We watch a lot of Disney in our house. With a four-year-old and a Disney+ subscription, we’re inundated with stories about princesses and magic, stories where the heroes always triumph and tales that see happy endings aplenty.
And not the happy endings you may prefer – more the Disney kind. Sorry to disappoint…
Anyway, it got me to thinking about how, in a perfect world, the season would play out for each team. What would be their fairytale? Their dream? And what would it mean for the club?
Conversely, there are the nightmares. What would be the scenario that would absolutely deflate you in 2021?
Of course, the one that would be a killer for us all is if our country somehow manages to cock up the great work in subduing the virus and we have a cancelled season, but I’ll be looking at each team individually and hoping like hell that doesn’t happen.
The first three teams – Adelaide, Brisbane and Carlton
Luckily, or unluckily depending on your point of view, for supporters of these teams – I am making the first one in this series free. If you’re a supporter of another team and want to see your team’s dreams and nightmares, you’ll have to sign up.
But… I promise to rotate around te free stuff in the future when I do this stuff and not keep it in alphabetical order so Crows, Lions and Blues fans always get a free ride.
You can join The Mongrel here and get on board for the 2021 season early. Or you can just enjoy this article and be done with it. Link for memberships is below – support independent AFL Media.
RORY SLOANE RETURNS TO FORM
2020 was a shocker for the standalone captain.
A broken thumb exacerbated what was perhaps his worst season of football in ten years. Reduced game time notwithstanding, Sloane dropped from 24.59 touches per game in 2019 to just 15.79 in 2020. If you’re looking for a reason the Crows were unable to conjure a win for the majority of the season, the inability of Sloane to do much of anything would be one of the first you’d find.
But does that mean he’s cooked? Or was this just a speedbump on the road he has to travel?
The developing midfield needs some senior players to step up as they grow into what will hopefully be the next incarnation of a powerful Adelaide on-ball division. With Brad Crouch gone, it will be up to Matt Crouch and Rory Sloane to do the grunt work and allow players like Jackson Hately and Chayce Jones the chance to learn their craft and the Matthew Nicks system without too much pressure.
Sloane needs to turn things around and prove he is the leader the club wants and needs in 2021.
TEX OUT WITH A BANG
This will be Tex Walker’s last season with the Crows.
Over the past couple of years, we have seen an increasingly ineffective Walker battle manfully as those around him continue to defer to him, but it is time some others step up and take the heat off the former captain.
There is nothing I’d like more than to see Walker kick a bag of goals to throw it back in the faces of those who have so readily and so consistently sunk the boots in every time something has not gone his way. Hell, I have had writers who have done this, but without being Tex’s fanboy, I have the utmost respect for the role he has played over the past couple of seasons.
He has been the lightning rod for controversy, the man to shoulder the blame when things go wrong, and the last one to get praise when things have gone right.
Over the past two seasons, Tex has kicked 4+ goals on three occasions, all of them coming in 2019. As those around him become more confident and find their way at AFL level, I’d love to see the Texan turn the clock back, even just once, and remind people just how good he was as leader of this team for so long.
He has kicked 6+ goals just four times in his career; a fifth time would be a fitting celebration for a man who has given everything to his club.
You all know that I love the Fog, but some of you may not know… I can be a little impatient at times, too.
Fogarty is a man-child, and at just 21 years old, part of me thinks I might be asking too much from him, too soon. However, he has shown the capacity to be a match-winner and we need to see more of this in 2021.
More than just playing good football, Fogarty has the potential to be a game-changer with the way he goes about it. He doesn’t think twice about sitting an opponent on his arse if the opportunity presents and, whilst many will take a pass on giving someone credit for using physicality to influence a game, I am all for it. I want to see Fogarty walk a fine line between what is acceptable and what is against the rules. I want to see him take the game on and take a few bodies out in contests. I want to see him hurt some people with tackles, bumps and physical football. No punches. No high hits – just good, old-fashioned hard footy.
He has threatened for a couple of seasons now, and it could finally be time for The Fog to roll over Adelaide and start putting the fear of god into anyone who drops into the hole in front of him on the lead.
HATELY STEPS UP IMMEDIATELY
Jackson Hately struggled to keep a regular spot in the stacked GWS midfield in recent years. Playing behind Coniglio, Kelly, Whitfield, Taranto, Hopper, Ward and even Toby Greene at times, Hately played well when he was included, but saw the writing on the wall.
With Tom Green and Lachie Ash also coming through the ranks, it was time for him to head home and start building a career in Adelaide.
With career numbers of just under 15 touches per game, I would expect Hately, at the very worst, to increase that number significantly. 20-22 touches per game is not beyond the realms of possibility for the gifted 20-year-old, however as tempting as it is to want him to jump out of the box, we must be careful not to inflate our expectations of him. He is still a kid in many respects, albeit a kid with experience in a very good midfield.
It will be interesting to watch how he lines up in the AAMI cup, starting in around five or so weeks. How will he team with Crouch and Sloane? Does he have it in him to make an immediate impact? And how much can that impact power the Adelaide engine room?
Hately is viewed by many as a ready-made replacement for Brad Crouch, but the former Crow has two of his past three seasons sitting around the 28-30 touches per game mark – it is a little unfair to expect anywhere near the same from Hately.
Does he surprise a few? Can he hit 25 touches per game? And can he start making a difference to a Crows midfield that needs a young gun to step up?
ANOTHER LOSING STREAK
It took until Round 15 for the Crows to notch their first win of the 2020 season and at that point, there were genuine concerns Adelaide may have gone through the entire season winless.
Of course, the Crows rattled off three-straight wins to finish the season 3-1 over their last four games, but at stages, there was a genuine feeling of dread about their season.
How do things play out of something similar happens again?
I truly believe that is the worst we’ll see from the Crows. Yes, they may have a poor win total at the end of the season, but I doubt we’ll see them fall in such a deep hole that they lose 13 in a row, but how do they react if it happens?
You learn quite a bit about a team when it is down, and in 2020 we learnt about players like Ben Keays, Shane McAdam, Harry Schoenberg, Lachie Sholl and Andrew McPherson. Who do we learn more about in 2021?
THE MIDFIELD IS KILLED
I touched on Hately, Sloane and Matt Crouch above, but what options do the Crows have in the event that their midfield starts to be beaten badly in games?
The Crows were dead last in centre clearances in 2020 and fared no better in inside 50 – the two stats are often married. They finished 16th in contested touches and as a result, the forward line was under continued pressure with limited opportunity.
Rory Laird is a key here. His string body was vital to Adelaide starting to get back to even terms in clearances. He is impossible to move off the spot, has great hands and can be an island of calm in what can be a sea of chaos in the middle. Wayne Milera running on the outside could add another string to their bow as well. Throw in Brodie Smith, who could also be used as a midfielder.
Adelaide have several options with those three half-backs. My preferred option would see Laird in there. He is a hard body, has been a prolific possession winner and gives the Crows a real sense that all is well when he is on the ball. With two games over ten clearances in the second half of 2020, he has proven he can do it.
And he should be completely ready to do it again in 2021 if required.
THE KIDS DON’T DEVELOP
I’m looking at a few here and though I am sure some of you will dispel my concerns, I have to say, I have had my worries.
Fogarty I covered, but big forwards take a while.
Chayce Jones is one that needs to work into the rotation and prove he deserves his spot. With a season-high of just 13 touches in 2020 (he matched or beat that three times in 2019), Jones managed 15 games but failed to set the world on fire.
Lachie Murphy was one I expected to really step up in 2020 after the departure of Eddie Betts opened up a wealth of opportunities for a small forward, but apart from an excellent outing against the Bombers in Round Eight, he failed to grab hold of the chance. We need to see more pressure and a more manic attack on the footy and the man from him in 2021.
Ned McHenry is another who needs to put his foot down in 2021. Now in year three, this angry ant could swoop in and either become a goal sneak or a solid harassing mid that drifts forward. Irrespective of where he plays, he has to make 2021 a winner.
I know these assessments can come across as harsh at times – the ages of these blokes are 20, 22 and 20 respectively. However, progress needs to be made in order for the team, and the individual, to be better. This is the year the Crows need it from them.
We’ve only seen in very sparingly over the last two seasons, but when Joe Daniher is up and about, is there a more exciting player in the game to watch?
His duel with Darcy Moore on Anzac Day in 2019 was incredible viewing. His three-goal return against the Hawks in 2020 was just enough to tease the Bomber fans into thinking he might come good and stick it out with the team.
And now, we find him settling into Brisbane in a move that could be the icing on a pretty good-looking cake.
Or it could be the ingredient that makes things taste that little bit… off.
Looking at the Brisbane forward line as a whole, a firing Daniher gives the team something it has simply not had. The view is to replace Daniel McStay with Daniher, right? Assuming fitness, it is like trading a car that can barely start in for a Lamborghini.
Of course, what is under the hood, we don’t really know.
A set up of Daniher, Hipwood, Rayner, Cameron and McCarthy gives the Lions weapons aplenty and the marking prowess of Daniher forces the defence to gravitate to toward him to help. This can allow players like Rayner and Hipwood room to become more potent.
A fit and firing Daniher could be the key to a Brisbane flag in 2021. If he’s not fit, can you say the same about McStay in the same role?
THE NEXT STEP
There are two young talents at Brisbane that people have been high on for a while, and whilst both have looked promising in patches, we are yet to see them really strut their stuff.
Jarrod Berry is a player any rebuilding team would love to have. He is hard, wins his own footy and finds a nice mix of both contested and uncontested footy. He tackles well, throws his body into contests and genuinely makes life difficult for the opposition.
The other is Zac Bailey. In truth, he has been a bit of a nowhere man in the last couple of years. His best position is on the wing, but with the McCluggage/Robinson duo occupying those spots, the half-back flank seems to be where he resides until one of Clug or Robbo needs a rest.
This should be the season he moves Robbo out to pasture.
Bailey is 21 but plays like a man with much more experience. He can run hard both directions and delivers beautifully by foot.
Whilst many will look at recruits that’ll put the Lions over the top, I am a big believer in organic improvement being the driver of team success and both Bailey and Berry hold the key to this for the Lions.
Add in names like Noah Answerth and Brandon Starcevich to the mix, and the Lions have four guys ready to take the next step
TAMING THE TIGERS
Yes, I know the Lions got over the Tigers in the finals – it was a great win, but I’m not sure they’re going to get them at the Gabba again soon. In many ways, the Lions missed a golden opportunity in 2020 – they should be bloody premiers!
I remember watching my team in the late eighties and early nineties – the Hawks, by the way. They had this period of dominance over North Melbourne. It was embarrassing, especially considering the rest of my family are North supporters. We’d sit there, watch games together and inevitably, the Hawks would win. It seemed to stretch on forever.
Then, in 1993, North really took it up to us and we fell over the line on the back of a late Jason Dunstall goal that undid all the incredible work of Wayne Carey. I knew then and there we were in trouble – North would not lose to us again for years.
Is this the situation Brisbane now find themselves in? can they do to Richmond what North did to my team and not just dispel a period of dominance but establish one of their own?
Mark your calendars – Round Ten. That’s when the Lions either demonstrate that they are the future and the Tigers are clinging to the past, or they allow Richmond the opportunity to stop them before they even really get started.
THE NEXT STEP, PART TWO
You know what needs to be done, right? I touched on it above.
The Lions have unfinished business in 2021.
This team had an advantage in 2020 that no non-Victorian team has ever had; home finals all the way through with a guaranteed Grand Final in front of their home crowd.
Brisbane had the same advantages people have been upset at Richmond, or Collingwood having over the years – sleeping in their own beds whilst everyone else does it tough. And they blew it.
They cannot afford to squander the list they’ve compiled. They must strike while the iron is hot. They were poor against the Cats in the Preliminary final and you could hear the collective air being knocked out of a fan-base that had endured an extended period in the AFL wilderness. The hopes were buoyed by a promising 2019 and should have been solidified by a flag in 2020.
Alas, it did not play out that way.
Falling away is simply not an option for this Brisbane team. Nor is hovering around that Preliminary Final slot for years without success. 2021 is the season that this wonderfully-balanced team need to take the next step and hit the biggest game of the year with a head of steam.
They have the right personnel. They have the right coach. They have what other teams in the top bracket do not have – room for organic improvement. This is the year.
It has to be the year.
NEALE IS HURT
Some people look at Cripps at Carlton. Others at Fyfe on the Fremantle team, whilst others look at Dusty as part of the Tigers, but I am putting this out there right now – no one midfielder means as much to his team as Lachie Neale means to Brisbane.
The Lions have a good supporting cast. Jarryd Lyons is a solid clearance player, capable of stepping up in a game where Neale is being closely checked. Hugh McCluggage is a wonderful outside ball-user. Dayne Zorko is fantastic going forward and applies great pressure, and jarros Berry, as mentioned above, has all the tools to become a vital cog in this Brisbane machine.
But none can make up for the hole Lachie Neale would leave.
I wrote earlier this month about the Tom Mitchell comparison.
In 2018, Mitchell’s brilliance pushed Hawthorn into the top four. He was a ball-magnet, beating tags, racking up touches and taking the heat from opposition stoppers. That description remind you of anyone?
When Mitchell went down with his broken leg, the Hawthorn midfield was left without its leader and the results were evident. The Hawks fell away drastically as Jaeger O’Meara was unable to step into the role vacated by Mitchell.
This would be similar to Jarryd Lyons at Brisbane – a very capable second option, but being THE MAN on a contending team is quite different than being the 2IC.
Without their Triple-Crown winner (Brownlow, MVP and AFLCA award), the Lions are a team that cannot win the flag. And though one player does not win you a flag, the loss of one can certainly lose you one, particularly when he is so damn good.
MCSTAY-ING THE SAME
I’d been banging on about it all season in 2020.
Here’s a quick quote from the first Brisbane game I found in review form.
“You can’t carry blokes in finals. Either he turns it around, or he is going to cost you, big time!”
Well, move me to France, give me a funny hat and call me Nostradamus!
It was from the Brisbane v Collingwood game review in 2020.
Seriously, most people knew that McStay was never going to be the answer up forward. The Lions were obviously hoping he was going to come good and really, who else did they have to fill the position of big-bodied forward capable of taking a grab?
But come finals time, he really did cost them big. He delivered the following averages in his 2020 finals. Three disposals and half a goal per game.
The issue is, if Daniher cannot get right, McStay remains the backup option. There is still no one else. And if the Lions head into September with McStay as one of their go-to players, I am sorry to say, they are in big trouble.
Unless, of course, the rest of the team has learnt to carry a bloke who gets three touches a game when it matters most.
Do we trust Archie Smith?
If so, how much do we trust Archie Smith?
With 16 games to his name heading into the 2021 season, the 25 year old is going to have some questions asked of him this season.
You see, Oscar McInerney may have made a big step in 2020 – enough to send Stef Martin on his way to mentor Tim English at the Bulldogs – but it leaves the Lion a little thin in the ruck stocks, and if we see the Big O pull up sore once or twice, the fate of this team in the ruck may rest with Smith.
Whilst it is not a crucial factor, on paper at least, the drop off from McInerney to Smith could be significant enough to really impact the Brisbane midfield. Smith hits 2021 with 35 fewer games experience than McInerney, but has not been able to string games together since 2017, when he played five consecutive contests.
The Big O is quite durable, playing all 19 games in 2020 after 21 in 2019, so I can see why the Lions are not too worried, but injury does not discriminate (unless you’re injury-prone, I guess… then it does) and the Lions will have to be ready for life roving to an inexperienced big man should Oscar get hurt.
I thought Ellis-Yolmen was going to be one of the recruits of the 2020 season. I was high on both him and Hugh Greenwood… I guess 50% is still a pass mark, isn’t it?
CEY hit 2020 in poor shape and never really had an impact on the Brisbane team. After leaving Adelaide due to a lack of opportunity, he has no one to blame but himself for failing in year one with the Lions.
He needs to lift, he needs to knuckle down and he needs to make good on the promise he showed as a big-bodied mid for the Crows.
Having CEY crashing through packs and standing in tackles was supposed to give Lachie Neale a bit of respite, but Ellis-Yolmen offered little in the way of help for the midfield maestro. If he cannot turn it around in 2021, the Lions are wasting a roster spot.
THE BLUES IN THE FINALS
We know they’re coming. We smell what they’re cooking and for the first time in a long while, even Carlton detractors will admit that the Blues have actually put together a team that can make the eight in 2021.
I’m glad I asked – you see, Carlton not only have a superstar, they have another in the making in Sam Walsh… and another in Harry McKay.
Whoa Mongrel… hold on up there, buddy. Harry McKay… superstar?
Yes, I said superstar… “in the making”.
While the football world harps on about Charlie Curnow and his continued knee issues, Harry McKay has quietly gone from lanky kid with good hands and average attitude to a contested marking beast. I believe he could have the potential to shove aside players well known for their ability to clunk a contested grab to become the best exponent of that skill in the AFL.
At 23 years old and the lazy 100 kilograms, McKay now appears ready to take the next step and if he does, the Blues will relish having a player coming into his prime and demonstrating the kind of skills that bring people to the footy.
Will he be the only reason the Blues hit September with something other than holidays on their minds?
No, no, no… the twin towers in defence, Weitering and Jones, were excellent in 2020 and if Carlton can use the addition of Adam Saad to find a bit more space for co-captain, Sam Docherty, things could start to look really good really quickly. Doc was brilliant early in 2020 before teams realised his importance to the Blues and actively worked to close him down.
There are a lot of “what ifs…” with the Blues in 2021 and really, they are one of the more intriguing teams heading into the season, but for once there seems to be genuine optimism from Carlton fans, and you know it’s real this time.
Because of the pessimism from supporters of other teams. It’s a dead give-away.
CRIPPS RETURNS TO FORM
Yeah, that bloke who hovered around the top of the league in clearances all year – he had a bad year.
Yeah, that bloke who was seventh in the league in contested possessions – what a shocker he had!
Look, if that is as bad as it gets for Patrick Cripps, then there are 17 other clubs out there that would still take him in a heartbeat. As it stands, he played out the season with a bung shoulder and still managed to front up for every game, fighting on for the love of the jumper despite being in obvious pain at points.
Patrick Cripps is a warrior and at 25 years old, is one of the best players in the league. His appetite for the football is insatiable and his willingness to put his body on the line to win it is as committed as anyone in the league. Built like a forward with the tank of a midfielder, Cripps is a stoppage machine and with the addition of Zac Williams and the maturation of Sam Walsh, Cripps finds himself in a team with something he has not experienced. Not genuinely, anyway. He is on a team with belief!
Many have espoused the belief that in order for Carlton to be better, Cripps cannot be so dominant. I am quite the opposite. In order for Carlton to be better, others need to match the performance of Cripps. They need to challenge themselves to be as good as the best player at the club.
In school, you don’t make the dumb kids smarter by making the smart kids dumber. You don’t allow the others to catch up by making Cripps slow down! The onus is on those below Cripps to improve, and I am hoping the co-captain sets the bar somewhere near his 2019 standards.
With his shoulder issues fixed and the teammates capable of elevating the team around him, an in-form Cripps remains the key to a successful Carlton run in 2021.
And perhaps a successful finals run, too.
CURNOW COMES GOOD
It’s a long shot, but who doesn’t love a long shot.
The return of Charlie Curnow – a healthy Charlie Curnow – might be the thing that tips the Blues over the edge and into the top eight.
Whilst I went on a bit about Harry McKay above and I truly think he could be the dominant forward as we head into the future for the Blues, the role of Curnow as perhaps a secondary target would be ideal for him.
Like it or not, three or four (I’ve lost count) knee injuries or rehab mishaps will have an impact on his ability to do what he is used to doing. As a veteran of knee injuries, myself, every time you have one it makes you just that little more cautious and that little more aware of what could happen. I’m not sure, irrespective of how good Curnow is, that the Blues want their eggs completely and utterly in his basket.
BUUUUUTTTT… what if we get a version of Charlie that complements the big marking forward of McKay? What if the version of Charlie we get is the running man who drags a good defender up to the wing, leaving space behind him?
There is a place for Curnow on this team even if he is 80% in comparison to a couple of seasons ago. It’s just not the top spot in the forward line and that may suit him and the team just fine.
CRIPPS REFUSES TO RE-SIGN
Come on… we’ve all heard the rumours, no matter how outlandish, that Cripps will be playing elsewhere in 2022, right?
Do you believe them? I sure as hell don’t, but let’s speculate.
We hit around Round 16-17 and there is still no pen to paper from Cripps… there would be some very nervous officials at Ikon Park, particularly if the Blues are slipping from contention yet again. There would be no shortage of contenders promising the world to Cripps for 2022, and as he enters the second half of his career, maybe… just maybe he’d be willing to listen?
It’s happened before – some of the biggest names in the game have moved away from clubs that have not provided them with success. Plugger left St Kilda – it doesn’t get any bigger than that.
In comparison, Cripps would be a blip on the radar. That is not a shot at Cripps – we’re talking about the greatest full-forward in the history of the game jumping ship here!
Personally, I am of the belief that Cripps re-signs either before a ball has bounced to start the season or very shortly thereafter. He is a Carlton man and is the face of the club. When I think of modern Carlton, I think of him.
No way he doesn’t sign with the Blues… is there???
ONE OF TWO TOP TEN PICKS DOESN’T FIND FORM
I’m going to focus on two blokes here.
Paddy Dow and Lochie O’Brien.
They were taken at picks three and ten respectively in the 2017 National Draft. The expectations were high and with the rarity of two picks in the top ten, the Blues were surely going to pluck a winner out, right?
Weeeeellllll, the jury is well and truly out right now and after a disastrous season for both in 2020, where they combined for just four games, there are some serious questions being asked about where they’ll fit with this current group.
More to the point, some are asking IF they’ll fit at all.
Dow started his career relatively well. He notched 39 games over 2018/19 before reality hit him in the face like being slapped with a Maribyrnong River bream (I caught a few down there in my younger years… tasted chemical-ish. Could explain a fair bit…).
O’Brien had a bright-ish start as well, notching 35 games across his first two seasons. And then he became the invisible man.
To see two bright young stars go from playing almost every week to not getting a run at all can be viewed two ways – either David Teague is making them earn their place in the team with some tough love, or the boys are just not as good as advertised.
I’m sure Blues fans are hoping like hell it is the former, but when you consider others taken in the top ten – Andrew Brayshaw, Adam Cerra, Luke Davies-Uniacke, Aaron Naughton, Nick Coffield… they’re all showing plenty whilst Dow and O’Brien are showing bugger all!
The first five rounds of 2021 will tell a huge story as to where these two sit at Carlton. If we see both blokes with zero games to their names, I’m afraid the Blues have blown two top ten picks.
BLUES SELL SUPPORTERS FALSE HOPE AGAIN
This is the killer.
This is the one that twists the dagger in the hearts of Blues supporters everywhere.
They’ve been patient. They have endured. They have felt the movement and the momentum building. They’ve tried not to get too excited for what this team is creating, but it is at the point where they can no longer hold it in – the music… da da-da da-da… it is dying to burst out of them. They need to roar and celebrate. They need to smile and hug a stranger after a finals win. They need some of the old Carlton arrogance to emerge so they can exchange looks with another Blues supporter at a bar, raise a glass and toast their team.
They don’t need another lost season. It would well and truly break hearts.
Carlton are now deep into unchartered waters. Never have they gone this length of time without adding a premiership cup to their collection. This is the single longest drought the club has experienced, and you can feel it in long-term supporters. You can hear it in their voices and see it in their eyes. This is not the Carlton they know and love – this is some imposter standing before them, going through the motions and missing the eight, year after year. This cub has been a pale impression of that which made them fall in love with footy.
The Blues supporters have suffered enough. They have bought what the club has sold for years – some reluctantly, but they have bought it nonetheless. They are a proud group with a desire bordering on desperation for success that cannot wait any longer to be quenched.
The drums have been beating at Ikon Park for a while. The club has attracted trade targets and free agents. People want to play for Carlton again. The time is now, and if not now…
I’m just not sure Carlton fans have much more to give.
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