It’s a strange world in which we live, isn’t it?

For the past however long, we’ve all preached mental health-this and mental health-that, but as soon as there is a pic of a former player/coach on social media, dressed as a woman, we’re sharing it like it’s a race to see who can be the first to tell his mates about it.

Yep, we’re all real concerned with mental health… right up until there’s some salacious gossip to spread.

Anyway, given the majority of what we seem to read about current events in footy seems to fall into the category of bad news, I thought I’d steer clear of Players’ Association rejecting hubs, the very idea of hubs themselves, and players breaking social-distancing rules, both in WA and reportedly in Victoria as well (stay tuned). Then there’s the lack of footy and the influence of alcohol on the minds of young men making mistakes in their cars.

Instead, I might focus on some of the positives.

How’s that for something different?

 

As I drank my morning coffee (the first of a couple of morning coffees, if I’m being honest), I perused Twitter to see what was going on and what wasn’t, and one story made me smile – the Western Bulldogs have summoned their players back from interstate as the mini pre-season beckons.

Do you know what that means?

It means footy is not that far away, people. That means there’s hope. There is a big chance of the season recommencing relatively soon, and as the cold weather really starts kicking in, it cannot come soon enough.

With that in mind, I started wondering about how we will emerge from this enforced delay of the season, and both who will benefit, and what I am looking forward to most. I’m an optimistic person – there is plenty to look forward to, crowds or no crowds.

 

FREMANTLE FOOTY CLUB WITH HEALTHY PLAYERS

Remember right before the season started and Freo’s list looked like someone had taken to it with a machine gun? There were holes everywhere!

Jesse Hogan was dealing with some issues, Alex Pearce was still out, new recruit Blake Acres had a badly torn hamstring, David Mundy was recovering from a broken leg, Joel Hamling was huddling around on a bung ankle and Nathan Wilson was sitting out.

Well, if there was one team who this break in the season has actually benefitted, it’s the Dockers. They’re gonna get all these blokes back in time for Round Two, which casts a very different light on the Fremantle season.

I wouldn’t have blamed Freo supporters for throwing their hands in the air and giving up on 2020 after seeing that injury list in Round One, but now… I get the feeling they’re feeling a little more positive about their prospects.

I particularly look forward to seeing a defence with Pearce, Hamling and Luke Ryan all up and running – it has been a rarity to have all three on the park simultaneously, and that trio has the capacity to establish itself as one of the best defensive set-ups in the game. With Brennan Cox also available to drift across half back, Fremantle’s defence could be the key to them jumping out of the gate and making a few people sit up and take notice.

Now, they’ve just got to get them to Round Two in a healthy state…

Others looking at resuming after Round One injuries include Charlie Dixon at Port and Jack Ziebell at North. If there was ever a good time to pick up an injury, Round One was it, apparently.

 

NO MORE REPLAYED GAMES

Look, I love the classic games. I love breaking them down and becoming a master coach with the benefit of hindsight, but there is only so much I can take. I crave the unknown – a game where the result is in the balance and those are the contests that hold my attention.

Yes, I love the exploits of Hird, Ablett Snr, Plugger and Judd, but live footy – current footy is what I am all about.

Those cold Friday nights, finishing up at work and jumping into the car to head home… warmed by the knowledge I was going home to watch Friday Night Footy… that made it all bearable. Oh, and seeing my family, of course – they sometimes read this!

The cold weather has a habit of bringing people down, but the footy… that picks people up.

I can’t wait for the AFL to announce a date so I can start my own personal countdown. Bring footy back!

 

THE LITTLE MASTER AND THE CATS

This was supposed to be the last hurrah for Gary Ablett, and possibly the last chance in the near future for the Cats to make good on a premiership-capable list, but the team that recruited for the now looked to be one of the biggest losers had the season fallen over, picking up Josh Jenkins and Jack Steven to replace Tim Kelly.

The renewal of acquaintances in June saves the Cats from looking as though they’d made some poor recruiting choices, but it also gives Ablett that one last shot at the title. And the delay might just work for him.

Ablett looked tired at the conclusion of his 2019 season, and rightly so. He was run into the ground by the Cats and Chris Scott through the season, and those legs looked like they had very little left as September rolled around.

With some intelligent management, we may see one last burst of Ablett brilliance at the tail end of the season in 2020, and who knows how that could end up for the Cats?

Dangerfield has turned 30, Selwood is 31, and Ablett will turn 36 next week. Their time is now, and the time for Ablett to turn it on one more time beckons.

Good management of his games, a rest here and there, and a fit and firing Gary Ablett Junior could be the key to a Geelong flag. And that’s the way you finish up one of the greatest careers in history – not stuck home in quarantine.

 

A FIT AND FIRING BUDDY

On the eve of the season, Buddy was nowhere near it. Recovering from a pre-season injury, Franklin was a fair way off and with his body not cooperating with him at all, visions of 1000 goals were starting to fade.

But after a couple of months to recover, could this be the panacea for what ails Lance Franklin? And does he have enough in the tank to bolt out of the gates and make 1000 goals a very big reality again this season?

The comings and goings of Buddy Franklin have been on the down-low during this break, and that’d be thanks to the arrival of a package in the form of a little girl early in March.

If Buddy has put in a bit of work in private, other than changing bums and being woken up every few hours to the dulcet tones of a crying baby, we could see the biggest star of the last 20 years re-emerge as the dominant forward he simply could not be in 2019.

The dream scenario – Buddy bags six or seven in the first game back, and the countdown to 1000 begins.

 

MEMBERS – The Top 20 Mids Of The 2000s

 

THE CHARLIE CURNOW SAGA

Well, not looking forward to this… but I do find it interesting.

So, that is three knee injuries in the past six months that DID NOT occur whilst playing footy.

It may be a little morbid, but I am eager to see if there are any other ways Charlie Curnow can injure himself while not playing footy. So far, he’s hurt it playing basketball, then slipping over on the tiles at home, and finally, he injured it doing weights.

Of course, there were stress-related complications to the surgery he had on the knee after the weights-incident, and that has now ended his 2020. As if there could be any other outcome to his 2020 season, right? The bloke could fall into a pool of nipples and emerge from it sucking his thumb – that’s how much bad luck he is having.

But I reckon the Blues should rush him out there on one leg, anyway once the season recommences. I mean, it seems it’s when he is not playing footy that Curnow seems most likely to hurt himself.

Seriously though, Curnow remains one of the most exciting prospects in the game, but Carlton supporters must be very wary of the frequency of his injuries. Curnow has the potential to be a star, but with 2020 now in the can, I’d be getting increasingly worried that he may end up being one of those players we look back at and wonder what could have been…

 

THE DEBUT OF IZAK RANKINE

Righto, does this bloke even exist? Is he a real person, or is he just make believe, like the Ministry of Magic thought Voldemort was at one stage?

I’ve been excited to see what he can produce since Round One last season, but after several injuries, the Suns put him in cotton wool for the remainder of 2019 and looked to 2020 to unleash him.

With Matt Rowell, Noah Anderson and damn Sam Flanders added to the mix, the debut of Rankine in Round One was something for Suns supporters to look forward to. And then he had a hamstring issue and missed the only game of the year to date.

Far out…

Look, I’m not saying I have money on him to win the Rising Star award or anything, but when a player comes with this much promise and we never get to see what he can deliver, I’m beginning to think I may have wasted a fifty on that bet. Had I made it… which if Mrs Mongrel reads this, I didn’t.

I want to see this kid get a clean run at it, and I want to see just what he is capable of, and what the Suns can look forward to for a few years. Oh, and the Suns will also get Alex sexton back after doing his hammy in Round One. How’s that for good luck!

 

THE BUMP LIVES ON

It was a clash that made old-timers smile.

As Jack Viney collected the footy in the relatively safe space known as an AFL field these days, he was caught unaware by an approaching freight train.

That train was named Sydney Stack.

He ran into Jack Viney with the kind of force rarely seen in the modern game and left the then-Demons skipper on his backside, wondering what hit him.

It was the kind of action that could have gone really wrong, but went oh-so right, and in the process, endeared Stack to lovers of physical footy, Richmond fans or not.

Is it silly of me to think that players like Stack can usher in a physical renaissance in the AFL? Can players like Stack bring back the bump that the AFL has tried to bury for the last however-many years?

I damn sure hope so, and I am very eager to see what Stack and others like him can produce this season. The bump was on life support early in 2019, but Sydney Stack breathed some life back into it. Let’s nurse it back to health and ensure this aspect of our great game is retained.

Thanks, Sydney – a few more in 2020, please.

 

THE NEXT STEP

I’m focusing on Brisbane here, because they are the team that HAS TO take the next step in 2020. I know they took a huge one in 2019, making the finals and surprising plenty, but in losing Hodge, they lose a genuine leader, and it will be up to a few young blokes to stand up and become the players they’ve threatened to be.

Eric Hipwood needs to be more like a marking beast and less like a baby giraffe. Cam Rayner… the time to ride the coattails of teammates is over – time to take control of games, yourself. And Dan McStay – clunk marks and kick goals. No more of this bobbing up, marking 30 metres out and shanking it – your team needs you.

The Brisbane Lions can really go either way once the season resumes. With Lachie Neale vying for the title of best inside mid in the game, will their young players take the step necessary to ensure the team does as well?

The Lions are the most intriguing of all stories in this season, and their destiny is in their own hands. The organic improvement of those players in the forward line is vital to their success. Don’t leave it all up to Charlie Cameron – he will eventually run into Dylan Grimes, and he’ll need some help.

 

REDEEM TEAM

There has been a bit of history around teams that get whacked in Grand Finals, hasn’t there? It seems as though they can quite easily wander off into the sunset and not be heard of for a while. Adelaide is the most recent case of a team falling apart after a Grand Final belting, and after last season’s anaemic performance in the Grand Final, many will be watching to see how the Giants respond this season.

If Round One was any indication, they seem to be up for the fight, knocking over Geelong in impressive fashion.

But they’ll be tested this season, and will have to dig deep to ensure those horrible memories of Tigers mauling them don’t haunt them in their 2020 campaign at any stage.

Do they have the resolve to bounce back and redeem themselves?

They’ve got class all over the park. With Tim Taranto expected to be out for a while longer, the Giants are spoiled for choice in regard to a replacement. Cal Ward should be right to go – how’s that for a great pseudo-recruit? Jackson Hately looks like he is ready for the big time, Zach Williams showed what he was capable of in the middle last season, and the continued improvement of Jacob Hopper to combine with Coniglio, Kelly, Whitfield and Greene means that the team is brimming with top-tier talent.

Can they put it all together and deliver the Giants that which they’ve been threatening to take for years?

Oh, and I’m also looking forward to seeing Toby Greene starting to be recognised as the immensely talented superstar of the game that he is. We saw a bit of it in Round One – a whole season of Greene playing at his peak is overdue, and it will be the sort of thing that both infuriates and delights supporters of all teams.

 

THE CHANCE AT HISTORY

Two flags in the past three seasons – the threat of 2020 being cancelled hurt no team more than Richmond. Had we got no season away, this was a team operating at their peak that was going to lose the opportunity to thrust themselves into the picture as one of the greatest of the modern era.

I’m sure Tiger fans will tell you they’re already in the frame, but for me, they are still one flag away.

With the 2020 season now back on, the opportunity for Tiger immortality beckons once again, and if this team is as tenacious and driven as we’ve seen in recent seasons, they will be joining Hawthorn, Geelong and Brisbane in the conversation as to who the best really is.

Can they pull it off? In a compromised season, anything is possible, but with the young talent like Bolton, Rioli, Higgins (welcome back, Jack!) and Baker emerging, and a no-nonsense leader in the midfield like Dion Prestia (I still think he is underrated by all except Richmond supporters), a genuine Tiger dynasty is on the cards.

Are you ready for more yellow and black celebrations?

I’m certainly not. Which leads me to…

 

THE GRAND FINAL I WANT TO SEE

I think we’ll be seeing the Tigers in the Grand Final this season. There is a belief about them, but after last year’s debacle, what I want most is a worthy contender.

And the team I want to see stand across from them as the national anthem plays is the West Coast Eagles.

Remember their game last season? At the MCG, with the Eagles jumping the Tigers early and Richmond clawing their way back? It was an absolute ripper – a game worthy of a Grand Final. The teams with the previous three premierships squaring off against each other in the final game of the year…

Dusty v Yeo

Grimes v Darling

Prestia v Shuey

McGovern v Lynch (maybe)

It has all the makings of a classic, and other than my Hawks winning the flag (I hope for the best but expect the worst), a Tigers v Eagles finale is like porn for a genuine footy fan.

Precision v Pressure

Finesse v Manic attack

Structure v Chaos

It has the makings of a classic, and if given the choice, it’s what I want to see.

 

THE RECRUITS

We saw glimpses in Round One, but we’re hungry for more.

Tim Kelly in blue and gold, making life a lot easier for Andrew Gaff.

Dougal Howard (my man for recruit of the year) stalking defensive 50 for the Saints while Brad Hill grabs the footy and powers down the wing.

Hugh Greenwood hustling and bustling his way through the Gold Coast midfield.

The two athletic beasts in Langdon and Tomlinson pounding down the wings at Melbourne.

After an off-season that seemed to stretch forever, the hopes of supporters everywhere were buoyed by new additions to their teams.

What will Eddie Betts conjure at Carlton? Can Jon Patton provide the answer to the Roughead-less Hawks? And will Josh Jenkins prove his critics wrong in the hoops?

 

There are so many stories to unfold this season, and with players now returning to their clubs, announcements cannot be far away.

I know it’s not the same. I know having no fans in attendance will upset some people. I know there will be critics (I do not like the shortened quarters at all), but you know what?

Footy is back on the radar. A return date will be announced very soon.

And then the elation, the heartbreak, the heart-in-mouth moments and the brilliance of AFL footy will be back in our lives.

Bring it on.

 

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