Geelong superstar and AFLPA president Patrick Dangerfield isn’t convinced that 16-minute quarters will be here to stay when the AFL competition finally resumes.
There are trends, and then there are patterns that seem set in concrete.
The Kennett Curse between Hawthorn and Geelong was one of the latter.
Between 2009 and 2013, the Hawks lost 11 straight games to the Cats – even when the Hawks were favored, even in games when Hawthorn looked like they had the four points in the bag.
The fact that the matches were always between two top-level teams, played at the MCG, and contested more than twice per season with plenty of finals clashes made for a famous rivalry.
But it’s not the only one. The Kangaroos held a winning streak over Melbourne for 17 games from 2006 until a Dees victory in Round 3 of 2018.
“You just knew that you were in for a tough day at the office when you played North Melbourne,” Melbourne legend Russell Robertson said. “But over the last few years it has grown to be this mental block really that, ‘Oh no, we have to beat North Melbourne, we just have to’.”
And that fixation doubles back on itself, compounding the issue and making the challenge more difficult than it should have been.
Which brings up Geelong’s current hoodoo: nine consecutive losses coming out of a mid-season bye.
If there was ever going to be a season when they could have cast that aside, 2019 was it.
The Cats hit of the bye 11-1, two games clear of the field, the dominant team in the competition. They weren’t playing a wooden spoon contender, but the pundits were unanimous that Geelong should be able to handle Port Adelaide comfortably.
Instead, they took their largest lead of the game a minute in – 1-0 on a Mitch Duncan minor – then gave up the next three goals, and never really looked like winning for the rest of the match.
Unlike the two cases described above, Geelong have played different teams throughout that streak, suggesting that it’s got little to do with the opponent and everything to do with the Geelong mindset surrounding the bye.
But it turns out that’s not the case when we look at the teams they’ve played coming out of their week off.
Mindset has to do with the people, not the physical club. The people are led by their head coach, and Chris Scott has been the head coach for that entire streak. Let’s look at all the games following a week off that Geelong have played since 2011, when he became the second Scott coaching in the AFL.
2011, bye in Round 6
Won at home to North 127-61 in Round 7. This was Chris’ first game against Brad, by the way – he is currently 8-5 against his twin sibling.
2011, bye in Round 22
Lost to Sydney in Round 23 99-86 at home. Because there were 17 teams in the AFL this season – Gold Coast’s first year – every team had two byes for the first time.
2011, bye after qualifying final win over Hawthorn
Won prelim over West Coast and grand final over Collingwood.
2012, bye in Round 12
The permanent mid-season byes begin. Lost at Sydney 80-74 in Round 13.
2013, bye in Round 12
Brisbane beat Geelong at the Gabba 103-98 on Ash McGrath’s siren goal following a 52-point comeback late in the third.
While they didn’t have a bye situation in finals, they did lose to Hawthorn in the prelim, ending the Kennett Curse.
2014, bye in Round 8
Lost to Fremantle 96-64 in Round 9 in Perth. Fremantle had been to the grand final and were still pretty good.
2015, bye in Round 13
Round 14 with Adelaide was cancelled following death of Adelaide coach Phil Walsh. In Round 15, North beat Geelong 120-79 at Docklands. An argument can be made to call this extenuating circumstances, not to mention a double bye before they finally played the Kangaroos.
2016, bye in Round 15
Round 16, lost at home to Sydney, 98-60. This is the third time in six years they’ve played Sydney out of their bye.
2016 was the first year with a bye for all eight teams following the home/away season. Following this bye, Geelong beat Hawthorn 85-83 in the qualifying final. Isaac Smith missed a kick after the siren.
After winning that final, they had another bye, before being beaten by Sydney in the prelim 97-60.
2017, bye in Round 12
West Coast beat Geelong 83-70 in Perth in Round 13. Hardly an embarrassing loss.
After the post-season bye, Richmond beat Geelong 91-40. The Cats then won their semi final, but lost their prelim to Adelaide.
2018, bye in Round 14
In Round 15, lost to the Bulldogs 103-101 at Etihad. Harry Taylor missed a kick after the siren.
After the post-season bye, Melbourne beat Geelong 75-46 in the elimination final in what was not an upset in anyone’s mind.
2019, bye in Round 13
In Round 14, Port Adelaide beat Geelong in Adelaide 67-56.
So, just counting the nine consecutive mid-season losses starting with the second bye in 2011, Geelong lost to Sydney (a finalist that season), Sydney (premiers), Brisbane (a genuine upset but one of the ten greatest comebacks in footy history – 50 points in a little over a quarter!), Fremantle (fourth), North Melbourne (finalist, after their Adelaide game was cancelled), Sydney (minor premiers), West Coast (finalist), the Bulldogs (a genuine upset), and Port Adelaide (currently top eight) this season.
Maybe you don’t expect to go 0-9 with this schedule, but it’s still a killer line-up. Only two of the eight previous opponents weren’t finalists, and North Melbourne were playing a version of the Cats coming off two byes.
As you get to the last couple of losses – maybe West Coast, certainly the Doggies and the Power – you’ve reached the territory that Robertson alluded to for Melbourne’s long losing streak. It’s begun to take on a life of its own, to become a second opponent on the oval to combat.
And what about the post-season byes? Scott has faced five as the Geelong head coach, with these results: prelim final win in 2011 over West Coast following week two bye; win by two over Hawthorn once the dead week before finals was installed for 2016; loss to Sydney in the prelim final after another week two bye the same season; loss to Richmond in the 2017 qualifying final; loss to Melbourne in the 2018 elimination final.
Obviously, every opponent was a finalist here, and yet Scott and the Cats are 2-3, or 40 per cent. Interestingly he’s 4-6, or 40 per cent, in his ten other finals games as well. Although the last three are consecutive losses, the last two were more or less expected – certainly the 2018 loss was.
So, Geelong fans, take heart – but ask the league to cut your boys a break next season when scheduling. Maybe the Cats could play the Suns, or the Blues, or the Saints for a change?
Speaking of the Saints, AFL schedulers, whose bright idea was it to make the two clubs that went to China have to make a ridiculous road trip immediately out of their required bye following that strenuous trip?
Port had to fly across the Nullarbor to play Fremantle – where they led after three and faded terribly, unable to even score in the final term – and St Kilda had to travel up to Townsville to play the Gold Coast, a team on a nine-game losing streak that still took the Saints to the line.
Think laterally, AFL! Put yourselves in the shoes of the players and coaches when you’ve drawn up the schedule, and ask yourself what element of each team’s specific fixture will tick them off?
Then, can you fix that in advance? You already try to do this for five-day breaks and the lot – this is the next step.