Uncharted Territory: An important Eureka moment which sheds light on the footy thinking.

As it is with the uncharted territory of “one match in twenty-something days”, currently being negotiated by GWS and Geelong, the “discovery” of a new land is often in the eye of the discoverer alone when, in fact, plenty have been there before.


If we define the uncharted domain as a team with a finals sequence of bye-win-bye, we discover in the annals of footy history (Internet, earlier today) that there are at least ten of these unknown islands dotting AFL/VFL antiquity.


Casting your mind back to the year 1972 (pre The Dismissal, indeed pre The Election, pre Doug Walters hitting a six off the last ball of the day at the WACA to score an unbelievable ton in a session, and pre lots of other stuff) recall that the then VFL introduced the Final Five finals system that remained in place until 1990. This system allowed the team placed fifth after the home and away series to take part in the finals which, over the 19 years of the system, dealt out hope and misery in equal proportions as no fifth-place team ever won the premiership. Nevertheless, it did add two finals matches to the series and undoubtedly swelled the VFL/AFL’s coffers.


Under the final five system, the top team had the first week of the finals off while 2nd played 3rd and 4th played 5th. In the second week the top team played the winner of 2nd versus 3rd (the second semi-final). As it turns out, in 10 of those 19 years the top team won the second-semi after the week off and went straight into the grand final (Internet, op cit). So, ten teams had that sequence of bye-win-bye and just one match in twenty-something days. Of these ten teams, seven were winners in the fourth week (the GF) – Carlton 3 times (’79, ’81, ’87), Hawthorn twice (’88, ’89), Richmond once (’74) and Essendon once (’85).  There were two teams that lost in the fourth week, Hawthorn (’75) and Richmond (’82), and, of course, there was the special case of Collingwood in 1977 – a draw with North Melbourne before they lost the replay the following week (Internet, Ibid).


Past and current information is all important in determining expectations about future outcomes. If these historical documents, revealing well-trodden lands previously thought  uncharted, provided the only available information to frame the market for this weekend’s matches (admittedly a sizable if), then we could say with confidence that the Giants and the Cats each have at least a 70% chance of winning their respective matches, there’s a 49% chance they’ll both win, a 9% chance they’ll both lose and a 42% chance that one will win and the other lose.


But wait, there’s more. As I sit here tapping out my thesis, I realise that for the decades of the Final Four system this happened EVERY YEAR!

Week 1 – First Semi-final:  3 v 4

Week 2 – Second Semi-final:  1 v 2 (so they have had the week off)

Week 3 – Prelim

Week 4- Grand Final

One of 1 v 2 must go through. So the winner of the Second Semi must have the sequence BYE – GAME – BYE the very sequence which is the concern of many this September.


I will look at the stats for the Final Four scenario soon. Stay tuned.


Regardless of the outcome, you can be 100% sure that Monday’s media will have discovered a novel theory to explain this new found territory.


  1. P. Flynn will love this.

    As I do.

    Funny that we haven’t heard this from the experts.

  2. I missed the part after “listen carefully”, but I love it nonetheless because the Cats are apparently in the box seat.

  3. Yeah one game in a month. Two reserves and no interchanges. One field umpire. Funny that the sky didn’t fall in before it became a coaches game instead of a players game.
    Will be interested in your stats on how many Second Semi winners won the GF (after “one game in a month” – shock horror) under the old Final Four system. A significant majority I reckon.

  4. Peter Fuller says

    I would point to 1990 as a decisive influence in the way the finals played out. Essendon who finished top had the benefit of the week off, but this became two weeks when Collingwood and West Coast drew in their qualifying final (thanks to a Peter Sumich miss from an acute angle, at the death or after the siren). Collingwood caught the excessively-rested Bombers in the 2nd semi-final, which gave them the box seat with a week off before the GF.

    Peter, you should applaud this reference because of the monumental achievement of the Eagles in that final series. I think they played round 22 in Melbourne, then had four successive finals matches at Waverley, drawing then losing to Collingwood, beating Melbourne, before losing the prelim to Essendon presumably from exhaustion.

    If memory serves, this was the prompt for the AFL to introduce extra time in lead-up finals. Their motive was almost certainly money, as there was concern about people buying travel packages for Grand Final weekend, finding themselves coming to Melbourne for the preliminary final instead.

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