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Garry Lyon looks at the X-factor in team performance

Any fan would be glad to have players with the intensity of Brad Sewell or Scott Pendlebury  on their team.

Any fan would be glad to have players with the intensity of Brad Sewell or Scott Pendlebury on their team. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

In a modern football world, where statistical measurement of team performance is just the touch of a computer button away, there is one critical aspect that remains frustratingly impossible to measure or predict. That is a team’s, or individual’s, level of intensity. 

And the more football I watch, the more convinced I am that the ability to bring it to each game is what separates the contenders from the pretenders.

While analysts will use key indicators such as contested football, tackles and pressure acts in an attempt to come up with a formula to measure intensity levels, the reality is the reasons for the wild fluctuations in a team’s intensity are far more complicated and harder to identify than a number on a page.

As I watched one of the most riveting contests of the year unfold last Sunday, the Showdown between Adelaide and Port, it was patently obvious that if coach Brenton Sanderson could rely on the Crows to play the passionate, high-energy, high-pressure football they produced in their upset victory, week in, week out, then they would not only contend in September but provide enormous headaches for most opponents.

But then I was reminded of their performance against Melbourne, on the same ground, a couple of months earlier. They were jumped that day and played with an air of indifference that suggested they thought they were capable of closing the gap at the push of the button. The contrast between the two performances was stark, and I would suggest it had little to do with a variance in skill.

The Adelaide victory came a day after North Melbourne gave up a 22-point lead in the first quarter to the struggling Brisbane Lions, who had managed a solitary point in a half of footy the previous week against Fremantle, only to concede 10 of the next 11 goals of the game. The Lions went on to win by four points, and the Kangaroo supporters were left to wonder whether their team was a fraud or a finals contender.

How could a team capitulate in such a dramatic fashion, in the space of 10 minutes, even allowing for the improved output of the opposition? A look at the Roos’ 2014 season suggests they are incapable of producing the required intensity, on a weekly basis, to warrant being discussed as a genuine contender this year.

How else do you explain the fact that they can produce the most inspiring, team-oriented, four-quarter, intense football and dispense of Port Adelaide, Sydney and Fremantle, yet completely fail to mirror that sort of effort and go down meekly to the Gold Coast, Adelaide and the Bombers.

Let’s not forget the Roos belted the Lions by 87 points, just six weeks ago, with 16 of Saturday’s team playing in that game.

If you were to watch a tape of the game against the Swans, and follow it with the performance against Brisbane on Saturday night, you would swear you were watching two different teams. 

Coaches are constantly asked if they are able to predict, based on the pre-game preparation, whether their team will play with the fierce intensity and desire that they demand. They invariably answer no, and therein lies the problem.

And while coaches will manfully accept responsibility for a team’s fortunes, ultimately it is up to the individual to determine whether they are capable of playing with a "life or death" attitude every time they take the field.

All sorts of external motivations can be used, but the responsibility must lie with the athlete. And tapping into whatever it is that gets them to that required arousal level is an ongoing challenge that only the elite performers seem capable of acquiring.

Getting "up" for a blockbuster game in front of big crowds and large television audiences is not a great challenge. The circumstances surrounding such events sharpen the focus of even the most distracted footballer. Of course, in no way does it guarantee success, for the reality is, if both teams play with the required intensity, one may prevail simply due to better skill execution or greater talent. But most supporters can live with that and walk away, regardless of the result, content in the knowledge their team "had a go". But far too often they are left to scratch their heads at the end of a game and wonder why their side is capable of playing tough, committed football one week, only to turn up seven days later and witness a meek and mild outfit that has no appetite for the types of acts that they so admired previously.

The very best footballers in the game are able to motivate themselves to compete with that warrior mentality every time they take the field. Even when the planets are not perfectly aligned, they still will themselves to produce an intensity that defines them and guarantees their standing in the game.

They are the sorts of players I admire the most, and would select every single time, ahead of the more comprehensively skilled footballer who chooses to be more selective with his intent.

Joel Selwood is the epitome of intensity. His appetite for the contest is as close to unconditional as you could hope to see. It is well known in football circles that he is playing sore at the moment, yet his approach to each game is largely uncompromised.

He has spent more time in recent weeks away from the middle of the ground, a concession to the wear and tear on his body, yet his mind refuses to concede any ground. Rarely can I remember a time when he has been less than manic in his attack on the ball or the opposition.

It is an unbelievable mental strength, shared by his elite contemporaries. Class and skill are the words that spring to mind when we think about Scott Pendlebury, but when you have the privilege of watching him play live, he is as competitive as any player in the game. Regardless of the state of play, whether the Pies are up or down by five goals, Pendlebury’s intensity in the way he plays rarely wavers.

Rory Sloane, Nathan Fyfe, Jobe Watson, Brad Sewell, Kane Cornes, Matt Priddis, Kieran Jack, Callan Ward and Liam Picken. Yes, superstars, ageing veterans and honest battlers, but you know what you are going to get from each and every one of these players in terms of their intensity levels each time they take the field.

Which is why you would happily go to war with port’s Ollie Wines every single day of the year. No matter the weather conditions, the opponent, the score in the match, his physical well-being, whether he’s had a fight with his girlfriend or was stuck in traffic for too long on the way to the ground. (And trust me, any one of these things can claim the minds of footballers and result in them barely showing up to play.) You can be guaranteed of the intensity levels of this young man every week, and what a great endorsement that is for a young man in just his second year.

As you read this and prepare to watch your team perform this weekend, ask yourself if you can be certain that your team, regardless of the result, will be the intense, competitive animal that it needs to be in this ruthless competition.

I can’t with my team, Melbourne. It’s getting better, but the first 40 minutes of the game against the Bulldogs last week were as far removed from the inspiring intensity they showed against Essendon, when they chased them down a couple of weeks ago, as you could possibly imagine.

Why? Well, that’s another challenge for Paul Roos to work through. He and most other coaches, at some stage this year. John Longmire would still, in a quiet moment, wonder where his player’s minds were at in the round-one loss to the Giants.

To witness guaranteed intensity is a rare luxury afforded to the fortunate supporters of the very best sides in the competition. If that is you, you are blessed. For the rest of us, we will watch this weekend with our hearts in our mouths, and merely hope for it. 

AFL 2015

Round 1
Thu, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
CAR 78 vs RIC 105 Report Stats
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
MEL 115 vs GCF 89 Stats
SYD 72 vs ESS 60 Stats
BRI 74 vs COL 86 Stats
WBU 97 vs WCE 87 Stats
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 78 vs GWS 87 Stats
ADE 140 vs NTH 63 Stats
FRE 75 vs PTA 68 Stats
Mon, 06 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 123 vs GEE 61 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE 131 vs CAR 62 Stats
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 66 vs WBU 85 Report Stats
GWS 101 vs MEL 56 Stats
COL 63 vs ADE 90 Report Stats
GCF 76 vs STK 104 Stats
PTA 44 vs SYD 92 Stats
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
GEE 60 vs FRE 104 Stats
ESS 78 vs HAW 76 Stats
NTH 133 vs BRI 51 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
COL 140 vs STK 66 Stats
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
CAR 84 vs ESS 105 Stats
ADE 80 vs MEL 55 Stats
SYD 111 vs GWS 90 Report Stats
NTH 105 vs PTA 113 Stats
BRI 58 vs RIC 137 Stats
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW 127 vs WBU 57 Stats
GEE 105 vs GCF 96 Stats
WCE 81 vs FRE 111 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 51 vs MEL 83 Stats
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
STK 81 vs CAR 121 Report Report Stats
ESS 49 vs COL 69 Report Stats
GWS 119 vs GCF 53 Stats
PTA 99 vs HAW 91 Stats
FRE 74 vs SYD 60 Stats
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI 65 vs WCE 118 Stats
GEE 67 vs NTH 83 Stats
WBU 125 vs ADE 68 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 45 vs COL 120 Stats
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC 76 vs GEE 85 Stats
SYD 73 vs WBU 77 Stats
GCF 118 vs BRI 54 Stats
NTH 70 vs HAW 130 Stats
WCE 120 vs GWS 33 Stats
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL 50 vs FRE 118 Stats
STK 80 vs ESS 82 Stats
ADE 91 vs PTA 115 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
COL 59 vs GEE 100 Stats
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
NTH 109 vs RIC 74 Stats
WBU 87 vs STK 94 Stats
GWS 108 vs HAW 98 Stats
GCF 78 vs ADE 119 Stats
MEL 50 vs SYD 88 Stats
FRE 80 vs ESS 52 Stats
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 75 vs BRI 84 Report Stats
PTA 68 vs WCE 78 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS 82 vs NTH 93 Stats
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE 119 vs STK 73 Stats
HAW 155 vs MEL 50 Stats
CAR 57 vs GWS 135 Stats
SYD 120 vs GEE 77 Stats
WCE 135 vs GCF 43 Stats
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
WBU 88 vs FRE 101 Stats
RIC 105 vs COL 100 Report Stats
BRI 102 vs PTA 65 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
GEE 140 vs CAR 63 Stats
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
STK vs WCE 13:45ES
GWS vs ADE 14:10Spotless Stadium
GCF vs COL 16:35MS
HAW vs SYD 19:20MCG
FRE vs NTH 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS vs BRI 13:10ES
MEL vs WBU 15:20MCG
PTA vs RIC 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD vs CAR 19:50SCG
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW vs GCF 13:45AS
MEL vs PTA 14:10TIO Traeger Park
WBU vs GWS 16:35ES
RIC vs ESS 19:20MCG
ADE vs FRE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs STK 13:10G
COL vs NTH 15:20MCG
WCE vs GEE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE vs RIC 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs ADE 13:40MCG
GCF vs SYD 16:35MS
ESS vs GEE 19:20ES
PTA vs WBU 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
GWS vs BRI 13:10Spotless Stadium
NTH vs WCE 15:20BA
STK vs HAW 16:40ES
Mon, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL vs COL 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA vs GEE 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
GCF vs FRE 13:40MS
WCE vs ESS 16:35Domain Stadium
NTH vs SYD 19:20ES
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs GWS 13:10MCG
STK vs MEL 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Thu, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE vs HAW 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC vs WCE 19:50MCG
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs PTA 13:40MCG
GWS vs NTH 16:35Spotless Stadium
WBU vs BRI 19:20ES
Sun, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE vs MEL 15:20SS
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Thu, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
FRE vs COL 20:10Domain Stadium
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs RIC 19:50SCG
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs ESS 13:40MCG
BRI vs ADE 16:35G
STK vs WBU 19:20ES
Sun, 28 JunTimes shown AEST
CAR vs GCF 15:20ES
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Thu, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs PTA 19:20SCG
Fri, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
COL vs HAW 19:50MCG
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GWS 13:40MCG
GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
WBU vs CAR 19:20ES
MEL vs WCE 19:40TIO
Sun, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs STK 13:10ES
ADE vs GEE 15:20Adelaide Oval
FRE vs BRI 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Thu, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs COL 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs CAR 19:50MCG
Sat, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs MEL 13:40MCG
WBU vs GCF 16:35CAZ
NTH vs GEE 19:20ES
WCE vs ADE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs STK 13:10Spotless Stadium
HAW vs FRE 15:20AS
BRI vs SYD 16:40G
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
NTH vs ESS 19:50ES
Sat, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs WBU 13:45SS
GCF vs GWS 14:10MS
COL vs WCE 16:35ES
SYD vs HAW 19:20ANZ
FRE vs CAR 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs BRI 13:10MCG
PTA vs ADE 15:20Adelaide Oval
STK vs RIC 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs GEE 13:45SO
ADE vs GCF 14:10Adelaide Oval
RIC vs FRE 16:35MCG
ESS vs PTA 19:20ES
BRI vs NTH 19:20G
Sun, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
WBU vs COL 13:10ES
MEL vs STK 15:20MCG
WCE vs SYD 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
HAW vs RIC 19:50MCG
Sat, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE vs BRI 13:45SS
COL vs MEL 14:10MCG
SYD vs ADE 16:35SCG
CAR vs NTH 19:20ES
GCF vs WCE 19:20MS
Sun, 02 AugTimes shown AEST
PTA vs STK 13:10Adelaide Oval
ESS vs WBU 15:20ES
FRE vs GWS 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE vs RIC 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
COL vs CAR 13:45MCG
WBU vs PTA 14:10ES
BRI vs GCF 16:35G
GEE vs SYD 19:20SS
WCE vs HAW 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
MEL vs NTH 13:10MCG
GWS vs ESS 15:20Spotless Stadium
STK vs FRE 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD vs COL 19:50SCG
Sat, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS vs ADE 13:45ES
NTH vs STK 14:10BA
PTA vs GWS 16:35Adelaide Oval
GEE vs HAW 19:20MCG
BRI vs CAR 19:20G
Sun, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC vs GCF 13:10MCG
WBU vs MEL 15:20ES
FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW vs PTA 19:50ES
Sat, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
COL vs RIC 13:45MCG
GWS vs SYD 14:10Spotless Stadium
GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
STK vs GEE 19:20ES
ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH vs FRE 13:10ES
CAR vs MEL 15:20MCG
WCE vs WBU 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
GEE vs COL 19:50MCG
Sat, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
GWS vs CAR 13:45Spotless Stadium
HAW vs BRI 14:10AS
NTH vs WBU 16:35ES
ESS vs RIC 19:20MCG
GCF vs PTA 19:20MS
Sun, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE vs WCE 13:10Adelaide Oval
STK vs SYD 15:20ES
FRE vs MEL 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Fri, 04 SepTimes shown AEST
COL vs ESS 00:00MCG
RIC vs NTH 00:00ES
HAW vs CAR 00:00MCG
GEE vs ADE 00:00SS
SYD vs GCF 00:00SCG
MEL vs GWS 00:00ES
BRI vs WBU 00:00G
PTA vs FRE 00:30Adelaide Oval
WCE vs STK 02:00Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Fremantle 7 7 0 0 144.44 28
West Coast Eagles 7 5 2 0 156.58 20
Sydney Swans 7 5 2 0 130.51 20
Adelaide Crows 7 5 2 0 123.60 20
GWS Giants 7 5 2 0 117.45 20
Hawthorn 7 4 3 0 152.96 16
Collingwood 7 4 3 0 120.42 16
Western Bulldogs 7 4 3 0 100.00 16
View all
 
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