This is the season like no other. In July, given the current global pandemic and increasing COVID-19 cases in Victoria, the decision was made that all Victorian AFL teams were to relocate to various States across the country and hub there for the remainder of the 2020 season. While this allowed the season to continue, the only downfall was that these teams then had to play their “home” games at grounds in which they rarely played at. Those teams who have been able to play at home have a big edge on the rest of the competition, but could it decide who wins the flag?
The end of the season is nearing, and the top eight teams have been decided. The current coronavirus control measures in place has meant that there are only four grounds where matches will be played for the finals – Adelaide Oval, the Gabba, Metricon Stadium and Optus Stadium (where only one elimination final will take place). While six teams have won the right to play a home final only three teams will actually play at their home ground, and coincidentally the three teams are the only non-Victorian teams in the eight: Port Adelaide, Brisbane Lions and West Coast Eagles. This will be the first time in the history of the AFL where there will be no finals played in Melbourne, but with five Victorian sides left in the competition, how much impact will this have on their push for the premiership?
There’s a reason they call it a home-ground advantage and why teams and fans alike want to finish as close to the top of the ladder as possible, so they can guarantee themselves a home final and give themselves the best possible chance of winning finals and then holding up that elusive premiership cup. Not having to travel, ground familiarity and supporters are three of the main factors that give you an advantage when playing at home. This season Brisbane are undefeated at the Gabba, West Coast are undefeated at Optus Stadium while Port Adelaide have won seven matches and only lost one at the Adelaide Oval.
Sitting at first and second on the ladder respectively, Port Adelaide guaranteed themselves two home finals at the Adelaide Oval, likewise Brisbane guaranteed themselves two home finals at the Gabba. The Grand Final is being played at the Gabba this year, so despite possibly being the “away” team, Brisbane could end up playing all of their matches at their home fortress and given their current form this would make them premiership favourites. Due to the current COVID-19 restrictions in Western Australia, West Coast will only play one home final at Optus Stadium. That’s at least five of nine matches which will definitely be played at these teams’ home ground (COVID-19 dependent). Therefore, do the three non-Victorian teams in the eight have more of an advantage? It’s more than likely that those teams playing at their home ground for finals will have some advantage over their opponents, but five top eight teams have played very few games at their home ground and yet have managed to finish in the top eight.
To reward the teams finishing higher on the ladder and mitigating any advantage to away sides playing at “home”, the likes of Geelong, Richmond and Saint Kilda will get the opportunity to decide where they want their “home” final to be held between the three grounds – Adelaide Oval, the Gabba and Metricon Stadium. Having earned that right to nominate a preferred ground to play their home finals at, if they are scheduled to compete against either Port or Brisbane you would expect them to select a different ground to the normal home ground that their opponents usually play at.
Home finals do not always result in victory. Putting it into perspective, last year Brisbane had two home finals at the Gabba but lost both of them, while retrospectively in 2018 when West Coast won the premiership, they played both the semi-final and preliminary final at home. Then way back in 2016, the Western Bulldogs played and won four away finals matches and went on to win the premiership that year. The saying goes, to be the best you have to beat the best and win anywhere and beating the best at their home ground is about as big as it gets. Those teams that can beat their opponents at their opponent’s home ground or at a ground less familiar to them, will be more than just premiership pretenders and seen as true premiership contenders.