2010 Fixture Difficulty Index

It’s footy finals time, and while half the competition is busily preparing for a September assault, the other half is planning for next year, and bemoaning what went wrong. Some coaches (I’m looking at you, Mick Malthouse) are patting themselves on the back for overcoming a horror draw – but was it really a horror draw after all? Other clubs feel they didn’t deliver, but perhaps are unaware the fixture may have worked against them, as it panned out.

Prior to each season a huge kerfuffle is made about who has the easiest ride for the upcoming season, and who will have to climb Everest to make it to finals. The Grand Finalists were favoured, critics said, by this convoluted fixture. Heck, Geelong didn’t even face fellow premiership contender Western Bulldogs until Round 20! Ridiculous! And what about poor, poor Essendon: the unlucky club with the “most difficult” home and away season of the lot.

For those unfamiliar with the footy fixture analysis, essentially what happens is clubs are given a value—the premiers have a rating of 16 points, while the wooden spooners are worth a solitary point. Everyone in between is rated based on where they end up on the ladder. That is, the runners-up are worth 15 points, third place is 14 points, fourth is 13, and so on.

What struck me early on this year was the sheer number of upsets, and the teams that bolted out from the blue. Who would’ve thought that Brisbane and Sydney would have undefeated starts to the season? Not to mention the Purple scare.

The thought occurred again in the latter part of the season, when I realised the Saints had a relatively smooth ride into finals (they didn’t play any 2010 finalists in the last 5 rounds), while Geelong could expect to encounter a few of the top-of-the-table teams.

So just how accurate was the difficulty index? Which teams really had the tough draw? Who is maybe flattered on the ladder due to a number of bouts against cellar-dwellers?

So I figured I’d do a bit of a comparison. Firstly, we’ll look at who, at the commencement of season 2010, had the easiest run (all ratings are based on the post-finals 2009 ladder). We’ll compare this difficulty rating to the revised rating at the conclusion of Round 22, 2010. Remember, the higher the score, the more difficult the journey!


PRE-SEASON DIFFICULTY INDEX

Essendon: 209

Collingwood: 196

Hawthorn: 193

Melbourne: 192

West Coast: 190

Brisbane: 189

Sydney: 189

Richmond: 187

Carlton: 186

Western Bulldogs: 184

Fremantle: 183

North Melbourne: 183

Geelong: 182

Adelaide: 177

Port Adelaide: 177

St Kilda: 171

END OF SEASON DIFFICULTY INDEX

Essendon: 211 (+2)

Richmond: 198 (+12)

Hawthorn: 197 (+4)

Brisbane: 193 (+4)

West Coast: 192 (+2)

North Melbourne: 191 (+8)

Collingwood: 189 (-7)

Sydney: 187 (-2)

Adelaide: 186 (+9)

Melbourne: 184 (-8)

Western Bulldogs: 182 (-2)

Carlton: 179 (-7)

Fremantle: 177 (-6)

Geelong: 176 (-6)

Port Adelaide: 175 (-2)

St Kilda: 175 (+4)

SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOUR CLUB?

Adelaide:

Adelaide’s fall from finals is more understandable when you see the tough draw they ended up with. Originally having the equal-second-easiest fixture (177), Adelaide’s year increased its difficulty rating by a whole nine points, moving them to eighth-easiest (or ninth-most difficult). In the first five rounds of the year, and with an aging list, they faced four of the eventual 2010 finalists. Initially, it had looked like a relatively breezy start to the year, facing just two of last year’s finalists. The gods were against the crow-eaters right from the word ‘go’. After a difficult start, though, the rest of the year panned out more-or-less to plan, hence the rise on the ladder.

Brisbane:

What a shocker of a season for Vossy and his men! The difficulty index will tell you they had the fourth-most difficult fixture, encountering 2010 finalists 11 times, and the top four teams six times. For a list developed courtesy some very big gambles (too many mature-aged trades!), season 2010 proved just too difficult in the end. Better luck next year, Lions.

Carlton:

Carlton only stumbled down one place on the ladder, narrowly holding on to a finals dream. On the surface, this may not seem so bad. The disappointing thing is the fact Carlton snuck away with a much easier draw than they had anticipated! With a difficulty rating slipping seven points, Carlton bagged itself the fifth-easiest draw in town. But fluctuating form showed Carlton got a bit giddy with relief and forgot they had business to do. Come finals time, they’ll have to keep their eyes on the prize to have any hope of advancing.

Collingwood:

In Wednesday’s papers, Mick Malthouse was congratulating himself for steering his team into top position, despite having the second-hardest fixture for 2010. Clearly, Mick, you didn’t look at the revised figures, otherwise you would’ve realised Collingwood only have the seventh-most difficult draw. The difficulty rating they encountered was a whole seven points lower than they’d been planning for. Collingwood need to keep their wits about them in the coming weeks to claim the ultimate prize.

Essendon:

Poor Essendon – you can blame Matty Knights all you like, but the universe was just against you this season! Things looked bad enough at the start of the year when you had far and away the most difficult draw, with your rating of 209 putting you a whole 13 points ahead of your nearest fellow sufferer, Collingwood. As the year wore on, things only got worse. Two extra difficulty points took your total to 211, and you were still 13 points ahead of the next highest team. Let’s face it: the coach was fighting a losing battle (maybe I should’ve sent this little fact to the board a week ago – my bad).

Fremantle:

Look, is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s SUPER PAV leading his charges out of obscurity and into premiership contention! Finishing a lowly 14th on the ladder last year, Freo came out all guns blazing – all the more impressive when you discover they played three of last year’s finalists in the opening four rounds, including the two grand finalists. However, a difficulty rating of 183 (sixth lowest) meant the opportunity was always there for Freo if they chose to take it. And take it they did (with a little help from the powers that be). Everything was turning up purple when Freo ended up with the fourth-easiest draw for 2010, shedding six difficulty points over the year like a Biggest Loser contestant desperate to stay in the game. Well done Freo, all the best for the finals!

Geelong:

Geelong carried on as Geelong does: taking it easy, deigning to squash the opposition when the mood took it. Second place on the ladder is not a bad effort for a team clearly not wanting to build up too much hype around itself. That being said, Geelong really could’ve made a statement this year. Things looked promising pre-season, with the fourth-easiest fixture heading down Kardinia Park way. As the year went on, Geelong lost Brad Ottens both from its list of available players and from its difficulty index, seeing it slip nicely into the third-easiest ride in town with a rating of 176.

Hawthorn:

They’re back, baby! After a year in the wilderness, Hawthorn is back on the big stage in September – and they did it the hard way. An opening account of 193 difficulty points blew out to 197 by season’s end. They encountered other top eight sides 10 times, facing the eventual top four six times. Hawthorn is accused of being anti-social – if you’re capable of turning around your fortunes when the AFL world is against you, what’s the point of friends? Finishing their H&A season with a convincing win over the minor premiers, the Hawks mean business this September.

Melbourne:

There are many who think Melbourne’s position on the ladder doesn’t justify its season. After being so close so many times – they had two of the closest possible games against minor premiers Collingwood – 12th position seems a bit disappointing for the Demons. After initially having the fourth-most difficult draw, Melbourne threw out a whole eight difficulty points, the most of any team who worked an easier draw, and ended up with the seventh-easiest run to September. Credit to the Dees for trying though – they’re young. Look out for this team in 2011!

North Melbourne:

The Roos did well to move up the ladder a whole four places, missing out on September action on percentage alone. The Roos were preparing in the preseason for a relatively easy draw, with a rating of 183, but ended up confronting the sixth-hardest fixture, gaining a whopping eight extra difficulty points. To come out and improve on last year with this kind of a fixture speaks volumes about the young guys from Arden St. Bring on 2011 and Majak Daw, I say!

Port Adelaide:

Port had very much a hit-and-miss year. Losing some shockers, and putting on some thrillers, the Power was as unpredictable as a pregnant lady on a sugar high. Despite the roller-coaster, they ended up with the exact same ladder position as they had after season 2009. They did almost the exact same thing on the difficulty index ladder, first emerging with the second-easiest draw in the land, then one-upping it at the end of the season to share the title of easiest draw with St Kilda. Who knows what kind of future Port will have? Money issues and a virtually unproven coach could make for another volatile season in 2011 – or they may just come up trumps.

Richmond:

Considering the second half to the season Richmond had, finishing runners-up for the wooden spoon for the second year in a row just doesn’t seem fair. By the way, have you given Richmond enough credit for their season? A shocking start (expected when you purge the list) was turned around comprehensively when the team got a bit of consistency and experience into it. Richmond fought like the good ol’ Aussie battler to give its supporters hope, and not despair, by season’s end. They deserve an award, surely! After all, they took their eighth-most difficulty draw and bolted into second position with – can you believe it – an unthinkable increase of 12 difficulty points, by far the steepest change of any of the 16 teams. If Richmond can survive a horror season like that, they can do anything! Tigers fans, I have big hopes for your team in 2011.

St Kilda:

The AFL did everything in its power to give St Kilda a second shot at the silverware. The easiest fixture by a whole six points at the start of the year remained the easiest fixture at the end of the season, though they had to share with Port after gaining an almost respectable 4 difficulty points. With that in mind, there was no excuse for a team with a list like St Kilda’s not to finish top four, though many would argue it should have been top two. However, we must remember that St Nick, the most important player in their team, missed a huge big chunk of the season, before returning with a pretty scar as a reminder of his holiday. Besides, one could suppose they were saving their A-game for when it mattered, having learnt from last year not to bolt too early. Friday night will go a long way in showing us what St Kilda 2010 is capable of.

Sydney:

What a turnaround – from dropping out of any sort of finals contention, to getting within a whisker or two of the top four! With a middling difficulty index rating at both ends of the season, all credit must go to the players and coaches for this change in fortunes. At the season start, Sydney shocked the world by showing it too could play an attractive, attacking style of play. Combine this with the much-lauded defensive play, and you end up with a team that means serious business. A disappointing patch in the middle of the season can be all but written off – the Swans were clearly just priming themselves for the matches they wanted. And September.

West Coast:

What a dark, dark season for the boys out west. The higher-side-of-average difficulty index rating may form some sort of excuse, but it’s a pretty weak one at that. Worsfold’s future may seem to be safe, but that’s what the board at Essendon said about Knights. Time will tell whether this team can turn it around – they have the players to improve their fortunes, but do they have the mentality? Best just to write this one off and move on, Eagles. At least the first half of the game against Geelong in Round 22 hints that improvement is definitely possible.

Western Bulldogs:

Doggies, what happened? At the start of the year, everyone had pencilled in a Dogs vs Saints grand final, and then Lady Luck spat in your face! Although the Dogs still have a very real chance, it would seem a lot of things would have to fall in their favour, and that clearly hasn’t been the pattern so far this year. A lower-than-average difficulty index rating could have poised you perfectly, but not even the DIR can take into account injuries of plagues of those proportions! Here’s hoping spring, as a time for new beginnings, will give the Dogs a new beginning with Lady Luck.

About Susie Giese

Born into the worship of the mighty Hoops, Susie has turned to adopting a Zen-like state during games in recent years to preserve her heart. The Cats of 2015 have the ol' ticker a-racing, though!

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    Great work Susie

    With the fixturing like it is nowadays, the draw can be a real decider for the teams battling it out in the middle of the table.

    It wouldn’t be like Collingwood to spin a few facts would it?

  2. LOL WHOA Susie!! :)
    look at you go ! lol
    Trust Mick to say somehting like that.
    i must say though, every year people complain about collingwood having an easy fixture and we still dont win the flag. now that its not the same story, i think its going to work well! ;)

  3. Thanks JB. At least the AFL have stopped pretending they’re making a fair fixture, finally admitting this year it was about TV programming and money-making. And no, not like Collingwood at all :P

    Hahaha, Danni :P I wish you’re boys all the best in their week off, but if Geelong win on Friday, obviously the good will ends there :P

  4. The Hawks mean business in September? Haha.

    Good stuff though, watch out Gigs, she’s out to take your job!

    I eagerly anticipate the following month when the 2011 fixture gets released!

  5. Oh, hush young Barnstable. Clearly this was written before any of the finals had been played :p Don’t blame me for their capitulation. Freo were just too good at home, now the Cats cop them next week -_-‘

  6. Good work Susie, this report is the best thing since sliced pigeon! Finally some hope for the Tigers – although we often seem to get dealt a raw deal by the draw. This year I should mention we had trips to Sydney, Subi, Kardinia and AAMI all in the first 7 rounds!

    Also Danni, I would like to point out that logically Collingwood having an easy fixture has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on whether they win the flag or not. The AFL can’t hand the Pies an easy draw in the finals, can they?

  7. Thanks Adam, though I think that visual was a little more than I needed, LOL! Tiges have done excessively well, and have the potential to go on to great things in 2011.

    I think Danni was more so referring to the much-loved “pattern” in the footy world. Every year the Pies have had an easy fixture, they haven’t won the flag. Now, they have a tougher fixture, so that could translate to a premiership. If you believe that sort of thing.

    That being said, I might point out that in recent years, Geelong has twice faced Collingwood in a prelim. Both times, the Cats have gone on to win the flag. :P I’m just saying, think about it.

  8. Terrific Susie,
    Really good article
    TR

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