The Weekend Preview is a blog that aims to provide a different angle on the narrative of an upcoming sporting event.

AFL Round 7: Sydney vs. North Melbourne

AFL Round 7: Sydney vs. North Melbourne

Saturday Night, 5th May 2018 at the SCG

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Provided a player has not previously been registered as a player at an AFL club, a club may include a player on its primary list if the player’s father played 100 or more senior grade games (either home and away or finals games) with that club.

Father-Son Rule [1]

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 Figure-1: 1996 Grand Final – North Melbourne vs. Sydney

Figure-1: 1996 Grand Final – North Melbourne vs. Sydney

The North Melbourne Football Club defeated the Sydney Swans in the 1996 Grand Final to become the AFL premiers in the Centenary VFL/AFL Season. After two heartbreaking preliminary final losses in the preceding two seasons, the 1996 premiership was the crowning moment of the Denis Pagan-Wayne Carey era at the Kangaroos. With 7 consecutive preliminary finals between 1994 and 2000 and two premierships (1996 & 1999), the Kangaroos were the most dominant team in the latter half of the 1990s. In contrast, the 1996 Grand Final was the success starved South Melbourne/Sydney Football Club's first Grand Final for 51 years and their 63-year wait for a premiership would need to be extended for another 9 years.

Fast-forward 22 years and the contrasting fortunes of both clubs are quite stark. North Melbourne with their smaller supporter base lack the financial muscle to compete on equal footing with their Victorian rivals, and on-field they have struggled to replicate their 1990s golden era. Sydney on the other hand is a perennial premiership contender, financially stable, able to attract high quality free agents and have an academy that is the envy of the competition.

What makes the situation a particularly bitter pill for North Melbourne is that two individuals that are fundamental to the current dominance of the Sydney Swans were key players for the Kangaroos during the 1990s. The obvious is Sydney’s 2012 premiership and current coach, John Longmire, who heartbreakingly missed the 1996 Grand Final for North Melbourne due to a knee injury, but was an excellent key position player for the Kangaroos.

The importance of the second individual is only now being fully appreciated. Two-time premiership half-back, John Blakey, played 224 games for the Kangaroos after switching from Fitzroy in 1993. However, John Blakey has been the faithful lieutenant to John Longmire and Paul Roos at the Sydney Swans since joining the club as an assistant coach in 2006. This is critical, as by living in Sydney the requisite 5 years, his son Nick Blakey became eligible to join the Sydney Swans Academy. This in itself has only become relevant as Blakey is now considered one of the best prospects in this year's National Draft. Under Father-Son/Academy rules, Nick can nominate one of three clubs North Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane (due to the Fitzroy link) as his preferred destination in the draft.

Remarkably there is also another player Bailey Scott (son of 1996 premiership back pocket Robert Scott) in a similar struggle between the Kangaroos, Geelong and Gold Coast. Robert Scott played 132 games for Geelong, 113 games for the Kangaroos, but lives on the Gold Coast. The Gold Coast link has enabled Bailey to be part of the Gold Coast Academy.

With the news this week that Nick Blakey has chosen the Sydney Swans as his preferred AFL destination, public opinion has been a combination of outrage at the unfair advantage of the Swans Academy system and sympathy at the misfortune of North Melbourne. But to be fair to Nick, he has lived his whole teenage life in Sydney, so it is hardly surprising that he would choose the Swans over the Kangaroos.

I’ll save the debate on the fairness of the Academy system for the NSW and Queensland clubs for a future article. Rather, this article will focus on highlighting the misfortune of the North Melbourne Football Club when it comes to the Father-Son rule. Consider the following names from recent drafts:

  • Josh Kelly (Pick 2, 2013 National Draft)
  • Angus Brayshaw (Pick 3, 2014 National Draft)
  • Andrew Brayshaw (Pick 2, 2017 National Draft)
  • Charlie Spargo (Pick 29, 2017 National Draft)

All of the above players had fathers who played for the Kangaroos, but failed to reach the requisite 100 games to be eligible for the Father-Son rule. Adding Nick Blakey and possibly Bailey Scott to the list and there is some justification for North Melbourne to feel hard done by. And it possibly doesn’t end there with John Longmire’s sons also already progressing through the Sydney Academy system.

To look into North Melbourne's misfortune further, let's first define the eligibility for a Father-Son recruit [1]:

Provided a player has not previously been registered as a player at an AFL club, a club may include a player on its primary list if the player’s father played 100 or more senior grade games (either home and away or finals games) with that club.

The South Australian and Western Australian teams also have additional access to Father-Son prospects that played a requisite number of games for specific teams in their local state competitions prior to their entry into the AFL. However, as time goes by, all teams will be picking Father-Son draftees exclusively from sons of players that played 100 games in the AFL system. As a generalisation, if we consider potential Father-Son draftees over the next 20 years to come from any player born after 1960 to have played 100 games for a club, we have the result presented in Figure-2. Hawthorn leads the way with 69 potential Fathers from which their offspring could be claimed as a Father-Son draftee. Hawthorn’s success over the past half-century has probably contributed to them accumulating more 100-game players than any other team. On the other end of the scale for Victorian teams, St Kilda has only 46 potential Fathers of Father-Son draftees.

 Figure-2: 100 Game Players Born After 1960 per team

Figure-2: 100 Game Players Born After 1960 per team

However, the reality of finding successful Father-Son recruits does not appear proportional to the number of eligible candidates. Despite Hawthorn’s access to a talented gene pool, they have translated that potential into only 75 AFL games from Father-Son draftees. Figure-3 presents the full distribution of games played by Father-Son draftees per team. Geelong leads the way, closing in on 1000 AFL games. Similar to Hawthorn, North Melbourne has found the Father-Son system far from fruitful. Jesse Smith (son of Ross) played 27 games for the Kangaroos, whilst Luke McDonald (son of Donald) has played 80 games to date.

The reality of the Father-Son system is that it appears to be luck of the draw. However, with the introduction of Father-Son academies at most clubs, the ability to groom eligible Father-Son players could restore a semblance of balance to the system.

 Figure-3: Games played by Father-Son Draftees since the introduction of the National Draft (1986)

Figure-3: Games played by Father-Son Draftees since the introduction of the National Draft (1986)

Despite the inherent historic unfairness in the Father-Son system, the AFL has at least tried to implement a fairer bidding system to determine the compensation a team must give up for a Father-Son or Academy draftee (no longer can you get Garry Ablett Jnr at pick 40). The bidding system broadly follows the following process:

  • Prior to the National Draft, a club can nominate an eligible Father-Son (or Academy) draftee with the player's written consent.
  • During the selection process of the National Draft, another club may bid for that player when it is their turn for selection.
  • In order to match this bid, the nominating club must match the value of that draft selection (see Table-1 - AFL Draft Value Index) with a discount using a collection of their following picks.
  • The discount is 20% of the AFL Draft Value Index for selections 1-18 and a fixed 197-point discount for all subsequent selections.
  • After combining draft selections to achieve the requisite draft value points, excess points can be converted into another draft selection further down the draft.
  • If the nominating club use all their draft selections with points value, a club may use selections from next year's draft to match a player's value, which effectively means they enter the next year’s draft with a deficit.
  • If the nominating club does not match the bid, the player is selected by the club that made the original bid.
 Table-1: AFL Draft Value Index

Table-1: AFL Draft Value Index

Considering that Nick Blakey is being touted as potentially one of the best few players in the upcoming draft, let's consider how the bidding system will work by looking at a hypothetical scenario of Sydney attempting to draft Nick Blakey later this year:

  • Sydney finish 4th on the ladder and receive picks 15, 33, 51 and 69 in the National Draft.
  • The team that has the 2nd pick in the draft, bids for Nick Blakey when it is their turn for selection.
  • The 2nd pick in the draft has a value of 2517 points. With a 20% discount, Sydney need to match a draft value of 2014 points.
  • Sydney's first four picks in the draft have a combined value of 1983 points (1112 +563+259+49 = 1983).
  • This means that the Swans would need to go into deficit into the following year's national draft if they wish to select Nick Blakey.

The above hypothetical scenario assumed that the Swans went into the draft without doing any trading of draft selections during the trade period. However, the above scenario illustrates the dangers of following this method if the Swans finish top-4 as they will struggle to match the player value. So it is likely the Swans will be active during the trade period to get higher draft picks. The problem facing the Swans is that this year's draft is considered a "super draft" with any high draft pick considered of premium value. The Swans therefore may need to do some aggressive trading to get those required picks which will make for an interesting trade period.

Match Preview:

North Melbourne have exceeded many people's expectation for them this year. In fact they sit just below the Swans on the ladder with one win less but a superior percentage (118.9% to 107.2%). Although in their biggest test for the year, the Kangaroos did fall short of the Power last week. In contrast, the Swans were impressive last week in their gutsy come-from-behind win against the Cats, despite being without the likes of Lance Franklin and Dan Hannebery. Those two players are still missing, whilst the Kangaroos have notably regained Shaun Higgins but lost Jarrad Waite.  On balance, Sydney remain the better team, but the game may not be as easy for the Swans as the match odds may suggest.

Sydney to win by 13 points

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[1] AFL Record Season 2018, produced by AFL Media for the Australian Football League

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