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Seven untold stories from Round 1 of the AFL

Roar Guru
8th April, 2015
3

It had been 31 games since Melbourne last posted a ton score in an AFL match. That evening Melbourne scraped to 103 points in a narrow win over Western Bulldogs.

1. Melbourne gets three figures
Saturday against Gold Coast was different to that 2013 game and vastly different to the 2014 Paul Roos’ Demons.

Much has been made of the individuals who finally showed the required improvement to deliver AFL wins, the telling factor was how this was a team that was built for the modern game. They have the hardened bodies on the inside, some outside run, dash from defence and an array of forward options.

Only one week, but here is hoping this attacking flair is the new norm for Melbourne.

2. Debuts down
The tally of 16 players making their AFL debut in Round 1 2015 was the lowest in an opening round since 2008 when 13 players debuted. It was well down on the 21 players who debuted 12 months ago in Round 1.

Over the past four seasons debut numbers have been somewhat compromised by the two expansion teams in Gold Coast and GWS. Therefore this could be the start of a new AFL era where players are forced to bide their time before being given the chance at the highest level.

At the weekend it was obvious that mature-aged debutants like Kamdyn McIntosh, Adam Saad and Aaron Vandenberg clearly outperformed teenagers Tom Lamb, Clem Smith and Nakia Cockatoo. The swift reality for AFL clubs is that as much as there is a desire to blood youth, expecting teenagers to be both physically and mentally ready for Round 1 is becoming a stretch.

Clubs that can wait, as Fremantle are currently doing with their 2014 draftees, could see best results in the long term.

3. Coaches love key position players still
As much as the phrase ‘won in the midfield’ keeps getting thrown around, it appears coaches are still more expectant on their key position players. A quick look at the AFLCA for Round 1 and the names are a who’s who of the game’s best or blossoming key position prospects.

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Josh Gibson was rated as the best on Easter Monday, Jeremy McGovern was a unanimous choice as best on ground, Taylor Walker was the clear best on and even players like Brodie Grundy, Michael Hurley, Lance Franklin and Will Minson showed up as the weekend’s best by the coaches.

One notable exception was Alex Rance, who was outstanding for Richmond. Perhaps Damien Hardwick knows something others don’t.

4. Contested ball winners go 7-2
Going to keep talking this up until it gets proven otherwise, but the team that won the contested ball won seven games at the weekend. The only two outliers were Carlton, who were hurt by a lack of efficiency forward of the ball meaning their contested ball wins were counterbalanced, and St Kilda, who had a narrow contested ball win but a narrow loss on the scoreboard.

Proof of the contested ball importance came in the Fremantle and Port Adelaide Easter Sunday game. A true 50-50 game at three quarter time, the key statistic that Fremantle held sway in was the contested ball. In the last quarter this advantage was magnified as shown by the key clearance work from David Mundy. In 2015 contested ball is king to AFL games.

5. No passengers
Outside of the contested ball, which may be the one key statistic to turn to in assessing a winning team, the next most important thing is having an even contribution from all 22 players.

As silly as it may sound given the dominance at the top of the ladder by the likes of Hawthorn, Sydney and Geelong, the game is as even as it has ever been in terms of the players. The one difference is the depth of the best and how teams that win games get an even spread of contribution.

A quick look at world sport will atest to that being the one big difference in modern sport that it is no longer about the stars and more about champion teams built around champion systems on and off field.

Wins like GWS, Melbourne and Western seem a surprise on the surface, but when you analyse the ability of those three teams to get an even contribution from all 22 players its becomes more understandable how the win came about.

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It is all about team in 2015.

6. Champion Data’s system is flawed
There has always been players that seem to have been advantaged by Champion Data’s scoring system but nothing can compare to the Champion Data analysis of Gary Ablett’s game at the weekend.

By the admission of his coach, media experts, fans and even himself, Ablett was severely underdone in this game and a non-factor in the result. Yet as the Champion Data scores flowed through after the game Ablett’s 19 possession game at 78 per cent efficiency rated him as the Gold Coast’s best, and the second best in the game behind Tom McDonald. Simply put, a joke.

Results like this perhaps prove that advanced metrics don’t work in an AFL game. There is something to be said for modern statistics, but the eye test is being severely undersold in the grand scheme of AFL matches.

A great example was in the second quarter, where Ablett handballed directly to opponent Colin Garland who kicked a goal. At that point it was only a nine-point game after a 10 minute stalemate. After that goal you could see Melbourne grow in confidence, they knew Ablett wasn’t beating them today. Gold Coast likewise dropped, knowing that their captain was not as advertised.

Two quick goals that followed this play were the difference in this game. Champion Data’s stats would not have rated that play as the game changer, but to those that know football, it was.

7. September is finally driving Fremantle
This was about so much more then Fremantle’s leaders delivering in clutch time. This was the sign that after a series of September heartaches under Ross Lyon, finally Fremantle are driven by the hurt.

Most vocal in the off-season about the hurt of a straight sets finals exit in 2014 were Aaron Sandilands and Matthew Pavlich. The win over Port Adelaide came off the forward boot of Pavlich and was set up by the dominant clearance work late of Sandilands and David Mundy, who has always been a player that lets his actions do the talking.

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On Sunday night, whether spoken or implied, this was Fremantle saying September hurts and we will be back to atone this year.