After decade in which only one team failed to make the finals at least once, and with four of the six most successful teams of the decade going around again, did this topsy-turvy, everyone-plays-everyone-once season really throw up any anomalies? Was any club actually hard done by?
The shorter quarters and longer injury lists played their parts, as did the unfamiliar locations, but only two top performers of last decade, Hawthorn and Sydney, missed out, and they were already on the skids, having missed the cut in 2019.
Four of the other teams resumed the exact same position that they held at the end of 2019. Two of them, Geelong and Collingwood, made the cut again at a far inferior position than last year, with Geelong slipping from first to fourth and Collingwood from fourth to eighth.
So it was left to two ‘newbies’ to add some excitement to the finals contests: St Kilda, who had not appeared since the first year of the decade, and Port Adelaide, who did it in style by finishing atop the ladder after only three appearances in the decade, none of which had been inside the top four.
With the absence of the two most experienced coaches (John Worsfold and Alastair Clarkson) due to the Essendon and Hawthorn’s failure to make the eight, the mantle of most experienced coach in the finals passed to Richmond’s Damien Hardwick, who commenced his senior coaching career in 2010.
Each year since more of the current crop of finalist coaches arrived on the scene until, in 2015, six of the combatants were in place. The 2016 finals provided a hiatus before Brisbane’s Chris Fagan joined the group in 2018, and St Kilda’s Brett Ratten put in a cameo performance of six games in 2019 for a 50-50 win-loss ratio, the same record he had achieved in an earlier life of coaching Carlton for six years.
All coaches have had finals experience, with Chris Scott having coached a remarkable 18 finals courtesy of the Cats making the finals in nine of the ten years he has been at the helm. The double chance means he will coach a minimum of two games this season, and that will leave him behind only Alastair Clarkson among the current coaches and 15th overall of the 362 coaches who have coached at least one game of AFL/VFL football.
The most successful of the current coaches in terms of finals games coached and won is the Bulldogs’ Luke Beveridge followed closely by Damien Hardwick and Adam Simpson, but five of the eight coaches have a win-loss in finals of at least 50 per cent.
Damien Hardwick is the only coach who can claim two premierships among the eight and will be keen to win and move to within one of current master coach Alastair Clarkson. Three other coaches – Chris Scott, Adam Simpson and Luke Beveridge – have also held the premiership cup up high, while Collingwood and Nathan Buckley narrowly lost the grand final to the West Coast Eagles in 2018.
Chris Fagan is yet to coach a winning finals team and Ken Hinkley (Port Adelaide) and Brett Ratten (St Kilda), although having a 50-50 finals records, have also failed appear yet on the big stage.
This week also marks milestones for a number of players: Jed Bews will play his 100th game for Geelong, Brodie Grundy his 150th game for Collingwood, Taylor Adams his 150th AFL game and Callum Brown his 50th game for Collingwood.
Three of the AFL top 100 game players – Gary Ablett, Scott Pendlebury and Joel Selwood – will all add to their already elite game totals, and five goal sharpshooters will be aiming to move further up the AFL top 100 goalkickers list.