Why Adelaide and Geelong won’t win the flag in 2018

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    Following an impressive and dominant finals series from Richmond, their coach Damien Hardwick spoke of the Tigers’ focus on a high pressure rating and speed (especially up forward) being the cornerstone of their turnaround as a team.

    Richmond had comprehensively belted every team they faced in the finals including Geelong and Adelaide. They have become the pre-eminent finals team and a blueprint for the perfect modern AFL side.

    You’d think then that all teams would realise speed, especially up forward, and small forward lines that pressure would be the way to go? Not so for Geelong and Adelaide who will enter 2018 as slow and tall as ever.

    So let’s get to the crux of the issue, how do you apply the most pressure as a team? The most simple way is to have a very fast team that can close down space very quickly, change direction quickly, and harass with repeat efforts. Tall lumbering types and slow bulky mids just won’t get the job done in regards to pressure.

    Both Adelaide and Geelong don’t seem to have realised this, losing speed during the trade period and not looking to replace or increase the speed of their respective sides at all.

    Both also favour having two talls in their forward line the majority of the time with Adelaide having Taylor Walker and Jenkins, Geelong Tom Hawkins and Harry Taylor/Rhys Stanley. This outdated frankly archaic philosophy of how to construct a forward line cost both teams dearly when they faced the speedy Tigers on the wide expanses of the MCG in finals.

    Their tall lumbering forwards were a huge liability being exposed on transition again and again by the Richmond wave of runners.

    It’s not only their forward lines though that lack speed, Adelaide and Geelong are slow almost all over the ground. Geelong only have Pat Dangerfield, Sam Menegola, Zach Tuohy, and maybe Nakia Cockatoo (if he can get on the park) with any real breakaway pace and Adelaide only having Eddie Betts, Paul Seedsman, and Curtly Hampton providing any dynamic speed.

    So where is their pressure going to come from?

    Geelong will take solace in the fact that they play on by far the most narrow ground in the league for nine games in 2018 meaning they won’t have to shut down anywhere near the space they would on the MCG to apply pressure.

    The Crows too play 12 games on a smallish ground in the Adelaide Oval, allowing them to apply pressure with more ease than they would be able to elsewhere.

    Unlike Richmond who transition with dynamic pace, handball, or kicking to space both Adelaide and Geelong prefer to use a more measured kicking game with ball in hand rather than run and carry. Logic says they’ll now rely on such measured and at times predictable ball movement even more.

    Strangely being able to play their respective home grounds so well and only having to shut down limited space is a real problem for both teams, deceiving their respective coaches (and many of their more misguided fans) in to feeling secure in set ups and a game plan that simply won’t cut it in September against quicker sides on the wide spaces of the MCG.

    Patrick Dangerfield Rory Sloane Geelong Cats Adelaide Crows AFL 2017

    (Photo by James Elsby/AFL Media/Getty Images)

    I also can’t help but feel Taylor Walker and Hawkins are forwards made for yesteryear far less athletic in the air and at ground level than a Jack Reiwoldt type they are becoming a liability and a point of weakness in their respective teams because of the way they draw the ball and hardly mark it.

    Once it goes to ground they’re completely out of the contest and it’s swept up by nimble defenders who run it out of there to start yet another counter attack. On a side note it’s no coincidence GWS’s best and most dynamic performance of the year came without their lumbering forward in Jon Patton slowing down their forward line.

    The advantages of a small quick forward line with only maybe one KPF marking target that’s incredibly athletic like Richmond’s are four fold.

    First, they apply enormous pressure to the opposition inside forward 50 limiting the effectiveness of the oppositions ability to build up coherent attacking play from defence or forcing a turn-over to give the attacking team a chance to score again.

    This is reflected in Richmond being ranked first in intercepts per game in 2017, and first in tackles inside 50 per game.

    Second, on quick transition from defence they supply speed which can move together in unison using handball/run and carry down the ground to quickly create an outnumber and overwhelm slow tall traditional defences. This is reflected in the combined stat of Richmond finishing fourth in metres gained per game, and third in bounces per game in 2017.

    Third, when a team like Richmond are looking for a target moving forward opposition defences find it incredibly difficult to go third man up with mosquito forwards leading every which way separating defenders and not making it obvious where the ball will go. Richmond finished second in marks inside 50 per game last year despite having a small forward line for this very reason

    Fourth, small forwards with speed are lethal when the ball hits the ground, able to win more ground ball than tall defenders and being able to break with speed from the contest to create space and set up teammates to have shots on goal. The Tigers ranked equal fifth in goal assists in 2017.

    Each area on its own may not lead to success but when it’s all combined it’s a lethal mix. It’s now the blueprint for success and unless Richmond get terrible injuries I think they’re a very good chance to go back to back given they’re a fair way in front of the rest of the comp when it comes to fully understanding the importance of speed and athleticism in modern footy.

    Port Adelaide may have the speed to worry them, possibly GWS if they actually have the courage to play small, maybe even Essendon are an outside chance with their own mosquito fleet, Hawthorn can’t be counted out if Puopolo and Cyril stay fit.

    Come September however one thing’s for sure the Tiges certainly won’t have to worry about Adelaide or Geelong troubling them, with the Cats and Crows forward set ups and lack of understanding of the importance of speed all over the park more closely resembling the structure of a perfect team from 1988 than 2018.