2020 Hub life has provided the ten Victorian clubs a whole season of travel. None of them will be back in their own homes for some time. Hotels, airplanes and buses are their constant reality. Teams from Queensland, Adelaide and Perth are in contrast at home more than they were in 2019.
The travail of hub life is taking its toll on the Victorian castaways. When this dislocation is combined with breaks of 4-5 days between games we are going to see teams disintegrate. It is as if the trials of decades of interstate travel have been heaped on the Victorian clubs all in one season
Injuries will increase as physical fatigue is exacerbated by mental and emotional fatigue. Because not being able to return to your own space, to sleep in your own bed is stressful. Teams from Perth, Adelaide and Queensland can go home the other teams cannot.
The Hurdle of Interstate Travel
Travel has been the constant for non-Victorian teams in the AFL. Even before the AFL when the West Coast Eagles and Sydney were the only two interstate clubs, travel was an issue. Even now being away from family is a concern that led to both Brad Hill and Tim Kelly to cross the continent. Geelong tried desperately to keep Kelly but his family were in Perth and that won.
Clubs like West Coast pioneered the tactics and science of travel. Keeping regular times for travel and establishing these routines took time to develop. Travel has come a long way for the AFL clubs outside Melbourne. Each have their routines and plans. They are put together by specialists who have refined the structures that each club has.
I was not surprised when after a few weeks of Hub life that even the West Coast Eagles were not able to stomach the dislocation. In 2019 they were away one week and home the next. Only two times did they play consecutive games in Perth. To go to Queensland and stay for the weeks they did would have ruined the routine that many players were used to.
Since coming back to Perth the Eagles are now considered Grand Final bound. They are playing more consecutive games without travel than ever. Richmond the Premiers of 2019 have not been the powerhouse that they were. While this could be Premiership hangover it is going to be exacerbated by the pressures of hub-life.
Richmond’s 2019 Advantage
In 2019 Richmond played 17 games in Victoria. Thirteen games were at the MCG with seven in a row from rounds 16 to 22. The Eagles only had two games in Perth in a row twice. With this little contrast I decided to take a larger sample size. I included St. Kilda, North Melbourne, Hawthorn, Collingwood, Brisbane and Port Adelaide.
Of Richmond’s 17 games in Melbourne their seven in a row was the most of these teams. West Coast had 12 games in Perth. Twice playing 2 games in Perth in a row. Brisbane played three in a row twice with 13 at home. Port Adelaide had four weeks at home in a row once with 13 games in Adelaide.
Hawthorn had one streak of four and three games in Melbourne split by a game in Launceston. A similar sequence of games in Launceston (2) and Melbourne (4) was repeated between rounds 15 and 20. North Melbourne had one streak of 4 weeks and two sets of two weeks in Melbourne. Hobart games withstanding North played in Perth and Brisbane twice that season.
Collingwood like Richmond played 17 games in Melbourne. They played two sets of four games and two sets of three games in Melbourne. The first set of three was preceded by the bye and two Melbourne games before the bye in round 13. Giving the Pies six weeks in Melbourne.
St. Kilda played 14 games in Melbourne. Consisting of two consecutive Melbourne games four times and two sets of three consecutive games in Melbourne. Considering St. Kilda also went to play Port in China that year you would think the league could have given them a more consecutive games in Melbourne.
Advantage Playing Home
While Richmond were Premiers in 2019, of our selected teams West Coast, Collingwood and Brisbane also made the finals. West Coast’s one home-one away routine show just how well they manage their travel. That the Eagles now have many days without travel is a big reason for me why they are now Grand Final favourites.
In 2019 the advantage of playing in a Melbourne club is clear, especially if like Richmond and Collingwood you get a decent number of consecutive games. The AFL draw is always going to favour some clubs over others. With set games such as Derby’s, Showdowns, the Anzac Day game and other games of traditional rivals the schedule is going to be even more uneven.
Travel is one part of the AFL schedule that in 2020 has been revealed as a great strain on clubs. One that will always be there for non-Victorian clubs. It is possible to bring equality or perhaps something close by sending the Victorian clubs away on road trips.
The Victorian survivors of 2020 will not want to remember it. However West Coast, Brisbane, Gold Coast, and Port Adelaide have experienced a season like never before. Is it plausible that a more equal traveling schedule can be instituted by the AFL. One where teams play a similar number of consecutive games in their home town.
Is the AFL too beholden to the revenue that big games like ANZAC day bring? Are they just ignoring the advantage Melbourne teams have? The advantage of Richmond’s 2019 schedule was a joke that should never be repeated. In 2020 the obstacle of travel has been revealed to us all. Hopefully this taste of less travel will empower the non-Victorian teams to push for a redressing in 2021.
Phillip Hall has been too long in Melbourne to see AFL in the same light as those back in Fremantle. East Fremantle born and bred, he would love to see the Dockers back in the eight. But would settle for just beating West Coast twice a year.