Monday, October 2, 2017

AFL Power Rankings: Post-Finals 2017

It happened! My beloved Richmond won its first premiership in 37 years, beating the Adelaide Crows in the Grand Final as I predicted it would before the finals began. Well … sort of. What I actually said was that, while I very slightly favoured Richmond in a Grand Final against Adelaide at the MCG, I thought that the Crows had the best chance of winning the premiership. This was because the Tigers’ likeliest path to the flag relied on them first beating Geelong in the opening week of the finals, and I considered that to be about an ‘even chance’ of happening.

Well, the Tigers not only got themselves on to the likeliest path, they steamrolled over it. Big wins against Geelong, GWS, and the Crows mean that not only are they the premiers (the most important outcome), they are also much more highly rated here than they were leading into the finals series. Back then I had Adelaide and Sydney as clearly the two best sides. Now Richmond is up there with them. Any of the three teams would have been very worthy premiers, but the Swans found themselves on a difficult path after finishing in sixth place on the ladder, while the Crows had one of their season’s worst performances at the final hurdle.

Richmond also got better as the season went on. While it started the season with five straight wins, many of those early wins came against poor to average teams, and not often by large margins. By the end of the season they were comfortably beating the very best. It was somewhat similar to the Bulldogs’ run to the flag last year, although Richmond started its ‘hot streak’ earlier. In 2016 the Dogs were only average in the matches leading up to the finals – possibly in part due to injuries – but they came back after the ‘pre-finals’ week off and played at a whole different level. Richmond played pretty well from their Round 18 win over GWS onwards, and had a couple of big wins going into the finals series that suggested they were emerging as the third ‘frontrunner’ behind the Swans and the Crows.

As for the other finals teams, the many lop-sided results during the past few weeks meant that almost all of them lost a few rankings points on the way out – essentially their rankings points were re-distributed to Richmond. Sydney finishes as the top-ranked side, narrowly ahead of Adelaide and now the Tigers. Geelong, Port Adelaide, and GWS remain as the ‘second tier’ of teams. West Coast and Essendon – the last two sides into the finals – finish among a large group of average sides that would all have decent hopes of contending for finals next year.

Speaking of next year: can Richmond do it again? Well, when you’re up high there is more space to go down than up. They did have fantastic luck with injuries in 2017, and a more favourable draw than they are likely to receive next year. Also some of their players – most notably superstar midfielder Dustin Martin – played better or at least as well as they ever have, which could be difficult to repeat. On the other hand, maybe Dusty will get even better…

But that is tomorrow’s problem. For now Richmond has the flag they and their fans have long been searching for. And for this fan at least that is way more than, this time last year, I thought possible.