'No advantage' to top-four finish, Denis Pagan says

Coaching great Denis Pagan has warned the AFL there will be 'outrage' among fans and clubs if the controversial pre-finals bye throws up more upset results in this year's finals series.

The introduction of the bye last season, between Round 23 and week one of the finals, helped produce one of the craziest Septembers in years, with the two best-performed teams knocked out in the preliminary finals, and the seventh-placed Western Bulldogs winning the flag.

Last week, Richmond and Adelaide won their first finals but next take to the field in the preliminary final weekend of September 22-23. That means they will have played just once in 26 days, since their Round 23 match in late August.

For Pagan, that's simply too long between games.

"It's not an advantage anymore finishing top four; in fact, it might be a disadvantage," Pagan told ESPN.

"If it happens again this year, and Richmond and Adelaide are knocked out in the preliminary finals, then I think there will be outrage.

"You will need to be a very smart coach to keep the players mentally and physically stimulated under those circumstances. I'd hate to be in that situation, I must say."

Pagan, the 1996 and 1999 premiership coach at North Melbourne, said whenever the Kangaroos had a bye in the second week of the finals, he made sure he kept the players to their routine by scheduling an intra-club practice match on the weekend.

"I'd try to keep them match-fit and mentally on their toes by saying: 'the side isn't finalised yet, so we're just going to have a practice match so I can see how some of you are travelling'," Pagan told ESPN.

"Then I'd say, 'bring your mouthguards, we're going to have four 20-minute quarters'. But I'd have my rosary beads in my pocket and my fingers crossed because there was always the chance of injury.

"After 14 minutes or so, I'd shout out: 'OK, that's 20 minutes done, start the next quarter'. In the end, we might have only played 40 or 50 minutes of game-time before I called it off, but it kept them sharp - and no-one ever got injured.

"The sensitive, new-age coaches won't do that, though. They'll have strength and conditioning coaches in their ear, telling them what they can and can't do ...."

Greater Western Sydney and Geelong were the two top-four teams last season who won their qualifying finals and went straight into the preliminary final - the preferred route for most teams because it has produced eight of the previous nine premiership teams.

But both the Cats and GWS stumbled at the preliminary final stage, and many people blamed the new system which allowed them to play once in four weeks leading up to those finals.