The last few weeks have been quite busy, meaning I haven’t been able to devote the amount of time to Winners and Losers like I would have liked. But now the finals are here, and finals require a lift in work rate and intensity. They also present another opportunity. Horribly inaccurate predictions. How could I pass up an opportunity to publicly state things that will be proven wrong in four weeks?
In this article I’m looking at the Grand Finalists of the past 12 years and seeing what, if anything, we can infer from them for this coming finals series. Do teams that excel in a particular area continually make it to the last Saturday of September? Is there a particular ingredient that guarantees finals success? Will Hawthorn avenge last year’s failure? Do Fremantle need to start submitting extension plans to the local council for a trophy room? Does Geelong’s odd-year flag collecting look set to continue? Will everyone have the “that was unexpected” face when Sydney are walking up the dais again? Is there any reason to have finalists beyond the top four?
Let’s begin with Ross Lyon’s favourite topic…
Back on Round 11, when pondering the likelihood of North Melbourne tasting success with their current model of play, I looked at the defensive rankings of the teams to feature in the Grand Final over the past twelve years. I found that during that time, only one team had won the Grand Final without finishing in the top four in average points against per game (The 2001 Brisbane Lions, who still finished 5th in the category), and only two teams had even made the Grand Final without such a ranking. The other team? The 2007 Port Adelaide Power. We know how that went.
|2010 St Kilda||1st|
|2009 St Kilda||1st|
|2007 Port Adelaide||8th|
|2006 West Coast||4th|
|2005 West Coast||3rd|
|2004 Port Adelaide||4th|
It would seem fair to assume that there is a reasonably strong correlation between points conceded and Grand Final appearances, and that evidence suggests in four weeks time we will be seeing two teams with a top four ranking in this facet of the game facing off. So, let’s look at the current rankings of this year’s finalists.
|Team||Points Against Rank|
- Our minor season premiers, Hawthorn, do not possess a top four rank, and thus would have to buck recent trends to make it to the Grand Final.
- The number one defensive side has appeared in the LAST SIX Grand Finals. Ross Lyon likes this.
- The number one defensive side has only won it twice in this period. Ross Lyon really dislikes this.
- RICHMOND ARE ALL UP IN YOUR GRILL.
OFFENCE PUTS BUMS ON SEATS
It would be pretty foolish to just look at points against trends and base everything off that. After all, you still need to score more than the other team to win. What if offensive firepower is an even better indicator for finals success?
|2010 St Kilda||10th|
|2009 St Kilda||5th|
|2007 Port Adelaide||2nd|
|2006 West Coast||4th|
|2005 West Coast||4th|
|2004 Port Adelaide||2nd|
Offence seems a bit more scatter gun than defence this millennium. Five of the Grand Finals featured teams without a top four rank, with the standout being the 2005 Swans, who were just fourteenth for average points per game. Still, there are some intriguing things here. For example, the most potent side featured in the Grand Final in eight of the twelve years.
|Team||Points For Rank|
- If recent defensive history paints a negative picture for the Hawks, the offensive one offers some reassurance.
- Fremantle would be only the second team of the period to win it without a top eight offence.
- Geelong and Sydney are the only team with an elite ranking in both categories.
ISN’T THIS A LITTLE SIMPLISTIC?
I know what some of you are thinking. Surely points for and points against is too simple an analysis. It’s 2013. We have all sorts of fancy numbers and formulas to look at. Where are words like “structures”? No reference to GPS data? Running patterns? Rotation rate? I haven’t learnt anything so far!
WINNING FINALS IS ABOUT WORK RATE, AND NOTHING SCREAMS WORK RATE LIKE TACKLES
Finals football is tight and congested football. The team that applies the most pressure often emerges victorious, right?
|2010 St Kilda||6th|
|2009 St Kilda||1st|
|2007 Port Adelaide||13th|
|2006 West Coast||6th|
|2005 West Coast||14th|
|2004 Port Adelaide||15th|
The biggest thing to take away from tackle rankings is the fact the team that ranked 1st for tackles laid per game made the Grand Final 50% of the time. Three of these times courtesy of Sydney, who again rank first in this area leading into week one.
PRESSURE IS ABUNDANT IN FINALS, WHICH IS WHY ONLY THE MOST SKILLED TEAMS SUCCEED.
I’ve never placed much stock in things like “effective disposal percentage”. It’s a little to arbitrary for my liking. A little chip to an unmarked team mate in the back half without a shred of pressure can be considered effective, while a guy winning the ball at the contest and forcing it onto his boot with about four opposition players climbing on him like he is Everest can be marked down because his kick didn’t smack a team mate on the chest. Nonetheless we don’t really have a better measure for “skill”, so it will have to do for now.
|2010 St Kilda||2nd|
|2009 St Kilda||3rd|
Despite not loving the stat, there is a pretty strong trend here
- Hawthorn use the ball brilliantly and have done so for a few years now.
- Richmond are also good in this area, and when you factor in their defensive efforts, the future sure does seem bright.
- I was about to cut the Swans some slack under my “every possession is contested at the SCG” rule, but noticed they managed to rank 6th last year. Perhaps there is something more here.
- Port Adelaide haven’t posted a top eight ranking in anything other than tackles so far. I can’t wait to bet against them making the finals next year.
I keep returning to the recent points against history. I can’t escape it. The fact only two sides over the past twelve years have even made the Grand Final without a top four ranking in this area stands out. It leaves me feeling lukewarm about the Hawks. It seems obnoxious to write off a team based on things that happened in years gone by, particularly a team that made the Grand Final last year, is the best offence in the league, has favourable rankings in literally everything else, and finished top of the table again, but I’m going to ride this points against train as far as it will go. Hawthorn will not win the flag in 2013.
While I’m on this train, it does paint a remarkable picture for the best defensive units in the competition. The last six grand finals have featured the best defensive team, and if that continued, then Fremantle will be making an appearance this year.
I was all set to anoint Fremantle as Grand Finalists, but the offensive aspect of the game leaves me weary. A top four rank doesn’t seem to be as strict a requirement as it does defensively, but only three teams have appeared without a top eight points for average, meaning the Dockers, with their 12th ranked offence, would be up against history in this regard.
Fremantle’s candidacy is good, but unfortunately there are two teams that tick all the right boxes. Both Geelong and Sydney are the proud owners of an elite ranking in both sides of the ball. Sydney in particular are built for finals football, and generally play at a better standard at this time of year than they do during the home and away season. The Cats meanwhile are the greatest team of the era, brilliant across the board. I believe the 2013 Grand Final will be a contest between the two.
But who will win, the Cats or the Swans?
As mentioned, both teams are brilliant in multiple areas. But there is one significant difference between the two.
The Cats rank 15th in clearances this year. Indeed this has been a sticking point all throughout their era of dominance, but particularly when one Gary Ablett Jnr departed.
The Swans on the other hand win more clearances each week than anyone else in the competition. In fact they’ve been the best three out of the past four years. Their low year? Last year, when they ranked third. They’re brilliant at it. The like to congest space and force stoppages, because it usually works out for them.
But do clearances even matter? Geelong seem to have done just fine without winning a bulk of them every week?
|Clearance Totals in Grand Finals|
The last five years worth of Grand Finals doesn’t offer too much insight into the impact of clearances. Two of the bigger upsets, last year and 2008, show massive wins in the category to the more fancied teams, while most others have been fairly even. Only Collingwood’s 2010 replay win over the Saints was off the back of clearance dominance.
The biggest advantage that comes from winning clearances is the chance to get a clean inside fifty entry. Collingwood demolished the Saints in this area in both their Grand Finals, but both the clearances and inside fifty numbers from these Grand Finals show one thing. The importance of efficiency. Several times here we see a team demolish the other in both areas, but lose the game due to being inefficient with their chances.
Indeed, the winner of each Grand Final over the past five years has been the team most accurate in front of goal on the day, and three times the winner has had less scoring shots than the loser. Creating chances is only half the battle, actually taking them is the key.
So now we have to try to predict who will be more accurate in front of goal. Sydney are the fourth best team in front of goal this year, with a 53% accuracy rating. The Cats are right behind them in fifth, with a 52.1% rating. There isn’t much between them in this regard. My Grand Final winner prediction is getting dangerously close to “flip a coin”.
NO MORE NUMBERS MAN! JUST TELL ME.
Okay, I’ll stop mucking around now. The numbers are pushing me toward picking the Swans, but my gut feel says the Cats. I don’t know how much this has to do with knowing how hard it is to go back to back, or my inherent desire as an Adelaide fan to avoid seeing Tippett in red and white with a medal around his neck.
Argh! Okay. Here we go. I’m picking Geelong to beat Sydney in the Grand Final this year. I’ve already changed my mind back and forth seven times while writing this sentence. I want to back the team I think will be more efficient. The team that will use the ball better. I’m backing the Cats to use it better than the Swans. I won’t lie, the disposal efficiency thing has my brain screaming Hawthorn, but I’ve gone hard on the points against thing, and I’m going to stick with. If Fremantle had a slightly better offensive rank (and they might have had Pavlich played more), then I would have locked them in. That best defensive team has made the last six trend is a beauty….
…wait… SIX TIMES!?!?! IN A ROW!?!?!
I want to do it. I so badly want to pick Fremantle instead of the Swans. But they’d either have to beat the Cats at Simonds, or lose, then beat the Pies at home, then the Hawks or Swans away, just to make it. That is a brutal three weeks. Sorry Ross, I tried.
At this point in time I would like to apologise to both Swans and Cats fan for jinxing their teams, and would like to congratulate the Hawks and Dockers for making it to the last Saturday in September. The best part is if Hawthorn win tonight my Geelong v Sydney Grand Final tip is already halfway down the toilet. What’s life without a little risk.