What’s the score?

The state of football is always a topic for debate. Michael McMullan looked at the scoring rates across the provincial and All-Ireland championships in five samples across the last five decades.

ELITE inter-county players have never been fitter, stronger or faster. The scale of management teams has rocketed both in terms of size and levels of scientific background.

The style of football has changed so much over the decades. Now, it’s all about possession.

Underage coaches are even number-crunching turnovers. “Keep the ball” has long replaced “kick it in” as the roar of choice from fans urging their team to do whatever it takes to win.

Even the rules have shaped it. The days when every sideline and free kick had to be kicked off the ground has been replaced by the ball being moved by kicking from the hand. And it’s often backwards or sidewards to either switch the play or keep the ball out of contact.

The modern-day players tear their hair out watching footage from the days of old when it was lamp in the ball and let the forwards fight for it.

Many watching the game now can check their phone a dozen times in the first half without really missing much in a lot of games.

But, at the end of the day, winning games is all about scoring and we took a look across five different decades of the inter-county senior football landscape

The scoring averages have increased steadily, to almost nine points a game over forty years.

The one outlier from the statistics was the 2.6 goals per game in 1983 – just after the handpass goal was abolished.

Another part of the study was how this year’s percentage of scores from play compares to 2013.

The 73.9 per cent figure this year – including 41 points from advanced marks – went up 3.5 per cent since the 70.4 per cent from the 2013 season.

Another huge bone of contention centres around the provincial championship and where they sit in the pecking order of importance given the new All-Ireland structure.

Dublin’s dominance of Leinster with 62 titles is well ahead of Meath on 21. In Munster, Kerry’s tally of 84 is nearly twice that of Cork.

All but two of Cavan’s 40 Ulster titles came before the end of the sixties. In Connacht it’s a shoot-out between Galway and Mayo.

It’s the one-sided games that are the issue. Aside from the revenue coming in from provincial games, there is a strong grá for Ulster and Connacht championship action.

Ryan O’Toole’s goal this year ended one of the games of the season as Monaghan beat Tyrone. Roscommon have been more than a match for the big two out west.

The proof lies in the scoring averages where Ulster and Connacht have lower winning margins.

Connacht shot up to 10.1 per cent for 2013 and 8.7 last year with New York on the end of 24 and 16-points defeats. The latter coming at the hands of Sligo after their historic shoot-out win over Leitrim in the Bronx.

There wasn’t a single draw in Munster across the 25 games in this survey. Contrast that to six of the 46 Ulster games – including four in 1993 – being replays and the 2022 and 2023 Ulster finals going to extra-time and penalties respectively.


WE took a sample from across the entire championship seasons – All-Ireland and provincial competitions – from five decades years across the last 40 years. The 2023 Tailteann Cup results have not been included in the study.

Scoring averages 
2023 – 1.8 goals 28.8 points per game over 64 games
2013 – 2.0 goals 26.6 points per game over 61 games
2003 – 1.7 goals 24.5 points per game over 65 games
1993 – 1.8 goals 21.5 points per game over 35 games
1983 – 2.6 goals 20.9 points per game over 34 games

Goals scored
2023 – 112 goals
2013 – 121 goals
2003 – 108 goals
1993 – 64 goals
1983 – 90 goals

Provincial margins
HERE are the average winning margins in the provincial championships across the last 40 years, using the same sample of games.

New York were only included in Connacht for the 2003,  2013 and 2023 campaigns.

Ulster SFC (8 games) – 6.5 points
Munster SFC (5 games) – 8.4 points
Leinster SFC (10 games) – 8.5 points
Connacht SFC (6 games) – 8.7 points

Ulster SFC (8 games) – 4.0 points
Munster SFC (5 games) – 14.2 points
Leinster SFC (10 games) – 7.8 points
Connacht SFC (7 games) – 10.1 points

Ulster SFC (10 games) – 4.9 points
Munster SFC (5 games) – 7.6 points
Leinster SFC (12 games) – 5.3 points
Connacht SFC (6 games) – 5.5 points

Ulster SFC (12 games) – 3.7 points
Munster SFC (5 games) – 6.8 points
Leinster SFC (10 games) – 5.9 points
Connacht SFC (5 games) – 2.8 points

Ulster SFC (8 games) – 6.1 points
Munster SFC (5 games) – 12.0 points
Leinster SFC (12 games) – 7.6 points
Connacht SFC (5 games) – 3.6 points

Scores from play
A COMPARISON of scores from play was made over the last 10 years, from 2013 to 2023.

The new advanced mark rule is neither a free or a score from open play. Averages for both are listed for 2023.

2013 – 70.4% of scores from play
2023 (inc. marks) – 73.9% scores from play
2023 (not inc. marks) – 75.7% scores from play

All-Ireland qualifiers
THE ‘back door’ was brought in for the first time in 2001. The first round included all teams knocked out in the earliest round of their provincial series. In 2023, the new-look All-Ireland series – played in four groups of four – had only the top 16 ranked teams beginning the quest for the All-Ireland series.

Here are the average winning margins for these seasons.

All-Ireland Qualifiers Round 1 (8 games) – 7.8 points
All-Ireland Qualifiers Round 2 (8 games) – 3.8 points

All-Ireland Qualifiers Round 1 (8 games) – 10.9 points
All-Ireland Qualifiers Round 2 (8 games) – 8.8 points

All-Ireland Group stages (24 games) – 5.2 points

The stats were compiled with the help of the Irish Examiner archives .

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