AFL Round 8: Carlton vs. Essendon
Saturday Afternoon, 12th May 2018 at the MCG
If I meet people they generally mention two things: the song after ’87 and when I kicked out on the full against Essendon in round two of 1993.
Stephen Kernahan 
The year 2018 marks the 25th Anniversary of the Baby Bombers’ premiership triumph. In that 1993 Grand Final, Essendon defeated their traditional rival Carlton by 44 points. However, given the recent woes of both clubs, this moment certainly feels like a distant memory. So perhaps it is more appropriate this week to reflect on the 25th Anniversary of another match, a match that neither team was able to win.
In Round 2 of the 1993 season, Essendon and Carlton played out a pulsating high scoring contest. Given the current AFL hoo-ha over the quality of football on show, perhaps this contest is a prime example of a nostalgic football match from yesteryear that we pine to see the return of. But there is one player who does not remember this game fondly, and that is Stephen Kernahan. At first he was the saviour, with Essendon holding a 6-point lead (132-126) and with less than a minute remaining on the clock, Kernahan marked 50 metres out from goal and kicked truly to draw Carlton level. And moments later, with only seconds remaining in the game, Kernahan marked inside the forward 50 and had the chance to win a famous football match :
Kernahan: The siren went, and I think that threw me. But I went back and I just tried to steer it through and I missed by a long way.
Kernahan missed everything, kicking the ball out-of-bounds on the full. The crowd was stunned. Essendon had thrown the game away in the final minute and so a draw felt like a loss to them. Whilst for Carlton, as all they needed was a behind with the final kick of the game, the draw also felt like a loss. But Kernahan certainly took it the hardest :
Kernahan: Afterwards I took that really hard. I was as flat as a track because in my mind those are the things that I was meant to do. When it’s time to win a game, that’s what you’re meant to do. I think all guys in a similar role would say that’s what they pride themselves on.
Fortunately for Kernahan he didn’t have to wait long for redemption :
Kernahan: You wouldn’t believe it, but the week after the Essendon draw I take a mark and the siren goes again. We were four points down against Hawthorn, and low and behold, at the end of the game and the ball comes my way again. I was 50 metres out, and there was a massive gale down that side of the ground. I went back that quickly, because the siren was about to go, and I kicked the goal to put us two points in front. The ball went back to the middle, it was bounced, and the siren went. I let my emotions spill out because it had been a hard week. It was redemption in the space of seven days. But no one remembers the Hawthorn game, do they?
No Stephen, they don’t. As is often the case, a person’s worst moments are often remembered the best. Take 1987 as another example. Carlton won the premiership that year, but Kernahan’s celebrations is what we all remember :
Kernahan: Once more the Carlton players’ ability to celebrate long and hard stood the ultimate test. But one drawback of the ’87 premiership occurred at our local watering hole, Naughton’s Hotel, with my rendition of Tammy Wynette’s ‘Stand By Your Man’, which I knew word for word from the Blues Brothers movie. Former Channel 10 sports reporter Peter Donegan is a top bloke in TV circles, but I’ll never forgive him for getting the whole song down on videotape. That song still haunts me today, and what a demon the drink is.
2017 John Nicholls Medal (Carlton Best and Fairest Award):
- Marc Murphy (174 votes)
- Sam Docherty (169 votes)
- Matthew Kreuzer (164 votes)
- Bryce Gibbs (130 votes)
- Kade Simpson (103 Votes)
It has been tough going for Carlton in 2018. In the off-season they lost Bryce Gibbs to Adelaide and in the pre-season they lost Sam Docherty to a season ending injury. And then in the season proper they have had untimely injuries to both Matthew Kreuzer and Marc Murphy. That quartet represents the Top-4 in Carlton’s Best and Fairest from last year. The one constant on the field from last year’s Top-5 has been Kade Simpson.
Like a fine wine, Simpson appears to be getting better with age. Simpson infamously failed to gain a possession in any of his first 3 games at AFL level back in 2003. Closing in on 300 games and celebrating his 34th birthday last week, could Simpson be on the way to his first All-Australian nomination this year? He has taken over from Sam Docherty as the go-to player out of Carlton’s defence. But has he been the best attacking halfback in the AFL this season?
In order to determine who has been the best attacking halfback, we first need to define what we consider the attributes of a quality halfback. Consider the following definition:
- An attacking halfback should be judged on their ability to accumulate possessions in the defensive half and gain territory (preferably by foot) in an effective manner in order to break through congestion and transition from defence to offence.
Based on this definition, we can develop a metric, Half Back Points (HBPs), to identify who has been the best halfback in the AFL this year. From the above definition, a halfback could be judged on his ability to accumulate kicks with a focus on metres gained. Metres gained represents the net metres gained with the ball by a player from running, kicking or handballing, combining measures towards attacking goal and away from defensive goal. This means that kicking backwards to switch the play contributes negatively to the metres gained total. Hence, the number of kicks per game is an indication of the ability of a player to win the ball, whilst metres gained provides an indication of the attacking mind-set of the player. The emphasis of the kick as a metric, as opposed to the handpass, is because a kick can relieve a team from defensive pressure if it can find a target. In order to combine average kicks per game and average metres gained, we shall consider one kick to be the equivalent worth of 25 metres gained. This provides a near equal weighting between the leading kick and metres gained averages. In summary, we can define the following:
- HBP = K + MG/25
- HBP = Half Back Points
- K = Kicks per game
- MG = Metres Gained per game
In addition to the above, in order for a halfback to be considered the best in the AFL this season, they must also achieve the following criteria:
- Played a minimum of two-thirds of matches this season. After Round 7, a player would need to have played 5 games to be under consideration.
- Achieved a minimum 75% Disposal Efficiency.
- Accumulated a minimum of 75% of their possessions in the defensive half of the field. This is in order to differentiate a halfback from a wingman, who gets the ball further up the ground but also has high kicking rates and metres gained.
Based on the above, Figure-1 presents the AFL Half Back Rankings after Round 7. At the top of the rankings is Carlton veteran Kade Simpson, with James Sicily his potential teammate on the other halfback flank in the All-Australian team. Essendon, with Michael Hurley, also have a player in the Top-4. But perhaps it is not surprising that for two struggling sides that their best defenders are getting a lot of the football.
Note: This article represents a continuation of a series of articles to determine the form players of the competition in each position. The premise is to assess each position based on an easily identifiable collection of variables. Each week the rankings will be updated and an All-Australian team will be auto-populated and presented on a stand alone page. So far, metrics for attacking halfbacks and key defenders have been developed.
Carlton and Essendon are two teams in terrible form. Carlton may lack the cattle on the park, but in trying to go away from their defensive-first style from the last few years, they now appear to neither attack nor defend well. Essendon on paper appear to be full of talent but they are low on confidence and their methods are failing them. Poor coaching is not something that can be turned around quickly, so there may still be some pain ahead for both clubs. Carlton’s best hope this week is for a rain-affected match similar to what they had last year in their upset win over the Bombers. If conditions stay reasonably dry, Essendon will still have the edge.
Essendon to win by 19 points
 Collins, B., Eddy, B. (2016). “Champions: Conversations with Great Players & Coaches of Australian Football”. Slattery Media Group, Victoria, Australia.
 Kernahan. S. & De Bolfo, T. (1997). “Sticks: The Stephen Kernahan Story”. Random House Australia Pty Ltd, NSW, Australia.