Stats and Trends: Analysing Goal Kicking in the AFL

A more nuanced way to analyse sports lies at the heart of all of Stats Insider’s creations, and it was no different with the launch our AFL Shot Charting Explorer last year.  

Indeed our in-house, custom made tool has opened up a veritable treasure chest of ways to examine the AFL, providing unique insight into the country’s most beloved sport. 

With the re-commencement of the 2020 season just over a couple of weeks away, what better time to reacquaint ourselves with this resource and check-in on some of the stats and trends which defined the 2019 season from a shot charting perspective. 


It stands to reason that a set shot, unmolested, and preferably from inside 50, is your team’s best chance to put points on the board. 

Of course generating that shot to begin with, and converting once there, are different propositions altogether.  

In 2019, of the 8 teams who generated the most set shots, 6 ended up playing in September.

Interestingly, only 2 teams, North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, were able to generate at least 300 set shots opportunities. 

In the Kangaroos’ case, most of their chances arrived after Brad Scott was replaced with Ryhce Shaw in the coaching box. Under Shaw, the Roos broke free of Scott’s more conservative approach, becoming a more adventurous outfit whom only narrowly missed Finals.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Gold Coast Suns were quite easily the league’s worst from the point of view of generating set shot chances. They cobbled together just 210 for the year, with renown goal sneak Alex Sexton leading the way with 29

Along with the Suns, only Carlton (223) and Adelaide (228) generated less than 230 set shots, with both clubs struggling mightily, and ultimately making coaching changes of their own.

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Obviously, it helps if you can make the most of your opportunities, however our data didn’t present a massively strong correlation between set-shot conversion and success.

In fact, the 2019 home and away season functioned as something of a ‘dog’s breakfast’ in terms of set-shot goal accuracy, with no clear narrative emerging regarding the league’s most, and least accurate teams.

On the one hand, the difference between the most accurate (Adelaide and West Coast, both at 57%) and least accurate (Carlton and Collingwood, both at 47%) wasn’t significant, while the fortunes of all four of these teams clearly differed dramatically. 

Richmond, a team ultimately good enough to win the Grand Final by 89 points, presented as a middle of the road team from a set-shot conversion perspective, nailing just 53% of their chances. That number did however jump to 62% throughout the Finals, with Tom Lynch leading the way, taking 11 of the Tigers’ 39 set-shots throughout September.

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Sure, set-shots are wonderful, but they only constitute about 50% of all shots taken in the AFL, with a whole other world of ‘general play’ shots to be considered. 

Interesting, the correlation between general play shots and success is even stronger, with 7 of the league’s 8 most prolific all getting a taste of Finals football in 2019.

Collingwood led the way, generating 331 total shots form non set-shot scenarios, with Brisbane coming in second with 317

Once again Gold Coast lagged behind significantly, closely followed by Melbourne who finished one spot above them on the ladder with just total five wins.  

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Last decade, the NBA was revolutionised, not just by the massive uptick in 3-point attempts, but through the increasing precision of the long-range shot. 

The NBA’s transition into a more perimeter orientated game not only greatly changed the aesthetics of the sport, but also had a massive affect upon roster construction and scouting. 

RELATED: Stats and Trends: Defining the Modern NBA

While the long ball is quite a different proposition in the AFL, an examination of shots taken from beyond 50 metres is quite revealing. 

What immediately jumps off the page is that the two Grand Finalists from last year (Richmondand the GWS) ranked mid-table where taking shots from outside 50 were concerned. These were teams who didn’t feel the need to regularly employ the long bomb, while it was an ideal that clearly didn’t cost them come September. 

Interestingly, it was the Bulldogs who led the way, and by quite a margin, prepared to go for broke more often than any other team. They generated no less than 202 shots from outside 50, converting at a rather brilliant 39%. Marcus Bontempelli and Matthew Suckling were responsible for 21% of those total attempts, with the duo combining for 43 long bombs.  

Of the 8 teams who attempted the most long-range shots, 4 played Finals, with Collingwood and Geelong both participating in Preliminary Final weekend. 

For Collingwood, it was two of their young stars, Jaidyn Stephenson and Jordan De Goey, who led the way, with each taking 20 shots each from outside 50. As for the Cats, Patrick Dangerfield was their most daring, taking 21 shots from long-range while converting at a staggering 52% accuracy.

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The correlation among teams able to generate shots within 25 metres of goal and a deep September run was quite strong.

It’s here where we find the likes of Richmond and GWS lurking, however it was actually Brisbane and Collingwood who led the way in the 2019 home and away season. 

Of the 8 teams who took the most shots from inside 25 metres, 5 ended up playing Finals, while the three imposters (Adelaide, Hawthorn and St Kilda) all produced at least nine wins.

At the other end of the spectrum the only 3 teams to generate 75 shots inside 25 or less were Fremantle, Gold Coast and Sydney- three teams who occupied bottom-6 positions for most of the season. 

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James Rosewarne

James is a writer. He likes fiction and music. He is a stingray attack survivor. He lives in Wollongong.

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