1. Six days is a long time in football for Carlton

A horrible third quarter last Saturday against North Melbourne all but sealed the fate of coach David Teague. When Alastair Clarkson announced he was parting ways with Hawthorn, the speculation went into top gear. Most observers would’ve expected the Saints to get the better of the Blues on the back of all the unrest. What we saw was a complete turnaround from the lacklustre effort against the Kangaroos in what was arguably Carlton’s best performance for the year. Finally, the Blues found a way to apply pressure without the ball and were able to keep St Kilda to a manageable score while also kicking accurately for goal finishing with 18.4 for the game. Harry McKay kicked five and Sam Walsh will likely get another three votes for his 26 possessions and career-high three goals. Remarkably the Blues are still in with an outside chance of sneaking into the 8, but plenty needs to go right.

In what seems to be a pattern late in the season, St Kilda, who were playing for a possible chance of getting into the 8, produced an effort that the coaching crew would’ve no doubt found disappointing. They were outplayed despite completely dominating the ruck due to Tom De Koning going down early with a pectoral complaint. It was an advantage they were unable to exploit as the clearances were more or less even despite a heavy advantage in hitouts. St Kilda just didn’t play smart football and they’ll no doubt be looking back on 2021 as a wasted season. They’re still a tiny chance of playing finals, but after three consecutive losses, it looks like they’ve blown it.

 

2. Bontempelli finally had a quiet one, but it didn’t matter.

The sign of a good team is when your best player doesn’t put in a good game and your team still has a comfortable win while others step up. Marcus Bontempelli only managed 15 possessions in this game which is well below his usual standard. It really didn’t matter though, as the struggling Crows are not in the same league as the Bulldogs and were never really in the game. The eventual winners cruised to an easy victory without really getting out of second gear. The club has never finished on top of the ladder in its long history. This may be the year they do it, although they have to overcome the Bombers, Hawks, and the Power in the next three weeks. I’ll back them in to do just that.

I’ve sung his praises before, but Caleb Daniel is one of the Bulldogs most consistent performers and one of their best ball-users. At just 167cm. he was overlooked by many clubs, and it’s a lesson to not overlook players who are short in stature but high in skill. And to think, he’s already played in one premiership and may play in another one to come.

As for the Crows, they’ve showcased a few good young players who can hopefully take another step in 2022, but it’s the players they have on their list such as Fogarty and Himmelberg that they’re really hoping for bigger things from. They’ll need to fill the gaps soon to be left by Taylor Walker and Tom Lynch. We’ve seen some promise from the Crows in this season, but they have still shown they are a fair way off being competitive with the better teams. Matthew Nicks faces a huge challenge.

 

3. North may prove to be the best wooden spooners this century.

North Melbourne were a basket case early on this season. But since Round Nine they have become far from the worst side in the competition despite occupying the last place on the ladder. They’ve won four games and drawn one, and I believe there is one more win on offer against the Crows in Round 23. They also face the Swans and the Tigers before then, so anything is possible, but even if they finish last with 22 points, that’ll be higher than any team finishing last has done this century.

They competed well with the Cats, but the Geelong defence was just too hard to penetrate allowing the Kangaroos to score just 6 goals for the match while still only losing by 20 points. Losing Ben Cunnington always makes things tougher.

The Cats won’t be too upset with not blowing the bottom side away. I’m sure they’re more than aware how much they’ve improved. Geelong are well placed with three games to go, and the Round 23 clash they have coming up against the Demons will decide a Top 2 spot no doubt, although anywhere in the Top 4 will be fine. The way things are going with Covid, who knows what a home final will look like anyway? Many now have Geelong as the flag favourite, and when you consider they’ll have Jeremy Cameron back for the finals, it’s totally understandable. Many of us are sitting back and wondering if the Cats will fluff their lines once again.

 

4. The Eagles don’t belong in the 8

Adam Simpson must be beside himself right now. What has gone wrong with the Eagles is anyone’s guess. They have a few decent players on the sidelines, but they still fronted up to the MCG on Saturday with a large contingent of premiership players against a struggling Magpies unit and were trailing by 11 goals to one early in the third term before a handful of goals in the last quarter cut the margin to 45 points in the finish. The Eagles had over 100 fewer possessions than their opponents in what was a comprehensive beating.

On too many occasions while playing in Victoria, the Eagles just haven’t turned up to play. Whatever the case, they’ll need to address that mindset before September, although I’d go so far as to say they shouldn’t be there based on what I’ve seen in recent weeks.

Collingwood were great and they’ve uncovered a few new faces in the latter part of the season. It’s something to look forwrd to after what was a rough year and one they’d mostly want to forget. Jordan de Goey has emerged as a genuine midfielder now, and Taylor Adams was as good as always. A winnable game against the Hawks looms next week, and if they were to finish the year with seven or more wins, after being two wins from 11 games, they take some solace out of that into 2022. The question now begs as to whether Clarkson will be on their radar.

 

5. Same Suns, different year

I wonder if we’ll be having this same conversation again in five years time. The Gold Coast seems to be a black hole for sporting teams. The A-League team was gone in the blink of an eye, the Titans in the NRL have been OK but have had their fair share of ups and downs, and this AFL experiment has failed to penetrate the locals’ affections thus far. Their best result in its eleven years so far has been 11th with 10 wins. By any metric, it’s an abject failure, and the challenge always remains as to how to keep their star players engaged enough to want to remain with the club.

They were woeful against Melbourne on Sunday. If we are still talking about this in the same way a few years from now, it might be wise to move this group to a place they may be appreciated, like Tasmania.

Melbourne will be pleased that they put away one of the lesser teams in the comp with a minimum of fuss after previous losses to bottom four teams. It was also a good hitout for Ben Brown booting four goals in order to boost his confidence, albeit in something resembling a training run. With three games remaining, this win will go a long way to helping them secure that all-important Top 4 spot. Their next two games are against the Eagles in Perth and Adelaide in Melbourne. The Eagles game should go the Demons’ way, but the Eagles have had a knack of following up a stinker with a vastly improved performance. They’ll need to be on their guard and ensure they’re switched on. A win there should make the double-chance a certainty.

 

6. Brisbane look set to miss Top 4

If you go back to Round 15, Brisbane made light work of the Cats at the Gabba and were looking like certainties to finish in the top half of the eight. Since then they’ve won just two games against the lowly Crows and Suns, and have lost games to three sides currently sitting outside the eight. It’s a little confusing as to what has gone wrong. I scoffed at the suggestion that losing Hipwood was a huge problem for them, but they certainly do seem to be missing the tall forward. The Lions have to go to Perth next week to take on the Dockers who’d be riding high after their thrilling win over the Tigers. It will be a tough assignment and one they’ll need to arrive at more switched on than they did against the Hawks on Sunday.

One has to wonder as to how much the events of the week with the announcement of the premature departure of Alastair Clarkson would have impacted on the playing group. The manner in which they took the game on in the first three quarters would suggest they were primed and ready to go and still have much love for the champion coach. Many are still scratching their heads over the manner in which this announcement transpired, but there’s no turning back now. Perhaps the boys in the brown and gold want to finish on a high note, and there’d be no better way than another win against the Pies next week. Let’s see if there’s any more adrenaline left after all that has taken place at this proud club.

 

7. Sydney keep finding a way

You can’t fault the Bombers in this one. They gave their all and played well, but the Swans were just that little bit better, as they so often have been all year. They now sit fifth with a chance of sneaking into the top 4. Their remaining games are against the Saints, Roos and the Suns. Port Adelaide won’t want to have a slip-up as the Swans will most likely win all three. Callum Mills was superb once again showing what an awesome midfielder he is. Lance Franklin booted two goals and now needs just 15 more to reach his 1000 milestone. The Swans have been by the far the biggest improvers of the year, and if they were to find their way into the Top 4, they are not without a chance.

The Bombers were terrific without being victorious. There’s a lot to like about the young Essendon side. Perhaps they need to tighten their defence a little as the Swans were able to score with relative ease against them, but there’s certainly plenty to like, and just like the Swans, their younger stars are as good as any going around. They are still in with a sneaky chance of playing finals but they do have to get over the Dogs next week. I can’t see that happening, and it’ll be this time next week when we give them their eulogy for the season once and for all I feel. But whatever happens, it has been a good year for the development of the club with their youth, as well as the breakout year for Darcy Parish and the continued good form of Zach Merrett. Sam Draper has also been great, but a trip to the hairdresser is required. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and blame lockdown for now…

 

8. Dockers in the eight – for now.

So here we are after Round 20, and Fremantle somehow find themselves in the Top 8. Their win against the Tigers was a spirited win coming from behind with two late goals to snatch it by just four points. Next week they face the Lions who will be desperate for a win after a run of indifferent form. This will be a crucial match for both teams. I’m salivating at the idea of a Dockers victory followed by a Derby the week after to decide which of the two WA teams will survive to play finals. I daresay it’ll be a packed house as long as Covid doesn’t show its face in Perth as well.

Brayshaw and Cerra were the best for the Dockers. Where will Adam be next year? I know the Tigers and Blues are circling…

Richmond will be ruing this loss. Both sides were errant in front of goal, but Richmond had their chances to ice the game late but poor kicking kept the Dockers in it, and the rest as they say is history. Next week they face the improved North Melbourne, before facing another challenge in Round 22 against one of the other teams fighting for the last spot in the 8 in GWS. A loss there surely puts them out of contention. Cotchin played one of his better games for the year putting forward a case to play on in 2022, and it was good to see Dion Prestia back and playing well. It will feel odd if this September is Tiger-free.

 

9. Don’t forget about Port

The Power are starting to play better football against the better sides finally. This win against the Giants who were playing for a spot in the 8 is not to be scoffed at. The Power list is getting a bit healthier each week, and one feels the return of Robbie Gray by the finals will be huge. I’ve seen the Power as a little below the level of the top teams, but slowly but surely the gap is closing.

Charlie Dixon is finding form at the right end of the year booting four goals, and one player who has been a consistent performer is Karl Amon. Once again he was one of the best for Port and tends to fly under the radar of AFL commentators. They face the Crows, then the Blues in Adelaide in the next two weeks, and the final game of the home and away season will be against the league leader in the Bulldogs. Top 4 is still not assured with the Swans snapping at their heels, but two good wins over the next fortnight may be enough. Once again the Giants have fallen short when a spot in the 8 was up for grabs. They were competitive for most of the game, but it does seem the Giants are a few good players short of the top teams. Their remaining games are against the Cats, Tigers and Blues. A win in this game might’ve set them up, but it’s hard to see them getting over the line against the Cats so it seems they may have drawn their last breath. Time will tell.

The question for me is whether or not Leon Cameron remains at the club next year. When you consider some of the coaches who are now available, the question is worth asking.

 

10. Where will they play the Grand Final?

Covid’s back and it’s not happy! Melbourne is looking OK at the moment, albeit with no crowds under the current restrictions. And being a Melburnian, I can say with some confidence that another lockdown is looming. No, I don’t have any inside info, nor have I heard about some new outbreak. I’m also not a Sydney removalist. In Melbourne, we’ve just learnt to expect one. That way, when it happens, it’s not a shock. And it seems to happen every 3-4 weeks now.

So where does that leave the Grand Final? Surely we don’t have a Grand Final in front of an empty stadium. So we can scratch Sydney off the list. They’ll be locked down till Christmas 2022 the way they’re tracking. Even the army can’t seem to be able to keep migrant families from having dinner at their relatives’ houses. Adelaide is an option although one case is enough to shut that state down. Perth looks like the right option. It has a great stadium for it, except the Premier will probably start sawing off the state from the rest of the country with all the Covid that’s spreading. He gets a bit panicky, that feller McGowan. He’ll probably want the Grand Final participants to self-isolate for 14 days before playing the game. Brisbane had nine new cases and is in a snap lockdown. That said, they’re happy to let celebrities in, so there’s always that.

Tasmania might be available if we want the Grand Final to be played in front of 12,000 patrons. Yes, I’m being tongue-in-cheek, but tell me I don’t have a point!

 

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