Scoring zone more critical than ever in modern gaelic football

Scoring zone more critical than ever in modern gaelic football
Alan Cronin of Nemo Rangers in action against Liam Silke of Corofin during the AIB GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Club Championship semi-final match between Corofin and Nemo Rangers at Cusack Park in Ennis, Clare. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

IT'S one of the oldest reasons for losing football games of course even though the language is changing slightly. 

If wides and missed chances have always been lamented, it’s been interesting to note the references shifting from number of wides to percentage of scoring efficiency. 

Last weekend Ballyboden’s manager Anthony Rainbow mentioned the fall from 75% to 45% of shots scored to explain their defeat to Kilcoo. 

Nemo’s Paul O’Donovan talked about chances missed contributing to the loss to Corofin. 

We haven’t quite reached expected points tallies on TV but there’s a notable movement now where the type of chances being created is seen as important – where there’s a recognisable difference say in a team that’s taking wrong shots and a team that’s taking bad shots or where more teams are more aware of the need to create shots from the right positions on the field to give themselves the best chance of scoring.

This is hardly a new idea, this whole thing of a scoring zone of higher percentage shots, but it’s fairly clear now that the top teams are becoming cleverer and more effectively targeting the taking of as many shots as possible from inside these areas. 

Jim Gavin’s Dublin have been increasingly and notoriously reluctant to take on shots that would be considered low-percentage or outside the obvious scoring zone (only really Paul Mannion has done this consistently, and consistently well). 

So much so that when Diarmuid Connolly came on in the drawn All-Ireland final and took what seemed a perfectly reasonable shot at goal – ok he was pretty much on the forty-five but right in front of goal and under little enough pressure, it was very very much kickable for in-form Connolly – there was a lot of disbelief and wondering about the reaction this would get from the Dublin management. 

Imagine, a forward taking a shot for a point when presented with one. 

One inter-county forward recently spoke of the decision to go for a score that’s maybe outside what’s considered a reasonable area in the environment where every play is analysed; basically you take the shot, you better not miss. 

This is the balance between allowing a certain amount of creative freedom for a forward player to have a strike at goal if it seems the right thing to do and a sort of structured collective idea of how the team should move in certain spaces on the pitch to open up a scoring opportunity. 

It’s effective obviously, there was a great example in the Dublin-Cork game where Dublin held onto the ball back and forth across the field for an absolute age until eventually one tiny switch-off allowed Brian Fenton run down the middle of the field to score a point. 

Luke Connolly of Nemo Rangers leaves the pitch at half-time during the AIB GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Club Championship semi-final match between Corofin and Nemo Rangers at Cusack Park in Ennis, Clare. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Luke Connolly of Nemo Rangers leaves the pitch at half-time during the AIB GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Club Championship semi-final match between Corofin and Nemo Rangers at Cusack Park in Ennis, Clare. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Even at the time we recall the one major difference being Dublin’s constant ability to create handy scores (and goals of course) where Cork always seemed a little on the edge and eventually outside their scoring range taking on shots. 

It happened Kerry as well, where they went from a 78% shooting accuracy in the first half of the replay to 27% in the second half, a huge drop explainable partly by the fact the shots taken on weren’t exactly wild but they were clearly slightly outside the scoring zone they’d been able to locate earlier. 

It doesn’t happen by itself either by the way. One coach involved with an inter-county team spoke of the constant reinforcement with players not to clog up the central scoring zone inside that ‘D’, of showing videos to forwards of their lack of movement in certain games to remind them that they should never be standing inside that area, to always be moving in and out to create spaces for runners and ball.

The goal Corofin scored in the first thirty seconds was a perfect example of how creating spaces in front of goal generates a certain kind of chance and how a cohesive forward unit can understand the combination of movements on and off the ball to make this happen. 

Gary Sice was free to pick out a kickpass at midfield with Micheal Lundy and Martin Farragher both freeing up the middle by making runs to the right of goal. 

For most teams one of those forwards would have stayed inside as a targetman, or another forward would have made a run across into the space in front of goal. 

Here, Lundy was able to loop his run into that area in front of Nemo’s goal – wide open, thirty seconds into the game (similar to what Dublin had done to Kerry from the throw-in at the start of the second half of the All-Ireland replay) – to receive a perfect kickpass and score the match-changing goal. 

Corofin are a blitz of chaotic movement but there’s a method to it as well and chances followed patterns. 

Balls got kicked as much as possible into space for forwards – the mark might not be an automatic hit here – and vacate the area down the middle of goal for runners to take the move into the scoring zone. 

Ian Burke got two points in the second half but only once he’d been found one-v-one with space either side of him quite close to goals. 

Of all Corofin’s scores against Nemo, only one was kicked from outside what you’d call their scoring zone and that’s fairly typical of their style of play. Nemo were a bit more off the cuff in ways and wides followed their inability to make chances in their scoring area. 

Their first shot was from an isolated Stephen Cronin drive, more individual responsibility that ended with a shot on the run, slightly off-balance and outside his normal range – wide. 

Next, a Barry O’Driscoll wide from way outside any serious shooting zone. 

After that, a Luke Connolly forced shot under pressure from outside that scoring range. 

Nemo had some wides that were poorly executed but more often they just weren’t worked into positions on the field that gave them the best chance of scoring. 

The two half-chances at goal both fell to Barry O’Driscoll and were created again more out of one opportunistic pass and movement than any great designs or combinations to open up defences. 

This could be one of the interesting developments to follow here, as teams try and develop more ways to create better chances than before to improve those scoring percentages, another of these marginal gains that separate the best from the rest.

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