Outliers

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.

19 thoughts on “Outliers

  1. your “problem statement” is bang on John, but whats the solution?
    I used to be of the mind that we needed someone who knew how to win an all-ireland in the current age of the evolution of football, to come in, take us by the scruff of the neck, put the systems in place and with a bit of luck (a manager who has won one already has to have luck associated with him so it should rub off on us), we’d finally break the duck. That man, in my opinion was John O’Mahony, but of course that didnt work out.
    So whereto next? Currently we are a work in progress, James has us moving in the right direction I think. Only time will tell if that is enough, this year is seminal as the “first year bounce” will have worn off and no matter what happens this year he should have one more. The big question is of course what happens after that? My big concern, and this is where we go full circle, is that I am not sure if we have a long term plan in place, and that is the ONLY thing, that gives us a chance of winning SAM. Wiser men than me need to sit down and chart, a 3 year, 5 year, 10 year, whatever it takes plan to get us there. Luck is not one thing we are blessed with unfortunately, so unless we have a very specific plan to get there, then despite all the blood, sweat and tears, we are just relying on luck, and that wont work.
    So, open question, is there a plan? If so who has it and where is it?

  2. Good article John. You might be interested to know that John Maughan is credited with being the catalyst for change down in Clare.
    Clare won a Munster football championship in 1992 after a gap of 75 years. Ger Loughnane took over the Hurlers in 95, He introduced training sessions modelled on Maughans, after seeing the success with the footballers.

  3. A quote from the match programme for the U21 final just gone between Roscommon and Dublin:

    “If your underage development structures are falling short – if the coaching is second-rate, if there is no joined-up thinking, if your county board isn’t driving the whole project on relentlessly – you will eventually pay the price at senior level.”

    It takes a lot to create a winning team – that is, a team that wins consistently.

  4. I find statistics about Mayo’s record in All Ireland finals rather dreary at this stage. Players going out on the pitch don’t need to be reminded any more about how we have lost this or that and recklessly thrown away the other. In my mind no fella deliberately goes out to play a poor game. There are a lot more specific reasons why we don’t win particular matches or finals. For instance:

    Playing fields: We don’t all exist on a level playing field. Bigger counties throughout the country have much more advantages over the smaller less recognizable ones. Case and point being the back door system. Personally I like it however the argument has to be made that it has really only benefited the bigger counties.

    Players themselves: You need to have the special quality of player required to win the big games. Players who have experience of winning (and losing). Players who can deal with the failings of their own team, while still dictating the pace and tempo of the overall game. And on top of that a couple of extra special players who need extra minding because they often determine or have a big impact on the winning (and losing) of the tight games.

    Amateurism: In the era we exist in now (2012) the Inter County player with realistic ambitions of winning an All Ireland medal is really a professional athlete. He is only amateur in the state of mind of those who believe that because players are not openly compensated on a contract basis that they do it for nothing. This amateur ethos does still exist in some counties however again the argument can be made that these realistically are not the main ones with aspirations to winning in September.

    County Boards: Teams with serious aspirations of winning must have very serious individuals working for their cause in the background. They will not and cannot do it alone. It takes organization and serious funding to even hope to compete with the other larger Boards and their structures. Also the CB should be guaranteeing a consistent stream of talent is coming through to maintain the level that the top teams want to remain at.

    County Manager: Most important of all is the County team manager. He is the boss and should be so. Whatever this Emperor requires should be presented to him. He has to focus the team, organize the tactics, help fellas deliver on their potential and get them into the right frame of mind for each match. He has to shoulder most of the blame when things go wrong. Most importantly he has to create the sense in them that they are the greatest and it is their God given rite to win the All Ireland at the end of the season.

    There’s so much more that could be written on this but it would take around 1000 pages. And it still wouldn’t guarantee success. You also need luck. But if you’re always striving to be there or thereabouts then eventually lady luck will smile on you as well.

  5. John Cuffe- Your piece is well written and and the stats are worth pondering and as our county secretary said on Midwest radio, Mayo are the second most successful team in the last 20 years albeit without Sam.
    We should look at other counties success and failure and lets start with Kerry. They lost the 2010 semifinal to a very mediocre Down team,lost the all Ireland to a less than great Dublin team and to not fully mature Mayo in this years league semi-final. The team and supporters even with their success record I am sure felt no different to Mayo going through Longford.They of course will be in Croke Park in September for another shot at it.Galway lost to a twelve man Dublin team and got over it.
    I do believe in the Ger Loughnane theory to get over the line and things will then get slightly easier.
    Mayo supporters are great supporters and always remember the old addiage when you achieve something you lose something. To win an All Ireland again for Mayo would be cherished and swell their hearts with joy ,for Kerry its not the same its just another year.
    I would though, swop the trying and anticipation for winning one and worry about the mundaness of future success.

  6. One point I can pick up there John in your wonderfully written piece is that regarding Ger Loughnane and his hatred of anything perceived condescension of Clare. That is so true, but let’s look at ourselves here. We’ve been laughed and ridiculed by the oafs on the Sunday Game for I don’t know how long. Fellas I went to college with give me grief, and let me know about it too whenever we lose. And worst of all, to me anyway was Conor Counihan’s antics towards the end of the league final in 2010. Remember he was laughing about something. FFS!!! Laughing about something and a game still on. Now that’s condescending of the highest order and it made my blood boil when I saw it. Thing is, I usually issue a f**k off to my friends, whereas I haven’t heard any Mayo man on the county set-up have a go at Counihan over his antics that day.

    And the county board haven’t the balls to make a complaint about Cork getting away with the thuggish behaviour the last day…

    Nice guys finish last, and until someone else’s blood boils and starts fucking people out of it in higher authority in the GAA from Mayo our shortcomings will always be out there to be sniggered and ridiculed I’m afraid.

  7. wel written piece john, fucking people out of it is not the answer bringing sam to mayo is the way to shut up the begrudgers we are going in the right direction when so callled top teams like cork had to resort to dirty tricks to win a leauge final it proves that we are in with a fighting chance this summer jh is not daft he knows whats needed to win sam i have every faith in the man look where we were this time last year shortcomings are only defects and they can be repaired and jh is doing just that get behind the lads they need our support not kicking them every time they lose or put in a bad performance

  8. I agree with comments that Ger Loughnane had to do things differently with his Clare team to make the break through, and they were like Mayo in many ways, good enough to get there but not able to get across the line.
    If we could win one, i believe others would follow on .
    Down through the years we would be seen as having lovely ,talanted footballers,( which we still have) who play open attractive football, capable of beating anyone. We would also be seen as vunerable to intimidation and dirty play .
    Things have not changed, we still have lovely players but have we we players that are prepared to stand up to this dirt and intimidation.
    From what I saw of this present team , I think we are getting there, we stood up to Dublin in Castlebar, to Kerry in the league twice this year, and Cork had to dig deep to get over us in the league final.
    We are now ,rubbing shoulders with the big boys and they know we are close. It is by playing them and beating them,( sometimes) that we won’t fear them in All Ireland day.If we can beat them in league games when we play them on All Ireland day we will be there to win and not as in the past, playing not to lose.

  9. Anybody recall the aftermath of the 1989 All Ireland final? I do. Dinny Allen after a perfunctory well done to Mayo then launched into a tirade against the men in the “crows nest” who doubted and sneered at Cork.

    The men in the “crows nest” were the Sunday Game people of the day on RTE. Dinny was annoyed but did not hide his rancour for the Joe Brollys and O Rourkes of the day, he let them have it publicly and for the nation to hear. No more would Cork be mocked on air and the safety of the TV set.

    The replay of the 1988 All Ireland final taught Cork a great lesson. The drawn match saw Cork in a feisty mood. Cahalane was the main enforcer and they almost caught Meath on the hop. The replay saw Cahalane ship a right hook to the mush, saw McEntee sent off where he famously sat on the side line with his feet just over the line.

    Meath won with 14 men, Cahalane was sorted and all was right in the Meath world. In 1990 both sides met again. This time O Neill the Cork full forward was sent off for boxing Mick Lyons after the throw in. Cork won with 14 men and a ghost or two was laid.

    My point is simple. Dinny Allen identified publicly and nationwide the big mouths who mocked them on TV. Cork manned up and out Meathed Meath when it counted. I wrote a samll piece for the Western last August called Mea Culpa. In it identified the hits Mayo men inflicted on Noel O Leary and Cadogan. I alluded to our new found strength and cuteness.

    Cadogan and O Leary learned from that encounter and wreaked revenge in the league final. In effect we went backwards. So folks its simple really. We have to copy the Corks of this world, got to ditch a few principles and nice guys on the way and then fulfill our destiny by going toe to toe with the so called big boys. And if that entails some face needing a bit of reconfiguration then so be it. Nice boys dont get the best women, well not in the days I attended the old Palm Court in Belmullet anyway.

  10. John, the funny thing about the Cork analogy is that many good football men in Cork reckon that if they were playing anyone else that day except Mayo they would have lost it. Thats a depressing thought but one I can see the logic in. Cork were very shaky mentally that year in the final, staring down the barrel of 3 AIF losses in a row. When Larry scored his goal we were on the up and I know from talking to a couple of the Cork players who were there that day, it did cross their mind “not again”. Larry had another chance and if it had gone in, who knows we could have turned the screw but didnt and Cork woke up and the rest is history.
    So while you were right, Cork did take their lessons on board, but in 1990 they had one Sam under their belt, that gave them confidence but more importantly took a huge monkey off their backs. A huge amount of their self belief came from that win in 89, without I dont think they would have taken on board the previous lessons against Meath as easily.

    Not sure how many of you listen to podcasts but the newstalk panel one is always worth a listen. Last weekends one discussed the state of hurling in the country and touched on many topics which should be of interest to us, such as what Kilkenny have done to be so far ahead, the fact that there arent as many male teachers in schools so alot of the coaching that used to take place now doesnt and the clubs need to step up a bit more (which most are I think). They were talking about long term plans and everyone in a county needing to row in together being key parts of success, Tyrone and Dublin in football are examples of this, Kilkenny are the obvious example in hurling and Cork have been getting their act together with the “Rebel Og” initiative they have going after years of thinking the youth would take care of themselves. We wont rake up the strategic plan debacle but do we have something similar going on in Mayo? If we dont we are deluding ourselves that our “1989” will come any time soon. You cant just rely on breeding good footballers anymore.

  11. East Cork exile, you are correct and I alluded before to the fact that Corks 1990 was because we are/were seen as a gateway team. Once Sam was onboard against us Cork felt empowered to go at Meath.

    Likewise Donegal 1992 semi, league final 2007, Armagh U21s 2004, Crossmaglen 1997/99. We can be counted on to do the right thing and play the game as expected. problem is , others don’t.

  12. its simple fight fire with fire hit before your hit let the opposition know from the throw in by fair means or foul were gonna win

  13. Revenge is best served….cold.Throwing out the toys now wont do any good.Any of our team would cringe if there were official complaints.Beidh la eile againn!

  14. If we do get to Croker Park in Aug/Sept I for one will be praying to meet Cork cos after reviewing the League final I firmly believe that we wont be thrown around like we were and secondly we wont play as badly as we did. I thought the ball into the forwards was the worst facet of play and nothing like what we managed in the Dublin game. But that can be fixed !
    Also I expect quite a few changes in personal come the summer. JH should have the luxury of putting out a capable 15 against Leitrim/London without having to show his hand for our most important match of the year. He can let them rip then at Galway and please God we will be on the march back to Croker (via Bowes maybe! )

  15. The positive thing about the league final is that Cork will have got their bile out from last years championship KO and will in fact go back to some sort of complacency again. Whereas we, if we have anything about us at all, should be rightly stoked up after it.
    Doesnt mean we are going to beat them but I would be fairly confident that if we are competitive in this years championships and make it to the business end we’ll run into them again.
    And this mindset thing does make a difference, I always felt that Tyrone couldnt hate us and werent able to work themselves up to the same level as they did with other teams when they played us after they were so impressed by what the Co Board and team did for them in the first league match after Cormac Mc’s death. Mass in Ballintubber etc., it was mentioned several times over the years that they were touched by it and i always thought in some ways it helped us have that edge over them we had in championship for quiet a few years. They werent going out to give us an easy time of course but its all about percentages and I think that gave us a 1% advantage. Wasnt intended of course, and I’m not suggesting that, Co Board were just doing the decent thing at the time, that anyone else probably would have.
    Different personnel now though more or less so I’d say thats well gone should we meet them this year!

  16. Interesting stuff, some of them stats if honest ,I wasn’t aware of.

    I suppose there is no definite answer as to why we lose so many finals, are we just a bit short everytime or is there something not right with the mindset?

    I like another poster thought Johno was the man to do it, I happen to be down home when Ballina won the Ai, I remember them stopping in ballagh with johno on board and people were saying in the town he brought the final ingredient for their success, the positive mental attitude necessary, I thought he would be the one when he came back to manage Mayo but as we know that didn’t pan out anything like that.

    I just wonder like everyone else, what is it exactly that has deprived us of the big one. The period 96 to 99 is the most disappointing when I look back, we were the best team in Ireland overall imo, we never have any real luck either, should of won connacht in 98 (mac crossbar) and maybe it would of been third time lucky. Who knows

  17. As Napolean used to to say of those who were being nominated for appointment as generals “I dont care if he is good, is he lucky”
    I think James Horan has a bit of the rub of the green about him and could be a lucky manager, Kieran Donaghy losing his head and kicking the ball back towards his own goals?

    Mind you Johnno seemed to have a bit of luck about him, except when it came to us!

  18. Digits summed it up nicely.Our underage system is a mess,our county board is a joke and we have being paying the price over the last number of years.Horan is a good manager but he can only play with the hand hes dealt.Its baffling that with all our developement squads etc. that we still cant find a big physical full foward who can win the ball.He doesnt have to be scoring 5pts from play every game-just be a presence around the square,bump into a few lads to let them know hes there and lay the ball off to the likes of O Connor and Mortimer who can score.Nothing more frustrating than seeing balls coming out of the FF line as quick as they go in.

  19. yes john u mention ger loughnane an i hav some relations down ther n he was ruthless not alone against the oppostion but also within his own county with the squad, any1 tha stepped out of line or messing was out n 1 player was humilated 1 night at training n then at the end of session to tog in n leave tha squad, seems harsh but at the end the day they won 2 mcCarty cups n banished biddy early for ever. Till we get tha ruthless streak n tha mayo team we will be also rans n i dont see it in this present team or the management.

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