Predicting the Clubs Most Likely to Fall Out of AFL Finals in 2020
Humans place a lot of stock in what’s directly in front of our eyes.
There’s a certain comfort in what we can see and know, while it’s much more laborious - and often humiliating - to speculate upon the future, particularly if lacking the appropriate tools to do so.
As many of us start thinking about putting together our 'Top 8s' and even visiting our local TAB, it’s only natural for our eyes to gravitate to what we've most recently seen.
While the composition of last year’s September participants was something of a motley crew, ranging from Richmond’s eventual barnstorming premiership victory, to Essendon’s rather meek participation, there was at least something concrete and definitive about who made it - and who didn’t.
However if the AFL has taught us anything over the last twenty seasons, it’s that change is both real and constant, with no less than 55 teams failing to return to September action the season after qualifying for the finals.
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That’s right: over the last 20 seasons, there have been 55 teams (on average, 2.8 per year) who were unable to punch their Finals ticket again 12 months later.
We’ve gone through the data - and specifically - those 55 teams, to see if we can identify any telltale signs amongst the clubs whose encore fizzed out, while assessing who might be most vulnerable following up in season 2020.
AFL LADDER POSITIONING
The good news is that if you're a top-two team, and we’re looking at both Geelong and the Brisbane Lions here, you have an overwhelmingly strong chance of returning to AFL Finals in 2020.
Over the last twenty seasons, just six of the 55 who didn’t return were first or second-placed teams, with only two minor premiers - Fremantle (2015) and Adelaide (2017) - on the list. Interestingly, after claiming these Minor Premierships, neither Fremantle nor Adelaide have since returned to September action.
Just 14 (25.4%) were top-four teams, which extends at least the veneer of safety out to both Richmond and Collingwood.
So, do the West Coast Eagles have something to worry about? Weirdly, the fifth-place finisher over the last twenty seasons has been the most vulnerable spot (12 times) among the eight. Fixturing may play a role in this, however in West Coast's case, playing so many home games at Perth Stadium - where they've won 21 of their 27 matches - should play a positive role in an unwanted fall-out.
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Not surprisingly, the most vulnerable clubs were those occupying positions six through eight. Of the 55 dropouts, 29 (52.7%) of them came from this section of the ladder which might be of some concern to the likes of GWS, the Western Bulldogsand Essendon.
Percentage - like ladder positioning - has also provided some interesting insights as to who might be vulnerable heading into the season 2020.
Overwhelmingly, 42 of the 55 (76.3%) teams that left the party the following season had a percentage of 120 or less. That’s obviously a compelling number, dampened somewhat by the fact there were seven teams fitting that description last season, which, if nothing else, speaks to the increased evenness of the competition.
Only two teams over the last 20 seasons have had a percentage of 135+ and dropped out the following season. Commiserations here for the 2005 Brisbane Lions and the 2018 Adelaide Crows who failed to return after their Minor Premiership/Grand Final quinella.
A MESSY ENDING
Interestingly, if things ended poorly for your club last September, there is a strong correlation with going home early this season, and not getting the opportunity to make amends.
Of the 55 teams who didn’t return, 18 had just been handed a Finals beat down of at least 50 points. Melbourne was the most recent club to be spooked into irrelevance, famously blown apart in the 2018 Preliminary Final against West Coast, while infamously cobbling together just five wins for a 17th place finish in 2019.
In 2016, North Melbourne was walloped by Adelaide its Elimination Final to the tune of 62 points and haven’t returned to September action since. It took the Brisbane Lions ten years to recover from their 2009 Semi-Final thrashing at the hands of the Western Bulldogs for them to experience finals footy again,
Beware: it seems that in the AFL, finals beat downs really can cause emotional scarring.
Last season, three clubs' seasons were ended by at least 50-point drubbings with Essendon trounced by West Coast, the Dogs mauled by the Giants - only for GWS to receive their own belting with Richmond destroying them by 89 points on Grand Final day. Of course, these 'crimes' don’t always come with the death penalty, however, the likes of the Giants, Bulldogs and Bombers should be doubly concerned especially considering their vulnerable 6-8 ladder positioning.
While we’re not here to hold your hand while you make your 2020 AFL predictions and certainly aren’t offering you any ironclad guarantees about who might be missing out come September, keep an open mind upon ringing your bookie's doorbell.
Change is real and inescapable in the AFL, however identifying just who’s coming out, and who’ll replace them, is the much harder part.
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