Deal with it: Lenny Hayes stays out of the fixtures debate. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
THIS year's AFL fixture throws up its challenges and opportunities for all clubs - even if the balance of each is not the same - and St Kilda and Carlton are facing their challenging periods right now.
An anomaly of the draw has meant St Kilda has had four six-day breaks in five rounds, the toughest of which is set to come this week as the Saints prepare to travel to AAMI Stadium to take on Adelaide, currently sixth but could go as high as first if it wins.
Making the task even more difficult is the fact that the Crows are coming off a bye - and effectively a 13-day break - while the Saints played against Gold Coast last Saturday night, another interstate trip.
The Blues are facing a similar situation, forced to travel to Perth to meet West Coast - currently third but also a potential ladder leader by round's end - tomorrow night, six days after its loss to Geelong last Friday.
Like Adelaide, the Eagles go into the clash at Patersons Stadium well rested having sat out an 11-day break, courtesy of the bye, while the Blues have had three six-day breaks in a row.
The AFL yesterday clarified the controversial positioning of a Thursday night game, saying it was fixtured for the purposes of maximising television exposure.
''It's another prime-time broadcast opportunity for us, and coming off a bye it's possible to do it,'' a spokesman said. ''Carlton and West Coast are big-drawing clubs and you've got multiple states involved. From our point of view, a six-day break is acceptable, so it fits together.''
The test comes in the middle of a nightmare stretch for the Blues, who have lost four of their past five games and are still to play Hawthorn (round 14) and Collingwood (round 15).
Both St Kilda, 8th, and Carlton, 9th, are locked in the congested fight for spots in this year's finals series, and former Sydney premiership coach Paul Roos believes the fixture will be the most influential factor in deciding where clubs finish between positions five and 10.
If there is an accumulative disadvantage in terms of recovery and the freshness of players coming off multiple six-day breaks St Kilda will be feeling it, given it has had six in the first 12 rounds.
Compare that with their opponents this week, who have had just three.
Interestingly, the Saints have gone loss-win-loss-win in a four-week stretch that has included three six-day breaks. Star midfielder Lenny Hayes said the club was looking forward to fixing the inconsistency, despite being faced with the ''toughest test in footy at the moment'' - Adelaide in Adelaide.
If St Kilda is privately annoyed by the number of six-day breaks, Hayes gave nothing away yesterday, insisting: ''You've just got to deal with what's in front of you and that's what we've done.''
One positive for the Saints is that they can throw everything at the Crows, knowing they have 15 days and a bye before their next match against North Melbourne.