Injustice: Port was done over

As a supporter of a very unsuccessful team this season, I find myself at something of a loose end. I’m certainly interested in the finals, and have my preferences among the surviving teams. However, my level of emotional investment is a mere shadow of those sufficiently fortunate to have a side in.

I’ve turned my mind to a review of an aspect of the season – how the fixture influenced the season’s ladder order. It would dignify my back of the envelope assessment to describe it as analysis, but I offer my musings for (I hope) the interest of the Almanac community. When the season’s schedule is released, journos and others consider how teams may benefit or suffer from the vagaries of the draw. The weakness of such predictions is the surprise improver or slider in the new season. It was almost as impossible to envisage the rise of West Coast or the Bulldogs, as it was to anticipate the decline of Port Adelaide. While this post hoc review is of barely academic interest, merely providing the aggrieved with some fuel for their sense we wuz robbed, it has zero predictive value.

The major source of advantage/disadvantage of the fixture is the extent to which teams play stronger/weaker rivals twice. The other key factor is the extent to which matches against opponents who are met only once, involves an interstate trip.

Obviously this discussion omits issues such as luck with injuries/suspensions and the possibility of playing a specific opponent when their form is above or below their standard. Witness Hawthorn running into Essendon in round two or Carlton’s and Brisbane’s ambushes of Port Adelaide mid-season.

I proceeded on the arbitrary division of the eighteen teams into three classes – the top premiership contenders, the middle-rankers and the easy beats/no-hopers. My top-flight is restricted to the final four teams, who enjoy a margin over the rest on both number of wins and percentage. An argument could be mounted that this line be drawn to include Richmond, or alternatively Richmond, Western Bulldogs and Adelaide.

The middle section is from Richmond (or Western Bulldogs or North Melbourne) down to and including Collingwood; Melbourne to Carlton represent the bottom group.

Port Adelaide were the team most harshly treated. They faced Fremantle, Hawthorn and Sydney twice, as well as Adelaide and Western Bulldogs, so they didn’t get two cracks at any bottom sides Their only “benefit” was that their single encounter with West Coast was at the Adelaide Oval. Of the easy-beats, Port’s only home game was against St.Kilda (their game against Melbourne was on neutral territory, Alice Springs). Significantly two of those matches against 17th and 18th proved to be banana skins, with Brisbane (Gabba) and Carlton (MCG) improbably defeating them. Those two losses prevented them from finishing top eight.

Geelong were less disadvantaged than Port, but still suffered from the fixture. They also didn’t get two goes at any bottom side, but they only played twice Hawthorn and Sydney of the top four; they were home to Fremantle and away to West Coast. They met the two non-Victorian bottom sides Gold Coast and Brisbane in Geelong, as well as playing Melbourne there – an advantage which they squandered.

Oddly enough, Gold Coast were the only other side to play home and away against more than one of the top four teams. They met Sydney and West Coast twice, and their only respite was two matches against Brisbane.

Looking at the sides which were favoured by the draw, GWS (unsurprisingly) were the most obvious beneficiary. They faced only Sydney of the top echelon twice, and enjoyed two opportunities against four bottom six teams – St. Kilda, Carlton, Melbourne and Gold Coast. They did have to travel twice to Perth for their solitary clash with each of the WA teams, but they also got a crack at Hawthorn in Western Sydney, an opportunity of which they took advantage.

The Bulldogs’ five home and away opponents included St.Kilda, Brisbane and Melbourne (for one surprise loss), and only Fremantle of the top four. Collingwood had no repeat matches against top four sides, and also had two goes against three bottom teams – Carlton, Essendon, Melbourne – and managed to drop two of those matches, Melbourne and the round 23 dead rubber against the Bombers.

Fremantle and Sydney were slightly worse off than Hawthorn and West Coast. Given the closeness of the final standings, it is easy to envisage some shuffling between the top four, with Sydney even conceivably leap-frogging their way to a home final.

There is little to suggest any change between the relative positions of Richmond, Adelaide and North Melbourne, but the Bulldogs could certainly have dropped below the Crows (with implications for who enjoys the home final). Either WB or North (most likely the latter) could have been displaced from the finals by Port Adelaide in the kind of alternative universe, I am contemplating.

Comments

  1. I wasn’t aware of such musings when Port played finals under an easier draw.

  2. You were done over in 2014 by Matt Stevic getting his beloved Hawks over the line in the PF, but you done yourselves over this year just thinking you had to turn up and it would happen…

  3. Have to agree with the sentiments of Bob & Rabid Dog on this one.

    That said, there is a strong philosophical argument to say seeded draws are taking equalisation too far.

    A football competition is not the Stawell Gift. What’s next, giving bottom 4 clubs a 3 goal head start?

  4. To be honest, I do not have too much of a problem with the sort of draw system the AFL has been using recently. It is mostly designed to shuffle the teams around the middle of the table, particularly giving a boost to improving teams that come from outside the eight. When you have a draw where you do not play most teams twice this is not an unreasonable thing to do. At the end of the day the teams affected are unlikely to be premiership contenders – if they are good enough to contend for the premiership they should be winning regardless of who they play and where. That said, it is reasonable to contend that Port Adelaide missed out on losing an elimination final as a result of the draw.

  5. kath presdee says:

    I was going to point out how unfair you’ve been against GWS in this article (they’re my team, I know them best) until I re-read the article. Seeding the draw on the basis of the past home and away season means absolutely nothing when you’re playing it. Who would have thought that GWS with a solitary victory in 2013 would have beaten Sydney in Round 1 of 2014? Upsets happen.

    That said the allocation of home and away games, particularly for the sides playing interstate, is a factor. I’d like to point out while you imply that the draw favoured GWS by only playing the Hawks once, and at home, doesn’t take into account that it was the first time GWS had a home game against Hawthorn. We are still yet to have a home game against Fremantle or Brisbane. We’ve only played them once each season – even on the law of averages it should be two home games each. Is the draw supposed to deliver us that fairness? I don’t know – but if it is, it is certainly not working.

    I agree with the other posters – most of the teams that are good enough got there with a tough draw; and it’s debatable whether it was the draw that got any of the finalists into the eight.

  6. Peter Fuller says:

    I have been misrepresented as a Port supporter, although I suppose my suggested headline was unnecessarily provocative. .Perhaps I need one of those sacked Fairfax subbies. The conclusion was just where the evidence led. Actually I think the Power might consider themselves misrepresented by the suggestion that they are consorting with such an abject loser.

    I have accomplished something personally unprecedented this season, as my Blues embraced the wooden spoon. Although Rugby League does not enthrall me, i nonetheless burn a candle for Newcastle Knights. So my 2015 double is to combine bottom of a sixteen team competition and bottom of an eighteen team competition. I know it’s not true that each team in the AFL or NRL has an equal chance, but that is a simplifying assumption when assessing this feat. On that basis, I make it a 1 chance in 324 occurrence.

    I might add that my EPL team, Sunderland, having flirted with the drop in several recent years and managed to escape, seem determined to meet the key performance target this time around and ensure relegation in 2015-16 before the end of October.

    So I warn all Almanackers to keep away from me, I am a highly contagious source of ill-fortune.

    Kath, your Giants are entitled to any rub of the green, and I enjoy seeing them play. You will surely enjoy the reward for your loyalty in the near future.

    Apologies, if what was intended as a rather casual exercise in reviewing the impact of the fixture’s impact was read as more than the gentle controversy initiator , I intended.

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