Brandon Walker and Josh Treacy celebrate a goal during Fremantle's clash against Richmond in round eight, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

THE ONCE-FEARED five-day break is becoming a reality in the AFL, but clubs have won more games on the short turnaround than they have lost this season as they learn to plan weeks in advance and embrace the challenge. 

Fremantle will on Friday night be the 11th team this year to enter a match with a five-day break after the League was granted flexibility to schedule up to three per club in 2024 under the players' most recent collective bargaining agreement. 

Of the previous 10 teams to tackle the short break – including Melbourne in its blockbuster clash against Carlton last night – five have won, four have lost, and Collingwood got out with a draw on Anzac Day. 

Tonight, Fremantle will be attempting to win with the added complication of a return travel leg across the country thrown into its schedule, but football manager Joe Brierty said the Dockers had been invigorated by the challenge and found a way to make their first five-day break for the season work. 

Weeks of planning to make sure players were physically prepared and had all the information they needed before a challenging clash against the top-of-the-table Swans had been crucial.

"It's part of the CBA now and it's a requirement with the TV rights deal within our competition and the need for flexibility in the fixture, so our mindset is more how do we make it work best for us," Brierty told AFL.com.au this week. 

Caleb Serong in action during Fremantle's clash against Richmond in round eight, 2024. Picture: Getty Images

"We really strategise leading into these games, so we've been thinking about this five-day break for probably three or four weeks and how we prepare in terms of setting up our program and making sure we can manage player loads and have the best availability possible.

"When you look back at the two six-day breaks that we had back-to-back earlier in the year, we actually requested in our pre-season fixtures to have six-day breaks and we did the same with our intraclub games to ensure that we could understand what the week looked like.

"It's something that we really made a priority in our strategy across the pre-season once we had a good understanding of the fixture."

Teams to win on a five-day break this season include St Kilda (round two), Melbourne (round four), Geelong (round four), Greater Western Sydney (round seven) and Adelaide (round eight). Richmond (round one), St Kilda (round six), Brisbane (round seven), and Melbourne (round nine) have all lost. 

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Of those team's respective games, the round seven clash between the Giants and Lions at Manuka Oval in Canberra was the only one involving two teams on a five-day break. All others were clashes between a team with five days' preparation against an opponent with six. 

The Dockers' schedule this week involved flying out of Melbourne after their 1pm AEST game against Richmond and arriving home by 8.30pm AWST, with Brierty confident the team had been able to fit in everything it normally would on a six-day break. 

"We made sure that the players could get back on WA time as quickly as possible, which is a real focus and priority," he said.

"Then fuelling, recovery on the players' day off on Monday, and making sure that we can provide opportunities for them to get additional treatment or massages is a focal point.

"You spend Tuesday focusing on your review of the Richmond game in the morning, then really shift quickly to Sydney. 

"It condenses the week, but in terms of the information the players receive, and their ability to get load in and recover from the game, it's a similar structure and cadence to a normal week."

Jeremy Sharp celebrates a goal during Fremantle's clash against Richmond in round eight, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

For coaches, the four-hour flight home from Melbourne is an ideal opportunity to get started on the review and coding of the Richmond game, while preparation for an opponent like Sydney off a five-day break may start in the week prior as part of the planning for a short week.  

For the players, having a mature approach to their recovery and preparation is important, with a day off early in the week and then time away from the club closer to game day still incorporated for consistency. 

"We've talked about the maturity and growth in them, and that's not only in terms of their on-field performance but also how they go about their recovery after a game," Brierty said. 

"It's been fantastic the way they jumped into this week and, while shorter, it has felt like a normal week for us. 

"I think all of the detail that we would normally have in a six-day break is there, enabling the players to be prepared.

"Then we still give the players time away from the football program to make sure that they've got their own personal mindset right, are clear on their role within the team, and can attack Friday night with hopefully a really big crowd."

Teams coming off five-day breaks in 2024

Round 1: Richmond (five days) lost to Carlton (six)
Round 2: St Kilda (five) beat Collingwood (six)
Round 4: Melbourne (five) beat Adelaide (six)
Round 4: Geelong (five) beat the Western Bulldogs (six)
Round 6: St Kilda (five) lost to the Western Bulldogs (six)
Round 7: Collingwood (five) drew with Essendon (six)
Round 7: Greater Western Sydney (five) beat Brisbane (five)
Round 8: Adelaide (five) beat Port Adelaide (six)
Round 9: Melbourne (five) lost to Carlton (six)
Round 9: Fremantle v Sydney