Welcome back to football and welcome back to my weekly tipping guide. There is a surreal feeling heading into the season, in fact surreal is probably the word I’d use to explain most of the world at the moment. The debate rages: Should there be no audience or no games at all? I say the former, because some footy is better than no footy and I tend to tune in to watch players play, not audiences audient.

Also, if they want to try and squeeze every game in, knowing that there probably will be delays and disruption, then it’s probably better to get ahead of the game, though I do think it’s a bit redundant forking out tens of thousands of dollars to run massive stadiums when each team could just play at their own training venue.

There was a decent chance we wouldn’t be getting away, but with Pendles given the all clear, there’s no stopping us now – or yet.

Anyway, enough corona-filled rambling, let’s get on with the footy

The first round is always the hardest to predict. Which teams will fall or surprise? Do I use pre-season games as a form guide? No, don’t worry, I’m not that stupid. Will this season throw up any more craziness than it already has? I certainly hope so! As long as it’s the type of craziness where lots of footy gets played and a certain team who is usually terrible decides to stop being so terrible.

 

Thursday

Richmond V Carlton

7.25 MCG

The AFL season will begin with its traditional snooze-fest, Richmond V Carlton. I’m not traditionalist, but of all the traditions, this one remains the worst. It’s always good seeing the experts build Carlton up as the side who’s going to move forward in a big way, just to have them change their tone come three-quarter time.

Interestingly, Marlion Pickett will likely play his second game, with 100,014 fewer spectators, taking his average crowd number from 100,014 to 50,007. If we can’t get spectators in for a full 17 games, that average crowd becomes just 5,883. Who needs Champion Data for irrelevant stats when you have me!

Last season, Carlton enjoyed a new sense of freedom under new coach David Teague. I suspect that that freedom may have been reined in a little bit over the summer, as Teague had time to develop and implement a new strategy and structure. I suspect the Blues will be in the match for a while before Richmond does what Richmond likes to do and run away with a pretty comfortable win.

Tigers by 31.

 

Friday

Western Bulldogs V Collingwood

7.50 Marvel

Will this be year four of the longest premiership hangover in the history of the game (don’t quote me on that) for the Dogs? Or will they turn the tide and begin playing good footy again. Not that they’ve been dreadful, just inconsistent – perhaps a bit over reliant on one Mr. Bontempelli, who is fighting against Dusty for this year’s Brownlow, apparently.

For Collingwood, I sense a bit of do-or-die for Buckley’s charges. They’ve been terrific recently but fallen just short of the mark – or tight 45m kick, as it were.

Many people gave credit to Justin Longmuir as much as Buckley for his role in getting the ‘Pies to the top 4 and one always has to wonder if his departure will affect the team’s performance – or is that giving too much credit to an assistant?  Regardless, as I said before, there’s a do-or-die-ness about this year for the Pies, because if they don’t win it this year, they may not contend for many years to come. Of they could prove me wrong, like the Cats do every year.

Collingwood to get the brownies in this one. But not by much. 12 points.

 

Saturday

Essendon V Fremantle

1.45 Marvel

Like Carlton, Essendon are always pumped up pre-season, but unlike Carlton, it takes a lot longer in the season before we get a reading on their true mediocrity – usually about September.

I’ll make it no secret that I don’t particularly rate Essendon at all (you can thank me later when they prove me wrong). There’s just something about the side that shows so much potential, but they seem to all be individuals – the team stuff just isn’t there. It’s Woosha’s last season as a coach, and I honestly don’t expect a lot.

Fremantle never fills me with confidence. It’s JL’s first hit out as an actual coach, and if pre-season is anything to go by, the Dockers look like they actually have a game plan this year that isn’t just “kick and hope.” The men in Purple have pretty much been written off by the experts, forgetting that they were looking at a pretty decent finals position for most of 2019, so anything is possible.

Both sides have been obliterated by injury to key players, and I think structurally, the Dons just have the advantage here. New sides with new coaches can take a while to gel, and the Dockers losing key players late is not ideal.

Bombers by 19

 

Adelaide V Sydney

4.05 Adelaide Oval

Speaking of teams being written off – the only team that has been discarded so quickly as the Swans is the Crows. Much, yet nothing, has been said about a certain Adelaide training camp, which seems to have doomed the club completely, and this year could be a good chance to rebuild after a long, long list of departures.

The Swans just seem to be a terrible side. Their overreliance on the regularly injured and ageing Franklin has been the content of many a column, and I don’t see that changing soon. Without Franklin, the Swans just don’t have a clear avenue to goal, their midfield isn’t the beast it once was, and Longmire seems to be running out of plan. A good off-season can change much, but can it change the depleted ducks?

This game is likely to cast many aspersions over both teams’ season, but I wouldn’t look too carefully at the result.

Swans by 21.

 

Gold Coast Suns V Port Adelaide

6.25 Metricon

GAME.OF.THE.ROUND. This is must watch footy. The only game anyone seems remotely interested in.

Ok, I’ll stop.

I like the Gold Coast. I want them to succeed and prove everyone wrong and I think this is the year they do it. They won’t make finals, sure, but they will be competitive in most games most of the time, and I think that’s all their fans, and the wider AFL community want from the fledgling club.

South Australia’s version of Fremantle has put a line in the sand for this season. Finals are a must. In fact, if Ken Hinkley is anything to go by, he doesn’t care about finals, he just wants to win the Premiership. How about we put our eggs in a row, there Kenny, perhaps walk before we sprint.

I don’t think finals are on the cards for the Power, in fact in a ladder predictor I did, I had them wooden spooners. I don’t think they will be that bad, but it’s not out of the question. Nothing is, not even a Suns’ win here.

Suns by 21

 

GWS V Geelong

7.25 Giant Stadium

“Teams who get thrashed in Grand finals often don’t do well the next year” I have seen in various levels of vitriol around the usual social media sites. It seems as though the Giants are still going to be crying after their pretty average (to put it nicely) Grand Final appearance. I haven’t checked it myself, but I don’t really buy that kind of stuff. The Giants are still the Ferrari of the comp, and sometimes even they crash into a wall on the last turn.

Geelong, oh Geelong. The most written off almost-successful side in the history of click-bait media (again, don’t quote me). How good was Tim Kelly? I guess will find out this year. Well, not that you’d hedge all of your game plan on one player, but certain cogs are important.

My problem with Geelong is that the good players are good, and the average players are bad; the successful teams like Richmond have good players, but their average players also play a very consistent role to the point where they also replicate good players. Geelong don’t have that as much- neither do GWS for that matter

This game may be long forgotten by Round Two (which will be around June) but the consequence of it may have drastic implications, as both teams will be looking for that top 4 finish.

Geelong will win this one, but not because GWS are still crying, but because Geelong are just the better side – this time of year.

 

Sunday

North V St Kilda

1.10 Marvel

Well this game is at Marvel, and even if it were allowed crowds, you’d think Arden Street would be big enough to fit everyone.

The Saints did a lot of buying in the pre-season, in an effort to move up the ladder, and they bought pretty well. The Roos tried, again, to do a lot of buying and then tried to rip off their best player. When it comes to lists and the valuing of talent, I think I know who’s better. But who will be the better side, and who will win on this day? I honestly don’t care.

Like Essendon and Fremantle, these two middle-tier sides will be pushing for a spot that’s just outside the eight, but close enough to buy a few more memberships next year. Hey – it worked for Richmond!

That might be a bit unfair. I think the Saints have developed and bought in a lot of speed which will suit Marvel’s quick surface very well. If the new side clicks and gets organised early, they’ll run all over the Roos in this game, and get the Victorian media excited for a round or two.

Saints by 35.

 

Hawthorn V Brisbane

3.20 MCG

Will Brisbane fall? It’s the question on everyone’s lips. After a decade of mediocrity, the Lions found their claws last year, and I think everyone wants them to do it again this year. I also think everyone secretly (or not so) is also sick of Hawthorn, and really want them to suck for a decade or so.

I’m quite confident about Brisbane’s ability at home, but I am much less so when they travel. I think in this game, Hawthorn will flex their muscles (or rather their broken-down recruits who cost a dime-a-dozen that have suddenly been turned into muscle machines). I don’t know how Hawthorn do it, but they manage to get players for nothing that other teams would pay massive overs for. How’s the integrity department, Gil?

Anyway, back to rambling about this game.

Brisbane must seek to prove the point that they weren’t a one hit wonder, like the Demons, and many teams before them were. They’re going to want a very good showing in this match, and they need to sell success to their fans, even if that doesn’t result in a win – the performance must be exciting and excellent.

Hawthorn just confuse me. I want to keep writing them off, but at the same time there are two words that co-exist with the club that just makes me not able to: Alastair Clarkson. The word genius is an insult to geniuses, but it’s the best I have. He will find a way to be competitive this year, and he will know a way to win this game. I’m less sold on Brisbane, who themselves rely more on desire than genius.

Hawks by 15

 

West Coast V Melbourne

3.20 Optus

Someone (well, now many people) have posed the question on Social Media “how will the umpires know when to blow the whistle if the Eagles’ fans aren’t there to tell them?” Well I shit you not, there is a FB even hosted by a page named “West Coasts’ Journey” entitled “Standing outside Optus Stadium and booing every 5 seconds.” So, that seems to have solved that specific dilemma.

So, what do we do about Melbourne? Were they a one- hit wonder? Or will they bounce back this year, with a vengeance? Yes and no are the short answers to those questions. Like many middle sides, they rely on far too few, far too often. I am not sold on any structure or plan that they have, and they don’t have the talent to compete with the best.

Unfortunately for the Dees, they start 2020 with a baptism by fire, up against the best midfield I’ve seen in a long time – and it’s not just the in the middle where their opponents excel. The Eagles are pretty handy up forward and down back, too. The Demons get a chance to play an absolute premiership contender here, and much of their season could be previewed by how they fare here. They won’t win, but if they can handle themselves well, you’d think they might be pretty good in the rounds to come.

At least there won’t be a lot of booing – or will there?

 

Eagles by 45.