The 2019 AFL home-and-away season has been one of the most tightly contested in recent years, and even after 22 rounds it’s difficult to pick a clear favourite for the flag.
After two weeks of surprises, Round 3 went close enough to the script. However, the following are seven stories that are not on the script.
1. The best take away what you are good at
The three perennial contenders of recent seasons – Hawthorn, Sydney and Fremantle – all had commanding weekend performances, and all won in a similar fashion, taking away the opposition’s strength.
Hawthorn didn’t just take away Western Bulldogs’ tackling and pressure, but delivered their own performance of tackling prowess, smashing the Bulldogs around the ground – and it showed in the tackle count.
After an impressive second half against Melbourne based around stoppage dominance, Greater Western Sydney were not able to get anything going at the contest and in the ruck. A supposedly weaker Sydney ruck division neutralised the GWS ruck advantage, while at ground level the Sydney midfield produced a hard-nosed performance.
In the final game of the round West Coast’s forward line and conversion strength was non-existent simply because the West Coast midfield could not get the ball. Fremantle dominated the midfield battle and prevented any West Coast forward attack or momentum.
Three great teams, three great ways of dominating an opponent by removing what they do best. It is one of the key differences between the good and great, just how well coached they are.
2. July 10, 2011
That date is the last time Rodney Eade sung the club song in an AFL match as head coach. Nearly four years now.
So much has changed in that time at AFL level and it seems to be the one forgotten factor of the Eade hire that is continuing to gain momentum – this is a coach who has been too far removed from the coaching system.
As nice as the role Eade enjoyed at Collingwood was, the difference behind operations and coaching are being shown by Eade and Gold Coast’s troubles.
For those wondering, Gold Coast lost a match to Sydney the day before this by 70 points.
3. Forget the now, look at the month-long future
It is easy to look at one performance, either good or bad, and make a decision about a team, but it is worth considering what is to come for teams that have struggled or are flying early on.
For example West Coast have been crucified for their poor derby performance, but with a winnable month or so to come – including Brisbane and St Kilda and home matches with Gold Coast and GWS – the Eagles could look very different in a month with a 5-3 record.
Adelaide, who have made a strong start, also have a good run ahead with Western, Gold Coast, St Kilda and GWS. Easy to see Adelaide being near top with a 7-1 record.
Meanwhile, a surprise packet like Western Bulldogs have tough games with Adelaide, Sydney and Fremantle to come. After a strong 2-0 start it could fall away to 2-5 very quickly.
It is easy to get captured in the moment, but more often you hear coaches talk about the weeks ahead. That old phrase ‘one week at a time’ might still be relevant to players, but for coaches and real fans, it is about looking longer term.
4. The coaches’ votes
There is nothing like the coaches’ votes to stir debate about who was best in any given game. The unique perspective that opposition coaches have into a game should mean that more is made of the AFLCA votes when they come out on a Monday.
Last week brought an intriguing case study into what used to be termed ‘team effort’. Brad Scott and Ken Hinkley differed majorly on the influential players in their game of the year contender. The only thing they could agree on was that Brad Ebert was best on ground.
Outside of that, one coach thought Matt Broadbent was second best while the other said it was Jasper Pittard, one gave Sam Gibson three votes, the other gave him none, one coach gave Andrew Swallow three votes, the other gave him none, even the Robbie Gray, Hamish Hartlett, Luke McDonald and Lindsay Thomas found it to one vote card but not the other.
A stab would say that Hinkley went Ebert, Broadbent, Gibson, Gray and McDonald, while Scott went Ebert, Pittard, Swallow, Hartlett and Thomas. But that is the beauty of the coaches’ votes, only they know.
Always catch the coaches’ votes on Monday if you want a real insight into how coaches view the game.
5. PR stands for Paul Roos
After six quarters of the worst attacking football imaginable it was expected that the wily coaching veteran in Paul Roos would go to external topics to deflect what has happened to his side over the past two weekends.
Since returning to the coaching caper with Melbourne, Roos has shown deft touch in being able to deflect attention from his side when it calls for it most.
The substitute rule is now a part of the AFL game and no coach is going to get the AFL to move on this stance. Yet, while Roos may not change minds, he has at least turned the attention off a team that has scored just eight goals in six quarters of football.
6. Fox Footy Analysis, masters of the obvious
According to Brad Johnson, two of the key stats you need to look at in the modern game are contested ball wins and uncontested marks.
Who would have thought that if you are getting your hands on the ball first and then are not turning over the ball, you would be going to win the game?
Talk about using numbers and statistics to try and explain what watching games for over 150 years has taught us.
7. Every week, every match is unique
Every year experts and fans alike try to read into early season formlines by using the logic that ‘Team A’ beat ‘Team B’ and ‘Team B’ beat ‘Team C’, therefore ‘Team A’ must be the best.
More than ever before in the AFL the effort and energy that a team brings to any game is what dictates the final result. As Ross Lyon said after Fremantle’s win over West Coast, any team can be overrun if they go away from their structures and don’t bring effort.
Trying to read early-season form based on who has beat who is flawed. It is about what fans don’t see: how teams are prepared for the week and what energy is apparent in the team on game day.
In AFL 2015, energy and effort have more importance than any other factor.