The Christy O'Connor: This is a golden era for scoring in the game

The Christy O'Connor: This is a golden era for scoring in the game
Cork's Michael Cahalane in action against Tipperary. Picture: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

AFTER the brilliant Cork-Tipperary Munster quarter-final in 2017, the great GAA statistician Leo McGough showed how the combined total of points scored (53) was a new high for white flags raised in a single senior championship match.

The total number of flags raised (56) equaled the previous best recorded when Kilkenny annihilated Offaly in the 2014 Leinster championship.

Tipperary hit 1-26 against Cork that afternoon in May 2017. It would have been inconceivable in previous years to think that a team could score 1-26 and still lose by four points.

That is level scoring has now reached this decade but it went to a whole new stratosphere in 2018; Cork hit a whopping 2-31 against Limerick in the All-Ireland semi-final, and still lost by four points.

That Cork-Limerick game was off the charts for scoring statistics. The 56 scores in normal time equalled the highest number ever recorded over 70 minutes.

The combined total of points scored (54) was a new record for white flags raised in a single senior championship match.

The 68 scores after extra time was the highest number ever scored in one game.

That whole weekend though — the Clare-Galway drawn semi-final was played the previous day — was a score-fest, with 130 scores recorded over the 197 minutes.

In total, there were 214 shots at the target, an average of just over one per minute. Staggering numbers.

Galway's Jonathan Glynn scores a goal last summer. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Galway's Jonathan Glynn scores a goal last summer. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

That level of scoring, especially point-scoring, was first flagged earlier this year in the league semi-final between Tipperary and Limerick. Tipperary won a shootout after extra-time by 2-31 to 1-31.

It was the first time in hurling history that two teams hit more than 30 scores in one game.

That game was played in late March, when the pitch was heavier and players hadn’t yet reached peak fitness and hurling sharpness.

In that context, the point scoring which took place this summer wasn’t a surprise.

Despite the huge change in modern hurling, with sweeper systems, layered defences, increased physicality, and the greater overall focus on defence, the standard of shooting reached a new level in 2017; more points (white flags) per game were registered in that 2017 championship than any other in history.

It was the first championship in which more than 1,000 points were scored.

In total, there were 1,122 points registered.

And yet that standard went through the roof in 2018; the points tally finished at 1,281, 159 more white flags than 2017. It’s no surprise that the numbers have kept climbing.

Prior to 2014, there were only eight occasions when a team had hit 30 points (white flags) or more in a championship game.

And only two of those games involved two top-nine teams.

Yet in one weekend in late July, four sides (albeit after extra-time) managed to surpass that 30-point barrier.

Prior to 2016, 32 points had been the most white- flags a team had raised in a 70-minute championship game (Kilkenny put 32 points on Galway in the 1974 All-Ireland semi-final in an 80-minute game).

Galway exceeded that total with 33 points against Offaly in the 2017 Leinster semi-final but that record only lasted two weeks when Waterford hit 35 points against Offaly in Tullamore in the qualifiers.

The comparisons within a decade have been startling.

In the 2007 championship, only five games contained 40 points (white flags) or more.

During the 2017 championship, there were 15 matches in which 40 points or more were scored. Yet in the 2018 championship, 19 of the 30 games produced 40 points (white flags) or more.

Although Galway and Limerick registered a combined 36 wides in the All-Ireland final, one of the standout features of the four teams which reached the semi-finals – Limerick, Galway, Cork and Clare – was their focus on supplying their inside forward line with quality ball.

That was one of the reasons for so many spectacular scores, and such high scoring numbers; of the 214 shots taken in those two games on that late July weekend, only 16 (which includes frees) were launched from beyond the 65-metre line.

The most impressive aspect of Limerick’s superb performance against Cork was their composure, and adherence to their gameplan, when they trailed by six points with eight minutes of normal time remaining.

They had a grip on possession in that period but the easy option would have been to start taking Hail-Mary shots for points, or bomb balls into the square in the hope of bagging a goal.

Limerick didn’t. Of their last seven scores in normal time, four were sourced from inside, or just marginally outside, the 20-metre line. Peter Casey was fouled in the central channel beyond the 45-metre line while Aaron Gillane and Shane Dowling’s points from play were from just outside the D.

Shane Dowling of Limerick scores a point against Cork. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Shane Dowling of Limerick scores a point against Cork. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Cork will have closely studied how they allowed that to happen but it was still a supreme example of good forward coaching, patience and composure under extreme pressure. The harshest critics would say that the game was too open but it was still an exhibition of brilliant point-taking from Limerick and Cork.

Galway proved that teams don’t always need goals to win games; they won an All-Ireland without scoring a goal in four of five games in 2017. Limerick scored three goals in the All-Ireland final but they reached the decider despite failing to score a goal in three games along the way.

The ratio of goals per game in the championship was 2.91, which was almost identical to last year’s numbers when the average was 2.86 goals per game.

On the otherhand, have the figures changed that much either?

The average in 2007 was 3.1. In 1997, that figure was 3.4. Yet while goalscoring has more or less remained the same, point-scoring has kept steadily increasing.

And in the 2018 championship, it went through the roof.

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