The Roar
The Roar


AFL finals fact checker (part II)

Roar Guru
7th September, 2013

Drawing inspiration from the Federal Election and the various “fact-checkers”, several well-established claims regarding the AFL premiership will be tested.

The Claim: “Premierships are built on defence”
Ask any AFL traditionalist and they will bemoan the fact that footy ain’t what it used to be. Carlton great Alex Jessaluenko admitted last week he doesn’t watch the game these days, describing as a game of “keepings off”.

Many fans also hate the fact the game has become more defensive, crying out for more attacking football. But whether you like it or loathe it, footy centred on defence seems to be successful.

Paul Roos coached Sydney to a flag through tempo footy leading to Andrew Demetriou infamous “ugly football” remark.

Ross Lyon’s coaching game plan is also centred on defence as he had considerable success with St Kilda and now Fremantle with this approach.

Indeed there is a view among commentators that while attacking football gets your memberships, it’s defence that gets your premierships.

But is it really defence that maketh the premiers? There’s only one way to find out.

The Evidence
The phrase “built on” implies defence is the most important aspect of a side and that an ordinary attack can be overcome with an awesome defence.

In order for the claim to have merit, there needs to be several clear examples where the premiers defence ranking is higher than its attacking ranking.


Results relating to the premiers over the past 20 seasons are shown below.

Attack ranking is simply based on “points for” at the end of the home-and-away season and defence ranking is based on “points against”. The premier’s tackle ranking is also available from 2001 onwards.

Year Premiers Attack ranking Defence Ranking Tackle ranking
1993 Essendon third fifth
1994 West Coast 7th first
1995 Carlton third second
1996 North Melbourne 1st seventh
1997 Adelaide second first
1998 Adelaide fifth first
1999 North Melbourne 1st 10th
2000 Essendon first first
2001 Brisbane second sixth fourth
2002 Brisbane first second first
2003 Brisbane second fifth first
2004 Port Adelaide 3rd fourth ninth
2005 Sydney 14th second first
2006 West Coast 4th fourth third
2007 Geelong first first second
2008 Hawthorn third third sixth
2009 Geelong second fourth second
2010 Collingwood second second first
2011 Geelong second second fourth
2012 Sydney fifth first first

The standout that supports the case is Sydney in 2005.

They ranked a paltry 14th for attack but ranked second for defence and first for tackling.

Ironically, Barry Hall was the leading goal kicker for that year, perhaps showing how important he was for the Swans.

Similarly the Swans last year only ranked fifth for attack but first for defence and tackling.

Other mentions are Adelaide in 1998 and West Coast in 1994 who ranked first for defence in their respective premiership years but significantly lower in attack.


On the other hand, there have been instances where the premiers have had comparatively weaker defences. Brisbane ranked only sixth in defence in 2001 but second in attack. North Melbourne ranked an ordinary 10th in defence but first in attack.

Not surprisingly there is a strong relationship between a side’s defensive ranking and its tackle ranking. The stat of interest is Port Adelaide. They ranked fourth for defence but only ninth for tackling.

This perhaps underlies the important role Chad Cornes played in the side as a floating centre-half back.

The verdict: The stats show that in most cases a side’s attacking is equal or superior to their defence ranking.

The clear exception is the Swans, particularly in 2005 when then were statistically much stronger in defence than attack.

However, the Brisbane Lions triumphed in 2001 and 2003 with a defensive ranking outside the Top four and North Melbourne won the flag with a defence ranking of 10th. While it is rare for a side to succeed with a mediocre defence, to reach the ultimate price scoring goals is just as important as preventing them.

The claim that premierships are built on their defence is, based on the evidence, a bridge too far.

Therefore the claim: “Premierships are built on defence” is rated as “mostly-false”