DRIVING THEM BATTY
R2: Seniors rumble over Red Coats
The way to qualify for the finals is to win games. In the VAFA, each team gets 18 attempts to do so in the orderly home and away schedule.
When we look back over the past nine seasons (2011-19), we see that 11 wins has always been sufficient to prolong the season.
If you don’t win 11, you’re more likely at Elsternwick as a spectator, or polishing the golf clubs or thinking about the Spring Carnival. There are the outliers, of course. On four occasions, team have earned a September showing with fewer.
The two Varsity teams got there by a game or fewer, while De La, which won just nine and drew one nevertheless had a game and a half up its sleeve. In 2018, the Ts strolled in, three games clear of Uni Blues, which would have been relegated but for its narrow R18 victory over Scotch. A strange year that was.
No team with less than 13 wins has won the double chance in this nine-year period. That 13 wins didn’t help Old Xaverians in 2011 when it missed second spot on percentage.
All clubs begin the year with the threat of relegation. Every club likes to get on the board early. Sooner rather than later, things look grim in some places, and the question arises about R5 or R6, ‘how many do we need to stay up?’
If you win six, you should be safe. But not always. Here are three tales of woe.
And if those clubs were unlucky, let’s look at the lucky ones who survived with fewer than six wins.
Somewhere back in the mists of time, there was one club at least that won seven and still went down, but it’s rare.
Most fans will have their view about which is more important. Tommy Hafey always believed that stopping the opposition wasn’t that important, as long as you could kick more goals. His pupil, but not his disciple, Mick Malthouse, favoured the defensive game. It seems to us that most AFL coaches today are as risk averse as politicians and one can get the impression that scoring is merely a bonus.
The single inarguable fact is that a team must score something to win a game, so offense cannot be an afterthought.
So how has this played out in the nine VAFA premier seasons under review?
Let’s look at the heaviest scorer in each of the seasons:
The Points For measure has seen the leader win six of nine minor premierships, but eight of the nine grand finals. The only out-rider there was Collegians in 2018, which beat SKOB for the PF title by just 1.33 points per game. Xavs in 2013, Blacks in 2014, SKOB in 2017 and Blues in 2019 were the standouts when compared with average of the other nine teams.
The Points Against measure has seen the leader win just five of nine minor premierships, and six of the nine grand finals. The standout defense was the 2014 Uni Blacks, who won their first Premier section flag in forty years. Coincidentally, Uni Blues had the best defensive record in 2016 and exactly the same number as Blacks. Perhaps the dreadful state of Uni Oval that year had a bit to do with their success in the back half. Blues lost the preliminary that year.
This PF v PA comparison shows that the best offense was slightly more successful in winning the flag, though in five of the nine seasons, the team with the best offense also had the best defense. In all of those five years, that team was both the minor premier and grand final winner.
Here’s a list of the Top Ten season efforts measured by percentage.
The highest rated team on percentage to miss the finals was De La Salle in 2016. Five years earlier, St Bede’s/Mentone Tigers had an inferior percentage, but finished top after the home and away season.
In 2018, Old Scotch had the highest percentage among the teams relegated in the past nine seasons. Old Brighton’s percentage was nearly 6 points beneath the Red Coats, but OB won twice the games and finished third. There was plenty of VAFA action happening in Europe that northern summer, and the Tonners were in the middle of it for a month or so, while their no-travelling teammates were taking some poundings back in Melbourne.
St Bede’s/Mentone Tigers percentage in 2017 was the lowest of any surviving team.
So, is it preferable to build from the back or to load up the front?
Inconclusive, we feel. The very best VAFA teams have had few weaknesses, been able to kick goals and prevent them too.