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Luck of the draw

Sydney's Matt Spangher and Hawthorn's Ryan Schoenmakers battle it out in last year's finals. This season the teams have contrasting draws.

Sydney's Matt Spangher and Hawthorn's Ryan Schoenmakers battle it out in last year's finals. This season the teams have contrasting draws. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

HAWTHORN can't afford to lose today. Sydney can. That doesn't mean the Swans won't be as desperate as the Hawks. It's just that in the premiership race, Hawthorn is among the backmarkers and is already behind, while Sydney was given a two-metre start over today's opponent.

To be on level terms or better on the final home-and-away ladder, the Hawks will need to be as much as two games superior to the Swans.

Not because Luke Hodge has been injured, or their premier ruckman Max Bailey is gone for half a season - Shane Mumford is hurt, too, and Gary Rohan's season ended when Lindsay Thomas slid under him. Sydney hasn't fared any better on the injury front.

No, the difference lies in each team's fixture. This year, more than ever, the premiership is more akin to the Melbourne Cup than the set weights of a Victoria Derby. Some teams are carrying more weight.

Hawthorn is 2-2, Sydney 4-0. Some would contend that the Swans have been better than the Hawks to date. More likely, they've been the beneficiaries of a kinder schedule.

The Hawks have already faced Collingwood, Geelong and West Coast in Perth (plus Adelaide); the Swans have played Greater Western Sydney and Port Adelaide (away), with their hardest assignments against Fremantle and North on home soil at the SCG.

While the Hawks will soon have some easier games and Sydney tougher ones, the handicapper has put more weight on the brown and gold.

The Hawks play the (other three) top-four teams from last year twice, Sydney gets only Hawthorn and Geelong. More crucially, the Swans have been fixed to play GWS twice.

That's a gift of an extra win, plus percentage. They also have the bottoming-out Bulldogs twice, while the Hawks' softest double-up is an improved Port Adelaide.

In 2012, the arrangement euphemistically known as the AFL ''draw'' (the league calls it ''the fixture'') threatens to influence the outcome of the premiership. The fixture has reached a tipping point, in which the cocktail of commercial considerations, contractual requirements and expansion have skewed the competition.

The finals system rewards the top four sides and, for the most part, the best four sides tend to qualify highest.

Unfortunately, this year offers the very real possibility that the fourth-placed team might be the fifth or sixth best, and that one of the best could end up fifth, giving it little hope of winning the flag. The AFL doesn't agree - it reckons the best four teams invariably fill those slots. One can only hope the league is correct and that this column's fears are unfounded.

As a historical rule, the fixture hasn't exerted undue influence on the premiership. The best teams tend to rise above taxing schedules and make the top four.

Injuries have had a far greater bearing than who and where teams play. Morever, the presence of outstanding teams - from Essendon in 2000, to the Brisbane Lions from 2001-2003 and more recently Geelong and Collingwood - have protected the AFL from a draw-driven final outcome.

The whims of the draw become relevant when a) the top six or seven teams are close and b) there's a major disparity in who plays who.

This year, due in part to the struggling new teams, we may well see a blanket finish from 1-6 or 2-7 on the ladder in which the handicapper's handiwork is decisive.

At this stage, there isn't a team that stands apart. West Coast and Carlton could prove outstanding. Alternatively, we could be headed for a year like 1997, when the flag was up for grabs between five or six teams.

When clubs talk about a helpful or poor draw, they could be referring to either ''football'' or the box office. Like Hawthorn, Collingwood has a nasty footy draw (top four plus Carlton and Essendon twice) that is designed to make money for it, other teams and the broadcasters.

North has a soft footy draw - two games each against the new teams and the Dogs - that won't be overly lucrative, though Tassie helps.

Essendon has a far harder draw than North, which finished one spot beneath it last year, or the Saints, who were one spot higher.

To a degree, Collingwood, Essendon and increasingly Hawthorn - suddenly drawn to play the Cats twice a year - are hoist on their own blockbuster petard.

Carlton has been handed a finger-licking fixture that is both footy-friendly - it gets only Collingwood twice from the top four - and financially helpful, with Richmond added to the annual blockbuster circuit.

The AFL saw to it that the top five teams from last year didn't play GWS or Gold Coast twice. Sydney was sixth and will be required to play the Giants twice every year, on the same principle that sees Perth derbies, showdowns and the Carlton-Collingwood-Essendon merry-go-round of blockbusters.

Hawthorn president Andrew Newbold, who belongs firmly to the ''if we're good enough, it won't matter'' school, has suggested that the advantage conferred on teams that play the expansion clubs twice should be removed next year. The new teams have highlighted the extent of fixturing inequality.

What this column would like to see is for the fixture's fixers to give more emphasis to a level football field, at the slight expense of marketing.

The very notion that the draw should be handicapped is questionable enough.

The draft and salary cap ought to equalise, not the fixture.

If showdowns and derbies can't be touched and contracts must be honoured, then is it necessary for Melbourne's big three to always play one another twice every year? Surely, three out of four would suffice.

Similarly, do the Swans really have to play GWS twice in the new team's infancy?

To ensure fairness, the fixture should be a little less fixed.

11 comments

  • The AFL stopped being a sport when commercial considerations took precedence over fair and equitable match scheduling. The over commercialising of the competition even extends to your match day experience when at the ground you are bombarded with booming PA announcements and ads with volume levels that surely breach EPA guidelines. The competition is even more compromised since betting started running the game, It's only a matter of time until a match is fixed, which will destroy the once wonderful code as we knew it in It's heyday. Demetriou and Anderson will argue black and blue that systems are in place to monitor and root out any compromising betting. What rubbish. Has there ever been a more stupid person running the game than Adrian Anderson, I think not.The almighty dollar is now running the competition and proof of that is this year's draw. The AFL is rewarding mediocrity. The team that finishes on top of the ladder will have played the easybeats twice, bound to happen, instead of being the pure wfa Cox Plate where every runner has an equal chance we end up with a Melbourne Cup style competition, just a handicap race. Hawthorn has been playing extremely well against top class opposition, but lies outside the eight due to losing two games by less than a kick., Sydney has played all the easybeats up to now and sits on top of the ladder, fair and equitable, surely not.

    Commenter
    Jacques
    Location
    Lilydale
    Date and time
    April 29, 2012, 2:19AM
    • I guess the benefits of having the likes of, Knights, Evans, Fitzpatrick, etc all on the afl board don't help or influence how easy some clubs have it, do they. Of course no conflicts of interest happen either. According to Demetriou there is no chance of a conflict of interest ever happening at afl house, NEVER EVER.

      No, the afl has become a joke, which usually happens to all sport once it's true master becomes the media networks.

      I used to enjoy watching two or three games a week, now I can hardly be bothered watching my team play, knowing that the umpiring will be bad, the draw is a laugh and the MRP a farce, on top of which the afl will tell me nothing is wrong at all. Sorry but I'm the supporter who pays my money and something stinks and I'm not smelling it any-more.

      Commenter
      No More
      Date and time
      April 29, 2012, 7:42AM
      • AFL draw (fixture) is a disgrace. As a Richmond supporter, we finished 2011 with 8 wins, 13 losses and a draw. North Melbourne finished with 10 wins and 12 losses and Adelaide finished with 7 wins and 15 losses. Yet somehow we play both GC and GWS only once, while North Melbourne play both of them twice and Adelaide play both of them (and Port) twice. This could have a real effect on who makes the finals and who doesn't. How hard is it to make sure everyone either plays one of GC and GWS twice or neither twice (especially teams who finished close on the ladder the previous year)?

        Anyone who doubts the difference it makes only needs to look at the ladder as it stands. Unless Richmond beats WCE (top of the ladder) today, at the end of this round Brisbane Lions will be a game ahead of us after soft wins against Melbourne and GC, as will Western Bulldogs after soft wins against Melbourne and GWS (yes our win also came against Melbourne but our other 4 games have been against Carlton, Collingwood, Geelong and West Coast). Surely no one can say this is an accurate reflection of how these 3 sides have played so far this year...

        Commenter
        James Tiger
        Location
        Glen Iris
        Date and time
        April 29, 2012, 8:55AM
        • According to champion data stats, Collingwood has had the toughest draw since 2009. IN 2009, 2010, 2011 Collingwood has played more home and away games against fellow top 8 teams then any other top 8 team. Given teams only play 5 teams twice now, that becomes a huge difference when you are playing 5 of last years finalists twice and the rest of last years finalists are not. The AFL needs to have each top 6 team from the previous year twice, then the next 6 then the bottom 6. It would gift, say the 7th placed team a very nice fixture but all the leading teams would have the same chance of making the top 4.

          Commenter
          Oh yeah
          Date and time
          April 29, 2012, 9:08AM
          • Yet in 2010 the Pies won the flag. If you are good enough and you have a bit of luck on your side (minimal injuries, suspensions and form is right at the business end of the season) you will win the flag regardless of the draw. I have no major issues with the weaker sides playing GWS and GCS twice because, like the trading season and priority picks, the lower sides can use a bit of help in having a better opportunity to climb the ladder.

            Commenter
            Gilly
            Location
            Melbourne
            Date and time
            April 29, 2012, 11:06AM
        • Where were you the last couple of years when Sydney had a much tougher draw Niall? Or should this article provide some added context here: the way Melbourne teams might only have three or four games a year outside Melbourne?

          Also, using your argument, the AFL should take a crystal-ball approach to teams form when setting out the draw, i.e., how well is each team playing when they meet to play. Using your own argument then, Swans recent win over Port Adelaide can be considered exceptional (if we trust the '24 hour insight' of the expert journos).

          Commenter
          Waiting for Gonzo
          Location
          Newcastle
          Date and time
          April 29, 2012, 10:25AM
          • Didn't hear you or Hawthorn complaining about playing the Suns twice last year, or do you have a very short memory? It was okay for all the big Melbourne teams to be playing each other twice when the top of the ladder waw full of non-Victorian teams but not so great now. What goes around comes around. And lets not mention travel!!!

            Commenter
            Ross
            Location
            Sydney
            Date and time
            April 29, 2012, 10:45AM
            • Even if the AFL compensates next year for teams who play GWS/GCS once this year to twice next year, GWS/GCS by then will have improved somewhat so they wont be such easy pickings.

              Commenter
              Peter
              Location
              Melbourne
              Date and time
              April 29, 2012, 10:46AM
              • Jake,
                Demetrio reckons that the draw is not compromised. This is garbage while agreements are in place for certain teams to always play each other twice and other corporate contracts determine who plays who during the year.

                A truly uncompomised draw would surely be one that is determined by performance. This would further enhance the level of competition like the salary cap and player draft. The draw, for example should be based on the previous years ladder positions or perhaps a composite of the previous last few years. This would take away the human factor of deciding who plays who and restore credibility to the draw. We'll still have the big games because everyone will play each other at least once but we will not have top sides playing bottom sides twice a year. More importantly, credibility to the draw will be maintained because it will be more transparent to everyone.

                Commenter
                Mick
                Location
                Mandurah
                Date and time
                April 29, 2012, 10:47AM
                • In a properly run competition all sides play each other. In the Premier League in the UK all sides play each other twice, home and away. Having a draw in the AFL is grossly unfair - the competition is dysfunctional - but then it is a business run by TV for TV, the words 'sport' and 'fair' have no place in this farrago of lies and all football supporters are seriously duped by the self interested morons who run it - and over pay themselves for so doing.

                  Commenter
                  Vai Tibi
                  Location
                  Seaford
                  Date and time
                  April 29, 2012, 11:19AM

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