Pre Season Analysis

* Updated 04 Feb 2012

Lesson one for Footy Analysts

Time poor summary:
You need to analyse each team prior to round one.  If you don’t, you may find yourself way behind after a few rounds.  If you don’t have time to do your own analysis, then see my team by team summaries to appear before 24 March 2012 under 2012 Team Previews.  And don’t get carried away with your BIG predictions in Jan and Feb.  That is like trying to pick the murderer in the first few pages of an Agatha Christie novel.

More detailed comments:
Statements / Questions (answer these with a “YES” or “NO” and then see below)
1. Because the football universe is chaotic, meaningless and random, trends cannot be predicted (would you say “YES” or “NO”?)
2. Injuries in Feb / March are no big deal because the real action occurs in September (Y/N)
3. Coaching changes can greatly affect the performance of a team (Y/N)
4. If someone has been at the club and says, “Player X has never looked fitter!”, then you should believe them (Y/N)
5. A star draft pick will have an immediate impact for a struggling club (Y/N)
6. A shooting star team in the NAB Cup will do well all season (Y/N)
7. The best guide to this year’s chances of a team is last year’s finish (Y/N)
8. A player starring in the NAB Cup and pre season games will have a good year (Y/N)
9. Form your opinions in Jan / Feb and stick to them, or else you will become confused (Y/N)


 1. The football universe is chaotic, meaningless and random; so trends cannot be predicted. It is your choice how you view it.  If you look upon it this way, you will think and tip accordingly (and poorly for the most part) and so “prove” your theory.  You will think successful tipsters are just lucky. However, you can choose to see it has having meaning – a meaning and order that can be assessed and understood.  Taking this viewpoint will lead you to be a better footy analyst.  Once you have become a superior footy analyst, you will never see footy trends and form as meaningless again.

2. Injuries in Feb / March ARE A VERY BIG DEAL!!!! They are bad because:
a) The season is so gruelling that a good pre season will set players up for a good year.  Often an injury interrupted pre season will curtail  a players performance during the regular season; and
b) When the injury toll mounts, clubs will often try to bring back players too early in order to win games.  This regularly results in recurrence and / or worsening of injuries.
Example: look no further than Hawthorn 2009.  They were very highly faancied to go back to back in Feb 2010.  But they had pre season injuries and never recovered.  This year, Melbourne, Hawthorn and Adelaide are the team with the worst injuries so far.  Conversely, the Dogs have virtually a full list for round 1.
And while it is true that injuries can suddenly come upon a team mid season (from memory the Swans in 1987 were flying until late in the year and then injuries struck;  They exited the finals in straight sets), an injury free Feb / March is a happy Feb March.

3. Coaching changes can greatly affect the performance of a team. Yes, they can! And this applies to assistant coaches as well.  Two examples in 2009 were:
a) Adelaide –  Todd Viney moved from the Hawks in 2008 to the Crows in 2009.  After more of the same for several weeks and heading for the bottom 8 at 3/5, the rigid structure of the Crows changed and they 7 games in a row.
b) St Kilda  – Leigh Tudor went from Geelong in 2008 to the Saints in 2009 and a new playing method was established at the Saints that almost took them to a flag.  at the beginning of 2009, they were considered to be well behind Geelong and Hawthorn and in a group with Collingwood and the Dogs.

4. If someone has been at the club and says, “Player X has never looked fitter!”, then you need to rate your source.  Rumours abound in the pre season about who has trained well during the off season.  Sometimes the reports are exaggerated and sometimes it doesn’t translate into a better year for the player.  Of more importance is when a player who missed much of the previous year (either in pre season or regular season) is this year able to complete the full pre season injury free.

5. A star draft pick will have an immediate impact for a struggling club now and then. But the pressure can be far grater than for a talented recruit coming into a top club. Also, some recruits come ready to go (a la Daniel Rich) and others will take time.
Example: Jack Watts only played 3 games for Melbourne last year.  Was he a bad pick?  We will not know for a couple of years.  And, despite Nick Naitanui exciting everyone one in the 2010 NAB Cup, his 2009 yielded 10 games for an average of 57.4 Supercoach points per game.  Apart from Eagles fans, probably only Hawk fans will remember much of his debut year as he kicked 3 goals in the last quarter at Subiaco to propel his team to a win (and the Hawks out of the finals).  He began 2009 year with a knee injury.
First year recruits to do well in top teams include Cyril Rioli for Hawthorn in their flag year of 2008; Joel Selwood for Geelong in their flag year of 2007 (he never got the opposition’s best tagger) and way back to Scott Camporeale for the Blues when they took the Cup in 1995. The weight of expectation on a Jack Watts type to be the saviour can be a big burden to carry.

6. Most NAB Cup shooting star teams do well in the regular season following but everyone remembers Carlton winning the DOUBLE of the NAB Cup and wooden spoon in 2005.  And so the NAB Cup form is generally totally ignored (especially if the team missed the eight in the previous season).  Here is a list of the semi-finalists in the NAB Cup from 2004 onwards and whether making the semi finals of the NAB Cup led to a better or worse season.  Finishing places listed are before finals series in regular season.  The teams in bold are the improvers.

Essendon    8th in 2003 to 8th in 2004
Geelong      12th in 2003 to 4th in 2004 *
Melbourne   14th in 2003 to 5th in 2004  * 
Saints         11th in 2003 to 3rd in 2004 *  

Carlton              11th in 2004 to 16th in 2005
Eagles               7th in 2004 to 2nd in 2005   *
NorthMelbourne  10th in 2004 to 5th in 2005   * 
W. Bulldogs            14th in 2004 to 9th in 2005   *

Adelaide           1st in 2005 to 2nd in 2006
Fremantle           10th in 2005 to 3rd in 2006 *   
Geelong           6th in 2005 to 10th in 2006
Melbourne          7th in 2005 to 7th in 2006

Brisbane                   13th in 2006 to 10th in 2007
Carlton                      16th in 2006 to 15th in 2007
Geelong                    10th in 2006 to 1st in 2007  *  
North Melbourne     14th in 2006 to 4th in 2007 *   

Adelaide                   8th in 2007 to 5th in 2008
Essendon             12th in 2007 to 12th in 2008
Hawthorn                 5th in 2007 to 2nd in 2008
St Kilda                     9th in 2007 to 4th in 2008  *  

Carlton                  11th in 2008 to 7th in 2009   * 
Collingwood         8th in 2008 to 4th in 2009    * 
Essendon             12th in 2008 to 8th in 2009   * 
Geelong           1st in 2008 to 2nd in 2009

W. Bulldogs       
3rd in 2009 to 4th in 2010
St Kilda                1st in 2009 to 2nd in 2010
Fremantle           14th in 2009 to 6th in 2010 *
Port                      10th in 2009 to 10th in 2010

St Kilda                2nd in 2010 to 6th in 2011
Collingwood        1st in 2010 to 1st in 2011
Eagles                  10th in 2010 to 4th in 2011 *
Essendon            14th in 2010 to 8th in 2011 *

So in the past 8 years, 12 of the 32 NAB Cup semi-finalists finished lower on the ladder than in the previous year.  And one of those who finished lower were the Cats (2008 to 2009) who won the 2009 grand final after dropping from 1st to second.  The NAB Cup also has the habit of picking the BIG improvers (see asterisks above * where teams improved dramatically  (>= 4 spots in that year ).  There have been 16 in the past 8 years – an average of 2 per year.  The trend is somewhat becoming less, but it still remains the best indicator of the big improvers.  So watch out for the top NAB Cup performers this year.

7. The best guide to this year’s chances of a team is last year’s finish. This is a good place to start.  One also needs to look at team ins and outs, coaching changes (see point 2 above), injuries and changes to a team’s depth (ability for players ranked 23 – 30 in a team to cover for injury for some of the year).  The luck of the draw from one year to another (and whether a team was lucky enough to catch other teams at the right time also needs to be considered.  But also see point 6 above

 8. A player starring in the NAB Cup and pre season games will have a good year.  Some do and others don’t.  Some juniors have set their goal for months just to get a senior game.  So they are up big time for the February and March matches.  Many of them will tail off in form through the regular season.  The ones more likely to hold their form all year are 2nd and third year players and mature age rookies.  The bigger bodied first year players and those who have played senior footy (like Daniel Rich) can tend to do better than those not in these categories.

9. Form your opinions in Jan / Feb and stick to them, or else you will become confused.  Actually, the longer out from September you form your opinions, the more likely you are to be incorrect.  And here is what makes matters worse: once you form a strong opinion in Jan / Feb, you can also tend to find data to support your beliefs.  This is especially true if you tell all and sundry that a particular team is on the rise or on the wane.  It is far better to keep an open mind from October through to late March. 

What you need to be doing in this time is reading up on who is injured, who has improved, changes to coaching line-ups, injury list happenings as well as listening to experts whose opinion you trust.  Remember that many football identities have to be careful about the info they allow into the public arena.  If a club is imploding due to admin or player problems, don’t expect a club official to confirm it all at the time they are trying to sell memberships.  And it can also be difficult in the pre season to get the truth on all injury issues.  That is why it is good to keep track of which players are playing and which are not.  when listening to players, coaches and club officials speak, learn to read between the lines.