern, who also bagged 42 goals, scored 5-4 in the 1928 All-Ireland final victory against Galway, a feat which enabled Ahern to equal the still valid all-time record for a single championship campaign of 13 goals, set by McConkey a decade earlier.

That information would never have been known only for Callan’s dedication, because the GAA have never taken statistics seriously enough.

Manpower was an obvious issue in the early days but the GAA didn’t have to do the groundwork when newspapers and fanatics with an interest in gathering information did it for them.

The GAA were spoiled that there was such a dedicated army crunching the numbers on their behalf; Raymond Smith, Owen McCann, Mick Dunne, Seán Óg Ó Ceallacháin. They may have often had people conducting some of the research for them, but they were big GAA names in the media game and those numbers carried a greater value when their names were attached to them.

Over the last few decades, Leo McGough, the esteemed Carlow statistician, had led that charge for the GAA, largely through spending countless hours gathering, documenting and collating old records.

Patrick Horgan of Cork scores his side's first goal in the 2019 league game away to Limerick. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Patrick Horgan of Cork scores his side's first goal in the 2019 league game away to Limerick. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Yet, all the while, the GAA still has no official public record acknowledging the fantastic feats recorded by their hurlers and footballers throughout its history. Only for hard-working fanatics like Callan and McGough, and those that went before them, many of those exceptional feats would have largely gone unnoticed.

It’s high-time that the GAA took ownership of its own history. That is a long-term project but the GAA need to build the database system where the information would live, and be instantly accessible.

The GAA had plans in place to begin that process in 2020, until all projects were put on hold. The GAA have much more pressing needs now but, in time, building that portfolio should be a priority.

For even the most basic statistics - a player’s inter-county senior appearances (in both league and championship) - those numbers are mostly the product of some dedicated individual, or individuals, in that particular county.

And yet the irony is that the GAA has never been more about the numbers game. With most county teams now having a dedicated and efficient team of performance analysts, any amount of individual stats can be gathered over 70 minutes, ranging from possessions, to kick-outs won, to turnovers won and lost, to unforced errors. 

You can see a heatmap to highlight a player’s movement over 70 minutes but if you want to find out what that player has scored over a 10-year period, you have (unless somebody else has already done it for you) dig out old match reports, trawl the internet or sit in the National Library for hours on end to painstakingly tot up the numbers.

In that regard, the GAA couldn’t officially tell its audience in June 2019 that Stephen Cluxton was the first player in history to make 100 championship appearances; they needed someone else to tell them, and everyone else.

The GAA have finally realised that such a scenario is no longer good enough, or acceptable. Trying to gather those numbers over 136 years won’t be an easy task but it can be done with the right team of dedicated researchers.

For an organisation so proud of its history, the time has certainly come for the GAA to collate, curate and firmly acknowledge the individual feats which have embellished and contributed so richly to that history.

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