1. The Saints are just making up the numbers

There was plenty to get excited about midway through the season when St Kilda found themselves in 2nd position on the ladder with seven wins from ten games. This was also two weeks after they humbled ladder leader Port Adelaide at their home ground. The story since then has been one of a side that is only stumbling its way into a spot in the finals. In their last six games, they’ve won just two games against struggling teams in Essendon and Hawthorn.

This week, against an undermanned Eagles, after holding an eight-point lead early in the final term, all they could do was look on as West Coast booted four unanswered goals to run out eventual winners by 15 points despite losing McGovern to a hamstring injury. This week they face GWS who are in a similar boat as far as limping into the finals. Because the Saints have a superior percentage, they could actually lose this game and still remain in the eight. If they do make the eight, I don’t see them getting past the first week, but I guess they could recapture their early season form and surprise me. West Coast looked gone after the Saints kicked the first three goals of the last quarter and seemingly had all the momentum. But, to their credit, they clawed their way back with the last four goals of the game in what was an impressive display of determination to contend for a Top 4 spot.

There was always going to be a little bit of an adjustment period for Tim Kelly when moving to a new club, but it’s fair to say he’s back to his best and was instrumental in getting his side over the line. Despite their heroics on Thursday night, however, it seems they are destined to finish in 5th position as they are well down on percentage.

Geelong should win against the Swans next game, and the Tigers will be doing everything to ensure they put a stop to Adelaide’s resurgence next week and take the points, thus blocking the Eagles out of the double-chance. Every cloud has a silver lining. That would most likely mean a home final and a week away from the dreaded Queensland curse. I know they beat the Saints in the end, but four wins from nine outings up north still tells me it’s not their first choice to play there.

 

  1. Friday night footy was a bit of a letdown.

The prospect of the Tigers and the Cats playing off this week loomed as match of the round and AFL fans were all salivating at the idea of these two giants of the competition facing off on the eve of the finals. So when the ¾ time score line read Richmond 5.13 to Geelong 1.5, most of us were scratching our heads wondering how a side like Geelong could only manage one goal in three quarters of football. No doubt the Tigers defence were superb, but we are talking about the highest scoring team in the competition. Geelong did score the first three goals of the final term and could’ve got a fourth if not for a wayward shot by the usually reliable Hawkins. As soon as that happened, as is often the case with missed opportunities in football, Richmond quickly scored to all but snuff out any small chance the Cats had to snatch an unlikely victory despite their inability to score for so much of the night.

Richmond lost Tom Lynch to a hamstring injury, but that only seemed to open up the door for Jack Riewoldt in a dominant display with four goals. Lynch will possibly miss the first two weeks of the finals, but if Riewoldt continues in this way, the loss may be covered. Another concern was ruckman Soldo with a knee. This will probably result in a recall to Mabior Chol who has shown great form at times and is a further demonstration of the depth of the Tigers’ list.

They have to negotiate a resurgent Adelaide outfit to secure 3rd spot on the ladder, but the Tigers are far too professional to blow this chance and I expect them to win comfortably. It’s getting to the business end of the year now, and already there are signs that Dusty will have a big say in what transpires in the finals. The Tigers are a definite threat.

 

  1. David Mundy should definitely play on next year

There seems to be a nice balance of youth and experience at the Dockers. I’ve spoken already in past weeks about the emergence of Brayshaw, Schultz and first year player Serong. We all know Fyfe and Walters are stars. People talk about the durability of Shaun Burgoyne, but it seems that David Mundy, at the ripe old age of 35, doesn’t get the same recognition for longevity. His form has never wavered, and this week was no exception as he was adjudged best on ground by many football scribes. If there were any thoughts of him being asked by the club to hang up the boots, his recent form would end that discussion. I look forward to seeing him running around in 2021, and the Dockers under Longmuir could be a dangerous team. I’m sure they’d be wishing the season had five games to go.

The Roos look spent. They haven’t given a yelp for weeks now, and were it not for the early poor form of the Crows resulting in a very poor percentage, North Melbourne would probably be in their rightful spot last on the ladder as they’re clearly the worst team going around right now. They’ve lost their last seven games in a row by an average of 41 points and they might increase that average against the Eagles next week one would think. The club is in a world of pain and it’s hard to see them fixing this with just one pre-season trading period. The end of 2020 can’t come soon for most of us, but I’d say in the AFL world, North Melbourne will want to close the book on this year as soon as possible.

 

  1. Why are Port Adelaide still fourth favourite to win the flag?

You can’t do much more than be on top of the ladder all year. And yet the Power still come in with most betting agencies behind Richmond, Geelong and Brisbane. The question is why? They’ve shown they can match it with other top teams. That game against Richmond was played like a final, and they prevailed. They’ve had a few games where they weren’t at their best, but if they get home against Collingwood next week, they will achieve the rare feat of being in the top spot for the entire home and away season. More importantly, they have the team that can go all the way. They have a strong defence, great midfield with Boak and Wines in brilliant form, and a functioning forward line. There are no glaring deficiencies.

I’m not sure why the punters still don’t trust them, but I personally think $7.00 on the Power to win the premiership is overs. I could well be wrong, but time will tell. Having a home final first up won’t hurt their chances either. The Bombers will be doing some deep reflection in the off-season. Maybe a fit Joe Daniher from the start of 2021 will help them improve. But these last three weeks have been a nightmare. They’ve averaged just 39 points and have been beaten by an average of 44 points. Things seemed promising early in this game as the Bombers led at quarter-time for the first time since Round 2, but that’s where the positives ended.

One positive for the Bombers in 2020 has been the emergence of Ridley as a topline intercept marking defender. He was one of Essendon’s best again on the weekend, but that’s only one of few positives. Perhaps a good rest followed by a strong pre-season where the Bombers can hopefully emerge with a healthier list than their injury-riddled season has provided may see them contend for finals again, but they seem a long way off that right now.

 

  1. The Dees still have a pulse

So, here’s what needs to happen next round for Melbourne to find a spot in the eight: Obviously they need to beat Essendon first and foremost, and perhaps if they gain the ascendancy early, they can push hard for a big win to help their cause in order to bridge the gap with St Kilda’s stronger percentage. Fremantle beating the Bulldogs in that instance will gain them entry into the eight unless GWS have a 60-point win over the Saints which is highly unlikely. So if Melbourne win, it’ll be a nervous 24 hours waiting for the result of that game which kicks off at 6:10 Sunday night.

Steven May staked his claims for All Australian honours once more nullifying Jeremy Cameron who will probably need to do a bit of soul-searching in the off-season. Petracca was also brilliant with an amazing 19 contested possessions.

We’ve said plenty about the Giants. A win against the Saints in the final round may not be enough. They’d need Freo to topple the Bulldogs as well as Essendon defeating Melbourne, or they can come out and blow St Kilda out of the park and win by 60+ points which could possibly even see the Saints finish in 9th place. Toby Greene and Josh Kelly were very good once again. With the fortunes of GWS sliding somewhat, one can only wonder where Josh Kelly will finish his career. My feeling is that a move to another club would see him flourish in the same manner Lachie Neale has done at Brisbane.

 

  1. Blues show up late for work again

In what was pretty much a repeat performance of last week’s slow start where the Swans kicked the first seven goals of the game, at quarter time the Crows enjoyed a 31 point lead over Carlton which stretched to 44 points at the main break. As is customary with Carlton, they were far better in the second half, but this time they couldn’t bridge the gap and eventually went down by 16 points. In the first half, they were deplorable. In the first ten minutes of the game their kicking efficiency was at 26% and the Crows ran and spread while the Blues looked on dumbfounded. After half time, Harry McKay booted four out of the seven Carlton goals for the half to just two for the Crows. One can only imagine the coaching staff scratching their heads as to how a side can be so bad and yet so good in the one game as has been a pattern for the Blues for most of the year. There’s a lot to work on in the pre-season to address that, as well as bringing in a tough mid to help Cripps out. We’ve been saying that every year now. Will this be the year it actually happens? And one can’t help but wonder where to from here with Mitch McGovern. It’s fair to say that he hasn’t delivered, and he’s on some serious money. That contract ends this year. How does the club handle that issue?

The Crows, particularly in the first half were terrific. The ball movement was quick and the Carlton defence were powerless to stop their forwards getting their hands on the ball. In just his fifth game for the club, Lachlan Sholl was one of their best with 24 possessions and was really prominent early. Matt Crouch was damaging and the Adelaide team seem better when both are out there. Perhaps talk of one of them exiting the club at season’s end may be off the radar now as the team has found some form and have shown some promise moving forward. It’s a shame they come up against the Tigers next week who have so much to play for.

The Crows are certainly no longer the worst team in the competition and clearly don’t want the wooden spoon. It makes for a refreshing change to see a side not playing for the number 1 draft pick. And in a show of class after the game, I thought it was a nice gesture for Kade Simpson and Marc Murphy to carry off their former team-mate in Bryce Gibbs who played his last game. Special mention also to Kade Simpson who announced his retirement on Monday. A loyal Blue servant who gave his all during a very dark era at Carlton and has definitely got the best out of his ability. He plays his 341st and final game this Saturday against the Lions. A great career and a player that Blues fans will greatly miss.

 

  1. The Dogs are not quite home yet.

The Doggies do appear in the box seat to play finals, however, next week they travel up to Cairns to play a rampaging Dockers in conditions that could be anything from a hot and humid evening to a tropical storm. This is by no means a fait accompli, and I’m sure Luke Beveridge is more than aware. The simple equation is if they win, they’re home and will possibly finish as high as 6th although there is no benefit of a home final so to speak. A loss to the Dockers and a win to the Demons and possibly GWS will see them slip out of finals action.

One of the Bulldogs’ best was diminutive defender Caleb Daniel. At 168cm and just 72kg’s, he was overlooked by many due to his short stature, but luckily the Bulldogs saw his talent and took the chance on him, and boy has it paid dividends. He’s now played 104 games since being drafted in 2014, and his ball use is as good as anyone at the club. It’s a lesson for other clubs to consider as they all seem obsessed with drafting 180+cm athletes who can run but lack the polish that Daniel has. He will no doubt be a member of the 200-game club and more.

The Hawks see the retirements this week of Ben Stratton and Paul Puopolo. These two have enjoyed great success at Hawthorn and can hold their heads up high. It may signal the beginning of a revamp of their list which is much needed at this time. Clarkson may need to revert back to his early days at the Hawks when he put together the team he wanted and the rest is history. But one wonders if he still has the energy or the fire within to start again from a fair way back. Time will tell, but I get the feeling he won’t want to finish his tenure on a low note. That said, if he doesn’t want to be a part of a new direction at Hawthorn, I can think of a few clubs that would throw the cheque book at him who may be a few years further down the track than Hawthorn.

 

  1. Brisbane’s lead-in to the finals is in cruise control

It’s just a bit of luck that Brisbane’s last three home and away games are against sides that are out of finals contention, and it’s now even better that a Top 2 spot is secured. These last two weeks have provided fairly easy wins, although the Swans took some shaking off before a final quarter blitz gave the Lions a comfortable 32-point win.

Their last round will be against a demoralised Carlton who would have the wind knocked out of their sails wondering what could’ve been in 2020. So you’d think the Lions should easily account for them, although, with second place all but secured, will we see a Lions team with key players rested on the eve of the finals despite the upcoming bye? The game against the Swans was one of the rare ones in which Lachie Neale didn’t poll a vote. Youngster Ryan Clarke was given the tagging job, and managed to keep him down to just 15 possessions.

The Swans have played out the season in solid fashion and will go into next season having unearthed a few young talented players. The news that Papley is staying on is a testament to the club and its ability to retain quality players. The Swans have struggled for most of the year without really being terrible. The real question for me is whether or not they can get Buddy back. If so, that will dramatically improve their prospects for 2021, but it does seem that the long-term contract to get him to the Swans was ambitious.

 

  1. Mason Cox has saved his AFL career

You have to hand it to this guy. I thought we’d seen the last of the big Texan, but he’s actually been serviceable the last few weeks and has bobbed up with nine goals in his five games since regaining his spot in Round 13. He looks like he’s loving his football again and would be a certainty to play on again despite being in the wilderness for much of 2020. And it’s a good thing, too, because chances are he wouldn’t be able to go anywhere while Victoria remains in lockdown!

Collingwood took a while to shake-off the Suns who are a vastly improved side. De Goey hasn’t missed a beat after several weeks on the sidelines which will please the fans no end. The Pies take on the Power who really don’t need to win it must be said. They’re guaranteed a home final regardless of the result, unless keeping the top spot matters to them. Gold Coast had their chances. Nick Holman did a “Riewoldt” in the last quarter with a certain goal from the goalsquare being foiled due to his lack of awareness. A goal there would’ve put the Suns in front with momentum in the final term, but instead the ball came out and resulted in the second of Mason Cox’s two goals. I’m sure he’d love that moment again, and one wonders how that may have impacted the result. Once again the Suns were in contention and just couldn’t get the job done, but they’re very rarely getting beaten heavily as they have been in recent years. Who knows? Maybe this time next year they’ll be contending for finals while the other expansion club may be headed the other way and we’ll be suggesting the Western Sydney experiment is a failed venture in what will be a bit of a role-reversal to some.

 

  1. Low scoring games are not enjoyable

I was so pumped on Friday night for the Tigers and Cats clash. I envisioned two of the best teams in the competition slugging it out for a Top 4 spot. With Tom Hawkins at one end, and Tom Lynch alongside Jack Riewoldt at the other, once could’ve expected a game in which there’d be numerous goals kicked. Fast forward to ¾ time, and the aggregate score between the two sides was just 54 points, and only six goals had been kicked. I spent more time during the game watching TikTok videos than watching the actual game! I hate to say it, but I was bored. It got me thinking. Is 2020 really a worse standard of football than previous years? I certainly felt that scoring must be lower, so I undertook a study of the scoring in 2019 up against this season, and I factored in the shorter quarters.

Here’s what I found:

2020 – the number of games where the aggregate score was below 100: 26 or 17%

2019 – the number of games where the aggregate score was below 100: 2 or 1%

I then considered the fact that quarters have been shortened by 20% and tallied up the number of games in 2019 where the aggregate was 120 or less. There was still only ten or just 5%. This is not a good thing. Most low scoring games are usually hard to watch as there is no flow, and it’s a more disjointed style of football with an abundance of unattractive stoppages more akin to a game of rugby. I don’t know how the AFL can address this issue, as I’m also of the belief that tinkering with the rules over the last two decades is part of the reason why we’re here, as well as a higher number of interchanges and more intricate coaching styles that seem heavily based around defence. The one thing that can be done is to reduce the number of interchanges allowed to around 40 per game. I’m getting sick of seeing players run to the boundary after kicking a goal as well. That’s just my two cents anyway

 

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