The Roar
The Roar


The curse of the reigning premiers: Why is it hard for teams to back up after winning an AFL flag?

Jordan De Goey breaks away from an attempted tackle by Dion Prestia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Roar Rookie
26th March, 2024

It seems the recent yearly trend is happening again.

The reigning premiers, Collingwood are astonishingly 0-3 following their 15-point loss to St Kilda at the MCG.

It’s another poor performance from Craig McRae’s side after they were humbled by both the Giants and the Swans in Opening Round and Round 1 respectively.

The Magpies were sloppy and repeatedly turned the ball over as evidenced by numerous uncharacteristic skill errors and turnovers which directly led to Saints goals.

Their defensive application has also gone missing with the reigning premiers conceding an average of 103 points over the first three rounds compared to conceding an average of just 72 points over the 26 games over 2023.

Although the club would not like to entertain it, it does prompt the wider question after a sample size of three rounds: is there a premiership hangover?

The skill errors, uncharacteristic turnovers and lack of defensive application of the first three rounds look like a side that is perhaps not fully invested and hungry for another season after scaling the ultimate mountain last year, winning a close Grand Final against Brisbane.


Although this may seem unusual to us, looking over the histories of the reigning premiers this decade, it may be part of a growing trend.

Since Richmond won the flag in the COVID-affected 2020 season following their successful 2019 premiership, the reigning premiers have struggled in the following season with only Melbourne in 2022 making the finals after their success.

In 2021, Richmond came crashing down from their dynasty with a 12th place finish and Geelong in 2023 never fully recovered from experiencing a similar 0-3 start as the Magpies, also finishing 12th.

Even Melbourne, who started 2022 with a 10-win start and only looked like extending their domination in the 2021 finals, experienced a late-season fade and ended up exiting the finals in straight sets.

Although this is still based on limited evidence, looking at the last four reigning premiers, it is apparent that it is getting tougher and tougher for those who have reached the ultimate summit to back up the next year and there is no obvious explanation.

Many have pointed Collingwood’s recent woes to the early start to this season with the AFL’s new Opening Round and there could be some truth to this.


Between 2001-10, the average start date of the season was March 27.

Since 2020, the average start date is now the 15th of March, almost a two-week difference with season 2024 starting as early as the March 8 with Opening Round.

The reducing gap of the off-season is making it more difficult for teams who finish at the pointy end of September to back up the following year and have a full preparation as opposed to other teams who have a longer break.

With the newly announced Tasmania Devils set to enter the competition in 2028 and there already being discussions of a 20th team, the season will only get longer and start earlier making it difficult for the reigning premiers to fully back up the next year.

This leads to another explanation for this increasing premiership hangover – the teams who do finish the season earlier and fall short of their expectations are simply hungrier to climb the mountain in an AFL.

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The three opponents who have defeated Collingwood this year – the Giants, the Swans, and the Saints – all bowed out of finals last year and certainly had a point to prove that they can do better in 2024.

With the competition as equal as it ever has been, with 15/18 teams having been a part of at least one preliminary final in the last 10 seasons, teams are more confident of upsetting the apple cart and attaining their own glory and it’s becoming more difficult to maintain a dominance over the competition.

For now, it’s not exactly clear why teams this decade are struggling to back up the following year.

However, one thing is for sure, the competition is only getting more even and the likelihood of teams achieving a dynasty like Brisbane, Hawthorn, and Richmond, already a difficult achievement, is only going to get harder.