A significant increase in hand-passing, uncontested kick-outs, backward passes and a definite decrease in turnovers and contests for possession are the key trends that a new study into Gaelic football has found.
The Association has published a full statistical analysis report that provides a very revealing insight into how Gaelic football has developed in the past 13 years.
A group led by John Tobin, chairman of the National Coaching and Games Committee, and assisted by Shane Flanagan, the national head of coaching and games, and Jack Cooney, GAA national player development lead, spearheaded the survey.
This data was then processed by Gaelic Stats to develop a comparative analysis of 521 senior inter-county championship matches from 2011 to 2023.
Their report paints a clear picture of how Gaelic football has become a more possession-based, conservative sport.
In total 619 games were analysed; 98 league games (2019-2023) and 521 championship games (2011-2023).
For the purposes of year-over-year comparison and consistency, only the championship games have been included.
The average number of hand passes per game has increased from 251 in 2011 to 421 in this year's championship.
Despite the increase in hand passing, there has not been a comparable slide in foot passing. While kicking was on the decrease from 2011 to 2018, it has started to level off at approximately 130 passes per game.
Some of the rise in passing can be explained by an increase in game time. The ball was in play for an average of 34 minutes in the 2011 season and now stands at 45 minutes, 30 seconds, a 32% increase over 13 seasons.
The report shows that forward kick passes are down 9% in the past number of years. In 2011, for every foot pass there were two hand passes, in 2023 that ratio is 3.2 hand passes to every foot pass.
Despite the total number of hand passes increasing slightly this season, the ratio is relatively consistent since 2016.
Five years ago there were 11.1 passes to goalkeepers per game. Now it is 23.1 passes per game.
Significantly and perhaps demonstrating the conservative approach of some teams, there is press on the opposition kick-out on 78% of occasions.
The GAA hope that by establishing the facts of how the game has evolved and by providing a snapshot of how it is currently played at the highest level there can at least have a more informed debate on the health of football.
The review group consulted with football royalty like Colm O' Rourke, Paul Rouse, Michael Murphy, Enda McGinley, Philip Kerr, Derek Savage, Kevin McStay, Kevin Feely, Mickey Ned O’ Sullivan, Billy Morgan , Malachy O Rourke and Tom Hunt.
The group agreed the GAA should collect similar data on a regular basis and such data should be made available to all.
It highlighted how many difficulties are emanating from the blanket defence and the kick out. And the group proposed that any intervention to the rules of the game should focus on rewarding risk.