Crunching the numbers on Cillian O’Connor’s scoring records

I would like to dedicate this article to the memory of my brother-in-law, Eugene Loftus, who passed away one year ago today after living with Motor Neurone Disease for five years. Eugene was an avid follower and contributor to the blog under the handle “Inbetweener”. He also played for Ballina Stephenites and as a selector for the Mayo Under 16s team from 1996 to 1999, a team that won the Ted Webb cup in ’96, ’97 and ’98, losing the final in ’99.

Photo: RTÉ

On Sunday last, Cillian O’Connor added to his all-time top scoring record, not just by exceeding the 400 point mark but by smashing two other records in the same game.

Cillian has scored the most in a championship game by an individual player, a record he had held previously jointly with three others. The GAA stats Twitter account had this previously held by Johnny Joyce (of Dublin) in 1960 when he scored 5-3 against Longford, Rory Gallagher of Fermanagh with 3-9 against Monaghan in 2002 and Cillian himself with 3-9 (3-3 from play for the doubters) against Limerick in a qualifier in 2018.

He claimed two other championship records for good measure in this year’s semi-final. One was the most goals scored by an individual player with 30, surpassing Mikey Sheehy’s total of 29. The other was Matt Connor’s average points per game total of 6.96, which Cillian now betters as well.

The point that saw Cillian O’Connor break Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper’s all-time championship scoring record came, ironically, in Cooper’s back yard, Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney, only a short kick of a ball from Gooch’s home.

Photo: Irish Independent (Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile)

It was Mayo’s first ever championship game there and there was nothing to really celebrate at the time. O’Connor’s pointed free in the 54th minute which saw him overtake the Kerry great merely reduced the gap from nine points to eight and was, on the day, a footnote on a very disappointing trip to the Kingdom.

Mayo were comprehensively outplayed and would end up losing by ten points.

But, as we turn towards the end of 2020 and look to the final, it is more timely to look back at the record breaking achievement and contextualise just how it measures up.

Contrary to the opinion of many critics, O’Connor has not amassed such figures thanks to the ‘opportunities’ presented by playing against the likes of London, New York and other so called ‘weaker’ counties.

Quite the opposite in fact as his scoring averages show a propensity for greater totals in big games.

Cillian O’Connor – key scoring statistics

  • Played:  59 games
  • Scored:  30-328 (418)
  • From Penalties: 8-1
  • From Frees: 0-239
  • From 45s: 0-14
  • Total placed balls: 8-255 (279)
  • Total from play: 22-73 (139)
  • Average per game: 7.08
  • Average from play per game: 2.36
  • Average frees per game:  4.29
  • Average total placed ball per game: 4.73   

Headline numbers

Happiest hunting ground prior to this year was Limerick: 11.5 points per game average from four games, though after the first round of this year’s championship that is now Carrick-on-Shannon, where has played only a single game, on what was only his second Championship game against Leitrim, and scored 1-9.

Unhappiest hunting ground, Ruislip: 0.5 points per game average.

Location with most scores, Croke Park: 14-146 (188), with 11-33 (66) from play and 3-113 (122) from placed balls, average scores there in the 26 games he’s played in Croke Park comes to 7.23 with 2.54 from play and 4.69 from placed balls.

Photo: Irish Mirror (Ryan Byrne/Inpho)

Faraway fields are not greener

The opinion that O’Connor has boosted his record with big scores against London and New York does not stand up to scrutiny.

As the above figures prove, Ruislip is the ground on which he has the lowest scoring average. It is something of an anomaly. He played there twice, making his debut off the bench and scoring a point in that famously dramatic 2011 clash and he only lasted five minutes in 2016, getting black carded after just five minutes.

He had not scored by the time he was black carded and that remains the only championship game in which he made an appearance and did not score. In his 58 other championship appearances, he has scored at least one point.

In total, he has played in New York once (he was injured for the 2019 visit) and against London three times (including the 2013 Connacht Final), scoring 5-9 (24) in total. That’s an average of six points per game, below his overall average so if you actually excluded games against New York and London, O’Connor’s average goes up from 7.08 to 7.16.

Connacht versus the rest

For much of O’Connor’s Mayo career, Leitrim and Sligo have been in the lower divisions of the National League. The perception from some that these games would falsely boost O’Connor’s average is both unfair on counties who have been largely competitive with Mayo and also untrue.

He has only played Leitrim twice and scored six frees the first time and 1-9 in 2020. If you add Sligo, Leitrim, New York and London together, he has scored an average of 7.11 points per game (8-40 in eight games), marginally above his average of 7.08.

Indeed, if you examine Connacht as a whole, O’Connor has played 23 games against Connacht opposition, scoring 9-119 (146 points total, of which 6-26 was from play and 3-93 from dead balls) for an average of 6.35 overall, well below his overall average.

So, clearly, he has scored, on average, more against non-Connacht opposition. Across 36 games, he has scored 21-209 (272), with 16-47 from play and 5-162 from placed balls.

This gives him an average of 7.56 overall against non-Connacht opposition, of which there is an average of 4.92 from placed ball and 2.64 from play.

The obvious question then is how much a part did Qualifier games play in O’Connor’s average.

His average is a little higher in Qualifiers, at 7.82, having scored 6-68 (86) over 11 games, with 5.27 average from placed ball and 2.55 average from play.

But Mayo fans who have been on the road with these teams ought not need reminding that there were very few turkey shoots in the Qualifiers and, in far too many games for comfort, every score was crucial.

The big games

Which brings us onto the All-Ireland series (quarters, semis and finals) and any argument that O’Connor has dipped in these games does not stack up.

In 28 games in the All-Ireland series – an incredible total of games from one decade for Mayo – O’Connor has scored a total of 16-156 (204), of which 13-34 (73) was from play and 3-122 (131) was from placed balls. The placed balls consist of three goals from penalties, 0-116 from frees, 0-5 from 45s and one point from a penalty (in his record-breaking outing in Killarney, another forgetful moment from that day).

That gives him an average of 7.29 from those 28 games, above his overall average of 7.08.

However, his average from play in these 28 games actually increases to 2.61 per game versus his overall average from play of 2.36.

If we are to exclude from the numbers his record breaking game from last Sunday (and no doubt many of his detractors would prefer that we did), he has an average of 6.78 from 27 games, fractionally down from his overall average of 6.84 (when excluding the same game).

Photo: RTÉ

However, his average from play in these 27 games that still excludes this year’s semi-final actually increases to 2.15 per game versus his overall average from play of 2.14.

If we wanted to go down the rabbit hole of excluding games to suit our narratives, though, it’s worth mentioning that he scored only a solitary point before being substituted due to injury 10 minutes into the 2013 semi-final against Tyrone. Excluding that one and the Tipperary game from this year his average is 7 per game and in the All-Ireland series overall Cillian’s average works out to 2.23 from play and 4.77 from placed balls. What this demonstrates is his remarkable consistency when you remove games that might be considered as outliers.

Record versus Current and eventual Champions

It can be hard to compare teams in the All-Ireland series. For instance there is a world of difference between Dublin and Meath, both of whom Mayo played in last year’s All-Ireland series.

So, to take out any perceived imbalance of weaker teams who may have made it that far, two good measurements are how O’Connor performed against defending All-Ireland champions and teams who went onto be All-Ireland champions that year.

His record against the teams that were current all-Ireland champions at time of play (Cork in 2011, Dublin in 2012, Donegal in 2013, Dublin again in 2016, 2017 and 2019) is decent, though 2019 was poor by his standards, scoring one point from play and two frees.

The overall average in these games is 7.43 points, an average of 4.71 from placed balls and 2.71 from play. All three averages are higher than his overall averages across 59 championship games, a very impressive comparison.

And his record against eventual champions is better again. He’s featured in ten games against eventual champions (Donegal 2012, Dublin 2013, Kerry twice in 2014, Dublin twice in 2015 and 2016 and once in 2017 and 2019).

His total score against the eventual champions is 5-67 (82) with 2-13 (19) from play and 3-54 (63) from placed balls. That’s a very impressive 8.2 points per game, of which he has an average of 6.3 points from placed balls and an average of 1.9 from play.

And his average from All-Ireland finals alone at 7.2 points, higher than his overall average and up until the game against Tipperary last Sunday was higher than his All-Ireland series average.

If we isolate it to games against Dublin, his record against the team who have won seven of the ten All-Irelands this decade is very impressive also.

He has averaged 7.75 points per game over eight games against the five-in-a-row winners. This is his third highest average score against any opposition he has played more than once (he has played Limerick and Derry once each and scored 3-9 (18) and 0-12 points respectively). Notably the games against both Leitrim and Tipperary this year pushed both of those counties ahead of Dublin in that average.

Against Dublin O’Connor has scored a phenomenal 46% of Mayo’s total scores in those eight games and 15% of all his scores in championship football have been against Dublin.

Anyone doubting O’Connor’s stature as the all-time championship scoring record-holder need only consider how he did against the very, very best and in the big games. Whether what he contributes on the 19th will be sufficient to beat what many consider to be the best team of all time is anyone’s guess.

Mind you, it’s 2020 and anything can happen.

The original version of this article was published in the Mayo News on 16th June 2020. All of the scoring numbers have been updated to reflect this year’s championship. Fergal is a long-standing contributor on the blog using the handle ‘FDBinashui’.

47 thoughts on “Crunching the numbers on Cillian O’Connor’s scoring records

  1. Fergal, thanks for this very informative article. Great ammunition to use against those who would claim he is not up there with the greats. I remember your brother-in-law’s very
    passionate and informed contributions to the blog and hadn’t realized he had passed. Hopefully he will be looking down on the team this day week. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

  2. Because he hasn’t won a Celtic Cross people don’t rate him.(That will soon change)Unbelievable player! Any team would take him…
    But he is ours.
    Keep up the good work.
    Mayo forever

  3. God bless Eugene, Inbetweener… I remember that handle. He lived life and achieved things many of us can only dream of. But always a sad loss.
    Thanks for the stats on Cillian. He is one phenomenal footballer and when you think he’s still only 28 it’s hard to believe. I hope he breaks his record again in the final…en route to victory. What I wouldn’t do to see that. This Mayo spirit is a badge of pride for us supporters. I’m so lucky to call Mayo my home. Thank you and Maigheo ag éirí…go brách!!

  4. Thanks JP, full credit to the archive on the blog as the resource from which I was able to extract all the data, so Willie Joe himself needs to be given the credit for compiling what is an amazing facility that I think we are unique as a county to have available to us.

  5. JP – I’ve put the link to the fundraising appeal up on the panel on the right so it’s visible straight away to those who visit the site. I will, though, draw attention to it again in a specific post in a few days.

    FDB – it’s you who did all the hard work based on the raw material. Great piece of analysis.

  6. I recall the contributions of Inbetweener very well. Always well informed and worth a read. Very sorry to hear that he has passed.

  7. Very interesting account of Cillian’s scoring record. He has been absolutely outstanding for us since he first really burst on the scene in 2011 Connacht final v Roscommon. For some reason he has never got the credit he has deserved and is especially disliked by a large amount of Dublin supporters who constantly accuse him of bottling it and only scoring against weaker teams .This is particularly lazy analysis from some who couldn’t be bothered to check the facts. Unlike their star marksman he doesn’t feel the need to push an opponent every time he scores a free. No doubt they will be ready for him next Saturday so it’s time for our other forwards to step up to the plate. A worrying statistic in the game v Tipp was that none of our other forwards (or players) with the exception of T Conroy scored more than once if you ignore Darren Coen’s cameo in the last few minutes. For us to win next weekend Cillian will need a great performance and other lads will have to chip in as well. Maigh Eo abu.

  8. That’s a great article FDB and a lovely way to mark the anniversary of your brother in-law’s passing.

    I read many of Inbetweeners posts here in the past, and I’m sure you’ll continue to carry his candle with the rest of us in the quest to land Sam.

  9. I always think back to 2013 and how Cillian was so unlucky with that shoulder injury in the semi. Plagued with other injuries since which makes his scoring stats all the more remarkable.

    He’ll draw attention the next day but so will Aido and Conroy. How we use this advantage could decide the match. John small will definitely drop back for muscle and disruption around their D. Its likely Fitzsimons will mark Cillian and this should be a right battle. Fitzsimons is class.

    I think Kevin Mc will have a big say in this match too. He’s playing great and seems settled in his usual playmaking role. He dictates the direction of the play from our perspective.

    It would be a real bonus to have the likes of an in-form Fionn McDonagh in reserve in second half. But he doesn’t seem to be on the scene.

  10. I am very sorry to hear the passing of in betweener. I remember reading his very reasonable and logical posts. Passing on my condolences to his family and may he rest in peace.

  11. Condolences Fergal. Lovely tribute to Eugene. Has made me emotional. I’m so glad he will be remembered forever more in the archives of this blog through this article. For me, he (and Marie) was a big part of my introduction to this Blog and my Mayo journey/experience in 2016 and since then to the Ballina One Act Drama festival. I have to say I really missed him here long before he passed last December but I know he still stayed tuned in so I knew he was there somewhere. I’ll never forget him – a wonderful gentleman. RIP Eugene aka Inbetweener.

    Great article on Cillian too.

  12. Great piece Fergal.RIP Eugene.
    Can remember calling out Vinny Murphy and that dose Barry from hill16 last year on twitter.
    Would love if somebody could send that piece to them.(Got blocked)
    Best score from Cillian was the 2016 equaliser 4.2 million worth to the GAA.
    What a player and more to come from him.

  13. RIP Eugene. I knew him well but never knew he was Inbetweener! A gentleman to the core who was always full of fun and would do anything for you if asked and outside of football contributed greatly to the arts and tennis in north Mayo.
    Well done on a great tribute to a great man.

  14. RIP Inbetweener,

    I didn’t know the man but like others here I read his posts and enjoyed them. That is a serious bit of research and compiling of statistics and games, I don’t know what you work at but it definitely is worthy of any newspaper and I’d say Inbetweener would be very proud to see that written in his memory.
    As for Cillian himself, he is a great bit of stuff and a great role model. I’m hoping that he gets his just reward before long. We have a big week ahead, though you wouldn’t think it, not many flags around the place and hushed talk about it if any. Maybe that’s the best way to have it.

  15. We have the best full forward line now we have ever had in my time watching Mayo which is nearly 40 years.Question now is do we have midfield to supply them

  16. Jesus, I remember ‘Inbetweener’ posts well. Very sad to hear he passed away, R.I.P.

    Great article, very informative. The closer this match gets, the less I think of tactics and match ups etc. Im just living off the thoughts of us actually winning it. To think we are potentially 70minutes away from being All Ireland champions, is a nice feeling to have. Last March when i watched us lose to Kerry I felt it would be years before we’d challenge again.

    As my mind wanders to the thought of Aido lifting sam, im man enough to say, I think ill burst out crying if it were to happen. I’ll think of family members and friends who have now passed, who instilled the love for my County in me. If we lose again, ill still be proud as punch of the lads and our County. But Jesus Christ we are due a break, come on 2020, give us one last shock.

  17. People often talk of the All Ireland’s we have lost down the years. We can all name the years out.

    I think we are perennial Winners.
    The story never ends on All Ireland final day.
    2012 could have been a death knell.
    No way.
    We were back in 2013 and 2016 and 2017 and 2020.
    Winners get back up off the canvas. They fight on. They never ever ever give in.

    There is a national, a countrywide admiration for the resilience that this county, our county, our Mayo has shown over the past decade.

    Regardless of how any All Ireland final day has gone, there is a knowing, an acknowledgment now, that we have not been beaten. We are coming out for the next round. We are coming back.

    In many ways, this championship started back in 2011 and will take as long as it takes. Be it next Saturday or whenever.

    We’ll come out swinging and keep swinging until the referee raises the Mayo arm high in the air.

    We will never be beaten.
    It is not in our DNA.
    We are Winners. Winners. Winners.

  18. You can imagine the welcoming committee waiting in Croke Park on Saturday for Cillian.They will aim to do anything legal or illegal to keep him scoreless from play.
    We know what they have got away with in the past. I hope our media contingent point this out in the coming days

  19. Revellino well said!
    I don’t know about the rest of the country, but i am sure Dublin have met nothing like what they will meet next Saturday at 5pm.
    Are Dublin as good as previous years?
    The hill will be empty.
    The ref won’t be under as much pressure.
    Are Mayo as good as previous years?
    One can argue for and against.
    Mayo play their best football with their backs to the wall and they don’t stand a chance according to the analysts!
    I know what I believe.
    God above i can’t wait!
    Roll on, roll on, roll on
    Is it Saturday yet?

  20. When I see how the team take to the pitch this year in such a prepared way down to the level of detail of where each player leaves their own box of match gear and water, it just makes me think this is a newer more modern level.
    Wouldn’t suprise me we win on penalties just from having being very “prepared for all scenarios” this season.
    If we keep making finals it’s surely unlikely we don’t win one soon within the next 1-3 finals inclusive of the current one. The pattern has to break our way once eventually.

  21. Revellino and Full Forward, I’m with ye there……Absolutely true. And I recall Inbetweener too and his posts on this Blog. That’s a magnificent piece in his memory. Lovely tributes above to Eugene, may he rest in peace.

  22. I love the above posts! Given our full forward line, I wonder will the Dublin back line skate on thin ice with yellow cards at any time next week. This is something that could be exploited maybe, not super cynically necessarily, but those backs might think twice if on a yellow card.
    A bit of controlled chaos will do nicely.

  23. Great achievement by Cillian O Connor.
    Point i would make is that Johnny Joyce’s record will always stand as game was 60 minutes on those days.

  24. The comradery of the Mayo GAA Blog never ceases to amaze me. The loss of Inbetweener is mourned as a member of the blog family. There is a decency and respect among the contributors.
    I agree Revillino that the ability to get up when your knocked down is a greater show of character than any other attribute. That is what makes Mayo great. The war is not over until we have won. And victory will be attributed to all the previous teams and loyal supporters who have inspired this team to reach the final. And please God we will win next Saturday. So here’s to you Inbetweener and all our loved ones who did not get to see Mayo win Sam especially those who have not survived this Covid pandemic. Criost Linn.

  25. I thought about Small or Cooper marking Cillian . Small is a sure thing for a card . My hope is that he doesn’t draw Cillian in for one also .
    Thanks fully now Dublin have to figure out how to stop .
    Aiden .
    And last but no way least McLaughlin .

    That’s some forward line .

  26. According to RTE, the county board recorded a surplus of 217k for the year ending 31st October.

  27. John murphy – Cillian had scored his 4-9 by the 2nd water break and was subbed off shortly after 60 minutes!

  28. As nasty as John Small can be, to be fair he’s playing great football this year so could ‘hurt’ us in attack as well as defence. They just don’t have any weak links. He’s actually been one of their strongest most consistent players this championship.

    The main journos in today’s papers not giving us a prayer next Saturday, and in fairness they make their points well. All evidence and logic points to Dublin. Even if we do bring something different, something manic, Dublin have the ability to absorb such a challenge. The worry is that they could give us a trimming. I’m not totally writing us off but….

  29. In the same vein as Mayos famine I really would love to see Waterford win the hurling final today.
    Up Waterford.

  30. Is it me or is the surface in Croker cutting up a bit ? Suppose it’s the time or year .

  31. Colm O Rourke ” Mayo winning Sam Maguire would be the greatest Christmas present of all”.
    Thats the only sentence I’ve read or will be reading from pundits/ journalists..They’ll all sing the exact same tune and to be fair, logically its the right one..
    Yet all of us will take to our couches next week and regardless of the bookies odds we will still hope for the dream finish..Sure what else can we do??!
    Was sad to read about Inbetweeners passing…His were always posts I enjoyed reading..RIP..

  32. Excellent informative post Fergal. Always enjoy your contributions to this site as I did Eugene’s RIP.

    Waterford finding it tough in the first half but if their second-half against Kilkenny is anything to go by there’s a long way to go yet…

    Cillian has been the lynchpin of this team for a long-time now and will be for years to come. We’re lucky indeed to have him.

  33. If there’s one lesson out there despite what James Horan might think, sport is absolutely nothing without crowds, it would just die . That hurling final was a perfect example . It’s a dull spectacle

  34. Outstanding research and a great layout Fergal
    We will always remember those we have lost
    With Mayo in their heart and minds.
    A wonderful tribute to Eugene RIP
    Maigh Eo abu.

  35. Great research and great piece Fergal. Lovely dedication too, to Inbetweener. I remember a lot of those posts.

  36. It was only afterwards I went back on Fergal’s article that I realized that Eugene was my neighbour growing up. We fished together on the Moy and played football together for Ballina Stephenites. Eugene was a gentleman. Also so talented. Performed in many a play/ musical in the town hall. But we drifted apart. Wish I knew when reading the Mayo GAA blog that Eugene was Inbetweener. But then I realized how powerful this blog is. It is a community. It has great power to do good. I am a frontline worker that knows how important community is in terms of dealing with the trauma covid has imposed on us. And the Mayo GAA blog community has helped me thru’ it.
    Thank you Willie Joe for that.
    I am sad I did not know Eugene had died and did not make it to his funeral. More shame me.
    So our football is part of us. It brings us together. Nil neart gur chur le cheile.
    Mayo will succeed because we will pull together. No matter the weather.

  37. I love this quote taken from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech in 1910. The first time I read it my instant thought was of our Mayo footballers; those who have worn the jersey with pride down through the years, and especially the men (and women) who wear our Green and Red jersey with pride and passion. It is easy for the critics and pundits and others to have their laugh and throw a nod of recognition to us. But nothing compares to the pride I feel and I know that each one of us also feels it when we see our footballers take to the field to pour their hearts out for the cause. I applaud and admire you endlessly and with a proud beating heart. Myo forvever!
    Let me share ‘The Man in the Arena’
    “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
    Glorious Mayo.
    Glas agus Dearg go deo!

  38. God rest Inbetweener,
    If we win on Saturday next so many tears will be shed by all of us especially for all those great Mayo people who have passed to the next world.
    May we feel their spirit close to us next Sat evening.

  39. Revelino. Thinking about your post all day and you’re absolutely right. Yeah we’ve lost but never beaten, never defeated. We always come back for more. How many counties have come for a year or two and disappear. Our lads will do it for as long as it takes. I’ve been at every All Ireland since 89 and fully expect to see a Mayoman lift that cup
    RIP Inbetweener, felt like I knew you.

  40. Winners Nephin. Winners.

    And whoever is marking Dean Rock Saturday should tell him at the start of the match, that the lad that scored 4 – 9 last week is at the other end of the pitch.

  41. Another aspect of Cillians records, he has 5 of the last 10 championship scoring top scorer awards and the first second and third highest totals. No other player has more then one in last ten championships.

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