Mortistics

mortimerconorvkerrynfl07_.jpgEmerging from the jacks at the back of the stand in Pearse Stadium last May with the shock of the hiding we’d just taken from Galway still only beginning to be accommodated by our senses, The Brother and I were approached by this beaked-nosed Herrin Choker who was clearly looking for a few forlorn Mayomen upon which he wanted to unload his considered thoughts about the just-concluded contest. “That little fucker Mortimor” opined our mandible-snouted new acquaintance “needs his hole kicked. Where was he today when ye needed him? Or any other big day as well?”

Now, neither The Brother nor myself are violent individuals so we didn’t opt for the obvious response in this little game of footballing expostulation and reply. Sure, we should have nutted the bollix (and, in truth, his nose could have done with a little cosmetic rearrangement) but, as I’ve said, that’s not our style. So instead we muttered some vague, non-committal stuff about how nobody in the green and red had covered themselves in glory out there and then we got the hell away from him – and the city of Galway – as quickly as we could.

He was talking shite, of course, but then again he wouldn’t have been the first to hurl a few brickbats of that kind in Conor’s direction. Indeed, you don’t have to wander outside the county boundaries to find detractors of the Shrule-Glencorrib man. I’ve heard many Mayo supporters voice the same kind of opinions about Conor as our Herrin Choker friend in Salthill. And it’s not all idle talk on the terraces, either. Other, more considered, commentators – such as Mike Finnerty of the Mayo News who said the other week that, based on current form, the only two forwards who could be sure of their places for our Championship opener in June were Alan Dillon and Andy Moran – have come out with the same line. But, you know what? Yez are all talking shite, and – you know what else? – I have the figures to prove it.

Conor Mortimor first lined out for Mayo in a competitive match at senior level when we faced Down in our opening league fixture in 2002. That match, played in Ballina on the 10th of February that year, saw Mort line out at top of the left. We won by ten points to five that day and Mort bagged half of our total. Since then, in all NFL and Championship matches from that day right up to last Sunday’s clash with Donegal, we have scored a total of 1,130 points, with 309 of those coming from Mort’s boot. This means that Mort has accounted for just over 27% of our scores in the time he’s been playing for us at senior level.

not-worth-his-place.pngIt’s also true that he’s been banging over the scores at a remarkably consistent rate. In all six Championship campaigns he’s played in since 2002, he’s easily been our leading marksman; in 2006 he was also the top scorer in the entire Championship. As well as that, he’s been our highest scorer in most of the NFL campaigns since 2002, though not in 2004 (when he rarely lined out during the league) nor in 2006 (when that daft DCU suspension ruled him out of some of the league campaign, although he did still come in second behind Alan Dillon in the scorer’s chart for that year’s NFL). Despite those two campaigns where he didn’t feature as much, Conor’s consistent year-on-year strike rate for the county is noteworthy.

not-worth-his-place-2.pngAs you can see, in every year he has played at senior level, Mort has accounted for at least 20% of our scores and in two of those years (2002 and again last year) his share has exceeded 30%. (The 2008 figure comprises just two matches and so the Statistics Police will be on to me if I don’t enter a caveat – which I’m now doing – about the invalidity of assuming any significance from results garnered from such a small sample size but I’ve included it merely to make the simple point that, on the basis of these two games, it looks as if Mort is going to be as important to us this year as he has been in previous ones).

Moreover, in every year since 2004, you can see that his relative importance to the county team in terms of scoring duties has increased. This is a trend that (a) should be of concern to us and (b) shows that anyone who thinks he’s not worth his place in the side needs his head examined.

But, I hear you cry, he takes the frees and so of course he gets most of our scores, like Maurice Sheridan did before him. And he’s failed to do the business in two All-Irelands, when the stage was set for him to shine. Where’s your answer to that, WJ?

My answer is this. Yes, he does take the frees – though not all of them. Alan Dillon takes the ones on the left (ones like this) and Mort generally doesn’t take 50s or anything outside his 30-yard comfort zone. But isn’t he a damn fine free taker, all the same? That second-half miss against Donegal last Sunday was a bit of a collector’s item as he rarely misses from that distance. Mort’s accuracy from dead balls is something I think we’ve largely taken for granted over the years but it’s an asset many other teams would kill for. (Compare him, for example, to Donegal’s Colm McFadden who was a living embodiment of hit and miss the last day in McHale Park).

In addition, and unlike Maurice Sheridan, Mort isn’t solely a dead-ball merchant. He scores bucketloads from play too and he also gets goals, though probably not as many as we would like or, if you want to be über critical, as he perhaps should. Anyone who was at McHale Park last Sunday will long remember that brilliant second-half point he got (which happened so fast I was unable to get a video clip of it) when he received the ball, swivelled and fired it over without even looking at the posts. There aren’t too many forwards around who can do that.

Yes, yes, but what about our bill-nosed Herrin Choker’s point? What about the bottle-headed blonde who, when the going gets tough, melts into the background? Evidence of this, please? 2004 All-Ireland final: one point. 2006 All-Ireland final: three points (all frees). Salthill last year: six points (all frees). Derry debacle last year: one point from a free.

I don’t think these figures prove anything of the kind (especially not the Salthill one, where Mort’s scores accounted for two-thirds of our admittedly forlorn day’s total – see, he really was talking out of his hole). Instead, what I think they show – in pretty stark clarity too – is that Conor is the only real offensive weapon we’ve got. Close him down and close down while you’re at it the supply lines to him and we’re not left with much in terms of attacking potential. Compare that to Kerry: if anyone concentrates on shutting down the Gooch and those who supply him, Kerry simply switch their attacking focus elsewhere, with equal productive reward. We don’t have options like that and it hasn’t taken the likes of Kerry and some others too long to figure that out.

The obvious conclusion from all this is that Mort isn’t, as his detractors would have it, occupying a place that someone else could be filling more productively. He should, instead, be the very first name on the teamsheet, every single time. Our problem is that we haven’t more like him, in the shape of other forwards who are able to offer the same kind of attacking menace that he does, match after match, on a regular and reliable basis. And, as the figures above show, our dependence on him is increasing year-by-year. This, to my mind, is pretty significant food for thought: not only do we need to find a backline – and sharpish – we also need to find at least a couple of other forwards who are willing to share on a consistent basis the scoring burden that Mort, with some help from Alan Dillon in more recent times, has been carrying virtually on his own for the past six years.

4 thoughts on “Mortistics

  1. You make a good argument and back it with statistics, however I always heed the old adage “statistics, statistics and dammned lies”. In the beginning I thought that Conor was the real deal. I defended him through thick and thin. True , his scoring stats are good, however I dont agree with you that he is an unerring free taker, he misses quite a lot, and often very simple ones. Mortimor (Conor) falls into a team that has also carried another enigma in Ciaran MacDonald who has a lot of Conors traits. He also took frees and mixed the sublime with the tragic. I think we expected young Conor to kick on from his promise and success of 2003/04 and become a leader and more of a play maker akin to Padraig Joyce , Owen Mulligan or Kerrys Paul Galvin. Conor has not. True he racks up the scores but as he leaves Connacht his influence diminishes. We are cursed and blessed with a clatter of forwards that if given an almighty scare or kick in the arse could rip teams to shreds but sadly remain inhibited. Amongst them are Kilcoyne, Micheal Conroy, Austin O Malley , James Gill etc. We conspired to lose Ronan Loftus and Marty MacNicholas along the way. Its often against the failure of other forwards to do their share that Conor is probably measured. Still I for one am convinced that there is a lot more inside of him that we have not seen. Being Mayo we latch on to our hereos and smother them with praise and damnation almost in the same sentence. Remember Willie Joe and Liam MacHale. We loved them and then slated them. Similarily with MacDonald. Conor sticks out because of the anemia of the other forwards and possibly I and others expect too much from him. sorry for rambling but I suppose Conor Mort does that to people. Keep up the great work. We will lock horns soon again or simply agree as is the case most times.

  2. I don’t think we’re too far apart on the subject, though I don’t recall Mort missing frees on a regular basis, certainly not from within 30 yards.

    I don’t think he’s a playmaker either: he’s a finisher and he needs others to start the moves for him. That’s my point – and it’s the same one that you make, i.e. that other forwards, like the ones you’ve named, haven’t produced the goods on a reliable basis. In 2004 and again in 2006, Kerry targeted Ciaran Mc and Mort and once they were out of the frame, we had few other answers (although Kevin O’Neill briefly showed what could happen if we were able to vary our attacks).

  3. Excellent piece of work W.J. – brings me back to my statistics days in college! have to agree with you in the main. Mort gets a lot of undeserved stick, especially when you consider the record you set out.
    I believe that some RTE analysts ignited this myth about Mort not scoring enough, not doing it on the big day etc… They seem to be itching to comment on his hair colour/style (Swedish miliking maiden??) rather than applaud his solid scoring record. The tragedy of September 2006 also meant that his top scorer achievement was barely mentioned. It seems as if you’re a talented Mayo footballer and are blonde (well, kinda), you’re fair game for criticism!
    Mention must also be made of Mort’s relatively slight physique – he has come up against some real tough bruisers in the past, and has held his own (Hanley, Henry to name just two) . Refs tend to not give him the benefit of the doubt so he must endure much more punishment to earn his own frees. Also, as demonstrated last week, he is not afraid to track back and throw in the odd shoulder in our half back line. I fondly remember him giving Ciaran Whelan a hefty shoulder in 2006 in one of the D.Brady Vs All Dublin shamozelles (okay, hefty might be over stating it!). Hoever it does demonstrate a huge will to win. The trick is to put this energy into an organised effort by the entire forward division to stop oppossing half back lines walking the ball down the field. John O’ perfected this plan in the past with Galway, even with guys as small as Savage.
    Another problem for the Deputy is to find a plan B for the days that Mort ain’t firing. There is no evidence that there is any one with the capacity to score 25-30% of our scores. Alan Dillon is now the heir apparent as play maker, and so scoring opportunities will not be as available to him as in the past. A. Moran, Gill, Harte, Kilcoyne, G.Brady, O’Malley get through a huge amount of work, but they also have duties further out the field. The arrival of Barry Moran at full forward may be the trick – a big man who can direct good ball to Mort. This might be the key to ending our shyness for goals. If this is the way John O’ goes, he must persevere with the strategy, no matter how shaky at first. Trying it in the middle of the qualifiers ain’t fair to anybody.
    That said, have to agree with you that he has had bad days – mostly in full glare of the national media but then again, I think he can be the soft target due to his profile. He plays a lot of football for a lot of teams, and he delivers more often that not. I feel can get even better, and it does seem from your stats that he is on an upward curve scoring wise.
    I’ll finish with a scary thought – if we hadn’t had Mort for the last 6 years, where else would the scores have came from?
    Keep up the good analysis Willie Joe, am looking forward to your next thesis, may I suggest “Billy Joe’s best position?”!

  4. You’re right, DB, about his slight physique, which, when you think about it, makes his scoring record over the years even more impressive. Also, as you say, he’s got nothing (apart from yellow cards) off refs (though you’d have to admit that he’s made all his own that trick of pulling the defender down on top of him as he falls in a scoring position!

    I too think that we should play Barry Moran at full-forward – he certainly gave us another option there in the qualifiers and it sure beats the ploy of a small, two-man full-forward line. In fairness to Johnno, I understand that Barry is injured at the minute and I hope that he’ll return to no.14 once he’s fit again.

    It’s hard to know where we’d have got our scores since 2002 if Mort wasn’t on the team but I think it’s safe to conclude that we wouldn’t have got as far as we did in either 2004 or 2006.

    Billy Joe’s best position? That’s an easy one – between the sticks of course!

    All the best

    WJ

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