Rest may be best in long season: clubs
Geelong had six players make it through a full 2008 season, but its numbers have dropped dramatically since. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
GEELONG won its first 13 games in 2011, enough to not only entrench it in the top eight by the midway mark of the season, but to allow the club to move players in and out of the side so that, come September, they were rested and ready to win a premiership.
The winning run helped, but the approach had been brought to the club before then by new coach Chris Scott, who even changed the Cats' best-and-fairest voting system to make sure players were not rewarded simply for playing every week.
In the past three years, only one Geelong player has played through an entire season.
The idea is catching on. Slowly, but certainly.
On Tuesday, Collingwood captain Nick Maxwell said he and his teammates expected to be rested at times this season - no matter how good they were - while Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson tipped every team would start doing it more, including his own star-filled side.
''I think that's been happening across the whole competition the last two or three years. Even the new clubs have been doing that with some of their younger players,'' he said. ''I think in the home-and-away [season], there will be a lot of players who will be rested, just to allow them to go the distance.''
It has already started happening. In 2008, an average of five players a club lined up each weekend. Eleven Western Bulldogs played in every game that year, as well as nine from Sydney and seven from Richmond.
Only one Melbourne player completed a full season, but 10 teams had four or more players make it all the way through.
Clearly, players have been left out for more than merely a rest. Injuries and suspensions shape game tallies, and the ability of teams to give players a break. But in 2011, an average of 4.65 players played out the season, and just one club - Richmond - had more than seven players get through.
Last season the average fell to 4.33. Richmond and Sydney had nine 22-gamers and North Melbourne eight, but 13 clubs played fewer than six players in every match.
Geelong had six players make it through a full 2008 season, but its numbers have dropped dramatically since. Two Cats played full years in 2009, but that fell to zero in 2010 and 2011, before Andrew Mackie had a rest-free season last year.
Geelong football manager Neil Balme said that after some initial reluctance - with players brought up to believe durability, consistency and playing through pain were key qualities - the players had begun to realise how a week off could work for them.
''It's such a challenging season, so you've got to periodise their training, periodise all sorts of things, and part of that is not having to play them every week,'' he said.
''In most games you want your best players playing, but it's pretty hard to sustain that effort over a whole season, so what we do is make a conscious effort to go through the year and say, 'how do we get individual guys playing as well as we can in September?
''Typically most blokes thought they'd be valued for their durability and that's true, but I think they just thought: 'I must play'
''I think the players accept now - a lot more than a few years ago - that for them to be fit come the end of the season is the major objective.''