Video network fast forwards the Sydney Swans

The Sydney Swans haven't only overpowered Port Adelaide, the club also has more charge than the rest of the competition with what the Swans claim is the AFL's first digital video network.

Many of today's football clubs use video analysis to study player and team performance. However, the number of playing and coaching staff vying for access to computers and videos often means patience is required.

Powered by an Apple G4 server at their Sydney Cricket Ground headquarters, the Swans’ video network allows several Swans coaches to simultaneously watch a game on their monitors, each from their own office.

Swans football IT manager Anthony Cahill has every Swans match for the last few years on VHS, which, using the rack of eight VCRs in his office, can be accessed on coaches' monitors via a command integration system. DVD players and DVDs are also used. For quick reference, every Swans game from this season and last is stored on the server, for playback on the club's Apple PowerBooks.

The Swans spend about 10 hours on video analysis every competition week, so demand on the network can be heavy.

"I think we're the first club with this network in place," said Cahill. A former computer studies teacher with an Aussie Rules background, Cahill has worked in the Swans IT department for four years.

"The network has helped the management [of video analysis]. I can grab a laptop, go to any office and I can access any game," he said.

The Swans use five computers, said Cahill, including an iMac on the desk of coach Paul Roos, as well as a couple of PowerBook laptops.

The computers use sports analysis software called SportsCode for video analysis. It allows the user to log game events on a match timeline and then, by requesting a type of game event -- say, handballs -- watch the video of those game events.

"We take our footage from the broadcaster, that's the main restriction to our analysis," said Cahill.

The logging, or coding as it is termed by the SportsCode software, is done while the match is in progress.

"On game day, one assistant will call the game [events], and the other will code simultaneously. We can code all sorts of things, [such as] how often Adam Goodes takes a mark inside 50," said Cahill.

Other events recorded by the Swans include goals, bounces, kicks, marks, handballs, spoils, and smothers.

The two main buttons used in coding are the code button, for inserting the event into the timeline, and the descriptor button, for describing the event.

"On Monday the coaches and I will go into what's sort of a lecture theatre here and watch the video," said Cahill. "The coaches will do their edits so they can look at centre bounces, etc., we look at each player...

"We can also take parts of footage and export them to a database. I can take three minutes from one video and two minutes from another and export them [for future reference].”

SportsCode can generate a table in Excel which shows the number of times an event occurred in a player's timeline.

This analysis is also done on the opposition. However, the Swans IT staff don't have to code this themselves. The AFL's official supplier of statistics, Champion Data, provides an XML file of statistics, logged according to time, which can be imported into the Swans system.

The benefits of video analysis have affected many areas of team strategy, Cahill said.

"Video analysis is used to set up the game plan, to reinforce team rules, so many things," he said.

The drawback is storage requirements. The average AFL match requires 27GB of storage, said Cahill. While every match stored on the server is compressed to 4GB using MPEG4 format, more storage space is a frequent requirement.

Since the acquisition of the three 80GB-drive server, Cahill has added an external 400GB drive and a couple of 60GB pocket drives for carrying single games (the Swans' PowerBooks have 30GB capacity). Some games will be transferred to DVD in the off-season.

Cahill also plans to acquire an Apple Xserve RAID server, which will provide more storage and allow more players and staff to connect to the network.

Capacity isn't the only planned improvement. Next year, Cahill's staff aim to provide analysis while the match is in progress. Upgrading to 1GHz PowerBooks should provide the processing power required, according to Cahill.

"We'd like to be able to produce a timeline while the game's going, and someone else on the network could access what's being recorded.

"It's better to find out what you’re doing wrong at halftime rather than the Monday after the game."

Cahill and company’s next outing will be to Sydney’s Telstra Stadium on September 20 for the Swans preliminary final.

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