The Halfway Report

The Prison Bar Nightmare

It was a dark and dreary night as I rested my head on the pillow for a long overdue slumber. Surprisingly, I fell asleep rather quickly and immediately started to dream. Wild, vivid, terrifying, dreams! It was a night of endless nightmares about the cataclysmic end to the 2023 AFL season. An unspeakable horror I will now try to put into words.

It was the eve of the Grand Final and all throughout ye olde Melbourne Town there were hordes of feral black and white Pies supporters howling at the moon in anticipation of events to come.  However, there was something unnerving about this flock of black and white supporters as some had specks of teal gleaming in their eyes. My body twitched and I shuddered uncontrollably realising that Gil’s biggest monster to date had been brought to life, a Koch versus McGuire showdown, as the Pies and the Power vied for grand final supremacy.

 My body awoke, or I thought I was awake, but I had only awoken from one nightmare to another, seeing the same hordes as described earlier, black and white (or possibly with some teal), celebrating a Prison Bar Premiership.

It was only a nightmare – I hope!


It’s the Half Time Silly Season

Collingwood rise, Carlton fails again, the Bombers and Saints are winning, Hawthorn are in boardroom trouble, Geelong are on the brink, Dimma is gone, Clarkson is on leave, Ratten is back and Ross Lyon is… well, still Ross Lyon. Not surprisingly, all the above headlines are based around the state of the game within Victoria and the Victorian-centric media coverage of anything Victorian, so let us take a closer look at the entire Australian Football League as we are now at the halfway mark of the season.


The Battle for the Top Four starts henceforth

At the halfway mark of last season, the two teams who played in the Grand Final were not even in top four, yet both went on remarkable winning streaks after the bye round to secure their chance at glory. On the other hand, both Carlton and St Kilda faded badly after the bye and plummeted out of the eight, so anything is possible from here.

While Collingwood seem assured a top-four berth at least, the other three spots could be open for the taking with Port Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane to be challenged strongly by the Western Bulldogs and Geelong, with St Kilda, Essendon and Fremantle being outside chances of filling one of the top spots.


The Power Surge

Port Adelaide are a classic example of, ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’. Given the pressure placed on Ken Hinkley by the powers that be at Port after Round Two, the players have circled the wagons around Kenny and shown plenty.

Since the ‘hand of Aliir’ moment against Sydney, Port have gone from strength to strength and won nine on the trot to sit a comfortable second on the ladder. The major concern surrounding the Power is their lowly percentage which means any loss would hurt their current ladder position. Percentage can be a real coach-killer at season’s end as there is a major difference between sixteen wins and fourth spot, and sixteen wins and fifth spot, based on percentage. The positive is Port Adelaide are three wins inside the top four and with a favourable draw, they should hold on to a top-four placing – yes, they “should”.

Port need to really destroy some teams on the run home.


Melbourne Need a Good Tune-Up

Six weeks ago, I said Melbourne was a sports car fine-tuning itself for another chance of glory, however, they seem to have some sort of engine problem which is preventing their pistons from running smoothly. While they are winning enough games, they are only spluttering along. One more major pitstop could see them in trouble of not only missing the front of the starting grid come September but slipping off the grid, entirely.

Scoring for the Dees seems to be the BIG problem. Since belting Sydney in Round Three, they have only scored 100 points or more in games against the bottom three clubs and over the last three weeks, they have not scored over 76 points. If they are to finish in the top four, they need to fix both the drive into the forward line and the functioning of their forward set-up. And no David King and others, Max Gawn is not the permanent answer up forward as he is needed elsewhere if Melbourne are to succeed.


Are Brisbane Ready for Broadway?

Where are you really at, Brisbane? I’m slightly confused.

I could make a very sustainable and fair argument the Lions are ready to step into the limelight, yet here we are again in familiar territory with the club tittering between the top four and the bottom half of the eight.

Make no mistake, Lions, you are an ‘A’ lister outfit with talent to burn on every line. When the Lions roar, there is a real class and polish about their performances. However, every now and then, they don’t follow the script and falter – just enough to raise doubts.

The Lions have stars to burn as stated earlier, but when Joey fires, they go from good to incredible. It’s a terrible burden to place on any individual, but I firmly believe a fired-up and performing Joe Daniher (who is having a good year) makes the difference between a good Lions team and a team capable of threatening for the flag.


When will the Kennel believe being in the Top Four is a good thing?  

Since the 2016 Premiership success, the Doggies seem to believe they can win the flag from sixth or seventh place on the ladder. Let’s get something straight Doggies, since the start of the AFL era the Holy Grail has only been snatched three times by teams outside of the top four – it is a rarity.

Bad losses to the Gold Coast and Geelong before the bye have hurt the Pups’ aspirations and any momentum they had. The Doggies are better than a mediocre team and after the bye, their supporters should insist they get their bark back and make a real surge for the top four. Anything less from this group of players is unacceptable.

As an outsider looking in, the Dogs form inconsistencies frustrates me, so I can only imagine how your supporters feel.

While I am it Western Bulldogs, the rest of the competition are a bit peeved you opened the door for Geelong to threaten again this year. Thanks for nothing.


The Old Cat Firm

They are a mighty team at Geelong, and just when you think they are out, they come back again. At the halfway mark last year, they were sixth and this year they sit eighth, so who knows what happens from here?

Can Hawkins crook back stand up? Will Danger have another miraculous recovery and led the team to glory ala Selwood? Can the Cats win consistently without Guthrie (the older)? Is there anything Cameron can’t do? Will Batman De Koning be the force again like last year? Are Tuohy, Stewart and Blicavs, et al, hungry enough to do it again? Who is their ruckman? Will the defence stand up without Esava? Can the kids find form? How old is Isaac Smith? Really, how old is he?

There are so many questions about Geelong and only time (hahahaha, an old age pun) will tell.


Fremantle and St Kilda – which one will disappoint the most?

Since the start of the AFL era in 1990 there have only been two teams that have not won a flag in that time (excluding the two new expansion teams) and they are Fremantle and St Kilda. In that time, every one of the other fourteen clubs has tasted success. Both clubs now find themselves at the point again whereby they can mount a challenge. It is an unlikely challenge but a challenge nonetheless – success does not come without challenge!

I am making a huge presumption Fremantle, you beat Richmond on the weekend, and you are the same position on the ladder as St Kilda with seven wins and five losses after 12 games. You win that, and your only ambition should be top four. You have adapted your game style during the first half of the season from a style that was unwatchable to a winning format that has some flair, dash, and real class.

We are starved of info about the Dockers here in Victoria. Nat Fyfe and Luke Jackson aside, your A-grade stars like Serong, Pearce, Brayshaw, Sonny Walters and Darcy are not familiar household names to casual supporters here. Die-hard footy lovers know, but Mick from Templestowe really has no clue. Even fewer people on the east coast would not know about your talented youngsters like Jye Amiss, Josh Treacy, and others. And just for the record, the Freo list runs deep on every line with experience.

The Dockers have plenty of home games to come and a relatively easier draw than most. Fremantle should end up with around 15 or 16 wins come season’s end and then the question will be whether 15 or 16 wins is enough for the top four in a 23-round season.

Last year two friends of mine who are loyal St Kilda fans got stuck into me because Sydney had an easy draw and they felt St Kilda was unfairly treated by Gil and his cronies. They may have well been right, but St Kilda only won three games after the bye, which by any standards, is unacceptable.

Well Alex, Andrew and St Kilda, you cannot blame the draw, the AFL, Gil, or Brett Ratten this year. The Sainters have their dream draw, they have their dream coach, and start from a good mid-season position to push towards the top. Up until this point of the season, Ross Lyon has not been tested much as a coach, but his true test is to see if he can get this team of perennial underachievers to make the eight. Six wins from here should see the Sainters somewhere inside the top eight at season’s end. Anything else must be deemed as a failure.

One day Fremantle or St Kilda will finally win a premiership. The question is, which one is closer right now?


Bravo Essendon

The biggest mistake any team on the rise can make is to believe their own publicity and get ahead of themselves. I hope for the sake of my whinging friends who follow the Black and Red, that the Bombers don’t fall into this trap.

Bravo Brad Scott for what you have done with your list at Essendon, as the players look fitter and they are playing for each other which is a far cry from this time last year.

Beware Bombers, form can be very fragile and fleeting when you are not accustomed to it.

The maxim ‘one game at time’ should be the only mantra coming out of the Hangar. Essendon’s next game is against Carlton and that is all the players and supporters should be worried about. Win or lose that game and then move onto the next game and the rest will take care of itself.

Yes Bombers, you have a favourable draw, but you are not ready to slip into the illusion that an easy draw will fix everything. When it comes to Essendon, I am not even mentioning the ‘F’ word until closer to the end of the season and hopefully, it’s not the other ‘F’ word.

A huge shout out to Dyson Heppell who has played some of his best footy this year.


Gold Coast and Adelaide

What is the definition of a good year for both the Suns and Crows?

It is a really difficult question to answer as both clubs are on an upwards trajectory with a bullet, but,,,,,,,

(Dar)win form is winning form for the Suns and they come into the bye with a six/six record and with a percentage of exactly one hundred percent. For people who like numbers, that’s impressive, but what is more impressive is it is probably the first time since Gary Ablett was a Sun, they have at least been even with the rest of the competition.

An injury-free(range) Rowell is a pleasure to watch, the revelation that is Humphrey helps cover the loss of Rankine, the goal-kicking of Lukosius and King has been sublime, and the supporting cast of seasoned heads and kids has the Suns in a really good position.

In a 23-round season, twelve wins may not be enough to make the finals, but if the Suns could achieve that then they will have had their first-ever winning season.

Also, I wish the friggin media would stop trying to get rid of Stewie Dew – it is nauseating.

Four weeks ago, many in the press were talking about Adelaide as a possible Premiership chance this year forgetting the old saying you cannot put old heads on young shoulders. The Crows are on the rise and whether that means they play finals this year or not is open to conjecture. As good as they have been at times this year, they lack the consistency to be anywhere other than in the pack fighting for eighth spot.

Young players with plenty of talent need to be nourished and fed ‘game time’. They need to know the joy of winning and the cost of losing as this young talented pool of players builds and toughens towards to an average of 100 games per player running out on the park every week.

Jordan Dawson has been an inspirational choice as captain. The unexpected benefit this year has been the form of past captains, Rory Sloane and the big Texan, who have thrived under Dawson’s stewardship. For the first time since the Mystery Bus Tour there is a freedom and a unity at the Crows which is juxtaposed to the Power-Stance days.

Finals are not out of reach of either the Suns or Crows, but it will mean winning at least seven games on the run home.


My Beloved Swans 

In 2013, 2015, and 2017, the Swans failed to make it back to the big dance after being there the year before. Only the most optimistic of supporters would believe they can make it make back there this year, so add 2023 to that list. The Swans have been very average this year and if it weren’t for some weird free kick and a 50 metre penalty against North Melbourne then I would be describing their year as deplorable.

I harp on this point constantly, but clubs that get belted in a Grand Final are not close, and they need to make harsh and tough decisions, like Sheedy in ‘83 and Jeans in ‘85. Maybe Horse needs to take a page out of Dimma’s book and consider what is best for the club? Only Horse and the Swans’ inner sanctum can answer that question.

Sydney has a very talented list when they are all out on the park and capable of anything in the coming years, but this year which promised so much has been, Annus Horribillis.


Carlton Carlton Carlton

My mother said to me, “if you can’t say anything nice then say nothing at all”, and maybe she was right but then again, I was always a rebel.

Carlton is about as stable as PWC partners meeting presently and with about as many casualties. They are a rabble and a long, long way from the team that just missed the finals last year.

Firstly, some love. Harry McKay, you are an A-grade footballer and you would be welcome at any club. The noises made by the media and club supporters about your goal kicking are nothing short of workplace bullying. All good clubs can carry a player who has a case of the ‘yips’, or a mid-fielder or back-man who is out of form until such time as they find touch and form again. Like I said, all good clubs. Carlton tend to eat their own.

Harry McKay, you are not the cause of Carlton’s problems one iota, rather you should be embraced and seen as part of the long-term solution.

Secondly, more love. Give Michael Voss a friggin chance. He inherited most of his list from previous administrations, who themselves inherited it from previous administrations, and so on. Maybe take a chill pill and let Mr Voss clean and sweep the place out a bit before you push him out of the rotating coaches door.

Carlton, learn a lesson from Richmond and Geelong and back your man in the face of adversity.

The Baggers have a good list, but it is not a great list as it carries a lot of mediocre players which must make for selection headaches each week.

Poor old Cripps, Walsh, Curnow and Curnow, Weitering, Docherty, et al look like they are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders, while poor old Saad must be wondering what he has done wrong or who he has upset as nobody is passing him the ball. They all need a boost.

Forget about finals talk Baggers and just concentrate on a single win – never has a club needed to steal a win and a chance to embrace each other more than Carlton does right now.


Richmond and GWS

In 2019 both clubs were the Grand Finalists and both clubs were at the top of their games. Four years later, both clubs are at the start of a rebuild phase with new coaches and renewed enthusiasm for the future.

Both clubs are playing entertaining and competitive football without necessarily winning, but it is easy to see the trajectory they are on and if you barracked for either team you would be excited by what may unfold in 2024 or 2025.

Toby Greene, you are one of the greatest players in the modern era and your form this year cements your legacy as the greatest Giant of all.

Dimma, whether you coach again is irrelevant, as what you did for Richmond was unimaginable in 2016. In 2015 I chatted with Ben Gale at a Reclink finals day at the Peanut Farm about his claim Richmond would win three flags. It seemed so farfetched at the time. He backed you in 2016, Dimma, and the rest, three flags later, is history. Well done and thanks for the entertainment.

Take note Carlton, despite a bad 2016, Richmond backed in their man.


The Harley Reid Cup That Never Was

As soon as half the West Coast’s playing list broke this, snapped that, tore something, or just plain and simply broke down, there never really was a need for any team to bring the game into disrepute by tanking for the number one draft pick. It is hard for half a WAFL team to compete and even harder for players who aren’t ready or tough enough to step into the big time.

There are players playing for West Coast who under normal circumstances may never have played at the highest level and some of those players just aren’t ready for the physicality of the AFL.

The AFL need to change their rules around clubs decimated by injury so they can bring in players who are OHS ready for the rigours of the toughness of the game at the highest level. Enough said.

North Melbourne should have won a couple more games than they have, but bad luck seems to be their best friend this year. The loss against Sydney was just ludicrous.

There is a lot to like about the Shinboners and despite bad luck and some close losses, I think they have had a reasonable first half of the season. The wins will come in time as there is a nice blend of senior players teaching some extremely talented youngsters how to be AFL footballers – Sheezel and Wardlaw show signs of being real high-class top-end talents in the future.

Nick Larkey is the best-kept secret in the AFL and if he played for any other club in the league, he would heralded as a superstar of our game, but his stature within the wider football world goes unnoticed as he plays for a club that only gets media attention for reasons of disciplinary actions against players, coaches coming and going, and/or board upheavals.

The Hawks are in a similar position to North. I have written two glowing articles about the Hawks this year after consecutive wins against West Coast and St Kilda and the thing that has surprised me the most is how physical and game ready some of the young Hawks are.

I’ve said it before, but Sam Mitchell seems to be on the right track with this young group of players. The next step is to recruit the right players to fill the voids around them.


For Once Collingwood Is Last

The whole of the AFL seemed to have fallen in love with Collingwood and anything to do with Collingwood.

Craig McRae is the greatest new-age coach.

Darcy Moore is the greatest captain.

Nick Daicos will win the Brownlow in only his second year.

Collingwood games are so special.

We love it when Collingwood are ‘up and about’ (BT).

Collingwood Mum, Mrs McCreery’s speech was magical and inspirational (it was pretty cool).

Did I mention already Craig McRae is the great new-age coach?

Collingwood, Collingwood, bloody Collingwood.


News for you Pies fans and hanger-on’s, all you’ve done is win eleven games so far this year and sit atop the ladder. No team has ever won a premiership in June. Watch how fast the sycophants drop off if you start losing.

Moneyball Collingwood

‘Moneyball’ seems to be the new buzzword floating around media circles presently, but I think Collingwood are the only club who truly understand what it means.

After losing a Preliminary Final last year by a solitary point, and probably another 30 seconds, the numbers and money men at Pieland did not rest on their laurels and just say next year is our year. No, instead they went out and pinpointed exactly what recruits they needed to headhunt. McStay, Mitchell, Hill and Frampton were inspired tactical selections aimed specifically at taking the club to the next level in 2023 and to this stage of the season, it seems the moneyball men were correct.

There was a fragility about Collingwood last year which was reflected in their percentage. The Pies of the first half of 2023 don’t seem fragile at all. In fact, they are playing fearless precision football and they have scant regard for tactics other teams may employ. If they weren’t so ‘new age’ I would almost say the old Collingwood arrogance was back, but they are the ‘new age Pies’, loved by all.

Collingwood have an inherent, unshakeable belief their game style and plan is better than any other team. and while it has been tested at times, it has stood up thus far. It begs a fair question though for opposition coaches to explore, ‘what is Collingwood’s plan B and Plan C’ if their game plan and style looks like being brought undone? To be tested.

Collingwood are deserved Premiership frontrunners (I refuse to advertise gambling agencies in any way shape or form) at the halfway mark and I wish their true diehard one-eyed lifelong supporters the best (it’s hard, very hard, for me to even say that) for the season.

Just a reminder to the Pies’ True Believers, the same sycophants who are jumping on board now laughed their arses off after Sheed kicked the winning goal in the 2018 granny – they are fickle friends at best and very two-faced.

I know, I know, McCrae, Moore, McCreery, etc, are all really cool, fluffy and new age, but I so miss the old school, arrogant, nasty Collingwood when they were known as The Filth.


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