As the recently concluded NFL campaign slips away into the past, I’m delighted to welcome John Cuffe back to the guest slot to cast his eye over our record in finals as well as what league form can mean for the championship.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote about Outliers. The dictionary tells us “outliers are numerically distant from the rest of the data”.
Gladwell selected some great examples ranging from people who had all the luck to those blighted by ill-fate. By using data, birthdates and figures Gladwell showed that outliers defy common logic.
There is no team comparable to Mayo in Ireland. We have a handful of winners comprising Kerry, Cork, Dublin and Tyrone since 2004. We have the vast majority who range from mediocre to those that give a challenge for a year or two. And we have Mayo. Statistically Mayo defy logic.
Taking our study base from 2004 to the present we see Kerry, Cork, Tyrone and Dublin are the most successful. But that tells only part of the story. When we widen out to estimate the full health of a county, that six-year framework highlights another tale.
Mayo have competed in two Senior All-Ireland finals, two at U21, three at Minor, one senior club one and three in the league. That’s 11 ‘A’ finals across the board without looking at the ladies. The win/loss ratio from that lot is 2:11, an abysmal record and one worthy of proper study, not a hazardous and unscientific shot in the dark by myself.
I used the word “abysmal”. That shows the targets and heights we set ourselves. No other county, successful or unsuccessful, comes within an ace of us across the grades. That indicates we do an awful lot of correct things: we breed top-class footballers, we get to finals and then we lose. Subtract one from the other and we will get the answer.
Now for a very interesting statistic. Mayo’s greatest successes come when they win three Connacht titles in a four-year period. The 1948-‘51 team won four in a row Connacht titles, contested three All-Ireland finals and won two of them with a league title thrown in for good measure.
We have to come to 1996-‘99 for the next three out of four. We contested two finals in that era. This year is the next time we can achieve that feat: 2009-‘12. If we win Connacht, statistically we should make an All-Ireland final. Now comes the grisly bit.
We have played in eight league finals since 1970 by my reckoning. We have never won a Connacht title after getting to a league final. In fact we seem to be at our worst after those finals. The 1970 final saw us go down to Roscommon in Tuam, ‘71 to Galway, ‘72, ‘78 and 2001 all to Roscommon, 2007 saw us plastered by Galway and backdoored by Derry. The defeat to Cork in 2010 brought misery with losses to Sligo and Longford.
So what this year? The stats say we are likely to fail. But isn’t it time to challenge those stats. A refrain in many of the excellent comments on mine hosts Willie Joe’s site point out its only April and “only” the league. They are once again wrong, statistically speaking.
League form is almost parallel to championship form. Once more we move from 2004 to the present. Kerry won the 2004, 2006 and 2009 All-Irelands after winning the league. Cork won the 2010 All-Ireland and league finals. Dublin lost the 2011 league final to Cork but continued their run for Sam. Kerry reached the 2008 final of the league and also got to that year’s All-Ireland final.
Mayo, Donegal, Derry and Wexford are the odd teams out there. They reached finals in the league in that era but stalled in that year’s championship.
One other glaring statistic: Kerry head the list for All-Ireland winners. They also head the list for national league winners. The correlation is clear. Success in one leads to success in the other.
Here is where we are back in outlier land again. Mayo are second to Kerry in league titles but lag them in the championship. We have a disconnect there. I don’t have the answer but we all have theories. Why do Mayo do so well in getting to finals and then not perform? A bad team will get to one final but bad teams don’t make multiple finals.
Ger Loughnane – when he took over Clare – described them like Mayo. He saw Clare as a team afraid to win. Loughnane went about tearing out the weak heart and spine that held Clare back. He made enemies and it was Clare against the rest, a siege mentality almost. Remember Marty Morrissey outside the hospital waiting for the death of some players’ grandmother; remember the battles, the suspensions, and the rows. But Clare took their place amid the winner’s enclosure and Biddy Early was pensioned off.
Len Gaynor, manager supreme, player of the ard scoth was Loughnanes predecessor if I am not mistaken. Ger built on Len’s solid work but added Tír grá , misneach and hate to the mix. Ollie Baker, Sean McMahon, Davie Fitz, the Lohans, the Sparrow and Colm Lynch emerged and tore the script to shreds.
What drove Loughnane more than anything was the hate he possessed for the condescending way his county was viewed. They too were league specialists. They too flattered to be greater only to fall flat on their faces. Loughnane was almost mad but crazily sane. He stored and harvested the little things. A smile from the genius that was Nicky English was turned into a sneer towards the people of Clare.
A comment at a long forgotten Munster council meeting was resurrected to rally the troops. A comment by Len Gaynor to his Clare team about how Tipp viewed them was used to devastating effect. What am I trying to say here? Maybe we need statistics to show us the fault lines but maybe we need a mad man to chart our way forward as well.
This is where we are at. Four of the 2007 league final team took up the same positions in the forward line five years later against Cork in another league final. The fifth came on as a centrefield sub. I believe we have achieved an awful lot but I also feel deeply that we have done a lot of running on the spot. If that quartet/sextet were not able to beat Donegal in 2007 did we really believe that they would have been able to beat Cork a few Sundays ago?
The above, by the way, is not an implied criticism of players or manager. What it indicates is that’s what’s available within the county and they have done all right, thank you. Perhaps we are outliers, destined to straddle that place that exists just behind the winner’s enclosure but also well away from the also rans? I don’t know.