AFL 9 months ago

Why Defence Alone Won't Win You Premierships

  • Why Defence Alone Won't Win You Premierships

    GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 25: Lions players look dejected after a loss during the 2017 AFLW Grand Final match between the Brisbane Lions and the Adelaide Crows at Metricon Stadium on March 25, 2017 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

If there's anybody that has said that 'Defence Wins Premierships' then they might want to reconsider stating this, because it's not like that. Not at all.

I've followed the footy for nearly two decades, but over this past decade, the one common denominator I've found is that no matter how good defensively your team is, if you don't have a good structure to kick goals for your team, you are not going to win a premiership, period.

Some of you may know I have heavily tuned in to the AFL women's competition over the last couple of months and with the season coming to a thrilling conclusion this past weekend, I wasn't so surprised to see the Adelaide women come out on top over an undefeated Brisbane team. You read that right, even though the Crows lost two heart-stopping encounters in the home and away season, they were my pick to win the Grand Final.

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As phenomenal as the Brisbane ladies have been this season - and they have been nothing short of impressive, the one thing that I've noticed throughout their home and away campaign is their lack of scoring.

There's no denying how good of a coach Craig Starcevich is, they were easily the best defensive team this season, only conceding an average of 21 points per game. However they were equal-fifth in scoring, averaging 32 points a game. The team that beat them for the inaugural premiership, led all the teams in scoring, averaging 41 points per game, whilst conceding a decent average of 26 points per game, ranking them the third-stingiest defence in the league.

The Lions' best goal-kicker this season was Kate McCarthy, who isn't a big forward, but more of a speedy, pocket-type player, who managed nine goals for the season, but their two marquee forwards Tayla Harris and Sabrina Fredrick Traub as talented as they are, combined for only 10 goals this season, which in my eyes isn't a good enough contribution to get them a premiership, but the one thing that's on their side is time. Both ladies are still under 21 and will no doubt improve as the years go on.

This doesn't just go for the ladies, this theory goes for the men too.

A classic example that often gets pointed out when it comes to defence-orientated teams are the ones coached by Fremantle's Ross Lyon. Is he a good coach? I believe he is, but he will only achieve the title of a 'great' coach and possibly further when he coaches his team to a  premiership, and for that to eventuate, he needs a forward strucutre that will give his team goals on the scoreboard - something that's obviously a huge flaw in his game plan and has been for some time.

Even when he was at St. Kilda when they were at their peak, the team struggled to score big. In 2009 - where the Saints won 20 of 22 games in the home and away season, St. Kilda only conceded 64 points per game, which unsurprisingly, sat them as the league's best defence that year, but sat fourth in scoring, averaging just under 100 points per game. 

That was all well and good and perhaps it would've landed them the premiership, but during the finals series, they struggled to get the job done and it penultimately cost them the Grand Final, averaging only 69 points per game on top of conceding an average of 61 points per game. The team that did beat them in the Grand Final, Geelong, were the second-highest scoring team in the league, averaging 105 points per game, whilst conceding 82 points a game, which sat them in the top four defensive teams in the league.


The following year, the Saints managed to make the Grand Final again, and whilst they were still the number one defensive team, conceding an average of 72 points, they were worse than the previous year offensively, ranked eighth in the league for scoring, with an average of 87 points per game, however, in all fairness to St. Kilda, they had missed their number one forward Nick Riewoldt - who did kick 78 goals for the Saints in 2009 - with a severe hamstring injury for a fair portion of the year.

Their struggles to kick a winning score continued in the 2010 Finals series, averaging 72 points per game throughout the Finals, and again would lose the Grand Final, this time through a rare Grand Final replay and were convincingly beaten by Collingwood. The Pies were the second-highest scoring team that year and were the second-stingiest defence in the league, conceding an average of 75 points per game on top of averaging 106 points per game throughout the regular season.

He continued this when he arrived at Fremantle at the end of 2011. Within 24 months of his arrival, he managed to get the Dockers to their first-ever Grand Final, in 2013, they were the best defensive team in the AFL, conceding 69 points per game, but once again scoring was an issue, as Fremantle were the 12th-highest scoring team, averaging 92 points a game, and for a team going into a Grand Final, that was a big issue. They would eventually lose to Hawthorn, who were not just the best scoring team in the league that year (Averaged 114 points per game), but were the fifth-best defence in the league, conceding 84 points a game.

Two years later, Ross Lyon's Dockers were on top of the ladder, but despite being the second-best defence in the league, conceding 71 points a match, offensively they were behind the rest of the competition's frontrunners and behind them significantly. Whereas the eventual Grand Finalists Hawthorn and West Coast were averaging 111 and 105 points respectively as well being among the top four defensive teams in the league, Fremantle were the 11th-highest scoring team, averaging 84 points a game. It should come as no shock they were eliminated by the Hawks in the Preliminary Final, after only scoring 69 points in the Qualifying final victory over the Swans - no that's not a typo. 

So what about the Western Bulldogs' historic premiership last year? Defensively, they were outstanding, conceding an average of 73 points per game, sitting third in the league behind Geelong and Sydney, but their biggest issue was their inability to kick a winning score as they only averaged 84 points per game at the end of the home and away season - ranking them 12th in the league for scoring. Yes this kind of form wouldn't have won them the premiership - nobody gave them a chance after the final round, but something clicked on their trip to Perth in the first week.

In the 22 games in the home and away season, the Western Bulldogs only scored 100 points or more only on six occasions. But throughout their four games in the Finals Series went from averaging 84 points a game to 96 per game. In the final round of the home and away season, they only scored 49 points against a lowly Fremantle team, but within a fortnight, they doubled that score and smashed West Coast. 

In addition to this, they were still able to concede 71 points per game during the Finals Series. Sydney, the team they beat in the Grand Final conceded an average of 66 points per game during the home and away season, but the average went up to 80 points during the finals series, whilst averaging only 84 points per game after averaging under 101 points a game in the home and away season.


Defence alone will get you close, but won't win you a premiership, but if your side is able to get that sweet combination of players who can give you 100 points a week with an almighty defence that will hold the opposition to 60-70 points, then you can say it's possible to win a premiership.

Pictures Courtesy Of Getty Images

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