Time for some stats, I reckon. I’ve been having a look at how the scoring has been going for (and against) us in this year’s NFL and have compared it to the situation at the same stage last year. Then, as you’ll recall, we’d already secured our Division 1 status (although we didn’t know it at the time) having racked up five points and, although we lost our last two matches, neither Kildare nor Laois were able to nudge ahead of us at the bottom. This year, we’ve four points to our credit, which means that we don’t, like last year, have the luxury of losing to Galway and Tyrone in our final two matches but I’ll come back to the permutations of how Division 1 might pan out in a bit. First let me deal with the stats.
As the Spailpín correctly noted in his match report from Ballina, scoring is a problem for us this year and the figures clearly bear this out. After five rounds last year, we had 4-68 (80 points) in the sack, whereas this year we only have 2-56 (62) to our credit. That’s a 23% reduction in our total points tally compared with the same stage last year, which, no matter how you look at it, is pretty significant. We’ve only managed 2 goals in five games (and one of those – the one against Westmeath – required three attempts by the two Morts before the ball finally hit the net) compared to four after five in 2008. Our points tally is well down too – a whole 18% lower than this time last year.
But (and despite having one league point less at this stage compared to last year) our points difference now (+4) is actually one point better than it was after five rounds last year. Which, of course, leads to the inescapable conclusion that we’ve conceded a whole load less this year than we’d done at this juncture twelve months ago. This year, we’ve only let in 3-49 (58 points) – which, incidentally, is only a point more than Derry and Galway have conceded and seven more than the Kerrymen; Westmeath, by contrast, have been hit for a total of 86 points – compared with 8-53 (77) after five rounds last year. The big difference between 2008 and 2009 is, of course, the number of goals we’ve let in – we’re down from eight to three, which, apart from Kerry and Galway (who have yet to have a green flag waved in their faces) and Derry (who have also let in three), is a lower total than anyone else in the Division. Points conceded aren’t down as much, but they’re still 8% down on this time last year.
Here’s this story in a nice neat picture:
So, scoring is a problem for us this year but – despite the advent of the new rules, which should be making it easier for forwards to get scores – our rate of concession at the back is much, much better than it was last year. That mightn’t be hard, you could argue, given our open-house approach to opponents last year but loose defending has been a constant feature for the best part of two years and it’s good to see proof that this area has been tightened up visibly this year. Mick Meehan and his pals (who have eight goals to their credit this year already: that’s the same as ourselves, Derry, Tyrone and the Dubs have together managed to net) will, no doubt, stress-test our improved backline on Sunday but those figures would suggest that we might do better in terms of scores conceded at Tuam than many would expect us to.
As mentioned, our principal failing this year – one which is likely to face us again next Sunday – is our inability to get scores ourselves. The table below contains details of our scorers in the five league games this year and, once again, Conor and Alan are our top scorers – between them accounting for 39% of our total in the league to date. We’re not suffering from a shortage of scorers – what with seventeen separate players contributing to our scoring tally – but what we are most definitely in need of is at least two other forwards who can do the business on a regular basis. As you can see, Trevor, Austie and Andy Moran (now no longer playing as a forward, of course) are the next on the list after the top two and, I dunno about the rest of you, I wouldn’t regard any of these as lads you could rely on to weigh in with three or four points in every game. Until we’ve got forwards like this – at least four of them, with Conor and Alan being two – we’re always going to end up huffing and puffing, trying to turn possession into scores.
Here’s the scoring chart for the 2009 NFL to date:
And, finally, some conjecture about how the league might end up for us. We’re not, I have to admit, in the kind of dire straits I portrayed on Sunday evening (we had played badly, I had driven 320 miles, I was a bit grumpy) but that doesn’t mean we’re safe either. The good news, I think, is that a draw against either Galway or Tyrone will probably (though not definitely) be enough to keep us up, as our points difference is better (by eight points) than Tyrone and considerably better than Dublin (we’re 17 up on them) and Donegal (18). Westmeath are, of course, doomed at this stage.
If Tyrone beat Derry next weekend and Donegal beat Westmeath, then we’ll only drop into the bottom two on Sunday evening if we lose to Galway and the Dubs beat Kerry. I don’t think all that will happen so we have every chance of still being out of the bottom two going into the final round of matches.
If we lose to Galway and to Tyrone then I can’t see how we can survive, no matter how the other games go: assuming we lose both, then if Dublin beat either Kerry or Westmeath, they’ll finish above us; likewise, if Donegal beat Westmeath or Derry, they’ll end up ahead of us and if Tyrone do beat us, then they’re obviously okay too. Where it becomes interesting is if we manage to scrape a draw from either the Galway or the Tyrone game and then end up on five points with both Donegal and Dublin (a likely outcome, as both still have to play Westmeath but also have one tough match as well) and, if this happens, then it looks like we’d survive – just like we did last year – on points difference. Last year, we had the forwards to thank for keeping the show on the road and making up for all those goals conceded at the back. This year, however, it’s pretty clear that, if this scenario does come to pass, it’ll be our reduced propensity to concede scores that’ll be the decisive factor in our retaining our Division 1 status for another twelve months.