Fraher Field was a happy hunting ground for Waterford this weekend, and even before the win over Cork I was pondering whether there is much advantage to being the home team in the GAA. The footballers have lost narrowly and been stuffed away from home, and recorded two solid victories at home. Obvious enough pattern there. It’s a little more opaque with the hurlers. Away from home we were decisively beaten by Tipperary and Wexford were probably closer to us than they might have otherwise expected. At home before Sunday we had taken the only point that Dublin have dropped thus far. So was the difference between Cork and ourselves because we were at home?
The GAA doesn’t seem to treat home as ‘an advantage’. Little effort seems to be made to rotate League fixtures so that you end up playing counties home-and-away in alternate years – four of our seven matches this year have the same home team as in the corresponding fixture last year – and when publishing results the winner comes first, although in fairness this may be a function of the slightly goofy scoring system; the winner will be obvious without having to convert the goals in to points. So using National League results going back to 1950 as a guide and a sufficiently significant sample, what impact does being at home have on Waterford’s chances?
The answer seems to be ‘it’s significant, but not as much as you might think’. The number of home and away games are very close together, which suggests the GAA does give it more thought than I originally suggested. We’ve won at home 55.7% and away 46.9% of the time, which means (if the logic of my maths is correct) that all other things being equal we are 15.8% more likely to win at home than we are away. It’s not something you’d want if you could avoid it – imagine if every game was a case of ‘first to 100 the winner’ and you had to give the opposition as 16-point head start – but it shouldn’t be enough to induce despair before you have even taken to the field. And if you shrink that figure down to an individual game like against Cavan, an advantage of 15.8% represent 1.1 points for Cavan, so they still would have won. I’ll tell myself all of this when we’re playing Kilkenny in Nowlan Park on Sunday week. Someone else can tell the players.