It’s a long way to the top for expansion teams

Michael DiFabrizio Columnist

By Michael DiFabrizio, Michael DiFabrizio is a Roar Expert

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    The expansion teams are back on the agenda after GWS and Gold Coast received two massive thumpings on Easter Sunday, but we should all just relax.

    Sure, the Giants couldn’t register a first half goal on the way to losing to North Melbourne by 129 points and the Suns weren’t close in their 92-point loss to St Kilda.

    But it’s funny that the other club being blasted for lacking competitiveness right now is Melbourne, who’ve put in two disappointing performances – including a 108-point loss – under new coach Mark Neeld.

    It just shows that whether you’ve been around 150 years or aren’t anywhere near 150 games, building a side capable of winning the flag is not a task that happens overnight.

    That hasn’t stopped the flow of negative comments that started about 10 minutes in to the GWS game, mind you.

    “The people of Gold Coast and western Sydney aren’t going to put up with this sort of footy much longer.”

    “The AFL needs to intervene.”

    “Both teams should’ve been given more experienced players from other clubs.”

    “A country footy team could beat GWS.”

    Honestly, it needs to stop.

    If you couldn’t have foreseen that the Suns and Giants would find it hard to compete early on in their existence, you’ve got rocks in your head.

    With lists comprised mostly of freshly-drafted players, it was clear that there would be dark times to begin with.

    In recent years, our Supercoach teams and the Rising Star award have shown how much of an impact a young player can have in his first or second year of footy. It’s definitely possible for young players to come into the comp and belong straight away.

    But to expect that of an entire group of young players isn’t right.

    A great example was thrown in our faces on Monday. Just look at Tom Hawkins, who is seemingly coming alive with each game he plays for Geelong.

    Up until Round 24 last year, he was the epitome of a much-maligned player. The key forward, who we were told would’ve gone very high in his draft had he not been a father-son pick, struggled to impose himself in games, let alone live up to his potential.

    Now, in his sixth season of AFL football – yes, sixth – he’s finally “arrived”. He’s all of the sudden a contested marking machine who’s playing a major role in the Cats winning big games.

    It puts all the commotion following Sunday’s results into some form of perspective.

    It is very, very rare to see even close to a player’s best football in his first or second season. The players that will be responsible for driving these two clubs up the ladder have plenty of improvement ahead of them.

    This is illustrated by the fact there are 35 GWS listed players that are aged 20 or younger.

    Initially, we were told it would be better for these new clubs to become genuine premiership contenders within a reasonable timeframe, rather than for them to find themselves as far away from a flag as the Brisbane Bears and Sydney Swans once were for an extended period.

    Most of us bought into that premise.

    But if we truly believe that’s the way to go, then getting games into kids – no matter how bad it looks on the scoreboard, no matter how many pages from the back of the Daily Telegraph it puts the game – should be what’s most important right now.

    The sad part is, already it seems that at least one of the expansion clubs might’ve already departed from the premise.

    It was reported on The Footy Show earlier this year that the Suns board have a set criteria that coach Guy McKenna will need to meet to keep his job after this season, which (according to the show) includes winning six games.

    This came on the back of a report in the Gold Coast Bulletin that senior officials were “seething” after McKenna used the second half of the club’s NAB Cup fixture with GWS, a game they lost, to give more minutes to youngsters.

    The report was denied by the Suns, but as the saying goes, where there’s smoke there’s fire.

    And that, bizarre as it may seem, worries me a lot more than how the Suns went in the second game of their second season against a 2011 finalist on the road.

    Michael DiFabrizio
    Michael DiFabrizio

    Michael DiFabrizio is based in Mildura, Victoria. He has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, leading to appearances on ABC News 24 and in the Age. Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelDiFab.

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    The Crowd Says (85)

    • April 11th 2012 @ 7:18am
      ManInBlack said | April 11th 2012 @ 7:18am | ! Report

      What I’ve found amazing is the talk of being contendors within 4 or 5 years.

      By that stage, the 18 yr olds will still only be 22-23 yrs old. StKilda had a batch of top picks in Riewoldt, Kosi, Ball and Goddard – and still had to wait until they had matured into adult bodies to have any notion of ‘contending’.

      The key in the short-medium term is to get 40-50 games into as many of the new players as possible. Until that happens – for me, most judgements should be suspended. And if that can include the ‘management’ of the Suns to permit McKenna to educate his young charges then all the better.

      • April 11th 2012 @ 5:29pm
        John Hines said | April 11th 2012 @ 5:29pm | ! Report

        the afl should look long and hard at themselves because expanding to 18 teams will cost them a hell of a lot in the long run because there is not enough money around to keep it at 18 teams plus there is not enough fans to keep the afl healthy

        • Roar Guru

          April 11th 2012 @ 7:51pm
          The Cattery said | April 11th 2012 @ 7:51pm | ! Report

          what stats are you using to justify the last point about not enough fans?

          The AFL’s members, set to exceed 650k for the second running, are double the total members of the other codes combined.

          On top of that, about three clubs have waiting lists to purchase memberships.

    • April 11th 2012 @ 7:32am
      TomC said | April 11th 2012 @ 7:32am | ! Report

      ‘It was reported on The Footy Show earlier this year that the Suns board have a set criteria that coach Guy McKenna will need to meet to keep his job after this season, which (according to the show) includes winning six games.’

      Does anyone really believe this? The only person who seems to give it much credence is Damien Barret, who reported it.

      It would be astonishingly stupid if it was true. I really don’t think the Australian sports media is universally competent enough to say ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire’.

      • Columnist

        April 11th 2012 @ 10:27am
        Michael DiFabrizio said | April 11th 2012 @ 10:27am | ! Report

        TomC, I agree that it’d be astonishingly stupid to expect six wins, but it was interesting that despite this report appearing on a widely-watched nationally broadcast football show, the Suns did not (to my knowledge) come out after and state that wasn’t the case. When you combine this with the report after the GWS NAB Cup loss, it is not unreasonable to suggest there’s smoke. I certainly don’t think both these journalists just made up what they were saying.

      • April 11th 2012 @ 10:41am
        Macca said | April 11th 2012 @ 10:41am | ! Report

        If the suns sack Mckenna they have rocks in their head, and 6 wins is ridiculous, they will get 2 from GWS but can’t see them getting another 4, Melbourne will get better and the three teams the suns beat last year Port, Richmond & Brisbane have improved more than the Suns.

    • April 11th 2012 @ 7:53am
      chrisc101 said | April 11th 2012 @ 7:53am | ! Report

      I find the blind faith in the assumption that they will make the Grand Final in 4-5 years incredibly naive or more likely propaganda. Even the Brisbane Broncos haven’t won the comp since 2006 and they have the biggest advantage of any sporting team in the country.

    • April 11th 2012 @ 8:49am
      cos789 said | April 11th 2012 @ 8:49am | ! Report

      “Honestly, it needs to stop”

      I disagree. People have been putting their heads in the sand and saying its ok because of the greater good. Both clubs have serious problems, and you can only go on throwing money at it for so long.

      Only a year in, but clearly somethings have been set up/done poorly at both GC and GWS. A bit of navel gazing at AFL HQ wouldn’t be a bad thing at this point. Some new thinking will be needed for both clubs.

      • April 11th 2012 @ 11:16am
        Macca said | April 11th 2012 @ 11:16am | ! Report

        cos789 – I agree the whole need for the expansion teams doesn’t really stack up, sydney still cna’t make money or hold a strong supoorter base despite being there for 30 years and being quite successful for the last decade or more.

        Even when these teams become successful on the park (and the will eventually) the success off the park will still elude them.

        • April 11th 2012 @ 11:47am
          Cameron said | April 11th 2012 @ 11:47am | ! Report

          the Swans have a strong alebit moderate size supporter base. Still, any Sydney NRL club would love its average crowds even though they have slipped in recent years.

          • April 11th 2012 @ 11:54am
            Macca said | April 11th 2012 @ 11:54am | ! Report

            I think the NRL comparison just highlights that Sydneysiders don’t support football whatever the code the same as Melbourne, hence highlighting how difficult GWS is going to find it.

            • April 11th 2012 @ 4:18pm
              Chris said | April 11th 2012 @ 4:18pm | ! Report

              I don’t think anyone in the AFL thinks that the GWS project is going to be easy.

              And the Swans, while not making large buckets of money, mostly pay their way these days. Remember that they had a couple of seasons where the SCG capacity was reduced due to the Trumper Stand being built. This reduced the ability of the club to sell memberships and get bums on seats. With the northern end of the SCG being redeveloped over the next couple of years the Swans will face this problem again, but I think they’re fundamental financial health is reasonably sound. Certainly better than almost every NRL club and better than many of the Melbourne based AFL clubs too.

              • April 11th 2012 @ 4:29pm
                Macca said | April 11th 2012 @ 4:29pm | ! Report

                Leading into 2011, the Swans had lost $1,664,904 over three years, is that really mostly paying their way?

                And this is from a side who has had the whole of the sydney market to themselves for 30 years.

              • Roar Guru

                April 11th 2012 @ 4:31pm
                The Cattery said | April 11th 2012 @ 4:31pm | ! Report

                do you want to return to the VFL days?

              • April 11th 2012 @ 4:47pm
                Macca said | April 11th 2012 @ 4:47pm | ! Report

                There is a difference between wanting to go back to the VFL days and not wanting to have the league expand into regions that don’t really want them for no real reason.

                I could of got behind the idea of a Tassie side but really 16 sides was plenty.

                I will also say this, in the VFL my AFL membership got me into every game without having to buy a seat at an extra cost including the Grand Final (to which I could turn up at 10.30 and take my seat in the northern stand about 10 rows off the fence and not have to stare into the sun all day.

                I could also watch 3 games of footy for the day, see some up and comers play in the u/19’s or the 2’s and keep an eye on them for the future. So not all progress has been for the better.

              • Roar Guru

                April 11th 2012 @ 4:54pm
                The Cattery said | April 11th 2012 @ 4:54pm | ! Report

                this is the big unknown – how would the game be staying at 16 teams for the next 20 years – really hard to know – there’s so much sporting competition these days – you just can’t stand still and hope for the best.

              • April 11th 2012 @ 5:09pm
                Macca said | April 11th 2012 @ 5:09pm | ! Report

                The A league isn’t exactly kicking goals with both Newcastle and Gold Coast dropping out and NRL is a long way behind.

                You could keep the league at 16 teams and play games in canberra, tassie and western sydney as they have been and keep growing the quality of the game rather than dilluting the talent and pumping money into teams that in 30 years will still not be making a profit.

              • April 11th 2012 @ 5:36pm
                Ian Whitchurch said | April 11th 2012 @ 5:36pm | ! Report


                Given the fact that Sydney spent more than, say, Western Bulldogs or Port Adelaide on their football department, I dont think a $500k a year loss for each of 3 years is that important.

      • Roar Guru

        April 11th 2012 @ 11:24am
        The Cattery said | April 11th 2012 @ 11:24am | ! Report

        We should judge in 50 years.

        • April 11th 2012 @ 11:30am
          Macca said | April 11th 2012 @ 11:30am | ! Report

          Yep that is the strategy of the expansionary supporter, we aren’t allowed to judge until it is a success not matter how long and how much that takes.

          • Roar Guru

            April 11th 2012 @ 2:41pm
            The Cattery said | April 11th 2012 @ 2:41pm | ! Report

            It’s more the strategy of a well run organisation that actually has a strategy. Long term planning is precisely that. For an organisation that is 115 years old, safeguarding a game that is 154 years old, when you talk long term planning, you are talking about many decades, by definition.

            Others can worry about what they are doing next week.

            The AFL is the sole custodian of the game, other sporting bodies in Australia are not the sole custodian of their game.

            • April 11th 2012 @ 2:51pm
              Macca said | April 11th 2012 @ 2:51pm | ! Report

              Sole custodian – I wonder what the VFL, SANFL, WAFL, VCFL etc think about that statement.

              And yes you have to think long term but you have to think about everything in between as well if you only worry about the result in 50 years you can find your self out of business long before the pay off. How many millions of dollars over the next 10 to 20 years will GWS soak up? You can’t ignore that and just say don’t worry in 2060 it will be fine.

              • Roar Guru

                April 11th 2012 @ 3:16pm
                The Cattery said | April 11th 2012 @ 3:16pm | ! Report

                They are important state governing bodies and stakeholders in the game, but they sit under the umbrella of the AFL. The AFL doesn’t just look after the competition called the AFL, it looks after the game of Australian Football.

              • April 11th 2012 @ 3:31pm
                Macca said | April 11th 2012 @ 3:31pm | ! Report

                If they really wanted to look after the game of Australian football they would scrap the suns and GWS and put the millions of dollars into footbal at the local level to stop more and more clubs merging or folding resulting in shrinking opportunities for peploe to play football.

                I played in a league that merged with another league in the early 90’s then got a team from another disloved league in the late 90’s had 4 clubs fold, a couple more leave to go to another league before it got down to 6 teams in the early 2000’s which then saw the league fold, 4 teams merge into 2 and go into one league while the 2 others went into a seperate league. A league that had had more than a dozen teams play in it ended with just 4.

              • Roar Guru

                April 11th 2012 @ 3:49pm
                The Cattery said | April 11th 2012 @ 3:49pm | ! Report

                or they can try to do all of that at the same time.

                The Suns and GWS teams come with academies and plans to increase participation in the Northern states. They feed off each other.

                An extra $250 mill in TV money has come in on the strength of an extra game, which will help exisiting clubs and is ploughed back into grassroots footy – no sport spends as much on grassroots sport as does the AFL.

              • April 11th 2012 @ 3:58pm
                Macca said | April 11th 2012 @ 3:58pm | ! Report

                Look at where the “grass roots” money is spent, Auskick which is great but if you have 50 kids turning up to Auskick but only one team for them to play in at u/17 level there is a lot of kids who drop out long before getting to senior footy.

                And attributing all the $250m to the extra game especially when it is uncompetitive is being a bit generous. And how much of that is going to grass roots footy and how much is going to porp up the Suns & GWS?

                And how will an academy (which you have to be already playing the game to get into) in NSW help all the struggling clubs and leagues in VIctoria?

              • Roar Guru

                April 11th 2012 @ 7:40pm
                The Cattery said | April 11th 2012 @ 7:40pm | ! Report

                I think that happens in a lot of sports, let’s be honest by the time you’re 16/17, there are plenty of things competing for your attention (and some of it is pretty hard to resist).

    • Roar Guru

      April 11th 2012 @ 8:50am
      Redb said | April 11th 2012 @ 8:50am | ! Report

      I’m come to the conclusion that McKenna is not up to it as a senior coach. He has an inexperienced coaching panel behind him and just isnt going to take the Suns forward. They need a better tactician as coach.

      • Columnist

        April 11th 2012 @ 10:28am
        Michael DiFabrizio said | April 11th 2012 @ 10:28am | ! Report

        Redb, to be fair, I don’t think the cattle are ready to implement the game plan McKenna is trying to introduce.

        • Roar Guru

          April 11th 2012 @ 11:51am
          Redb said | April 11th 2012 @ 11:51am | ! Report

          I dunno. Something is missing. Maybe its a mentor coach?

          McKenna served under Malthouse but even Buckley has a mentor coach, as does Hird and now Voss.

    • Columnist

      April 11th 2012 @ 9:58am
      Ryan O'Connell said | April 11th 2012 @ 9:58am | ! Report

      When new teams enter the NBA, the league sometimes holds an expansion draft. Essentially, the new team can draft one ‘unprotected’ player from each of the other clubs. I wonder if a similar mechanic would be suitable for the AFL?

      Obviously it would need to be slightly adapted in order to be feasible for the AFL, but is there any merit in the thinking? Along with the traditional draft picks and free agent signings, it may help the new clubs be a little more competitive early on.

      • Columnist

        April 11th 2012 @ 10:35am
        Michael DiFabrizio said | April 11th 2012 @ 10:35am | ! Report

        Ryan, an expansion draft was definitely one of the options considered by the AFL. Instead, they chose to give them draft picks and a handful of uncontracted players via concessions. The reason was it’d give them a better chance of winning a premiership down the track, assuming they don’t butcher their recruiting, which is fair enough. It’s better if the new teams are successful rather than enjoy a Fremantle-esque early existence.

        As for whether you could do an expansion draft-style thing now to bolster their lists, not sure the fans of other clubs would much appreciate it. Remember, with all the draft picks, most fans thought these clubs were being handed premierships on a platter.

        • Columnist

          April 11th 2012 @ 10:46am
          Ryan O'Connell said | April 11th 2012 @ 10:46am | ! Report

          It’s a balancing act though. Objective fans (if they exist!) would admit that an overall even competition is probably better for the AFL than having some teams getting pumped. Whilst the league expanding their footprint is a good thing, it is questionable/debatable how beneficial it is if said teams are getting hammered.

          I know the AFL are fantastic at long-term planning. But sometimes there is no long term if the short term is terrible.

          • Columnist

            April 11th 2012 @ 11:02am
            Michael DiFabrizio said | April 11th 2012 @ 11:02am | ! Report

            Don’t get me wrong, it looks terrible at the moment and the football the Giants and Suns are playing right now wouldn’t be winning too many fans. But if their first 15 years in the comp end up similar to that of the Dockers, then the short and middle term would be underwhelming and the long term almost certainly would not exist.

      • April 11th 2012 @ 11:52am
        Ian Whitchurch said | April 11th 2012 @ 11:52am | ! Report


        Thats what giving the new clubs first dibs on the Free Agents *was*.

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