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What did we learn from season 2014?

Roar Pro
23rd October, 2014
28

It’s late October and I’m still thinking about footy. It’s tragic, but let’s face it – so are you.

Season 2014 might be done and dusted, but a brief analysis of September-October 2014 will give us a head start for 2015.

Swans need their Mummy
The Swans’ midfield struggles against bigger bodied midfields. We glimpsed this in the Swans’ semi-final last year against the Dockers, but it took until the 2014 grand final for this weakness to become glaring.

With Shaun Burgoyne, Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis hacking through packs in the grand final, the Swans were in need of genuine aggression. Mike Pyke is decent at contesting in the air but when a heavy body is needed to lay crunching tackles or blocks, he’s not Shane Mumford.

In retrospect, when making room for Buddy Franklin twelve months ago, the Swans may have been better placed pushing one or two of their many midfielders out of their salary cap instead of losing Mumford.

Hannebery-Christensen types are better value outside the square
Still on the topic of clearances, Hawthorn’s back-to-back premierships have shown you don’t need a speedy midfielder to win a premiership. Instead, you need big-bodied desperados. The pace can come from outside the centre square, from blokes like Bradley Hill and Isaac Smith.

The Swans went into the 2014 grand final with too many under-sized midfielders: Harry Cunningham, Dan Hannebery, Ben McGlynn and Kieran Jack range in weight from only 75–81 kilos.

Without protection from Mumford, they were mince-meat.

Geelong’s experiment with pace since the departures of Paul Chapman, Joel Corey and Cameron Ling has failed. A midfield stacked with ‘outside’ players like Allen Christensen, Jordan Murdoch, Matt Stokes, Steven Motlop and Mitch Duncan has left them struggling against more aggressive midfields.

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‘Outside’ players like Hannebery and Christensen can still ‘pinch-hit’ in the midfield, but their main position should be a wing, half back or forward flank.

Bombers are in kamikaze mode
The Bombers give the impression they are angling for a premiership in the next two years. Why else would they keep Dustin Fletcher and recruit Paul Chapman, Adam Cooney, Jonathan Giles and Brendon Goddard?

With the departure of Paddy Ryder, that dream is now in tatters. Good ruckmen take years to develop, and good ruckmen who can also pinch-hit up forward are rare indeed. Tom Bellchambers and Giles are plodders. The bombers’ clearance capacity in 2015 will go backwards while younger midfields like GWS, Brisbane and Gold Coast surge past them.

The Bombers’ misplaced ambitions for 2015-2016 will rule them out of premiership contention for the next five years as they replace their oldies with a new fleet and inject experience into them. Speaking of injections, if their players end up with bans in 2015 or 2016, their current wayward trajectory will turn into a nose-dive.

List-building through ‘development’ has become more risky
A few years ago, we realised that using high draft picks on ‘up-and-coming’ rucks was high risk. Generally, you’d have to develop them through their first four seasons before you even knew if they’d be any good. Better to snatch a late bloomer like Ivan Maric or Stephan Martin from another club than to put so much time into a young ruck.

In 2014, we’ve realised that planning for a few ‘development’ years for any young player is increasingly risky because the chances of the player leaving you in a few years’ time seem to have increased.

Indeed, the Tom Boyd deal shows even players on contracts can pressure their club to release them early.

As ‘developing’ your young players becomes more risky, the stronger clubs are increasingly interested in recruiting players who are cherry ripe to play seniors. That means more recruiting of mature-age players and more recruiting from other clubs.

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Media pressure has little influence over coach longevity
During the season, there was media pressure for the sacking of Nathan Buckley, Damien Hardwick and James Hird. Some were even calling for Mick Malthouse’s head. Guess what?

They’re all still in the driver’s seat. There was no media pressure for the sacking of Brendan McCartney, Guy McKenna and Brenton Sanderson, yet they’re now gone. It’s internal dynamics that determine a coach’s longevity, and in 2014 these dynamics seem to have been well hidden from the media.

AFL coaching contract processes are still far from professional
In 2013, club mismanagement of coaching appointments was exposed. Hird’s mistakes, and his board’s acquiescence in those mistakes, were exposed.

The folly of promoting assistant coaches like Scott Watters and Mark Neeld – who had weaknesses in communication – were exposed. The folly of appointing coaches on long term contracts without a performance-based ‘out’ clause were exposed, as clubs offered big pay-outs to sacked coaches.

Well in 2014, these follies are still being repeated. Essendon’s board has continued its blind support for Hird. If Sanderson and McCartney had communication problems, surely these were evident by the end of the 2013 season.

So why were they both offered two-year contract extensions at the end of 2013? With Buckley struggling to communicate with senior players at Collingwood, why was he given a two-year contract extension in March 2014?

Perhaps Travis Cloke and dane Swan might have played better in 2014 and Dayne Beams and Heritier Lumumba might have stayed at the club if Buckley’s contract had not been extended.

When clubs stuff up their coaching appointments, the club members foot the bill and the club management continues on merrily with little accountability.

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AFL footy is still going strong
Some of the observations above might seem a bit critical, but I still love the game as much as ever. In fact, the game seems as strong as ever if crowd figures are anything to go by.

Total annual crowd attendance topped 5 million in 1995 and has never looked back. It topped 6.2 million in 2005 and has never looked back.

Despite our various whinges about one-sided games, drugs and COLA scandals, frequent rule changes and unfair scheduling, AFL footy still attracted a healthy total attendance of 6.4 million people in 2014.

And we’re all looking forward to 2015.