A navy blue and white comparative

By James Grapsas

On 4 October 2011, Ben Jensen wrote an informative analysis of the best teams of all time (Geelong ninth best team of all time).  Geelong’s feat of winning three premierships in five years (including four Grand Finals), which was ranked 9th in the article, soon brought to mind the performance of Carlton in winning three flags in its era (applying the definition of “era” in the article) of 1979-1982, which was ranked 11th.

 

I should declare from the outset that I am an ardent Geelong supporter.  However, above all, I am a football follower with a keen appreciation for the game’s history, so I have tried to approach the comparison of these two great eras with some degree of objectivity.

 

Comparing the Geelong and Carlton eras led me to question the use in the article of “most grand finals” in the era as the second ranking criterion, naturally behind the most number of premierships won in the era.  Applying this tiebreaker, Geelong rank ahead of Carlton because it appeared in four Grand Finals in the era (2007-2009 and 2011), whilst the Blues only played in three, their premiership years of 1979, 1981 and 1982.  Intuitively, this does not feel right.  Isn’t winning three flags in three years, like the Brisbane Lions did in 2001-2003, a more meritorious performance than winning three flags over a longer period of time, regardless of whether the longer era also included losing Grand Finals and other seasons that produced high numbers of wins?  If we take this point on board, a more suitable second level decider might be the “premiership strike rate” over the era, that is, the percentage of seasons in the era that resulted in premierships.  Applied here, Carlton’s premiership strike rate is 75 %, three flags from four seasons, while Geelong’s rate is 60 %, three flags over five seasons.

 

Regardless of which measure you think should be used in separating teams on a countback, it is interesting to look back at Carlton 1979-1982 and to identify its strengths, key attributes and performances trends over those seasons, and to compare with the Geelong sides of 2007-2011.  Some interesting similarities and differences emerge.

 

A. Home and away ladder positions and finals performances

 

Two of Carlton’s premierships in their era (1979 and 1981) were won after the club finished top of the ladder after the home and away season.  Under the McIntyre final five system, Carlton earned a rest in the first week of the finals and won the flag in both years after playing only two finals and bypassing the Preliminary Final.  The Blues’ 1982 flag was won via a more difficult route: after finishing second to Richmond after the home and away rounds, Carlton beat Hawthorn in the Qualifying Final, went down to the Tigers in the Second Semi-Final, before bouncing back to defeat Hawthorn again in the Preliminary Final and eventually coming from behind to topple Richmond in the Grand Final.  The Blues posted a strong finals record in that era with a winning percentage of 70 (seven wins, three losses).

 

In contrast, two out of Geelong’s three premierships were won when the Cats finished second behind teams that were dominant in the home and away rounds: St Kilda in 2009 and Collingwood in 2011, both rival clubs recording 20-2 win-loss records.  However, in those two seasons, the Cats were the best teams when it mattered, winning all three finals in 2009 and 2011.  Geelong’s 2007 flag was the only one achieved in the era when the club finished on top of the ladder.  In all three of Geelong’s premiership seasons in the era, the team was undefeated in the finals.  The Cats have posted an impressive 80 % winning record in their current era (12 wins, three losses), which surpasses the Blues’ finals record in the era.  However, unlike Carlton, Geelong lost a Grand Final and was unable to achieve back-to-back premiership success in two attempts.

 

 

B. Scoring power

 

As set out in Table 1, Carlton average score in their 88 home and away matches in 1979-1982 was 116.05 points.  This average dipped to 102.40 in the club’s 10 finals appearances.  Across the five seasons in all matches, Carlton’s average score was 114.65 points.

 

Table 1 – Carlton scoring 1979-1982 (matches in each season in brackets)

 

Home and Away

Finals

Overall

1979

2,772 (22)

193 (2)

2,965 (24)

1980

2,576 (22)

176 (2)

2,752 (24)

1981

2,303 (22)

205 (2)

2,508 (24)

1982

2,561 (22)

450 (4)

3,011 (26)

Totals:

10,212 (88)

1,024 (10)

11,236 (98)

 

Geelong’s home and away average (110 matches) over 2007-2011 is 114.47, nearly 1.5 % less than Carlton’s: see Table 2.  Interestingly, the Cats’ average score over their 15 finals matches is 109.00 points, a 6.4 % differential over Carlton’s mean score.  Overall, Geelong’s average score across the era of 113.81 is fractionally smaller.

 

Table 2 – Geelong scoring 2007-2011 (matches in each season in brackets)

 

Home and Away

Finals

Overall

2007

2,542 (22)

411 (3)

2,953 (25)

2008

2,672 (22)

291 (3)

2,963 (25)

2009

2,312 (22)

296 (3)

2,608 (25)

2010

2,518 (22)

303 (3)

2,821 (25)

2011

2,548 (22)

334 (3)

2,882 (25)

Totals:

12,592 (110)

1,635 (15)

14,227 (125)

 

In order to evaluate Carlton’s small statistical advantage in scoring power, it is prudent to measure the scoring power of both clubs in relative terms compared to the competition averages of scoring in the relevant seasons.  The calculations are set out in Tables 3 and 4, below.

 

Table 3 – Carlton’s scoring power measured against the competition average, including finals (matches in brackets)

 

Home and Away total points

Finals total points

Total points for season

Matches played

Average team score

1979

28,103 (132)

1,140 (6)

29,243

138

105.95

1980

27,722 (132)

1,229 (6)

28,951

138

104.89

1981

26,367 (132)

1,185 (6)

27,552

138

99.83

1982

29,591 (132)

1,339 (6)

30,930

138

112.07

Totals:

111,783 (528)

4,893 (24)

116,676

552

105.69

 

 

Table 4 – Geelong’s scoring power measured against the competition average, including finals (matches in brackets)

 

Home and Away total points

Finals total points

Total points for season

Matches played

Average team score

2007

33,645 (176)

1,643 (9)

35,288

185

95.37

2008

34,374 (176)

1,663 (9)

36,037

185

97.40

2009

32,172 (176)

1,513 (9)

33,685

185

91.04

2010

31,845 (176)

1,666 (10)

33,511

186

90.08

2011

34,768 (187)

1,610 (9)

36,378

196

92.80

Totals:

166,804 (891)

8,095 (46)

174,899

937

93.33

 

Surprisingly, the average team score for the League in 1979-1982 is two goals higher than the average team score for the 2007-2011 seasons.  Before I conducted these calculations, I expected the average team score for 1979-1982 to be lower due to the following two factors:

 

  • a substantial number of games in 1979-1982 were played at suburban venues in conditions that were often not conducive to free scoring, such as frequent mud heaps at the Western Oval and Moorabbin and rainy and windy days at Waverley Park.  With the exception of Kardinia Park, the suburban venues have been phased out and the venues used in 2007-2011 are generally in very good condition.  The regular mid-season mudheap in 1979-1982 has been rarely sighted in 2007-2011; and

 

  • players in 1979-1982 were part-time and usually held down jobs, only training two or three nights a week.  This is in sharp contrast to the footballer in 2011, who generally is full-time and has training or playing commitments at least five days a week during the pre-season and season proper.  It is reasonable to infer that players who are full-time footballers will, on average, achieve higher levels of skill than their part-time counterparts.  Consequently, it is a plausible argument that a higher average skill level should translate into higher scoring across the board.

 

The lower scoring levels in the 2007-2011 era can probably be attributed to teams having better defensive systems, notably St Kilda’s “Lyon cage” in 2009 and Collingwood’s press in 2010-2011.  Further, as footballers in the current era are full-time and arguably have superior stamina and aerobic fitness than their predecessors from 1979-1982, they are able to do the defensive acts such as chasing, tackling and corralling to a higher level of intensity and for longer, thus reducing scoring opportunities.  Another feasible argument is that players in 2007-2011 have become more homogenous than players in the 1970s or 1980s, so the outstanding full-forwards that helped to boost League scoring tallies in the 1970s and 1980s are gradually becoming rarer.

 

Carlton’s average score of 116.05 is more than 10 points higher, or 9.80 % higher, than the competition average team score of 105.69.  On the other hand, Geelong’s average score of 114.47 is an impressive 21 points higher, or 22.65 % higher, than the competition average.  This analysis illustrates that, although the Carlton side of 1979-1982 had slightly more scoring power in absolute terms than the Geelong team of 2007-2011, the Geelong combination is clearly more high scoring in relative terms.

 

C. Goal contributions

 

In this section of the analysis, I have examined the performances of the leading goal contributors from two groups:

 

(1) Tall forwards – players who have appeared in key forward posts for substantial periods (which might include a utility) and who have scored 25 goals in a season in at least one year of the era.  I have looked at the top five performers in this category for each club; and

 

(2) Opportunists – players who are not tall forwards and have contributed goals as either small forwards or, predominantly, as midfielders and who have scored 25 goals in a season in at least one year of the era.  I have looked at the top six performers in this category for each club.

 

The results are set out in Tables 5 to 8, below.  Both clubs have strikingly similar percentage contributions from tall forwards – both around the 23 % mark.  On the other side of the ledger, the leading opportunist forwards at both clubs accounted for 41-43 % of total goals scored.  At both Carlton and Geelong, five out of the leading six goalscorers in the era were opportunists.

 

Table 5 – Carlton’s leading tall forwards (Total of 1,600 goals scored in era)

 

Goals scored in era

Percentage of team goals

Mark Maclure

128

8.00

Peter McConville

91

5.69

Ross Ditchburn

61

3.81

David McKay

59

3.69

Rod Galt

36

2.25

Totals:

375

23.44

Average goal output per season:

93.75

 

 

Table 6 – Carlton’s leading opportunists

 

Goals scored in era

Percentage of team goals

Wayne Johnston

148

9.25

Rod Ashman

119

7.44

Ken Sheldon

113

7.06

Alex Marcou

112

7.00

Peter Bosustow

106

6.63

Vin Catoggio

63

3.94

Totals:

661

41.31

Average goal output per season:

165.25

 

 

Table 7 – Geelong’s leading tall forwards (Total of 2,081 goals scored in era)

 

Goals scored in era

Percentage of team goals

Cameron Mooney

210

10.09

Tom Hawkins

107

5.14

James Podsiadly

101

4.85

Nathan Ablett

34

1.63

Tom Lonergan

34

1.63

Totals:

486

23.35

Average goal output per season:

97.20

 

 

Table 8 – Geelong’s leading opportunists

 

Goals scored in era

Percentage of team goals

Steve Johnson

255

12.25

Mathew Stokes

156

7.50

Paul Chapman

147

7.06

Gary Ablett Junior

127

6.10

Travis Varcoe

113

5.43

Jimmy Bartel

92

4.42

Totals:

900

43.24

Average goal output per season:

180.00

 

 

These tables highlight what is a readily apparent fact from the eras: that neither Carlton or Geelong had a proven, star forward, such as a Michael Roach or a Lance Franklin from the respective eras.  Carlton’s tall forwards consisted of the very good Mark Maclure, who was usually a centre half-forward, the vastly underrated and versatile Peter McConville, who provided very good service in a variety of roles, a cameo effort from full-forward Ross Ditchburn, and serviceable contributions in the era from David McKay and Rod Galt.  It is likely that this situation led to the Blues recruiting key forwards Stephen Kernahan and Jon Dorotich in the mid-1980s.  There is a reasonable degree of similarity with the composition of Geelong’s tall forwards – Cameron Mooney, Tom Hawkins and James Podsiadly have been solid contributors, but not brilliant key forwards; Nathan Ablett was a serviceable forward target in 2007; whilst Tom Lonergan booted most of his goals in 2008 and has played mostly as a key defender since 2009.

 

In relation to the opportunists, both clubs had gun small forwards, Peter Bosustow and Steve Johnson, who contributed in excess of 50 goals per season on average during the eras.  Some of the cream of the two clubs’ midfields qualified in the tables: Carlton’s dynamic Wayne Johnston and “Mosquito Fleet” midfielders Ken Sheldon, Alex Marcou and Rod Ashman; Geelong well represented by Brownlow Medallists Gary Ablett Junior and Jimmy Bartel and midfielder/half-forward Paul Chapman.  In relation to the other opportunists, Carlton’s Vin Catoggio scored his goals in 1980-1981 mainly after coming off the bench as an impact player of sorts.  Geelong’s Mathew Stokes and Travis Varcoe have been regulars in the side in recent seasons – Stokes mainly as a small forward and Varcoe spending significant periods in both the midfield and up forward.

 

The composition of goalscorers for the Carlton and Geelong eras is markedly different from the make-up of the leading goalscorers of another modern day powerhouse, the Hawthorn era of 1983-1991.  As set out in Tables 9 and 10, the Hawthorn tall forwards contributed over 35 % of the team’s goals in the era, about half has much again as the percentages from the Blues and Cats, whilst goals from the key opportunists were less than 27 %.  Significantly, three out of five of Hawthorn’s top goalscorers in the era were high marking, arguably key, forwards.  The top two, Jason Dunstall and Dermott Brereton, accounted for over 27 % of Hawthorn’s goals in the era.  This is in sharp contrast to the cases of Carlton and Geelong, where the two leading tall forwards of the era contributed significantly lower percentages of total team goals: Carlton 13.69 % (Maclure and McConville) and Geelong 15.23 % (Mooney and Hawkins).

 

Table 9 – Hawthorn’s leading tall forwards 1983-1991 (Total of 3,900 goals scored)

 

Goals scored in era

Percentage of team goals

Jason Dunstall

642

16.46

Dermott Brereton

413

10.59

Peter Curran

196

5.03

Peter Knights

80

2.05

Russell Morris

52

1.33

Totals:

1,383

35.46

Average goal output per season

153.67

 

 

Table 10 – Hawthorn’s leading opportunists

 

Goals scored in era

Percentage of team goals

Gary Buckenara

233

5.97

Leigh Matthews

212

5.44

John Kennedy Junior

168

4.31

Ken Judge

158

4.05

John Platten

145

3.72

Michael Tuck

122

3.13

Totals:

1,038

26.62

Average goal output per season:

115.33

 

 

D. Midfields

 

Unlike evaluating the potency of a team’s attack or the effectiveness of its defence, it is difficult to compare the midfields of teams from different eras during objective criteria.  The midfield of Geelong’s era has been outstanding and is highly decorated, including two Brownlow Medallists, two Norm Smith Medallists and countless All Australian gongs.  As examined in the previous section, some of Geelong’s elite midfielders have also been key goal contributors.  The Geelong midfielders are typical of the midfield structures in the modern game – with several players (Bartel, Corey, Kelly and Ling) six feet and over (183 cm).  In contrast, the Carlton midfield, branded the “Mosquito Fleet”, had an array of players under six feet, most of whom were “rover sized: Johnston, Sheldon, Ashman, Marcou, Harmes, Wells, Buckley, Maylin and Armstong.  As a consequence, the Carlton engine room was more fleet of foot than their Geelong counterparts.  As was the case with the Geelong midfielders, the Carlton on-ball brigade included several solid goal contributors, with four of the six top opportunists being midfield regulars.  The Carlton midfielders won their fair share of State guernseys.  Both midfields were excellent, although the weight of individual honours collected by the Geelong on-ballers indicates a moderate advantage in favour of the Cats.

 

E. Defence

 

The analysis of the points conceded by the Carlton and Geelong eras is set out in Tables 11 and 12, below.  These tables demonstrate the strong defences of both eras and highlight an advantage in favour of Geelong.  The current Geelong era has conceded a fraction over 76 points per match, approximately 17 points less per match on average than the competition mean, representing a difference of more than 18 %.  The Carlton era conceded approximately 90 points per game in a higher scoring phase of VFL/AFL history, nearly 16 points per game (almost 15 %) better than the competition average.

 

The defences from the Carlton and Geelong eras both possessed one player regarded as an all-time great – Bruce Doull and Matthew Scarlett.  Both clubs had attacking, rebounding defenders: Carlton with the courageous Ken Hunter and long-kicking Val Perovic, and Geelong with a posse of backmen including Corey Enright, Andrew Mackie, Darren Milburn, David Wojcinski and Josh Hunt.  A ready perception is that the Carlton defenders tended to be more stationed in the defensive 50 and played more of a man-on-man style of defence than their Geelong counterparts, who have been more inclined to use zone defences.  Carlton defenders such as Rod Austin, Geoff Southby and Des English tend to fit within this more traditional defensive style.  An interesting point to note that one integral member of the (usual) Carlton half-back line, Ken Hunter, won the club goalkicking in 1983 with 43 goals after Ditchburn returned to Western Australia.

 

Table 11 – Carlton – Points against 1979-1982 (Matches in brackets)

 

Points against

Average points against per match

Competition average

1979

2,136 (24)

89.00

105.95

1980

2,396 (24)

99.83

104.89

1981

1,913 (24)

79.71

99.83

1982

2,374 (26)

91.31

112.07

Totals/averages over era:

8,819 (98)

89.99 (14.85 % below competition average)

105.68

 

Table 12 – Geelong – Points against 2007-2011 (Matches played in brackets)

 

Points against

Average points against per match

Competition average

2007

1,845 (25)

73.80

95.37

2008

1,881 (25)

75.24

97.40

2009

2,012 (25)

80.48

91.04

2010

1,971 (25)

78.84

90.08

2011

1,836 (25)

73.44

92.81

Totals/averages over era:

9,545 (125)

76.36 (18.18 % below competition average)

93.33

 

F. Home ground advantage

 

A key aspect of Geelong’s era has been its superb record at Kardinia Park.  In 38 starts since the start of 2007, the Cats have been beaten at their home fortress only 3 times, a staggering winning percentage of 92 %.  This record included 29 consecutive wins at Kardinia Park from April 2008 to August 2011, a streak that was broken by the Sydney Swans in late-August.

 

Carlton’s record at their home ground, Princes Park, was also very strong in 1979-1982.  In 40 matches during the era at the venue, they recorded 33 wins, a draw and 6 losses, resulting in a winning percentage of approximately 83 %.  However, in order to form a true picture of the Blues’ home ground advantage, one should remove matches against its fellow Princes Park tenant, Hawthorn.  When this adjustment is made, the winning percentage marginally improves to 84 %, consisting of 27 wins, 4 losses and a draw.

 

The significance of Geelong’s better home track performance is arguably diminished by the fact that the Cats’ Kardinia Park matches in the era have been against interstate clubs and, for the most part, Melbourne based clubs that have been regarded by the AFL as lower crowd pullers.  Three of Geelong’s main rivals during the era – Collingwood, St Kilda and Hawthorn – have been absent from Kardinia Park because games involving those clubs would usually attract well in excess of 50,000 at the MCG and, occasionally, the Docklands.  Collingwood’s last game in Geelong was in 1999, St Kilda’s was in 2004 and Hawthorn’s was in 2006.  Further, Geelong has not met Carlton at Kardinia Park since 1997 and its last home ground fixture against the Bombers was way back in 1993.  The exception is Richmond, against whom Geelong played at Kardinia Park in 2007, 2009 and 2010 when the Tigers were cellar dwellers.

 

However, one often overlooked fact is that Geelong played a moderate number of matches at Kardinia Park against good opposition.  If “good opposition” is defined as a team that reached the top four in the relevant season or the season before (i.e. at the time the fixture for the relevant season was drawn up), then the record against good opposition at Kardinia Park stacks up quite well:

 

  • 2007 – round 5 vs North Melbourne (3rd in 2007).  Geelong lost by 16 points.
  • 2007 – round 7 vs West Coast (premiers in 2006).  Geelong won by 39 points.
  • 2007 – round 8 vs Fremantle (4th in 2006).  Geelong won by 25 points.
  • 2007 – round 19 vs Adelaide (3rd in 2006).  Geelong won by 33 points.
  • 2007 – round 21 vs Port Adelaide (2nd in 2007).  Geelong lost by 5 points.
  • 2008 – round 12 vs Port Adelaide (runners-up in 2007).  Geelong won by 59 points.
  • 2008 – round 16 vs Western Bulldogs (3rd in 2008).  Geelong won by 61 points.
  • 2008 – round 21 vs North Melbourne (3rd in 2007).  Geelong won by 33 points.
  • 2011 – round 11 vs Western Bulldogs (4th in 2010).  Geelong won by 61 points.

 

Total – 9 matches, 7 wins, 2 loss, 78 % winning percentage.

 

 

During their era, Carlton’s matches at Princes Park in 1979-1982 were against all comers.  Although some Carlton home games were fixtured at the neutral venue of Waverley Park, the Blues still played 10 out of the 11 opposition clubs at least three times at Princes Park during the era (the exception being one match against then cellar dweller St Kilda).  Applying the “good opposition” criterion, Carlton’s home record in the era is a very strong 14 wins, 4 losses and a draw, a winning percentage of about 74 %.  This is an impressive result when one considers that seven matches of these were played against the Blues’ two main rivals and Grand Final combatants from the era, Collingwood and Richmond.

 

In any event, both the Carlton and Geelong eras included very strong records at their suburban homes.

 

 

G. Innovation

 

An interesting point of comparison is the innovative capabilities of the Carlton and Geelong eras.

 

At a time when VFL football was part-time and coaches tended to rely on tried and true methods, the innovation and professionalism of coach David Parkin (at Carlton 1981-1985 and 1991-2000) was a striking feature.  Although Parkin was a part-time coach throughout his senior coaching career, holding down full-time employment elsewhere, he was extremely diligent and thorough in his coaching work, putting in hours that would probably exceed the hours that some full-time coaches would invest today.  Parkin was ahead of his time in numerous respects, including his characterisation of players and his pre-game and post-game analysis[1].  Prior to 1981, footballers tended to be pigeon-holed into specific positions, with the occasional player being regarded as a utility, a jack of all trades.  Parkin adopted a more flexible mindset to his troops, often categorising them as talls and smalls, many of whom were capable of, and expected to, play a variety of roles in some combination of defence, attack and midfield.  This approach to players’ roles has gradually been developed over the last 30 years such that a large proportion of players are regarded as being part of a defence, midfield or forward group, rather than as predominantly playing in a set position.

 

Importantly, Parkin’s approach to game preparation and review was much more scientific than his predecessors and contemporaries, who tended to focus on “revving up” players and more basic game strategies.  For his entire 23 seasons of senior coaching in the VFL/AFL (Hawthorn 1977-1980, Carlton 1981-1985 and 1991-2000, and Fitzroy 1986-1988) and the WAFL (Subiaco in 1975), Parkin handed his players typed and handwritten documents which explained the challenge of the upcoming game, covered the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition side, drew on some media commentary for motivation and to highlight important areas of the team’s effort, and set out specific match ups and roles for players.  Further, early in the week after a Carlton game, Parkin would hand to each senior player a typed document titled In Retrospect, which covered the key aspects of the team’s performance on the weekend, highlighted important statistics, identified areas for improvement and rated the performance of each player from “poor” to “excellent”[2].  Sometimes these documents would include a paragraph for each player which critically appraised his performance.

 

Parkin transcended the statistical analysis beyond the usual kicks, marks and handballs to capture acts that contributed to the team effort termed “Team Involvements” or “TIs”.  Team Involvements were defined as smothers, spoils, shepherds, tackles, knock-ons and, in later years, centres (where a player centered the ball in the front half, rather than taking a low percentage shot at goal).  Team Involvements were frequently the source of comment in In Retrospect, with each player expected to deliver 8 TIs per game.  A player’s TIs were added to their total disposals to give “Total Contributions” or “TCs”.

 

Parkin’s In Retrospect also frequently included informative analyses of centre square take-aways, the forerunner to the ubiquitous clearance statistics of today.  Parkin also recognised the importance of his players providing options to a teammate who had possession of the ball.  He measured this element of his team’s performance in the “running options” statistic, with a running option being credited to a player where it was possible for him to receive a handpass from a teammate.  Parkin applied some earlier observations of Ron Barassi in relation to the team’s total running options and its predictive value on the prospects of winning a game: a total of more than 220 options would indicate that the team won very well, a total of more than 200 running options indicated an almost certain win, whilst less than 150 running options would generally mean a loss.

 

Parkin was a pioneer in his statistical analysis of the game.  Unlike sports such as baseball, coaches in the VFL/AFL were usually slow to recognise the value of statistical indicators as guides to a team’s effort, prospects of victory and the style of play used.  It has only been since the late-1990s that statistics such as clearances, inside 50s, rebound 50s, hard ball gets, contested marks, and so on, have been used to help football coaches and observers gain a clear picture of the performances of a team and individual players and to set key performance indicators.

 

In contrast, the current Geelong era was forged at a vastly different time, when a great amount of change in the game had already occurred since the Carlton era and, arguably, when there was less scope for new ideas.  One important aspect of the Geelong era has been the team’s output of positive, attacking and skilful football.  Prior to the start of the Geelong era, particularly in the 2004-2006 seasons, many games had become defence-oriented, dour affairs with high numbers of stoppages and a regular emphasis on maintaining possession of the ball, regardless of whether this involved a significant amount of ball movement sideways or backwards.  The Swans sides in the mid- to late-2000s, particular the Sydney teams of 2005-2006, were strong examples of this trend.  From the start of the 2007 season, when the quality of AFL matches in recent seasons had arguably been reduced by defensive mindsets, the Geelong side produced a refreshing brand of daring football that featured attacking through the corridor on a regular basis, fast ball movement (especially by handball), a great capacity to win contested ball and excellent skill.  Many football followers, including a lot of neutrals, have observed that they have admired Geelong’s style of play and they have appreciated that the Cats have refreshed football when matches in the mid-2000s were often a drudgery.

 

In 2011, the Cats displayed great resilience and adaptability in refining their style of play, whilst retaining the key elements of their successful style of football.  At the end of the 2010 season, the Geelong method appeared to be out of date and incapable of resisting the defensive systems of main rivals Collingwood and St Kilda, which often brought Geelong’s frenetic handballing undone by having players congest space and a strong commitment to tackling.  New coach Chris Scott, faced with the reality of a game style that needed to be refined, recognised that the difficulties encountered in 2010 could be reduced or eliminated by handballing less, particularly in defence and in the centre corridor.  He also refined structures to allow players to kick effectively to position and implemented zone defences to stifle opposition scoring.  Scott’s recognition that wholesale changes would be harmful, throwing the baby out with the bath water, was an important facet of Geelong’s successful 2011 campaign.

 

Otherwise, the innovative aspects of the Geelong era that readily come to mind relate to the treatment of injuries and player management.  An innovative aspect of Geelong’s 2007 flag was the decision to send the talismanic Max Rooke to Germany mid-season to have calf blood injected into his hamstring.  Rooke returned and was a solid contributor in Geelong’s three finals wins.  In 2009, Steve Johnson was struggling with a hip injury on the eve of the finals.  The Cats made the bold move to send Johnson to a renowned surgeon in Hobart for a hip operation in late-August.  Johnson, a vital part of the Geelong machine, returned for the Preliminary Final and Grand Final.  Brad Ottens, who has drawn recent comparisons to Clark Keating for his ability to rise brilliantly to the occasion for finals matches, played in rounds 1 and 2 of 2009, before being hobbled by a persistent knee problem.  Ottens returned to senior company in round 22 and contributed well to Geelong’s finals successes.  In 2011, despite the Cats only losing three matches, the selectors adroitly managed the list, selecting 35 players and resting important players at various stages of the year to ensure that they were at the peak of their powers in the finals.

 

Conclusion

 

The study of the Carlton and Geelong eras has revealed some interesting similarities and differences.  One fact is clear: the teams in both eras have been outstanding and should be recognised as amongst the upper echelon of great sides in VFL/AFL history.  The Geelong era has received this level of acclaim, whilst I do not think that the Carlton era has been given enough credit.  Some observers have said that, but for the political upheaval and coaching change at Carlton over the 1979-1980 off-season, the Blues would have been a very good chance to have won an amazing four premierships in a row.  In Tony De Bolfo’s 2009 book Out of the Blue, Wayne Harmes expressed his view that Peter “Percy” Jones, who sole season of senior coaching was in 1980 after the George Harris/Alex Jesaulenko turmoil, cost Carlton four flags of the trot[3].

 

As things stand now, my personal view is that the Carlton era has a better score on the board than the Geelong era by dint of their better premiership strike rate.  The Blues boasted brilliant and skilful players in the era, but my gut feeling tells me that the Geelong players are, when you compare the quality of each member of the playing personnel, just slightly ahead.  Taking off my objective hat for the end of this article, I hope that this is demonstrated in 2012 by back-to-back Geelong premierships, lifting the Geelong era a notch above their Carlton counterparts!

 

 

James Grapsas

 



[1] Thank you to David Parkin for providing me with several copies of pre-game analysis documents and In Retrospects and to Alex Marcou for providing me with copies of some In Retrospects for the purpose of this article.

[2] Players who were injured for a substantial part of the game were rated as “injured” or “no comment”.

[3] Page 195 of Out of the Blue.

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    James, that is a remarkably fair-minded examination.

    Especially interesting in regard to innovation and its effects on success.

    I may not be quite so unbiased in my assessment-

    Blues by 3 goals, they’d never have lost like that in 2008.

  2. To paraphrase Stephen Colbert, I don’t need FACTS to tell me that Carlton 1979-82 were a better team, I know it in my GUT.

    That aside, great analysis.

  3. JB, isn’t that stating the bleeding obvious regarding 2008. You obviously can’t lose a grand final that you aren’t in. That Carlton era was significantly also a period when they had extra special dispensation: nudge, nudge; wink, wink.

    Perhaps this issue can go into extra time: 2012. We may see a clear result.

    Good stuff James. You sure are a ‘little swat’.

  4. John Butler says:

    No salary cap in those days Phantom, so you are erroneous in that assertion.

    And you know what I mean about 2008. You just don’t want to acknowledge it. :)

  5. Very impressed with the depth of analysis James, but I think the “gut feel” has to be my deciding factor.
    My clear memory of the 79-82 Carlton side is that they were the best team I have ever seen (possible exception Hawthorn late 80s) at flicking the switch and blowing opponents away with a spectacular coup de grace.
    The fundamental difficulty is comparing a barely semi-professional team and a fully professional one. I reckon you have to ask yourself, how would that Carlton team go in today’s comp with the benefits of today’s training methods, tactics etc? In my view, assuming the playing group could fit under the salary cap and the demands of professional training didn’t knock that renowned swagger out of them, they’d be better than any side going around now, Geelong included.

  6. That’s right JB certainly no salary cap then. Just big predators running amok around Australia with plenty of ‘beer money’ enticements.

    The salary cap arrival and the Carlton demise happened around the same time (give or take a few years). Sort of like the extinction of the Australian mega fauna; which we all know was never to return.

    I still maintain that 2008 arguement. You can’t lose grandfinals from outside the eight.

    And, the Blues mega fauna epoch is well and truely over but the Cats are not yet extinct (even though this time last year they apparently were. Strange that.

  7. John Butler says:

    Phantom, no doubt which club has adjusted better to the new football world.

    But the Cats had a bit of beer money themselves back in the day. Especially to splash out West.

    Looking forward to the match up (hopefully plural) in the coming season.

  8. Does the boundary umpire in 1979 rate a mention? Without him it’s only 2/4.

  9. Love your work Pieman. I had an unimpeded view of that one. It was only out by about 2 feet ‘in the old money’. So you are right it should have been 2 / 4.

    (Refer to the big predator running amok around the country with beer money bit. Thirst does strange things to the eyesight apparently.)

    JB, I suppose we had better have a choobe of Fosters on that one. I know I shouldn’t bet with Knackers but live dangerously they say. Just the one as there is no way we will meet in the grand final. Collingwood and Carlton have already got that spot reserved according to their supporters over here.

  10. John Butler says:

    That’s why you have to love Pies supporters.

    A lot of them never learn.

    Re ’79, funny how the Maggies never mention the clear McConville mark that wasn’t paid, allowing them to kick their last goal.

    All in how you choose to see it I suppose. :)

  11. Miles Wilks says:

    Good analysis, James.

    I was surprised by the Stevie J vs Dominator (Wayne Johnston) comparison. Stevie J is streaks ahead in goals scored…but I guess you could say that the Dominator played a bit more midfield than Stevie J. I also still think the Dominator was a far more entertaining player to watch….but these figures reflect what an exceptional player Stevie J is nontheless.

  12. Wow! Exhaustive stuff!

    Was good to see you referred to quality of opponents within the period as not many people do when they analyse great teams. As an example, most people say Brisbane is greater because they won three in a row, but I’m pretty confident that the quality of the teams the Cats played in 09 and 11 was superior to any of the teams Brisbane played in 01, 02 & 03.

    Smaller lists, more teams, and a system that is supposed to undermine extended periods of dominance, makes these Cats the best for mine.

  13. Paddy O'Peace,Dr Pop says:

    James has done an enlightening study.
    Both Blues & Cats were/are enthralling to watch & could turn it on when required.
    Time will tell as the Cats reign may have more time to run.
    If the Bluebirds are included for comparison it’s no contest.

  14. Fair call, Dr Pop. When I’m watching the footy on TV I dislike too many camera shots that are not of the footy, but I do remember wanting as many of those as possible in the mid-80s when the Swanettes and the Bluebirds used to go head to head.

  15. James Grapsas says:

    A minor correction to my article: in section F on “Home Ground Advantage”, the list of Geelong matches against quality opposition should include the round 13, 2007 match against the Sydney Swans (runners up in 2006), which the Cats won by 18 points.

    This change results in Geelong playing 10 matches, winning 8 and losing 2, boosting the winning percentage from 78 % to 80 %.

  16. We were all way too polite to point that out James.

Leave a Comment

*