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The Roar



The value of experience in building a finals-contending team

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Roar Guru
6th February, 2023

One of the criteria of list managers looking to reshape a team is the experience factor. It is a vital ingredient in every team that hopes to make the finals and it can be built only from within by retaining for significant periods a core of players or bringing in imports who have gained experience at other clubs and under other coaches.

Clubs will often take a punt on players of good character who in the twilight of their career have the necessary skills to aid the maturing of a team that have ability but lack the leaders necessary for an assault on the finals and ultimately the premiership.

For this reason, players late in their careers have been given lifelines by clubs keen to build on their undoubted playing strength by adding mature champions to the side.

Luke Hodge and Mitch Robinson (Brisbane Lions) are two players who added much to a quality team that, despite being a relatively young club, even today still has only two players in the top ten game players of all time (Daniel Rich and Dayne Zorko) and no possible additions to this list for at least three years.

Greater Western Sydney debuted in the AFL just over a decade ago with a team of young hopefuls and a core of old players discarded by their original club that master coach Kevin Sheedy knew would inject the much-needed experience into a side that otherwise would have taken years to build a culture to enable it to compete in finals.

Toby Greene celebrates a goal

(Photo by Matt King/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

It worked. Within five years the Giants were a top-four side and competed in the finals four years in a row, culminating with a grand final appearance in 2019.

In contrast, Gold Coast Suns – one year older as a club than GWS – placed their faith in Geelong superstar Gary Ablett Junior to not only bring his outstanding skills to the club but also create a culture of success through his intelligent leadership. But the club has failed to climb higher than 12th in its 12 years in the competition.


In 2023 Hawthorn has again proved to be the league’s main benefactor by providing two players with 466 games between them to the clubs who imported the most experience: North Melbourne and Brisbane.

North Melbourne, one of the three teams that took on a record ten additions to their list this off-season –along with Hawthorn and Fremantle – gained most of their 427 games experience from Liam Shiels, who announced his retirement but later rejoined his old coach Alastair Clarkson when he was added to North Melbourne’s supplementary list. Shiels, who was the youngest player drafted in 2008, played 255 games for Hawthorn.

North’s experience tally was also boosted by their two Fremantle trades: Griffin Logue (64 games) and Darcy Tucker (108).

Brisbane, the only other club to import over 400 games of experience, received more than half their games from the trade of Jack Gunston to Brisbane. Gunston, now on his third club, has played 225 games of AFL and is also a league top-100 goal-scorer. He should prove a handy recruit for the Lions.

With two such long-serving stalwarts of the club leaving for greener pastures, along with Tom Mitchell (to Collingwood) and Jaeger O’Meara (to Fremantle) and another seven players either retiring or being delisted (the most of any club), it is no surprise that Hawthorn was the club that lost the most experience from last year.

The retirement of older players and their replacement with new recruits means that most clubs lose experience each year. The exception in 2023 will be Melbourne, who can boast a net gain of 58 games more than in 2022.