Sunday, July 5, 2015

AFL Power Rankings: Round 14 2015

There were two events in the AFL this past week that made my eyes widen and let out an exclamation of shock when I first heard about them (the revelations of drug use at the Gold Coast Suns was not one of them). The first was the death of Adelaide Crows coach Phil Walsh. This led to the Adelaide-Geelong match scheduled for this week being cancelled, which in turn had a whole bunch of other implications. In terms of these rankings I have given both teams zero ranking points for the week. That pulls both teams’ total ranking points down a bit as they both have positive overall ratings, but it seemed the best way to account for this unusual event. Geelong’s points also take a hit from one of the teams that it recently thrashed being substantially downgraded …

What has happened to Essendon? Ranked seventh here after Round 3 this season, the Bombers have lost almost five goals worth of ranking points since, including two goals worth this week after losing by over 100 points to the Saints. St. Kilda has now gained more ranking points than any team this season, while only Carlton has lost more ranking points than Essendon (and we know what happened to the Blues’ coach as a result of their poor form). The Bombers are now considered here to be a bottom-five team, and may sink even lower on the rankings if this weekend was an indication of where they are heading.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

AFL Power Rankings: Round 13 2015

The difference in points is so tight in the middle of the rankings that North Melbourne drops a couple of spots even though it did not play this week. The Kangaroos’ slight fall in points is mainly a result of one of their recent opponents, Sydney, not being rated as highly this week after its loss at home to Richmond. Meanwhile Collingwood moves up a few spots after a good performance in Perth against Fremantle, giving the Magpies the highest total gain of any team this season. The five teams ranked from sixth to tenth – Port Adelaide, Collingwood, North Melbourne, Geelong, and Adelaide – are separated by less than two ranking points, or less than a tenth of a point per game over the course of a season.

Richmond consolidates fifth position with the highest gain of any team over the past five weeks, playing into my fear that fifth will be the new ninth for the Tigers. That is, in the same way that Richmond just missed out on the final eight several times over the past twenty years I fear that it will start a run of just missing out on the top four, as it already did in 2013. Honestly though, given that the Tigers started off the season 2-4 - coupled with them not playing many finals in the past thirty years - I would still be pretty pleased if they could just make the bottom four of the top eight for a third straight year.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Greatest VFL/AFL Dynasty

Recently I mused on this blog about where the current Geelong team ranked among the great VFL/AFL dynasties. This was in part inspired by a recent Fivethirtyeight article about the greatest of the NBA dynasties, which in the author’s view was Tim Duncan’s Spurs. This choice was based on the Spurs remaining well above average for 17 years … and counting.

In my earlier blog post I said that if the strength of a dynasty is determined by how long and how far a team is above a particular benchmark then I could think of at least four ‘dynasties’ in VFL/AFL history that may be considered the competition’s greatest. However, when I went back and looked at the great eras in more detail, one of those eras, in my view, stood well above the rest.

First, my two ‘runner-up dynasties’:
·         Melbourne 1954-1964: The Demons won 75 per cent of their matches, won six premierships, contested eight Grand Finals, and won seven minor premierships.
·         Hawthorn 1982-1994: The Hawks won 72 per cent of their matches, won five premierships, contested eight Grand Finals, and won three minor premierships.
As good as these eras were though I don’t think they compare with the Collingwood team of 1925-1939. The Magpies won about 75 per cent of their matches over a fifteen-year period. They won six premierships, five minor premierships, and contested an amazing 11 Grand Finals. Their winning percentage was boosted a bit by the addition of three new teams in 1925 that were poor for much of that time, but it is still a great achievement to get to the pointy end of the season that many times. A lot of football followers know about the famous four premierships in a row from 1927 to 1930. Fewer may remember that Collingwood also won the 1935 and 1936 flags, and were runners-up from 1937 to 1939.

Even more astonishingly the Magpies did not have a losing season from the VFL’s inception in 1897 up until 1940! The legendary Jock McHale coached them for all six of those flags in the 1920s and 1930s, plus another in 1919, and was at the helm for nearly four decades. Adding to their dynastic credentials is that four of their best players were two sets of brothers, the Colliers (Albert and Harry), and the Coventrys (Gordon and Syd). Now that’s a dynasty. The current Geelong team needs to be contending right up to 2020 for it to match an era like that.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

AFL Power Rankings: Round 12 2015

Just as I was talking about Geelong’s dynasty, the Cats go and lose to Melbourne at home, which is a bit of a blow to both their finals chances and their ranking. Perhaps the Cats contracted a similar jinx to what Greater Western Sydney did after I started highlighting their improvement a few weeks back. Meanwhile North Melbourne moves up four spots to sixth after its big win over the Giants, which despite GWS taking a backward step in the past few weeks, still means a lot more than it used to. Finally Port Adelaide does not fall further this week in terms of ranking spots, but it is not looking great for the Power, who have lost to both Carlton and Brisbane in the past five weeks.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Reflecting on the Career of Chris Judd

This month Carlton player, and former West Coast player, Chris Judd retired from AFL after sustaining a serious injury. For me though the version of Chris Judd I will most remember finished up about eight years ago. That was the younger version, still with hair, that played with the West Coast Eagles from 2002 to 2007. From his first year Judd was an explosive midfielder that seemed like he was a good few inches taller than the opponents he was sprinting away from.

He won a Brownlow Medal in 2004, captained the Eagles in their premiership win in 2005, and was the consensus best player in the game in 2006. Then Gary Ablett Jr. took over at the best player from 2007 up until last year, and Judd was never really on top again, despite another Brownlow win in 2010. Injuries started to hit Judd before he left the Eagles at the end of 2007. While he certainly was valuable for the Blues in his time there, he was too hobbled to be seen as invincible.

But the 2004-2007 version of Chris Judd was one of the best players I have ever seen, and would be worthy of a spot in an all-time AFL team (even if I have said before I would probably leave him out). I rate him below Ablett and slightly below Michael Voss, but ahead of Nathan Buckley and James Hird. Pretty much everyone liked and admired that version of Judd. It was harder for Victorians at least to like him once he joined the Blues, who despite their recent lack of success are still one of the more disliked teams.

And which team won that Judd/Josh Kennedy-No. 3 draft pick trade? At the time I said I expected the Eagles had gotten the better deal, given that Kennedy’s progress to that time suggested he would be a valuable forward for years to come. Turns out I was about right on Judd playing another eight years, although he played a few less games in that time than I expected. I was also pretty much right about the value of Kennedy and the No. 3 draft pick, which ended up being Chris Masten. Still, even if the Eagles did win the trade I doubt too many Carlton officials wish they could have a do-over on it.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

State of Origin Crowds at the MCG

Last night, I attended the New South Wales v Queensland State of Origin match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Over 90,000 people were there - a new State of Origin record. It was a pretty good match as well, with NSW winning 26-18 to level the series, although it would have been more interesting if Queensland star Greg Inglis' try in the second half had not been disallowed.

What I wanted to write about was the experience of the crowd, which on reflection seemed to me somewhat uncommon, for these reasons:

- State of Origin matches are usually played in either NSW or Queensland, and so the crowd is usually heavily weighted one way or the other. It is only at the Melbourne matches that the support is roughly even. This 'bi-partisan' support made it more like an Australian Football League finals match, except...
-The supporters were divided into distinct 'blue' and 'maroon' zones. AFL matches have their zones, but not as clearly marked as this was. I guess at AFL matches it's not uncommon to go to a big match with a relative or friend who barracks for the opposite team, so you can't be too vicious towards a person you are travelling home with. That was probably less the case here, which brings me to my next point ...
-The two supporter bases really do dislike each other. I don't think I've seen AFL supporter bases, as tribal as they are, be that acrimonious towards each other. Nor cricket supporters, which are typically the only sports I see big matches for at the MCG.

What is equivalent? Events like the FA Cup, and the Super Bowl probably have similar crowds and roughly equal support, but my impression is that they have many attendees who are not heavily invested in the result either way. I suppose there were many Victorians there last night who weren't too worried, though support amongst Victorians did seem to lean towards Queensland, but it certainly didn't feel like an exhibition match. It was certainly different to the mostly one-way support I experience at Melbourne Storm matches. At the risk of sounding like I'm spouting a cliché, there actually is really nothing quite like an Origin match...