Ulster Final Preview
Throughout the 2015 Ulster Senior Football Championship, Ulster GAA have published match data from each game. This data provides us with a great opportunity to analyse the performances of both Donegal and Monaghan ahead of the final this Sunday.
The Possession Battle
There are 2 primary methods of gaining possession; 1) Direct from a kick out; & 2) From turnover ball. Figure 1 (below) depicts how each team has fared from kick outs this far. Similar to 12 months ago, Donegal appear to have the edge in this department, winning an average of 20 per match, while conceding 21 to their opponents. Monaghan have only won an average of 18 per match, conceding 27 to their opponents. It is an interesting measure of the importance of the kick out battle in today’s game that the teams contesting the final have, on average, failed to win the battle for kick out possession. In this match, previous figures from USFC 2015 suggest Donegal may shade the kick out contest by 3-4 possessions.
Figure 1: Kick Out Possessions
Both teams turnover records would suggest neither will lose possession easily – Donegal have averaged 21 lost possessions in their 3 matches, while Monaghan average a marginally higher 22 per game. A key factor may lie in ther ability of Monaghan to force turnovers from their opponents, averaging 28 per match while Donegal could only manage an average of 23. With both sides factored together it is possible to predict than Donegal will cough up 3-4 more possessions in turnovers than Monaghan.
Figure 2: Average Turnover Counts from the 2015 Ulster Finalists
With both kick outs and turnovers considered there is no doubt that the possession battle will be on a knife edge, with the teams almost inseparable. Donegal’s predicted kick out superiority may just enable them to shade the possession count. Interestingly, this predicted pattern for the 2015 final is almost identical to what was predicted ahead of the 2014 final. While the exact numbers did not transpire the possession count was very close, with Monaghan edging it by 3 possessions.
Figure 3: Ulster GAA Possession Forecast
Obviously, possession share is crucial to chances of victory, however, of greater importance is how each team utilises possession, and how effective they are at converting possessions to scores. Figure 4 provides a glimpse as to how close the outcome could be come Sunday. Both finalists have identical average conversion rates of 31%. Donegal could edge this area on account of their defensive solidity, having only conceded from 21% of opposition possessions, while Monaghan are less successful defensively, conceding from 28% of opposition possessions.
Figure 4: Possession: Scores Ratio (%)
With everything so far pointing to a marginal advantage for Donegal, we can look, in more depth, at productivity with possession. In keeping with the fascination that is the Ulster football championship, Monaghan have displayed greater scoring potential in 2015 by quite a margin, 4.1 points per 10 possessions, in comparison to Donegal’s 3.3 points per 10 possessions. The flip side being that Donegal concede at a much slower rate than Monaghan. Donegal have been conceding at a rate of 2.2 points per 10 possessions, while Monaghan leak 2.8 points per 10 possessions.
When we take into account both sides of the productivity encounter, Monaghan hold a slim advantage, and are predicted to return 3.2 points per 10 possessions, while Donegal may only manage 3.1 points per 10 possessions.
Figure 5: Productivity per 10 Possessions
By combining possession and productivity forecasts for both teams we can estimate the scoring potential of each as they head into the final, and the predicted outcome reflects this year’s Ulster championship in its entirety.
Despite being edged by Donegal in the possession count, Monaghan’s marginally superior productivity will see both teams deliver close to the 14 point mark, with Monaghan slightly superior when we drill deeper into the figures.
Figure 6: Scoring Forecast
Once again, we are presented with another extremely tight game to predict in this year’s Ulster final. Many of the key battles will be edged by 1-2% in favour of either team – no real margin to suggest there will be a clear winner. Factoring all the statistical information together points to a drawn game, with Monaghan the slightly more likely to emerge with the tightest of victories.
Thankfully, things are not always that clear cut. Each team will have been working on their weaknesses from previous rounds, while also identifying their opponent’s weaknesses in the hope of exploiting them ahead of the final.
Donegal will have been working to improve their shooting return since the Derry game, and if this proves successful then the balance of probability will swing in their favour. Monaghan are likely to have worked on their own kick out plan and execution to increase the volume of possession they gain since the Fermanagh game. As with Donegal, if they prove successful with this work they could enjoy a greater advantage than predicted.
Regardless of all the subtleties in the statistical analysis, this match does look set to be a very close battle, with neither team likely to dominate any one particular area of the game, and all outcomes are very much possibilities.