A common belief in the AFL today is often that the more experienced a team is, the larger their premiership window, to an extent.
This is often the reason thrown out there for a good club dismantling a poorer one. In round 11, Geelong travelled to Metricon stadium and flew home with an 85 point win, mainly off the back of superb games from aging superstars Gary Ablett and Joel Selwood, with veteran Tom Hawkins also having a solid game with three goals from five scoring shots.
At the beginning of the season, Geelong ranked third in the competitor in terms of average age with the typical player on the list being 24.6 years old. Gold Coast, in perspective, has the least experienced team of the whole league, with only an average age of 23.1.
This game was a classic example of a more experienced, older, team beating a much more inexperienced one. No fuss, completely expected, and in turn gold coast will likely eventually have their time when the tables are turned and they are the more experienced side in a contest, if they don’t get kicked out of the AFL before.
However, does this belief speak the truth? When Richmond won the flag just last year, they came from eighth on the average age ladder to do so, with the typical player on their list being just over 23 years old.
The Western Bulldogs also bucked the trend in 2016, when their average player was also just over 23 years old, the 10th oldest at the time of their glory.
In regards to these two recent flags, however, there have been calls that they were undeserved, especially the Bulldogs. Teams such as GWS, Hawthorn, and West Coast all finished higher on the ladder, were all in the top 4 for the oldest lists, and were all much better odds to win the premiership that year. The Richmond scenario is also similar, with Adelaide generally being the best team of the season, as well as the oldest. Therefore, as much as we would like to believe otherwise, these two were just bucking the trend, rather than changing the game.
Before this era, premierships were generally won the by one of the three oldest lists, including all three of Hawthorns premierships in 2013,14 and 15. The 2015 premiership in particular, where the Hawks annihilated a young and hopeful West Coast Eagles unit of the big stage, was credited due to the experience the Hawks had from being there before and the lack of Eagles that had too, as there was little to split the teams during the year, with the Eagles actually finishing higher on the ladder.
While experience isn’t everything in footy as seen by Richmond and the Bulldogs in the last couple of years, it clearly means a lot when it counts in winning premierships over the majority of the last decade. So where do clubs this year stack up in terms of their levels of experience and ladder position after round 15? We are Sporting HQ looked over the numbers and had a look at a few surprises.
Five of the six oldest lists in the competition, including Hawthorn, Geelong, Collingwood, GWS and Port Adelaide, all feature in the top end of the competition, with the exception of the Hawks, who currently sit in tenth and are still expected to in September.
The Crows are the other member of six oldest lists, with the Crows’ actually being of the equal oldest average age, alongside Hawthorn. While at first inspection at Adelaide, it may seem it though 11th position half way through is a failed season where heads should roll. However, we still are undecided due to the fact that their average age that they field week in and out would be significantly lower than what it is now, at 24.6, due to the wave after wave of injuries to senior players they have copped this season.
We are also concerned about Essendon, who sit seventh on the list with an average age 24.1. Their season is starting to loom as more of a failure than a success, as despite their constant swings in momentum and form, 12th place half way through the season with a percentage of just a tick over 93% is generally pretty poor for a list containing their experience. However, five wins from their last six does hold them in good stead for at the very least, regaining a bit of dignity and respect.
In contrast, Melbourne and Sydney are looking like slight overachievers at this point in the season. Their lists are eighth and ninth oldest in the league consecutively, yet both are making strong pushes for the top four, despite Melbourne’s falters in the last couple of weeks.
Fremantle comes next, and is probably as expected, in 13th spot on the ladder. While big things loomed for Fremantle at the start of the season, it is no surprise where they are now given their current list demographic.
Two big surprises sit 11th and 12th in terms of the age of their list, with one especially interesting as they were ruled out of the finals race by almost every commentator prior to the season kicking off. These two teams are Richmond and West Coast, who both have an average age of 23.9. With these two teams every chance to be number one and two at the end of the season, both list managers and coaches get big ticks from us.
Carlton and the Dogs both have an average age of 23.8, and while little was promised for these two teams prior to the season, there is still plenty of experience on both lists and should probably be higher on the ladder.
Carlton especially, considering they are looked at by the football community as the youngest team in the AFL, should have the perception around them altered, considering there are five younger lists than theirs. The Bulldogs can be excused a bit, as they have been firstly ravaged by injuries this year and at times have fielded the youngest team of the round, and have also looked very sharp in the last two rounds against strong top eight contenders in North Melbourne and Geelong, in which case means they aren’t looking too bad at the end of round 15.
Three of the youngest four all feature in the bottom four on the ladder, with no surprises surrounding Gold Coast, St Kilda, and Brisbane. These three have an average age of 23.6 or less, and while are having tough seasons now, supporters couldn’t expect a whole lot more, yet should be very excited for the future.
The fourth member of this group, however, is the biggest surprise packet of the whole completion so far, with North Melbourne defying harsh expectations to currently be ninth and a strong chance to play finals this year. After finishing in the bottom four last year, North were hotly predicted to slide even further down this time round due to their likely large reliance on inexperienced players.
However, the Kangaroos are the biggest team breaking the age trend this year, and would clearly be at very long odds to win the flag this year. But, they have set themselves up for long term success, and supporters will certainly be excited not just for the rest of this season, but also those to come in the future.
So while age doesn’t equal wins, it is certainly a strong indicator. It is the way the AFL generally ensures teams will rise back to the eight after a few of years out of it, as lists get older and teams that were once prominent head back to the draft.
Teams that we were particularly impressed with were North Melbourne, Richmond and West Coast, as it takes strategic planning and insightful drafting to build a top eight team or premiership contender well before it’s time. But after bucking the trend so early with such young lists, will these teams age well as they should, or go the other way? Only time will tell.