This weekend will see the realisation of the biggest structural change to the All-Ireland Football Championship in 18 years, with the first full round of fixtures in the Super 8. While the competition structure may not have altered since the qualifier system was introduced in 2001, the style of Gaelic football has evolved at a faster rate than ever before. There were no blanket defences in 2001. There were no goalkeepers taking frees or defenders finding themselves their team's top scorer from play. Forwards played as forwards and even Meath were good at football.
So much has changed since then and many would argue it has made the sport a worse spectacle. If you listen to some of the rhetoric, Gaelic football has gone from the free-flowing, high-scoring romp of the 90s to a dower affair, marred by defensive systems. However the evidence simply does not support this notion.
If we take a look at every championship since the dawn of the qaulifier system, the average team score per game increased time and time again. In fact, this summer is the highest scoring championship of the last 17 years, with teams scoring an average of 18.64 points per match. Thanks to statistics provided to us by Sure, the official statistics partner of the GAA, we can see that team averages have risen from 14.79 points per game in 2001.
It's interesting to look at the slump in average scoring in the mid-2000s, when the blanket defence was beginning to catch on outside the likes of Tyrone. In 2006, no team in the Ulster championship had a total score higher than 16 points in any match. This year, across the eight games played in Ulster, teams managed at total score of 16 points or more on nine occasions.
Even when we take in the rest of the country, in the eight matches (Mayo v Laois went to a replay) from the quarter-finals onwards in 2006 a team managed a total score of more than 16 points just three times. Across the qualifiers that year, teams managed to surpass 16 points 13 times in the 25 matches played. That's 13 times out of a possible 50. In this year's qualifiers, teams scored more than 16 points on 34 occasions out of a possible 48.
Since that low in 2006, the average total score per teams has increased year-on-year nine years out of 12.
Now of course there is the argument that high-scoring hammerings, like those dished out in some of this year's provincial finals can skew the total score stats but the average winning margin - as provided to us by Sure - in this year's championship to date is 5.7 points. That is just one point more than the average winning marging of 4.7 points in 2001 and we still have, in theory, the most competitive matches of this year's championship to come.
So all it seems is not a bad as we might first think and with the birth of the Super 8 series we should hopefully have an enthralling few weeks ahead.
All stats discussed in the article come via GaelicStats.com. Sure is the official statistics partner of the GAA