Episodes in a contested AFL game: an example from Round 7 in 2016



Yesterday, I discussed the Gold Coast versus Melbourne AFL game from Round 7 of the 2016 AFL season.

Today I am looking at a game in Round 7 that was contested over three of the four quarters of the game, Richmond versus Hawthorn.

I had anticipated that Hawthorn would win this game.

This is the scoring chart for the game from the AFL website:


A Contest

I think this is an excellent example of a contested game in which momentum shifts from one team to another until in the fourth quarter, Hawthorn breaks away and dominates the game.

In each of the first, second and third quarters, Richmond leads the game:

  • Start to 13.11 (1Q)
  • 11.03 to 21.41 (2Q)
  • 12.34 to 19.57  (3Q)

Hawthorn’s responses came:

  • 13.12 to 21.13 (1Q)
  • 21.42 to 30.28 (2Q)
  • 19.58 to 29.36 (3Q)


Momentum Shift

There were nine points between the teams going into the final quarter (Richmond 71, Hawthorn 80).

Richmond is one of the four teams who had overcome a nine point or greater deficit at three quarter time to win this season (in Round 1). Ironically, Hawthorn has been involved in two games when they have come from behind at the end of the third quarter (Rounds 3 and 5). Hawthorn has been tied at the end of the third quarter too (Round 4).

Hawthorn dominated the first 11.44 minutes of the final quarter and then closed out the game from 19.10 onwards.

As with yesterday, I am interested in the interaction between on-field performance and off-field coach observations.

The AFL text commentary noted in the third quarter:


and later in the quarter:


When Hawthorn scored a behind at 6.57 in the final quarter, I identified this as a tipping point in the game. Hawthorn now lead by 22 points and it is a moment of no return for Richmond. They must respond. They do equal Hawthorn’s scoring over the next 12 minutes (1 goal and 1 behind each) but are then overwhelmed by four Hawthorn goals in five minutes. In this phase of the game Hawthorn amplified their momentum and Richmond were unable to dampen it.


A game theoretic approach to performance

My interest in observing AFL is part of my fascination with finding ways to share stories of performance in real-time and lapsed-time.

It would have been interesting to hear the end of third quarter conversations between coaches and players for both teams. It would have been informative to hear player talk in the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter too.

These voices would form part of what Philippe Mongin (2009) calls A Game-Theoretic Analysis . In that paper he writes:

military campaigns provide an opportunity for successful application of the formal theories of rational choice. Generalizing the argument, we finally investigate the conflict between narrative accounts – the historians’ standard mode of expression – and mathematical modeling.

This seems a potentially rich way to explore performance.

In the post match conference, the Hawthorn coach is quoted:

We started to win the ball a little bit better from clearances and, in the early part of the game in particular, Richmond were really strong out of the centre bounce. In the last part of the game that started to flow our way. We started to think if we could get enough supply we could kick a big enough score to win, but we didn’t anticipate that it was going to open up like that.

The Richmond coach:

We were disappointed to go down like we did in the last quarter. We were just belted around in clearances and contested ball that last quarter and they just controlled the ball. The first three quarters I thought were commendable. Our effort and intensity was there and we played some pretty good footy. It was probably a game where we had a couple of opportunities during the third (quarter). I thought we didn’t capitalise enough. (We) just had some bits of play where Hawthorn were too classy and made sound decisions, whereas we probably coughed it up and turned the ball over.

Both coaches’ observations raise some fascinating issues around player-led on-field initiatives and decision-support conversations in the coaches’ box.

Contested games give us an opportunity to travel between the stories coaches’ construct and the data that informs their construction.

A great round of AFL for conversations about performance.

Photo Credits

Cats v Hawks (James D Photography, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Richmond vs Melbourne rnd4 (Rachel Hofton, CC BY 2.0)

Melbourne Cricket Ground 1870-75 (Robert Smith, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Battles of Waterloo

It is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June. The Bicentenary is being celebrated with 5000 re-enactors, 300 horses and 100 canons.

News of the celebrations has taken me back to Philippe Mongin’s 2009 paper, A Game-Theoretic Analysis of the Waterloo Campaign and Some Comments on the Analytic Narrative Project.

In his paper Phillippe presents a game-theoretic model of Napoleon’s last campaign, which ended dramatically on 18 June 1815 at Waterloo. Phillippe looks in particular at the decision Napoleon made “on 17 June 1815 to detach part of his army against the Prussians he had defeated, though not destroyed, on 16 June at Ligny”.

On page 7 of the paper he proposes a model for:

Napoleon’s all-crucial decision, June 17, 1815, the day after his victory over Blucher at Ligny. That day he chose to send more than a third of his forces, under the command of Grouchy, against the retreating Prussians. All the commentators agree that this division of the French army was the key to Wellington’s victory, June 18 at Waterloo. Grouchy spent the fateful day at Wavre, baited by Blucher’s rear guard, while the advance guard marched unimpeded to join Wellington in the mist of an uncertain battle. The campaign’s greatest question, which involves Napoleon’s rationality, is whether he could have made better use of Grouchy’s detachment. The model we propose to answer this question takes the form of a simple zero-sum game between Napoleon and Blucher. Despite the absence of Grouchy as an autonomous player, it adds precision to the competing hypotheses.


Section 3 of Phillippe’s paper provides extensive detail to support the game theoretic approach. As I worked my way through his model, I was fascinated by the interplay of other observations on events … and the opportunities for an integration of historical narrative and rational choice modeling.

I do think there are some fascinating opportunities here for observing and analysing sport performance. A 2013 paper by Hayrettin Altinbay offers some additional insights into how this integration might occur.

Perhaps we could start with an iconic moment from Rugby. Could the New Zealand All Blacks have prevented this 1973 try?

Photo Credits

Waterloo, Belgium (cjlvp, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Battlefield at Waterloo (Eric Wilcox, CC BY-NC 2.0)