Cometh the early Autumn and all 18 clubs are full of hope and expectation for the year ahead, hoping to realise the possibilities of growth as the ‘what if’s’ from the preseason are played out.
For some clubs, they immediately settle into the position they were in the year before, while others slip and slide up and the down the ladder as they find a position somewhere in mid-table hell, while at the other end of the spectrum, expectations for the year skyrocket due to early season unexpected successes.
This winner of the March/April Cup 2023 is St Kilda on percentage from Collingwood.
Huzzah to the Saints (be wary Sainters as it can be a Poisoned Chalice).
Before any club gets too carried away there are many questions that have arisen from the first six rounds before all clubs enter the next phase of the season and the gloomy survival rounds of winter before the bye.
Is Ross Lyon the Saints’ Saviour?
Like last year at the same point of the season, it is very hard to be critical of the Saints and I guess that is the knock on the Saints, they been the front runners before and then slid back to mediocrity.
The end result last year after a promising start was goodbye Ratts and hello Ross.
Having said that, Ross has taken a team plagued with early injuries to a highly exalted position above all others and they now only need eight, possibly nine wins from the last 17 rounds to make the finals.
The test now is whether his team of true, blue-collar workers can miraculously part the seas for the rest of the season and realise the Miracle of Moorabbin.
In Ross they Trust.
Essendon, Real or Make Believe?
Until three-quarter time on Sunday, I had Essendon in the same bracket as St Kilda and then they just ran out of legs.
They are an exciting team to watch and they are genuinely the new kids on the block in terms of finals contention.
Scotty (The Slightly Younger), has reinvigorated this club and given them something which has been missing for a long time, ‘HOPE” and “BELIEF”, and it will carry them a long way; just how far will become more apparent by mid-season.
Scotty (The Slightly Younger), your challenge is to make us all true believers in the Baby Bombers Mark II.
The Big Four Losers – Fremantle, Richmond, Western Bulldogs and Sydney Swans
From last year’s finals, it would be fair to say four teams are in real trouble of not making it this year and it perpetuates the old proverb, ‘you cannot win a premiership in March/April, but you can lose it’.
Ever since the phrase ‘Flagmantle’ was coined late last year, Freo has done nothing other than self-destruct at every available opportunity and sadly, for their loyal supporters, they will not feature in September action.
As soon as any team gets their dreams mixed up with their ambitions they are doomed to failure.
The decline of a true powerhouse club is like watching a train wreck, you want to look away, but you just can’t.
It is too early to write Richmond off, but the early season signs are not good, and I withhold any prediction about them until midseason.
Give Cothin his 300th celebration and then let us all see what Dimma can do with the kids.
The ultimate schizophrenic team in the AFL is the Western Bulldogs.
They should be part of the Big 5 as certainties to make the top 8 given the list they have, however, and for reasons unknown, they stumble, fumble and crawl around the middle of the table.
They need a real injection of mongrel, arrogance, and self-belief that they are good enough to be a contender.
Now to the other team in need of psychological help, the Swans.
Not since Kevin Sheedy stuck a rocket up the whole Essendon Football Club in 1983 has a team won a Premiership after being thumped, humiliated and embarrassed after making ‘The Big Dance’ the year before and again we find another team in danger of free fall after a Grand Final disaster.
When Duncan laughed at Papley on the weekend it was a true reflection of how little Geelong respect the Sydney Swans and it was symbolic of the psychological gap between the two teams.
Sydney are continually monstered by classy big men like the May and Lever destruction in Round 3 and again by Cameron, Hawkins, Dangermouse and basically the whole Geelong team (except Gary Rohan) last weekend.
The Swannies need a psychologist to help them find the ‘Bloods’ culture again, as well as a new ruckman (I was in your corner Ladhams, until this year), a new or repaired backline and a couple of true heavyweight thugs to throw bit of weight around and any other spare parts that may be laying around.
By the mid-season the Swans could just as easily be in the top four again or in the bottom four such is the fragile nature of where they are right now.
Blaming umpires and injuries is an excuse only offered up by lesser teams, Sydney – you are better than that.
The South Australian Renaissance
Viva la Renaissance South Australia, as both the Crows and the Power have displayed enough early-season form to have the bells ringing in anticipation of greater things to come.
Jordan Dawson is not only heading for All-Australian honours but by deeds alone, he should be the AA Captain as his leadership this year has been exemplary (Collingwood fans may rightfully argue otherwise).
The dreaded legacy of the ‘power stance’ and magical mystery bus tours seem to be finally over for Adelaide. The Crows seem like a happy club who are finally at peace with the world.
There is excitement about their players under 25 and the senior players are leading them by great example.
Do they make the finals?
Possibly they do, but I think they just enjoy the journey this year after many hardened and hard years.
If I was grading each team, the Crows would have an A-.
Whateley, Cornes, King, Wilson, Koch and any other sensationalist journalist who have tried to hustle Ken Hinkley out of Alberton – I hope you all fall on your own poison pens and choke on your betting-sponsored chips this year.
Hey, let me get something straight; I don’t barrack for the Power, and I’m not even sure I have a soft spot for them, but I do admire the pluck and personality of Ken in the face of year after year personal attacks from the Soap Opera Writers (the Press).
I want the anti-hero, Coach Hinkley to succeed.
Four wins and two losses, albeit a poor percentage, is as a good start as any team could hope for and unlike a lot of other teams, the Power are not about ‘hope’ rather ‘realising higher dreams’.
Enjoy your Renaissance, South Australia as it might even go until the last Saturday in September.
Carlton – are they just all hot air?
For a few years now, most pundits have been of the opinion Carlton’s best is as good as any other team in the league with the knock being on the bottom half of their list.
Every year since Mick was coach, the propaganda coming out of Princess Park (or whatever Corporate name the club has now) has been the same about the imminent success of the Blues and a call to arms for all to get on board.
It is like the ‘Flagmantle’ claim last year but on steroids, such are the ludicrous claims each pre-season spewing out of for all to listen.
Carlton have gone backwards by half a game from where they were at the same time last year and that half a game may really hurt them by the end of the season.
Percentage is a true guide as to where a club is at and Carlton’s percentage is terrible in comparison to the other eleven top teams (Carlton fans will claim it doesn’t matter because of the draw) and an indictment of where their list is at.
Cripper, Charlie, Harry, Sammy, Jacob, Son of SOS’s son, the Doc and a few other’s are true A-graders or at the very least-B graders, but when I look at the rest of their list it, drops away really quickly, especially with their mid-range players with the exception of Saad and Williams.
Hewett, McGovern, Kennedy, Ed, Durdin, Fisher, Martin, Newman, Acres, Cerra, O’Brien while all good on their day seem to lack the consistency which is required on a weekly basis for this team to seriously threaten the top 4.
They should, but they don’t stand up if Walshy or Cripper are having a bad day, rather they feed off them only when the going is good.
The kids coming through are good and I would be locking up contracts with Owies and De Koning as quickly as possible, but the kids’ enthusiasm cannot succeed unless the mid-range players perform consistently.
Prove me wrong, Baggers and not with more hot air but by actions and deeds on the field of battle.
The Big Four Certainties – Collingwood, Melbourne, Brisbane and Geelong
After six rounds, I am making a bold prediction that these four teams will feature somewhere come September as they are a class above on exposed form, experience and talent.
While highly likely one of the big four will win the flag, it is possible a back-marker could spring a surprise.
As Sydney found out last weekend, there is still a lot fight left in the Cats and with a three/three start to the year they are now well on the way to another finals tilt.
The inspiration for players like Hawkins, Smith, Tuohy, Dangermouse and the other players over 30 is to win another flag, back-to-back.
Given the age of their list and an extra game this year they would need to finish top 4 to achieve the double.Write Geelong off at your own peril.
Last year, Melbourne played the first half of the season like their lives depended on it and by season’s end they had run out of puff, whereas this year they remind me of a top-end sports car as they are fine-tuning all the faults to get every right.
I like what Melbourne are doing, as a loss here or a loss there is not going to hurt as they build towards the last quarter of the season and getting everything just right for September.
A May versus Cameron, a Lever versus Hawkins, a Petracca versus Dangermouse, an Oliver versus Everbody Else, would make for one tough, hard and memorable Grand Final.
Hold that thought for a moment as Collingwood and Brisbane may spoil the 1850s traditionalists’ dream Grand Final.
Seriously, how watchable are Collingwood games under the tutelage of the Flea.
I said earlier Jordan Dawson is the front-runner for All-Australian Captain, however, his biggest challenge will come from Darcy Moore.
Collingwood got the Captain’s call correct with Darcy, very correct, and under his early stewardship, supported in whole by Pendles, they have improved from last year and then some.
Unlike last year, Collingwood are building a healthy percentage, which is always worth a win at season’s end and if kept free from any more injuries they will be somewhere in the mix in the last week or two of September.
Now to the Joker in the Pack – the Brisbane Lions, the ultimate wildcard.
I can understand why Fagan looks angry every week even when his boys are winning as they still always look vulnerable to defeat.
“If” Cameron, Hipwood, Daniher, Andrews, Raynor, Rich, Neale and the entire mid-field playing list and every other variable can put it together for four weeks in September then the power and the glory may go their way – “if”.
Fagan and his playing stuff need to work through the “ifs” as it is the “ifs” which have cost them dearly over the last few seasons.
The Chasing Pack and the Plain Unlucky
Adam Simpson must have the best stylist in the world as I have never seen a person have so much bad luck with injuries and other issues and yet still look so handsomely groomed and cool when fronting the press.
West Coast got their ‘mulligan’ last year and while expectations are low for this year, they need to show something serious by years end.
I am not worried they will finish bottom four but rather it is how they finish bottom four.
Poor old Stewie, just when it looks like he has a stable job the wheels fall off and the Gold Coast write off another year, after writing last year, and the year before and so on and so on.
It may not be Stewie’s fault but when the hell is this club going to get some CULTURE and stand for something?
‘Stand for nothing and die on your knees’, should be the battle cry of this club.
Very, very disappointing start to the year, AGAIN, and as a believer in the two expansion clubs, I implore you to get some character before people like me stop believing.
While we are on expansion clubs, the future of a weakened Greater Western Sydney is much easier to see.
Yes, the Giants are losing but there is a fight and a grit in those losses and they may exceed season expectations by not finishing in the bottom four.
Despite the exodus of players back to Victoria and South Australia over the years and playing no-name players, this club has a great short-term history and an internal culture that is strong.
It may not be a big, big sound yet, but it is building, and the Cat Empire’s anthem may make for a YouTube sensation again sooner than expected.
Finally the heavy-weight bout between Mitchell and Clarkson and their bottom four teams.
At the end of Round 6 of a 23 Round battle, Clarkson is just ahead on points, unless the emphasis is on the draft next year to wit Mitchell would be ahead.
Hawthorn have been surprisingly competitive without winning, but at least winning two or three quarters in most matches they have played.
Newcombe, Nash, Scrimshaw, Moore, Grainger-Barras and a few other under 25 players seem to be flourishing with guaranteed game time, and they are coming along nicely as the catalyst players for the next generation of Squawkers.
Ask me in two years about the Hawks and let’s see if Mitchell and his match committee were correct.
Finally, Clarkson and his embattled Kangas.
Before I start on North, I want to concentrate on Nick Larkey.
I think every club at the top or dreaming of finals success would love this kid on their list such is his talent. He is a ripper.
I hope his career at the Shinboners (or elsewhere) allows him at some point to perform on the last Saturday in September.
Davies-Uniacke, Larkey, Sheezel, Ben McKay, Zurhaar, are the future of this club and they have all shown a love of the club, the fight and the contest early in the year.
While North have two wins and four losses, it is a bit disappointing as they were well in the games against Hawthorn and Carlton with real chances to win.
I blame the Hawthorn loss squarely on the shoulder of the mid-range players within North’s list.
Ziebell, Cunnington and Goldstein have held that club together with pure guts and determination for many years and you would think some of the players pulling a decent wage each year would stand up for the older players who might be down a bit on form and lead by example for the kids mentioned above.
Clarkson’s challenge is not the kids, nor the veterans, but rather those who presume they are automatic selections each week because of where the club is at.
I am being harsh on North as I reckon there are at least six players who have played well over 50 or 100 games who need to stand up and help the kids and the veterans drag this club up the ladder.
Quarter Season Report for North Melbourne – they have potential, but, but, but…
Note to the North Melbourne Board – successful clubs make strong, quick and right decisions on troubled players (no names mentioned).