This is Part 3 in a five-part series that looks at graphical representation and assessment of AFL club list age profiles and features a novel graph coined an ‘Earlgram’ explained in Part 1.
Part 1 introduced AGP-Earlgrams, which are AFL club 2020 list age histograms with a colour superposition based on percentage of 2019 AFL games played. Here AGP-Earlgrams are presented for premiership sides of the past 12 years. These AGP-Earlgrams are slightly different as they use the list age profile and games played from the same year.
It should be noted that Western Bulldogs (2016), Richmond (2019) and Hawthorn (2014) had an inordinately low number of players play 75 per cent or more games over the course of their premiership seasons. This suggests these sides managed substantial injuries throughout their successful seasons and also that their AGP-Earlgrams are less useful in demonstrating the age profile of the senior players that ultimately facilitated success.
Significantly, the past 12 years encompasses a dynastic Hawthorn. Hawthorn’s 2008 premiership had a very young but well-developed core in the 23-25 age bracket, a strong younger tail but most remarkably only one senior player aged over 26. It is not surprising that this group formed the base for sustained success.
Age distribution of senior players in Hawthorn’s 2013-15 threepeat teams retained a diminished form of the 2008 core but overall had diverged into a series of peaks in their AGP-Earlgrams, which demonstrates their short-term successional turnover of personnel during this successful era.
The last 12 years also encompasses the latter part of a dynastic Geelong. Their 2011 and 2009 premiership years had an age distribution of senior players characterised by a series of peaks, suggesting, like Hawthorn, once they had an established core they were able to transition to a model of shorter-term successional player turnover.
Collingwood (2011) and Western Bulldogs (2016) both had a core group in the 20-23 age range, which is even younger than that of Hawthorn (2008). However, further success for either did not eventuate. Both lists had a more significant older head to their senior player distribution. It is not unreasonable to suggest the deterioration of these older players and a preference to persevere with the same group is what sets them apart from Hawthorn and Geelong.
Richmond is a team now on the cusp of a dynasty. Their 2017 AGP-Earlgram distribution of senior players is a mirror image of Collingwood (2011). While interpreting Richmond’s (2019) AGP-Earlgram is problematic, it does suggest there is a dynamism to Richmond’s current list management that has historical precedent for sustained success.
West Coast (2018) had a more archetypal AGP-Earlgram distribution of senior players with a core group in the 25-28 age bracket and well-developed older head and younger tail. They won a premiership when their list was theoretically at its prime.
Sydney (2012) is peculiar in that they exhibit a very flat AGP-Earlgram distribution of senior players, which has been suggested here as less conducive to success. A list like this is extremely difficult to maintain. If it works, the team will stay competitive indefinitely. However, it is something of a tightrope walk. A single poor recruiting year could jeopardise the strategy. It may well be that the strategy is only made possible by the cost of living allowance and lucrative youth academies.
Establishing a core group of similarly aged players appears to be an overarching mechanism to building a premiership side, and success, if it comes, will occur when this group is between the ages of 22 and 28. A core is at its prime in the 25-28 age bracket, and this is when teams should theoretically be in their true premiership window.
However, sustained success is not expected from such a team. Dynasties occur when early on a younger core experience success and later on the club reduces reliance on this single core of players and is dynamic in transitioning players in and out of the side.