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When the AFL decided to introduce an 18th club, based in Western Sydney, they needed a strategy to help get the club kick-started. There are two strategies they could have used – ‘Moneyball’ and the ‘youth policy’.
To try and best explain the two different strategies, I will make up two geniuses who go by the names of John and Kevin to present to the idea to a mock AFL panel.
The first genius fronts the panel.
John’s strategy is called Moneyball. He intends to field a team largely made up of players aged 22 to 28, with the introduction of one 19 year old player for the first game.
John’s aim is simple; he wants to play finals in his first year. The interview panel is impressed but have some concerns.
“John, what are we to do with the raft of draft picks that will be thrown at or feet?”
“We will keep our first three picks, while trading the remainder to clubs for established players in our target age group of 22 to 28,” John responds.
The board nod and seem excited. “That sounds great but what about blindly following a youth program? Within five years we could potentially have a side of superstars, and the premierships will flow.”
John shakes his head, “I want a champion team, not a team of champions. If you don’t start winning games straight away, you will develop a losing culture.
“Look at Melbourne. You will have more first round draft picks than you will ever need to choose from and your club may not be around in five years.”
The panel is impressed but need to hear from the second genius.
Kevin’s strategy is called the youth program. He intends to load up on youth while the draft picks are available.
In the first year he plans to win two games and lose 16 games by 40 points or more. The goal is to be a dominate force in about five years.
The panel has some questions, “Are you not concerned the younger, less mature players may pay a physical and mental toll?”
Kevin snaps back, “Don’t ever let any player or club dominate you at a ball, at a stoppage, in the air, or on the ground, THAT is simple basic bloody football!”
There is silence, the panel looked surprised. “Kevin I’m not sure what you just said makes any sense?”
Kevin is now playing with the zipper on his jacket staring out the window, “the kids need inspirational speeches and this team needs publicity. I am an expert in this area. We hire one local superstar and pay him $6 million over four years. That gives us a bunch of free publicity.”
The board interrupts, “Well that’s not free is it?
“And which NSW born player are you thinking of? Kieren Jack, Lenny Haze, Lewis Roberts Thompson, Tom Hawkins, Jarod McVeigh, Taylor Walker, who?”
Kevin now seems to have water in his ear, “No Israel Folau.”
The board replies, “Kevin last time we looked he played rugby league?”
“Yes, but everyone in Greater Western Sydney will know who we are! Free publicity you see.”
“Um, again Kevin, not free.”
Two men in white jackets take Kevin away. The panel convene to make a decision. The amazing part of this story is they go with crazy Kevin’s idea.
Now I’m not saying that’s how the Greater Western Sydney Giants formed their plan. What I am saying is that John Cahill, whether it was him or the board, had a game plan that offered a start-up team a chance to play finals in the first year.
In 1997 Port Adelaide missed the finals on percentage; they defeated four of the top teams and only lost four games by more than 40 points. The setup of this type of strategy is loosely based on the same theory of Moneyball.
In the AFL there is a salary cap. It’s not the money but the player analysis of matured players that we can compare. It’s about picking players with solid on-field statistics who can play a required role.
Paul Roos has been quoted as saying, “Picks one, two and three are stars but the rest are up in the air”. Said logic would tell me that trading some of your later picks for mature age players would be the way to go, rather than following GWS’s current path which sees them now with 25 round one draft picks on their list.
They are doing this through clever manipulation they are telling us. Really? To me, clever would be dropping $6 million at Lance Franklin’s feet. Clever was Collingwood trading pick 14 and 46 for Darren Jolly and the Suns giving two first round draft picks for Gary Ablett Jr.
Taking young, early round draft picks will not guarantee you a great player. It is a gamble, because they are still developing mentally and physically. So why not look at mature, developed players with proven stats who can help play a role?
John’s team in the first year had 10 wins. While the youth policy saw the Giants with two wins in its first season, 16 losses by 40 points or more and the lowest crowds since the dark days of the Sydney Swans and Brisbane Bears.
This isn’t about whether or not Australian Rules is accepted in Western Sydney. Why wouldn’t it be?
It’s one of the greatest sports on the planet to both play and watch. A ticket is great value and it’s a great day out for the family. You don’t have to get drunk with a bunch of mates to tolerate the game or pray that someone is going to score. If your team is winning people will come, it’s that simple.
Trolls from other codes will make up a lot of reasons why GWS isn’t a good idea and will fail. But the formation of GWS is a must for the code. The AFL and its fans need it to work. But the current strategy just doesn’t look good.
When the Sydney Swans were getting belted, nobody watched because they were terrible. GWS are terrible to watch.
One strategy will give you a player to fill a role now, the other strategy might give you a great player in three or four years. The AFL need to turn this around.
Because 2013 will see the Giants collect their second wooden spoon.