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Front and Centre: 2014 fixture analysis

Our footy experts analyse the 2014 AFL fixture list and what it means for your club.

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There's a bit of something for everyone in the AFL fixture for 2014, and we're not just talking about the marketing and football departments of the 18 clubs.

If you take the view that the league, given the constraints imposed by broadcasting and venue contracts, does a reasonable job of making the schedule as fair as possible, you'd have plenty of evidence to back you up.

But if you like to whinge about fixturing anomalies, there's still enough material with which to work. And if you find something more sinister in what inequities do exist, there's a couple of handy conspiracy theories.

I'm not of the latter school of thought. But I do believe there's always going to be those clubs, however inadvertently, given a pretty decent start to their 2014 campaigns via the fixture, and others that seem to have been dealt a disproportionately tough hand.

Brisbane certainly fits the latter category, and coming after its coaching debacle, the exodus of five senior players and its prolonged boardroom stoush, it's at the worst possible time.

Tandberg

Our formula for assessing each club's fixture from a purely football perspective takes into account the five teams played twice, road trips, the home versus interstate side advantage and consecutive six-day breaks. And by that reckoning, the Lions have copped it in the neck.

In fact, by our rankings, Brisbane's draw is easier only than the top three teams of 2013 - Hawthorn, Fremantle and Geelong - a rough deal for a side that finished the season in only 12th spot.

The Lions play two of those three (the Dockers and Cats) twice, as well as another finalist in Richmond, and North Melbourne, which many expect to play finals in 2014.

Novice coach Justin Leppitsch could not have been dealt a much tougher hand.

Brisbane cynics might argue that the AFL has swung the big stick in annoyance at the Lions' post-season farce. Then again, the Lions, by our reckoning, had the fourth softest draw of 2013 given they had won 10 games the previous season, so the league could well take the ''swings and roundabouts'' line in response.

North Melbourne's turn might have come on that score, in a more favourable sense. The Roos were handed 2013's second-toughest fixture according to our formula. In 2014, they'll have the eighth best, with Geelong the only finalist they'll be playing twice.

There's little doubt, though, that Richmond has emerged in draw terms very well placed indeed. The Tigers, who did finish the home-and-away rounds fifth, play just one finalist from this year, the Swans, twice, and have return games against two of this year's bottom three.

Five of Richmond's six road trips are against teams that finished outside the eight, and its sole trip to Perth is against West Coast, which in 2013 managed to win just three of its dozen games at its Patersons Stadium home.

Essendon fans convinced their team was going to cop a less formal penalty for its involvement in the drugs scandal won't be appeased by the fixture.

The Dons have got four finalists twice and two lots of consecutive six-day breaks, plus a very tough start to the season in North Melbourne, Hawthorn, Carlton and Fremantle in Perth. But Essendon was seventh on this year's ladder in terms of points, and did beat the Dockers away.

In terms of opponents, it could well be Collingwood that has the toughest start to 2014.

The Magpies play three of the 2013 top four in the first three rounds, and five of the top eight by round seven, the other two clashes also against pretty decent teams in North Melbourne and Essendon. Nathan Buckley's new-look Pies, however, have a far friendlier run home.

On balance, Hawthorn has the toughest draw for a second year in a row. The Hawks play all three top four rivals from this year twice, and between rounds six to eight they have to cope with three six-day breaks in succession, the only team asked to do so.

But if we are forced to cope with an uneven draw, few would argue the toss on the best teams having the hardest rows to hoe.

And in 2014, that's generally the case. It's the top three from this year that have the three hardest runs, while the two easiest draws will go to sides that finished in the bottom four. Indeed, of the nine ''softest'' fixtures, eight have been handed to sides that finished outside the finals, with Richmond the lucky exception.

That's the score from a football perspective, anyway. Commercially? Well, that's a whole different ball game.