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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. 

HuffPost Australia

AFL 2016

Round 1
Thu, 24 MarTimes shown AEDT
RIC vs CAR 19:20MCG
Sat, 26 MarTimes shown AEDT
MEL vs GWS 13:40MCG
GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
NTH vs ADE 19:25ES
SYD vs COL 19:25ANZ
Sun, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
WBU vs FRE 13:10ES
PTA vs STK 15:20Adelaide Oval
WCE vs BRI 19:40Domain Stadium
Mon, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
GEE vs HAW 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 01 AprTimes shown AEDT
COL vs RIC 19:50MCG
Sat, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
ADE vs PTA 13:45Adelaide Oval
ESS vs MEL 14:10MCG
BRI vs NTH 16:35G
STK vs WBU 19:25ES
FRE vs GCF 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 03 AprTimes shown AEST
GWS vs GEE 13:10SO
HAW vs WCE 15:20MCG
CAR vs SYD 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 08 AprTimes shown AEST
PTA vs ESS 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 09 AprTimes shown AEST
STK vs COL 13:45MCG
RIC vs ADE 14:10ES
SYD vs GWS 16:35SCG
GCF vs CAR 19:25MS
WCE vs FRE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
NTH vs MEL 13:10BA
WBU vs HAW 15:20ES
GEE vs BRI 16:40SS
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 15 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE vs RIC 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 16 AprTimes shown AEST
ESS vs GEE 13:45MCG
HAW vs STK 14:10AS
BRI vs GCF 16:35G
CAR vs WBU 19:25ES
ADE vs SYD 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
GWS vs PTA 13:10SO
COL vs MEL 15:20MCG
NTH vs FRE 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 22 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW vs ADE 19:50MCG
Sat, 23 AprTimes shown AEST
SYD vs WCE 13:40SCG
GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
WBU vs BRI 19:25ES
PTA vs GEE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
STK vs GWS 13:10ES
FRE vs CAR 16:10Domain Stadium
MEL vs RIC 19:10MCG
Mon, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
COL vs ESS 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 29 AprTimes shown AEST
NTH vs WBU 19:50ES
Sat, 30 AprTimes shown AEST
MEL vs STK 13:45ES
ADE vs FRE 14:10Adelaide Oval
GWS vs HAW 16:35Spotless Stadium
RIC vs PTA 19:25MCG
GEE vs GCF 19:25SS
Sun, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs SYD 13:10G
CAR vs ESS 15:20MCG
WCE vs COL 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 06 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC vs HAW 19:50MCG
Sat, 07 MayTimes shown AEST
COL vs CAR 13:45MCG
GEE vs WCE 14:10SS
SYD vs ESS 16:35ANZ
GCF vs MEL 17:10MS
WBU vs ADE 19:40ES
FRE vs GWS 20:10Domain Stadium
Sun, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
STK vs NTH 15:20ES
PTA vs BRI 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 13 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE vs GEE 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 14 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS vs NTH 13:45ES
HAW vs FRE 14:10AS
GWS vs GCF 16:35Spotless Stadium
BRI vs COL 19:25G
RIC vs SYD 19:25MCG
Sun, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs PTA 13:10ES
MEL vs WBU 15:20MCG
WCE vs STK 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 20 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW vs SYD 19:50MCG
Sat, 21 MayTimes shown AEST
COL vs GEE 13:45MCG
GCF vs ADE 14:10MS
PTA vs WCE 16:35Adelaide Oval
NTH vs CAR 19:25ES
FRE vs RIC 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL vs BRI 13:10MCG
GWS vs WBU 15:20Spotless Stadium
STK vs ESS 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 27 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD vs NTH 19:50SCG
Sat, 28 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs HAW 13:45G
MEL vs PTA 14:10TIO Traeger Park
STK vs FRE 16:35ES
ESS vs RIC 19:25MCG
ADE vs GWS 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs GEE 13:10ES
COL vs WBU 15:20MCG
WCE vs GCF 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 03 JunTimes shown AEST
NTH vs RIC 19:50BA
Sat, 04 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs MEL 13:45MCG
CAR vs BRI 14:10ES
GEE vs GWS 16:35SS
GCF vs SYD 19:25MS
FRE vs ESS 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs PTA 13:10MCG
WBU vs WCE 15:20ES
ADE vs STK 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Fri, 10 JunTimes shown AEST
ESS vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 11 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA vs WBU 13:40Adelaide Oval
BRI vs FRE 16:35G
GEE vs NTH 19:25ES
WCE vs ADE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
STK vs CAR 13:10ES
RIC vs GCF 15:20MCG
GWS vs SYD 16:40Spotless Stadium
Mon, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL vs COL 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Fri, 17 JunTimes shown AEST
NTH vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
BRI vs WCE 13:40G
FRE vs PTA 16:35Domain Stadium
WBU vs GEE 19:25ES
Sun, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs MEL 13:10SCG
ESS vs GWS 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Thu, 23 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE vs NTH 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 24 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs FRE 19:50MCG
Sat, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC vs BRI 13:40MCG
GWS vs CAR 16:35Spotless Stadium
STK vs GEE 19:25ES
Sun, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs GCF 15:20AS
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Thu, 30 JunTimes shown AEST
WCE vs ESS 20:10Domain Stadium
Fri, 01 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs RIC 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
GCF vs STK 13:40MS
SYD vs WBU 16:35SCG
CAR vs COL 19:25MCG
Sun, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs ADE 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Thu, 07 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs HAW 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 08 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs SYD 19:50SS
Sat, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs COL 13:40Spotless Stadium
GCF vs BRI 16:35MS
WBU vs RIC 19:25ES
MEL vs FRE 19:40TIO
Sun, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs ADE 13:10MCG
WCE vs NTH 15:20Domain Stadium
ESS vs STK 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Thu, 14 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs HAW 19:20SCG
Fri, 15 JulTimes shown AEST
FRE vs GEE 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 16 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs ESS 13:40MCG
NTH vs PTA 16:35ES
WBU vs GCF 19:25CAZ
ADE vs COL 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs WCE 13:10MCG
STK vs MEL 15:20ES
BRI vs GWS 16:40G
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 22 JulTimes shown AEST
COL vs NTH 19:50ES
Sat, 23 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs CAR 13:45ANZ
GCF vs FRE 14:10MS
WCE vs MEL 16:35Domain Stadium
WBU vs STK 19:25ES
GEE vs ADE 19:25SS
Sun, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs BRI 13:10ES
HAW vs RIC 15:20MCG
PTA vs GWS 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 29 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs WBU 19:50SS
Sat, 30 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs RIC 13:45SO
HAW vs CAR 14:10AS
COL vs WCE 16:35MCG
BRI vs PTA 19:25G
NTH vs STK 19:25ES
Sun, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs GCF 13:10MCG
FRE vs SYD 15:20Domain Stadium
ADE vs ESS 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 05 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC vs COL 19:50MCG
Sat, 06 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD vs PTA 13:45SCG
MEL vs HAW 14:10MCG
GCF vs GWS 16:35MS
WBU vs NTH 19:25ES
ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
CAR vs STK 13:10MCG
GEE vs ESS 15:20ES
FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 12 AugTimes shown AEST
WBU vs COL 19:50ES
Sat, 13 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI vs CAR 13:45G
HAW vs NTH 14:10MCG
GWS vs WCE 16:35Spotless Stadium
STK vs SYD 19:25ES
PTA vs MEL 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS vs GCF 13:10ES
RIC vs GEE 15:20MCG
FRE vs ADE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 19 AugTimes shown AEST
WCE vs HAW 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 20 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH vs SYD 13:45BA
RIC vs STK 14:10MCG
GWS vs FRE 16:35Spotless Stadium
COL vs GCF 19:25ES
PTA vs ADE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
CAR vs MEL 13:10MCG
BRI vs GEE 15:20G
ESS vs WBU 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Sat, 27 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW vs COL 12:00MCG
STK vs BRI 12:00ES
ESS vs CAR 12:00MCG
GCF vs PTA 12:00MS
SYD vs RIC 12:00SCG
NTH vs GWS 12:00ES
GEE vs MEL 12:00SS
ADE vs WCE 12:30Adelaide Oval
FRE vs WBU 14:00Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Adelaide Crows 0 0 0 0 - 0
Brisbane Lions 0 0 0 0 - 0
Carlton 0 0 0 0 - 0
Collingwood 0 0 0 0 - 0
Essendon 0 0 0 0 - 0
Fremantle 0 0 0 0 - 0
Geelong Cats 0 0 0 0 - 0
Gold Coast Suns 0 0 0 0 - 0
View all

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