Exploring AFL Ciphers

Enigma machines not required

In Episode 7 of the Useless AFL Stats Podcast, the team were joined by Peter from The Crowject Podcast. This resulted in a lot of South-Australian based banter, with Peter (an Adelaide supporter) and stats guru Liam (a Port supporter) trading barbs throughout the episode.

Their conversation inevitably turned to the 2007 Grand Final, where Port Adelaide lost to Geelong by 119 points. Peter came to the episode prepared with a question for Liam, asking if there had been any players whose name added up to 119 when applying an A1Z26 cipher, a very simple letter-to-number substitution (where A = 1, B = 2, and so on, with Z = 26). I’ll refer to this as the ‘cipher value’ for the remainder of the post.

There have been 182 players with a cipher value of 119 over the years, including Gary Ayers, Leigh Tudor, Brodie Holland, and Brenan Fevola. There has only been one player with a cipher value of 119 who played for Port Adelaide – Matt White. However, White played for Richmond from 2006 to 2013, so one could argue that this one doesn’t really count. And while there have been fourteen players with a cipher value of 119 who have played for Geelong, none of them played in the 2007 Grand Final.

This begs the question – what about occasions where the cipher value overlapped with the actual game being played?

There have been 460 occasions where a player’s cipher value was equal to the final margin. This first occurred in Round 1, 1898, when Alf Wood featured in Melbourne’s 76-point win over St Kilda, and last occurred in Round 23, 2023, when Jayden Laverde played in Essendon’s 126-point loss to Greater Western Sydney.

To make things relevant for September, there have been 14 occasions where a player’s cipher value has equalled the margin in a final, but only three of these have been in a Grand Final:

  • Bob Hay in 1942 (53 points)
  • Shane Heard in 1983 (83 points), and
  • Josh Caddy in 2019 (89 points)

Interestingly, Josh Caddy is the only one of these three players who won their Grand Final.

September aside, the smallest cipher value equalling a final margin is 44, for Adam Saad in Essendon’s 44-point win over the Gold Coast in Round 17, 2018. Conversely, the largest cipher value equalling a final margin is Oliver Florent’s 171, in Sydney’s demolition of West Coast in Round 15, 2023.

The player with the most cipher value equals margin games is David Bain, with four games where the final margin was 66 points. These games occurred between 1990 and 1994, with one win and three losses.

The record for the most players with a cipher value equal to the final margin in a single game is three, which has occurred on six occasions. Only one of the six games had all three players on the same team.

Table: Games where three players had a cipher value equal to the final margin

Game Teams Players Value
R12 1912 MEL v SYD Joe Pearce, Les Charge, Jack Scobie 78
R1 1958 FITZ v NM Owen Abrahams, Keith Wiegard, Fred MacQuire 120
R16 1987 COLL v HAW Gavin Brown, Tony Shaw, John Kennedy 125
R15 1989 ESS v WCE Paul Hamilton, Gary O’Donnell, Paul Vander Haar 142
R15 2009 ADEL v FRE Andrew McLeod, Paul Duffield, David Mundy 117
R11 2014 SYD v GEE Mitch Duncan, Nick Malceski, Rhyce Shaw 110

Note: Bold text indicates player was in winning team.

The accuracy of this stat is limited based on what data are freely/easily available and/or accessible. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you spot any errors in what I have presented. As always, apologies to anyone who has already looked at this stat.