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Roar Guru
29th August, 2019

Essendon are the first team in ten years to qualify for finals with a percentage below 100.

The last team before Essendon? Why, it was Essendon, in 2009, who were also the most recent finalist to finish below .500 at 10-11-1 in eighth place, as well as 47 points below equal at 97.8 per cent.

Last season, 12 of the 18 teams finished with more wins than losses – there were four teams tied at 12-10, outside of finals. Nine teams was the norm in 2017, 2016, and 2012, and ten in 2015.

It was back in 2014 that we last saw only eight teams with strictly winning records – three teams went 11-11, just out of finals. That was the year of Richmond’s nine-game winning streak to close the season at 12-10 and make finals on the back of their Round 23 upset of minor premiers Sydney.

The eight teams above .500 in 2013 included 14-8 Essendon, who were disqualified less than a week before the season’s end, suddenly thrusting 11-11 Carlton into the finals despite their ninth-place finish. By the way, this was Carlton’s most recent appearance in the finals, and thanks to their upset of Richmond in their elimination final, we can say that ninth-placed teams are 1-1 all-time in AFL finals competition, or .500.

Not bad, considering eighth-placed teams are 10-25, or .286 historically.

With the renewed talk about the 17-game schedule, perhaps brought on by Damian Barrett’s recent podcast conversation with Gil McLachlan, it’s a good time to look at what the once-around schedule produced in 2019.

Every year we track the schedule if the five duplicate games are deleted from the schedule – the most reasonable facsimile of the once-around concept – and compare the results to the real-life 22-game fixture.

Because we’re focusing on the fair, equal, balanced schedule, we’re also using head-to-head match-ups to determine tiebreaks, rather than percentages.

Team Once Around 17-game schedule Once-around plus Derby schedule Tiebreaker explanations
W L D P/M Position 18th Game Derby Opp’t W L Position
Cats 13 4 0 454 1st L HA 13 5 1st GEE def WC in R6
Eagles 12 5 0 126 2nd W FR 13 5 2nd
Giants 11 6 0 272 3rd* W GO 12 6 3rd* GWS 2-1; def COL
Magpies 11 6 0 278 4th* W SY 12 6 4th* COL 2-1; lost to GWS
Tigers 11 6 0 70 5th* W ME 12 6 5th* RI 1-2; def BR
Lions 11 6 0 114 6th* W WD 12 6 6th* BR 1-2; lost to RIC
Dockers 9 8 0 77 7th^ L PA 9 9 8th ^FR 2-0 v. PA/WB
Bulldogs 9 8 0 102 8th^ L WC 9 9 10th ^WB def PA, lost to FR
Power 9 8 0 164 9th^ W AD 10 8 7th ^PA 0-2 v FR/WB
Bombers 8 9 0 -124 10th** L ES 8 10 12th **3-0 v. HAW/NM/ADL
Hawks 8 9 0 71 11th** L CW 8 10 13th **2-1 v NM/ADL, ESS
Kangaroos 8 9 0 -46 12th** W GE 9 9 9th **1-2 v ADL, HAW/ESS
Crows 8 9 0 -8 13th** W NM 9 9 11th **0-3 v ESS/HAW/NM
Swans 7 10 0 -47 14th L GW 7 11 14th
Saints 6 11 0 -310 15th L CA 6 12 15th
Demons 5 12 0 -291 16th L RI 5 13 16th+ def CAR in R16 +
Blues 4 13 0 -306 17th W SK 5 13 17th+
Suns 3 14 0 -605 18th L BR 3 15 18th

As per the last four years, the differences are not particularly striking nor surprising. The eight finalists in this format – where we simply discarded the five games against repeat opponents – are, in descending order, Geelong, West Coast, GWS, Collingwood, Richmond, Brisbane, Fremantle and the Bulldogs. Notice that this matches better with the situation a month or two ago than the current standings, since the further we go into the season, the more games are discarded.

We also chart the version with a duplicate game against the traditional derby opponent – we have to improvise with the Victorian pairings, taking what the fixture gives us to find duplicate match-ups. The only finals difference was with Port defeating Adelaide in the return match in Round 16, they moved ahead of their 8-9 compadres and would be in seventh place.

A (mythical) finals series will pit Collingwood and Geelong in the 1 vs 4 match-up, undoubtedly forcing the Cats to play their ‘home’ game at the MCG. GWS would be travelling to West Coast in the 2 vs 3 qualifying final. Richmond would host the Doggies and Brisbane would host Fremantle in the elimination finals.

We use the second games each pairing plays (assuming there is one!) to determine the outcomes of these mythical games, since they’d all be rematches from the season proper.

For Cats-Pies, it’ll be their actual qualifying final. For Giants-Eagles, if they don’t meet during finals, it’ll have to be the Optus Stadium result redux without any other evidence to utilise.

Neither of the elimination finals had rematches this year, and their initial games were in the wrong venue, so we might have to simply cheat and assume the home team wins, as is the case about two thirds of the time, or use the ELO-Following Football rating predictors to project a winner, especially with zero chance of a Lions-Dockers game yet to come.

Lachie Neale

(Chris Hyde/Getty Images)


And we also track the Meta-Player of the Year, the composite of 16 different weekly evaluations across the spectrum of types of judging and judges. We’ll give you a more detailed report once the final votes are all published in a few days, but there are six men who have clearly separated themselves from the peloton.

  • Nat Fyfe (575 points, 28 Brownlow points) – Fremantle
  • Patrick Dangerfield (566 points, 27 Brownlow points) – Geelong
  • Marcus Bontempelli (554 points, 24 Brownlow points) – Western Bulldogs
  • Patrick Cripps (544 points, 26 Brownlow points) – Carlton
  • Lachie Neale (542 points, 25 Brownlow points) – Brisbane
  • Brodie Grundy (532 points, 27 Brownlow points) – Collingwood

The points are the summation of all 16 different sources, and the Brownlow points are a very rough semblance of how their most dominant games stack up, in the manner of the top-three voting of the actual Brownlow Medal.

Long-time readers will recognise them as dominant, prominent and notable performances, recognition from 90, 80, or 70 per cent of sources for a specific game.

Seventh place is a full 70 meta-points behind Grundy, and the only other player with as many as 24 Brownlow points is Dustin Martin, who’s ineligible for the medal anyway – but not the Meta-Player of the Year, because we don’t include the no-suspension requirement in our award.

So while our evaluations aren’t quite accurate enough to guarantee Fyfe is the winner of this year’s Charlie – in fact, I’d bet on Dangerfield given Rounds 22 and 23 – I do feel confident that one of those six names is absolutely this year’s Brownlow medalist.

Nat Fyfe

(Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Had West Coast not been worn down by a slogging in the rain against a persistent and damnably difficult opponent across the continent just six days earlier, it’s possible that Hawthorn wouldn’t have been able to pull away from the Eagles in the fourth quarter on Saturday night, and the Eagles would have held on to their top-four slot, probably sitting third ahead of Richmond in fourth and the Pies in fifth.


And we would have been blessed with an occurrence of a season-ending ladder never before seen in the long history of our league: four teams at the top with identical records, in this case 16-6-0. It almost happened. But we have Alastair Clarkson to thank or curse for its non-presence in our lives, along with a fixture and a weather pattern that made the task slightly too difficult for this particular Eagles team.

Now, besides depriving us stat freaks our quarter eclipse, he’s probably also deprived West Coast of a realistic shot at a title defence – from the fifth seed, they’ll have to take care of business against Essendon (without a backstop of a double chance just in case), and then they will have to cross the desert three straight weeks and win on the road to retain their title.

Completely unfair, but that’s what happens when you combine the geography of Australia with a sport’s culture that still has over half its teams within easy driving distance of each other in Victoria. If only we could tear up the contract between the MCG and the league, and place the grand final at either the higher seeded team (probably impractical given the preparation needed) or rotate, say, even years at the ‘G and odd years at one of the major interstate sites (Optus, Adelaide Oval, SCG or ANZ) or some such plan, then we might actually have an Australian Football League, instead of a Victorian league and guests.

Just a thought. Now, it’s your turn to tell me why that’s not possible, besides the contract the league signed with the MCG until 2047.