The never-ending transfer window has slammed shut, leaving Kurt Tippett out in the cold but, importantly, finding new homes for a lot of other bit-part players. The tedium of the month-long process ground my gears but it doubtless served its purpose, and there was a lot more activity than we’ve become accustomed to. Free agency was instituted seamlessly and, predictably, the sky didn’t fall in and the big names stayed put.

The ink was still drying on those contracts when the AFL released an admirably equitable draw. All the interstate teams have to jump on a plane exactly 10 times each, while the Melbourne clubs face away inter-staters either four (Hawthorn plus four Launceston home games), five (Melbourne plus a Darwin home game, North plus two Hobart home games, Essendon, Carlton, Collingwood) or six (Bulldogs plus Darwin home games, St Kilda plus Wellington home game, Richmond, Geelong) times. Six-day breaks are evenly distributed, so from a travel/fatigue point of view, no club can have any complaints whatsoever.

Quality of opposition isn’t so equitable. As explained in a previous post, every club plays each other at least once (17 games), leading to five double-ups. The difficulty of these re-matches determines the difficulty of the draw.

The two clubs with distinctly the hardest fixtures are Hawthorn (Collingwood, Geelong, Sydney, North, WCE – all 2011 top eight sides) and North (Adelaide, Brisbane, Collingwood, Geelong, Hawthorn, which is even tougher if Brisbane can improve on their 10 wins last season). It’s hard to have much sympathy for the minor premiers facing a tough season, but 2013 might be a slog for the Kangas, especially after the Eagles exposed how far off the pace they were in their savage elimination final. Collingwood, Geelong, West Coast and Sydney – all strong 2011 performers that feature prominently in the AFL’s plans to maximise attendance – have also been given tricky fixtures.

Gold Coast (Brisbane, GWS, Melbourne, Port, St Kilda) and Melbourne (Brisbane, Freo, Gold Coast, GWS, Bulldogs) have both been blessed with the easiest draws in the comp, and considering how they fared in 2011, they need all the help they can get. The big winners, though, are the Brisbane Lions. The Queenslanders – enjoying a distinct home ground advantage, years of good draft picks maturing with age, and steady, under-the-radar progress – only finished 13th last year but they are primed to improve … and their fixture greases the wheels. Brisbane line up twice against Melbourne, Gold Coast and the Bullies, as well as North and Geelong, two clubs that might be on the slide next season.

GWS have also (fairly) been doled out an easy draw and their load has been lightened by the departure of Israel Folau. AFL types have vehemently defended the failure of the failed Folau experiment for months and today Big Izzy jumped, apparently set to sign with the Eels.

“It was worth its weight in advertising,” they reckon. Well, perhaps. It garnered column inches that the Victorian game never would have commanded in The Daily Telegraph. But I’m not convinced it had that big of an impact. There hasn’t been hoards of Pacific Islanders storming Blacktown’s Rebel Sport, trading in their old Steedens for brand spanking new Sherrins. The attraction of seeing Izzy warming the pine failed to drag many people along to Skoda Stadium. And the man himself proved incapable of learning the code, while Karmichael Hunt up north and Mike Pyke across town emerged as genuine Aussie Rules players. Plus, I wonder how his team-mates responded to the highest paid bloke in the dressing room being the back-up ruckman who patently didn’t deserve his spot in the 22.