BY RONAN SCOTT
“We are creating smarter players by getting them to play by what they see.”
That’s the analysis of Paul Gallagher, joint manager of Killeavy’s Intermediate Championship winning team of 2017, and a man who believes that using data analysis systems can dramatically improve a club’s fortunes.
Himself and Paddy McGuinness took on the management role at the St Moninna’s at the start of the year, and set out to reverse the fortunes of the club.
“When we took the job there was no expectation. Our goal was to settle the ship. They had had a bad couple of years.” Gallagher said that Killeavy had a reputation of playing negative football. He wanted to change that, and he planned to use Performa Sports to make that change.
A former Carpenter turned PE teacher, Gallagher is also employed as a Master Tutor for the GAA and works with the Leinster coaching set up. He began whittling down a plan to change the team. But he couldn’t start putting stats on the players immediately.
He and McGuinness had to change attitudes first. And they did so in a very simple way.
“They were used to playing with a sweeper. A couple of boys felt they needed protection. Our philosophy was if you can’t mark your man there are men on the line who will have a go at it. Once we changed that mindset, that allowed them to play with more freedom.”
Then, with the players believing in themselves, and playing with more freedom. Gallagher began implementing the Performa Sports system. He’s been using it since the product was in its infancy so he has an indepth knowledge of all its best attributes.
With Killeavy, they took advantage of the post-match video analysis system.
“We got the videos and we were able to break them down into clips and get feedback. We showed them the good, and not so good.
“As we were getting more of our games videoed we were able to build up trends: Shots-to-score ratio, percentage of kickouts won, how we were winning them, where we were scoring from.”
So with the players feeling familiar with the stats package, Gallagher set his plan in motion to change their defensive game, and implement a more attacking style of football.
“My philosophy was that they would play an expansive game, that we would be positive, that we would be on the front foot. To go and win games, rather than play typical defensive football.
“We took a calculated risk that we wanted to kick the ball more than we previously had. We knew we were going to turn the ball over more as we would be playing a more risk/reward game. From the video analysis we were able to say ‘that was the right idea badly executed’, or ‘that wasn’t the right idea and you shouldn’t have done that at that particular time’.
“They are two different problems and our training could be based towards that.”
But simply running numbers on the players and presenting them without explanation would not be enough to turn this defensive team into an attacking machine. Gallagher knew that using the data incorrectly would have been disastrous.
“If you were to look at our raw stats it would say that we turned the ball over by kicking it away ten times, you might say then ‘don’t kick it’. But I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice that and play safe by running though the hands.
“When we had the videos (of turnover possessions) we could say ‘seven of them were the right thing to do, it just wasn’t executed well, whereas three of them you had no business kicking it. You had three men in front of you’.
“By showing them the videos they were learning it by seeing it, rather than me having to tell them.”
And that’s how they created players who played what they saw.
Perhaps the most important statistic for Killeavy, and the one that would help them go on and win the Intermediate Championship in 2017 was our kickout possessions.
“We built up a profile of our score sources. Of where they were coming from. The majority of our scores were coming from kickouts, both ours and theirs. We really targeted that.
“We played a high pressing game so then the second highest area of scores came from turnovers so you were able to show the clips of the good play, and show that it was working.
“We wanted to win our kickouts and then really press high and turn the ball over. We felt that if we turn the ball over then we can score quickly. That was very easy to show with Performa Sports.”
Once they identified those areas for improvement – the kickouts and the turnovers – then Gallagher was able to set targets for his players to reach.
“Every time we played we could set the target higher. We could say we are looking to win a minimum of 60 percent of our kickouts. That was our baseline and we tried to move it up as the championship progressed.”
So how did the players respond to this sort of analysis?
“There are three types of players when it comes to all analysis, there are the guys who the morning after the game will text you to say you didn’t post them stats. There are the ones that really don’t want to see them because it might highlight certain deficiencies and then there are the third player who doesn’t want to see theirs but they want to see everyone else’s.”
Gallagher found that for the most part players were very receptive. When they first started showing the data to the players, Gallagher found that some of them felt that the clips were too critical, that they only ever highlighted the bad. It became important then for the management to use the system to both criticise but praise as well.
What is also interesting is that stats don’t always tell the full story. Gallagher explained:
“You have to be careful about how you interpret the information.
“I had a cornerback who wasn’t showing up for interceptions, but from the video you were able to see his positioning was so good that when the opposition looked up his man was never an option. Consequently he made no interceptions because he was in front of his man that they never kicked it in his direction. The video analysis allows you to highlight that.”
In the end, there were two pieces of evidence supporting the success of the Performa system. The first was the Armagh Intermediate Championship title. The second was the appraisal from the players. Killeavy now have players who play by what they see.
*** It was announced that Paul Gallagher is no longer part of the Killeavy Management team ***