Apr 20

Fairer cop for fitness men in 2015 AFL fixture

Breathing easier: Hawthorn players will appreciate fewer six-day breaks in 2015. Photo: Anthony Johnson Breathing easier: Hawthorn players will appreciate fewer six-day breaks in 2015. Photo: Anthony Johnson

Breathing easier: Hawthorn players will appreciate fewer six-day breaks in 2015. Photo: Anthony Johnson

Breathing easier: Hawthorn players will appreciate fewer six-day breaks in 2015. Photo: Anthony Johnson

The AFL fixture for 2015 appears to have been a hit with fans for its bigger slice of Saturday and Sunday afternoon games, while clubs have given it a thumbs-up from a commercial or ranking-based perspective.

But one of the biggest wins has been for football’s fitness men. Six-day breaks between AFL games, particularly consecutive six-day breaks, present a constant challenge for club fitness departments in terms of preparation, but they’ll be dealing with fewer of those next season.

For years the average number of six-day breaks for teams across the competition has been about 110, but after continued requests from clubs and a concerted effort from the AFL fixturers, that figure will only be about 100 next year.

For the first season in a long time, no club in 2015 will have to struggle through three weeks of successive six-day breaks, and the number of teams with even two six-day breaks back-to-back has been reduced from 11 to only seven.

The league has also worked hard to ensure as many sides as possible coming off six-day breaks are playing opponents with similar length lead-ins to games.

Collingwood and Geelong, with eight, have most six-day breaks in the 2015 draw, while Essendon, North Melbourne and Richmond each have seven.

But for Collingwood next year, five of those six-day turnarounds will be against teams also coming off six-day breaks, three in the case of the Cats. And only four clubs – the Cats, Carlton, Essendon and Richmond – have more than one lot of consecutive six-day breaks.

In contrast, in the 2014 fixture, Hawthorn had one lot of three six-day breaks in a row between rounds five and eight, another of two between rounds 11 and 13, and 10 in total. The Hawks lost key players injured during that first stretch of three six-day breaks, including Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell, Brian Lake and Ben Stratton.

But the back-to-back premier, while still having, according to Fairfax Media’s ranking system, the toughest fixture in the competition in 2015, has only one set of consecutive six-day breaks and only six in total, a major improvement.

AFL general manager of scheduling Simon Lethlean says the reaction to the 2015 fixture has been the most positive he can remember in seven years of negotiating the logistical nightmare, with greater consultation and revision of early drafts particularly satisfying more clubs on the preparation front.

“I think it’s the most positive the industry has been,” Lethlean said on Monday. “I think we work so closely with the clubs on it now, with the CEOs and then they’ll go to their coaches and get feedback.

“There’s a few less six-day breaks in 2015, which is probably a pretty good effort when you consider one of the byes has been removed.”

Not all clubs are perturbed by the six-day break factor, Geelong coach Chris Scott last season even calling it a “furphy”, saying the Cats had had six months to prepare for the eventuality of the short turnaround.

“We went in with our eyes open and we’ve made some plans to mitigate the difficulty of that,” he said before Geelong played Collingwood in round three, having played Brisbane at the Gabba the previous week.

“You don’t want to have to do it week after week, they were difficult conditions and yeah, we’ve got to travel, but boo-hoo, two hours back to Melbourne. It might be a one-percenter, if that. We will be well and truly prepared.”

Geelong was able to win five of its eight 2014 games played on a six-day break.

In contrast, clubs from Western Australia and Queensland, with more frequent and longer road trips each year, are acutely conscious of the preparation times between games.

The break factor was the main focus of Fremantle’s fixturing request to the AFL for 2015 and the main reason it emerged satisfied after the release of the schedule last Thursday. The Dockers were handed only five six-day breaks, none consecutively, and all leading to home games at Patersons Stadium.

“The six-day breaks are problematic when you’re travelling so far, so often, and we think on balance five or six is about the number we should expect in a 23-week season,” Fremantle chief executive Steve Rosich said.

“And this year those breaks are all leading into home games, so hopefully that can counter-balance it.”

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