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The Roar



Will team spirit be the x-factor in this year's AFL?

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Roar Rookie
25th January, 2023

In what is shaping up to be a tough season to predict, with upwards of a dozen teams already claiming to have what it takes to make finals, we need something else to set the best teams apart.

If you look at individual sports like golf and tennis, anyone in the top 50 stands a chance of beating the best on talent alone. Yet some players manage to stay at the top of their game regardless of that intense competition.

Tiger Woods in his heyday. Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic in more recent years. Their x-factor is single-minded toughness which fuels a winning attitude.

When everything rests on your shoulders, that’s enough.

But a team sport with 18 players on the field at the same time needs more than a single winner – or even a handful of them – to succeed week after week, in finals, and from season to season. They need to work together as a well-oiled machine, a tight-knit family unit.

One that has its different parts, personalities and skillsets but with everyone ultimately motivated by the same end goal.

This year could really test the idea that ‘good’ teams with professional recruitment, list management, coaching and physical training are not enough to play deep into the season.

‘Great’ teams, on the other hand, have all these attributes but also master the psychological factors better than the rest.


These top teams attract and retain players, making sure they are all synched and psyched for each match regardless of who made the side, where they’re playing, or what their role is that week. Like soldiers in battle, they are prepared to bleed for their kith and kin, to win every ball as though life depended on it.

Last season saw so many unexpected turns, with good teams being beaten by lesser teams (on paper), and others not being able to find that last piece of magic to get them over the top. Here, Carlton missing the finals after a close-call loss to Collingwood comes to mind. And Richmond losing the last moments in half a dozen matches.

The problem recognised, both teams have taken measures in pre-season to fill gaps and toughen minds in the event of a repeat in 2023.

Pundits still question whether Carlton has the winning attitude to take home a flag. Others ponder whether Richmond is banking on seasoned recruits to get one more for several ageing premiership players.

The real question is whether these teams – and others battling it out in the mid-rankings last year – have something extra special to offer in 2023.

Hawthorn players huddle

Which AFL side has the best team spirit? (Photo by Steve Bell/AFL Photos via Getty Images)


To this pundit, that X-factor will be ‘true team spirit’ combined with a list that runs deep across all areas on the field. One that can withstand mid-season injury and fatigue problems.

One that has resilience to setbacks and the agility to find new ways to win using the unique talents of each replacement.

Here, true team spirit means more than hyping everyone up on game-day with themes and anecdotes. It is a sense of shared ownership for the ups and downs of a season. It is how well the outfit manages and prepares younger players who are often plucked from remote towns and thrown into the whirlwind of professional footy.

It is also how well the physical and coaching staff are onboarded.

Often it may come down to small but important things like having the right mentor and leadership group, healthy living arrangements and diets, home and family life… building staying power among the whole team.

So much can go wrong in modern sporting machinery. But when the conditions in the clubhouse are right, the results are plain to see. A fascinating year of footy awaits.