It’s Lyon Time Again

Damien Little got me thinking with his brilliant series of graphs plotting the attacking/defensive performance of all teams over the 5 years.  Most teams oscillate between the top right box (when they have a successful season) and the bottom left (when they are crap).

This just means that your attacking and defensive performance are broadly inter-related.  Good at one in a season – you are likely to be good at the other; and vice versa.  Bad at one,  bad at the other.

Looking at the graphs the biggest outlier to this theme was Fremantle last year, and St Kilda in the years 07-11.  I wondered what the common factor could be?

DJLitsa kindly plotted the graph for the Swans (senior assistant coach), Saints and Dockers in the 10 years of Ross Lyon as a major influence on a club from 2004 to 2013. (Click on graph to enlarge.)


Apart from 2006 (marginally) and 2009 when the Scarlett toe-poke got the Cats over the line in a tight GF, Lyon teams are always in the top left box.  In the good years they are at the very top left (brilliant defensively; poor attacking).  In the bad years they are lower top left – average defensively and poor attacking.

There are losing GF’s in seasons 06 (Swans), 09, 10 (Saints) and 13 (Dockers).  And the Swans premiership win over the Eagles in 05.  I was at that game and apart from the closeness of the scores, it was as bad a game of footy as you would see – until the 2013 GF (is there a theme developing here?)

Chris Judd played one of the greatest games of footy I have seen in a losing side in 05.  The rest of the Eagles got stage fright so bad they couldn’t scratch themselves.  The Swans weren’t much better but managed to fall over the line (last man standing).

As the graph indicates – 06 was a better season for both teams and the repeat GF was a better spectacle as a result.  The Eagles midfield was brilliant in that game and that season, and that gave the forwards an armchair ride in the first half.  That is the only way you could win a flag with Ash Hansen and Quinten Lynch as your key forwards.  It is often said that “you only have to be the better team on the day”, but I have always thought that some teams/flags are better than others.  The 92/94 Eagles teams would have beaten the 06 team by 8 goals.

Lleyton Hewitt won Wimbledon (against Nalbandian in 2002) when Sampras was waning and Federer had not yet arrived.  Green Moon won a Melbourne Cup when they crawled for a mile and a half, and he just had to get a smother and then a clear opening to  dash up the straight.

As Orwell said – all pigs are equal, but some are more equal than others.

This made me wonder how much the tight losses in 06 (Chick smother and Armstrong scrambled goal); 09 (Scarlett toe poke); 10 (draw and get thrashed in the replay); and 13 (kick your few scoring chances out on the full) – were matters of misfortune or statistical inevitability?

I remember hearing Ric Charlesworth talk about why he pushed the Hockeyroos so hard in preparation for Olympics and World Cups when they were clearly the best team in the world.  He said that hockey (like soccer) was a low scoring game and that 20% of the time the better side with more possession and scoring opportunities would lose.  So he pushed the Hockeyroos hard to be 20% better than the second best side in the world, to ensure that ‘bad luck’, chance and statistical inevitability would not beat them on the big stage.

“20% better” does not seem credible in a competition as even as AFL with salary caps, talent drafts and extensive football department spending on coaching, analysis and sports science.

Lyon’s defensive rolling maul reduces time and space for opponents in attacking positions, but as a consequence there are limited scoring resources available when his teams go forward against good opposition.  Games are low scoring like soccer or hockey.

When a Ross Lyon team turns up against an equally talented, fit and well-coached team at the end of September – it has no room for error.  Every shot has to be converted.  Every forward entry locked-in.  Because there will be so few of them.  Its not that the forwards are not competent, it is that the game plan often commits most of them far down the ground against strong opponents.

Its an approach that crushes lesser teams, and makes Lyon’s teams ruthlessly competitive against the best.

They never lose by much in the big games against the best opponents.  Or win many.

As it should be.

Hit it Ray:

Oh, it’s Lyon time again, you’re gonna leave me
I can see that far away flag in your eyes
I can tell by the way you hold me darlin’. Yeah now
That it won’t be long before it’s cryin’ time


  1. It should be ‘hit it Roy’ perhaps (the ‘big O’)?

    Anyway, wearers of very dark glasses often can’t see the picture.

    I use a simpler graph/graphic image – all players bar about 4-6 in one pocket of the MCG inside the 50 metre line. I have photos, evidence for the prosecution.

    Footy has been a better game than many others because it values attack and scoring, even though we are told defence wins finals.

    While Ross Lyon is the major devil (as I painted him earlier, posted on footyalmanac) many coaches would probably like the line of the new Japanese league baseball coach who said that his aim was to ensure his opposition never scored….

    Not to mention association football (soccer) aficionados who write and talk of the beauty of a nil all draw (with lots of ‘shots on goal’ to use the preposition which has crept into footy, supplanting ‘shots at goal’).

    Ross Lyon may be a mathematician’s delight, and while one of my best friends is a mathematician, they can have that sort of game.

    The good news is that above all when the chips are down his teams know how to lose. Hit it Roy!

    That’s good for football!

    And, personally, I prefer footy, art and writing to maths.

    Steve Alomes

  2. After Lyon left St Kilda, I don’t much care what happens as long as he doesn’t win GF.

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    There are times I find watching Lyon coached sides as boring as batshit and at others times enthralling such as , 13 Prelim against , Sydney . Yes all could haves but he is only a bees knees away from being a dual , Premiership coach . I do question the approach to last years , GF when so many guys choked
    Overall is it a coaches job to get the most out of his list implementing a game style to do so or that and entertain? Thanks Peter

  4. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says


    Do you wish he had stayed, or do you think you have improved since he left?

  5. Hi Peter, very enjoyable. Glad to have been of assistance. It will be interesting to see if the Dockers can edge closer to the window this year to perhaps get them over the line.

  6. “When a *Ross Lyon* team turns up against an equally talented, fit and well-coached team at the end of September – it has no room for error.”

    I think we could put any name into that sentence and it would be equally accurate.

  7. 3 reasons why the Dockers will not finish Top 4 this year:
    1. The holiday assignment of 17 football departments would have been deconstructing and/or emulating the Lyon ‘swarm’.
    2. Vulnerability to injury of older, bigger key players – Pavlich, Sandilands, McPharlin etc.
    3. Wishful thinking.

  8. My prediction is Freo will end up where the swans were in 2006 – statistically, not necessarily the GF result.

  9. Pretty obvious from events at Joondalup this afternoon that West Coast will win the 2014 premiership.

  10. The Docker’s new “Highway to Hell’ theme song has proved appropriate.

  11. “Swish”, I was upset when he left, thought he had another bit in him for us. Enjoyed his time at the club, and didn’t wish him any ill will for doing what he did. Apparently business is business. Would we have done any better if he stayed: $64 question. Still thought we had maybe one more tilt at it, although it would have been hard. Felt sorry for Scotty, but as before business is business, whether it is good for the business or not. As a lifelong supporter and sufferer, it just seems to be another year and lets see what happens. And don’t know if the Dockers have it in them to get there again, might find it harder this year.

  12. Swish, wish he had left earlier. I took some Canadian friends to the Gabba to watch Lions vs Saints game. For years i had been explaining how and why Aussie Rules was a great game for spectators. Halfway through the second quarter I was apologising to them for the dire-ness of the spectacle.

    It is all well and good if there is a return on the investment in that style of play, but when there isn’t, it just mires the team into self doubt. Especially when there is an ageing list with no real core of young pups being brought through. St Kilda have now had to bring on a lot more youth and it will take a year or two to get the 50-70 games into that group to bring them back up the ladder.

    The difference with Sydney was that they played defensively when under threat and, when the opportunity presented, attacked. St Kilda haven’t effectively utilised the resources available to them, playing a game that negated their opponents as well as themselves.

    I might be bitter, but it’s hard to see Fremantle coming back from last years GF with complete faith in the game plan…

  13. ps. No we haven’t improved, but I see that as recruiting decisions hanging over the Lyon era. Interesting to see what effect the loss of Del Danto and McEvoy has on the year. I have some time for Longer, just hope a young buck can step up.

    Pre-season: every supporter is an optimist, until round 6.

  14. Kath Presdee says

    While this is probably not the season to use as the control, it will be interesting to see what Paul Roos does with Melbourne in the longer term.

    Will Roos use the Sydney model that got him to two Grand Finals with Lyons as his assistant? Or will he adopt a more expansive and attacking game? Is Roos’ strategy one of win at all costs – as was demanded by the Sydney market – no matter how ugly?

    It will be interesting to watch Melbourne over the next few years to see if the Lyons’ model is really the Roos’ model.

  15. I am concerned that my Lyon chart made its way into the Freo change rooms pre-game and completely demoralised the team. Can anyone confirm?

  16. sean gorman says

    Suma was coaching Litsa

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