Less Than A Goal In It

Last year, 20 games in the home and away season were decided by less than a goal and two teams, Richmond and Sydney were each involved in 5 of them.

Relatively speaking, the Tigers and the Swans fared quite well in these close finishes, each winning three, drawing one and losing just one of the five contests.

Fremantle, on the other hand, had a particularly bad run in close games last years, losing all four of those it played in, which contributed to an altogether forgettable year for the Dockers.

The table below shows each team's record in close games across the previous five seasons.

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Surprisingly, perhaps, the Saints head the table with a 71% success rate in close finishes across the period 2004-2008. They've done no worse than 50% in close finishes in any of the previous five seasons, during which they've made three finals appearances.

Next best is West Coast on 69%, a figure that would have been higher but for an 0 and 1 performance last year, which was also the only season in the previous five during which they missed the finals.

Richmond have the next best record, despite missing the finals in all five seasons. They're also the team that has participated in the greatest number of close finishes, racking up 16 in all, one ahead of Sydney, and two ahead of Port.

The foot of the table is occupied by Adelaide, whose 3 and 9 record includes no season with a better than 50% performance. Nonetheless they've made the finals in four of the five years.

Above Adelaide are the Hawks with a 3 and 6 record, though they are 3 and 1 for seasons 2006-2008, which also happen to be the three seasons in which they've made the finals.

So, from what we've seen already, there seems to be some relationship between winning the close games and participating in September's festivities. The last two rows of the table shed some light on this issue and show us that Finalists have a 58% record in close finishes whereas Non-Finalists have only a 41% record.

At first, that 58% figure seems a little low. After all, we know that the teams we're considering are Finalists, so they should as a group win well over 50% of their matches. Indeed, over the five year period they won about 65% of their matches. It seems then that Finalists fare relatively badly in close games compared to their overall record.

However, some of those close finishes must be between teams that both finished in the finals, and the percentage for these games is by necessity 50% (since there's a winner and a loser in each game, or two teams with draws). In fact, of the 69 close finishes in which Finalists appeared, 29 of them were Finalist v Finalist matchups.

When we look instead at those close finishes that pitted a Finalist against a Non-Finalist we find that there were 40 such clashes and that the Finalist prevailed in about 70% of them.

So that all seems as it should be.