The Optimistic Mongrel – Part One of Three

Depending on where you look, the AFL preseason can be a bad news factory. Injuries, dramas… it can get you down.

And at this time of year, we could all use a little cheer, right?

Well, I sure could. Let’s try to make this a bit of a ‘silver linings’ article, shall we?

With that, we can have a look at some potential good news stories that may (but probably won’t… dark clouds… dark clouds) come to fruition in the coming season.

I might break this up into a few bits because it’s school holidays and there are kids at my house who make things very difficult. Why do they do that?

Anyway, let’s go.



A lot of the focus will be on Harley Reid and how he performs, but West Coast have spent the last couple of seasons bringing in very talented kids – and it is how they gel in their roles this season that will go a long way to re-establishing this club as a power. That’s not to say I think they’ll make a huge difference this season; I don’t think they will at all, but learning how to play with each other, how to feed off one another’s strengths and so on… that’s what Eagles fans will be looking forward to.

With Reid, Reuben Ginbey, Elijah Hewett, Noah Long, Tyler Brockman, Rhett Bazzo, Brady Hough, and Noah Long all 21 or under, there should be plenty of signs to look for.

One player I will be keeping a particular eye on will be Campbell Chesser. Taken at pick 14 in the 2021 Draft, his playing time has been restricted by injury. After missing the entire 2022 season, he played 14 games last year and should now be ready to take the next step. He was one of the first pieces to the puzzle for West Coast – it would be nice to see where he fits this year.



Let’s face it – the last couple of years have been a disaster for Brodie Grundy in terms of his footy career. In 2022, he watched his team excel without him, and he saw Darcy Cameron’s play make him seem expendable. After signing such a huge deal with Collingwood, suddenly he was on the outer.

After a trade to Melbourne, the dream combination with Max Gawn quickly turned into a nightmare, with Grundy relegated to the VFL to learn how to play better as a forward (which was never going to happen) whilst the Dees opted to use Josh Schache as their sub in the finals (and not even bother allowing him take the field at all) whilst the prize recruit sat in the grandstand wondering where it all went wrong.

The Sydney Swans offer Grundy a chance at redemption, and early signs indicate that he is ready to make the most of this opportunity.

Can he be a top-five ruck again?

It’s probably a little far-fetched to think he will be able to replicate the form that saw him pick up two AA selections – that was some incredible work for a big man – but I’d love to see a fit Grundy slotting in with Gawn, English, Darcy and Marshall as the best big men in the game once again. And I am sure some Sydney midfielders would like some silver service, as well.



This is not a cheap shot by any stretch.

Late last season, Essendon fell away badly. They looked like a team that was spent and you could hear in Brad Scott’s pre-season and post-season comments that he knew what the issue was. They weren’t fit enough when he got there and, as a result, they were not fit enough when it mattered.

This team should have played finals in 2023.

Coming into this season, they have loaded up with Ben McKay, Xavier Duursma, Jade Gresham, and Todd Goldstein – these are not the moves of a team content to build for a year or two, or hang around the middle of the road. No, Essendon are now built to win immediately. They have the pieces. They just need to build that work ethic and desire to consistently be able to work hard when things are not going their way.

It’s one thing to identify the issue, and I reckon Scott has well and truly done that. I genuinely think he realised it ten minutes after he walked in the door. But getting those players to change and follow the way Zach Merrett and Nic Martin run their guts out… it will likely dictate just how far they can go.

All eyes are on how Jake Stringer presents after the Christmas break.



Plenty are putting a line through the Cats before the season starts, and it is likely for the same reasons they have for years. Too old, too slow, right? There have been a couple teams saddled with that label that have gone on to win flags.

Whilst it’s true the Cats still have plenty of players who have memories greater than their dreams when it comes to footy, all it will take is a good run with injury, and reports of the demise of the Cats may prove to be greatly exaggerated.

With a great home-ground advantage, a team with Cam Guthrie and Jack Henry returning, Patrick Dangerfield fit, and Tom Hawkins not hobbling, will give any side a run for their money on the proviso that the kids (Bruhn, Holmes, Ollie Henry, Clark, De Koning) continue to develop and lean on the blokes that have been there and done that.

Of course, there will be hiccups along the way, and the ageing legs of the Cats may be more prone to suffering soft tissue injuries, but a year of transition, where the old blokes pass the torch to the next group (and that group readily accepting it) may have people rethinking how quickly they disregard Geelong as a finalist, yet again.



There are times in the life of any team when an apparent solution appears to create more problems than it rectifies.

Surely that won’t be the case with Port, right?


Their deficiencies in 2023 were obvious. The ruck was an issue, and when it came to the defence, it was clear Aliir Aliir needed help. And to Port’s credit, they didn’t screw around when it came time to address things.

Not only did they bring in one player to help with the ruck, but they also grabbed another to cover all bases (or two bases, I suppose). Ivan Soldo and Jordon Sweet will both be afforded more responsibility at the Power, whilst Brandon Zerk-Thatcher and Esava Ratugolea add some size and depth in the key defensive position.

I know some people are dying to kill Port off in 2024. They want the drama, the pressure on the coach, and the opportunity to gloat, but this team has made the moves to ensure they give themselves every chance to contend. I can’t dislike that.



When I watched Jack Riewoldt play full forward in 2023, my biggest takeaway from his performance was that he missed Tom Lynch.

Jack was a champion of the game, but at 34, he was going up and down in the one spot, at points. He finished with 32 goals for the year, but with Tom Lynch by his side, drawing all sorts of attention from defenders, I reckon Jack would have once again registered in the 40s.

Lynch has the capacity to plonk himself in the goal square, demand the footy, and then make the most of it. He is a game-changer, and as the Tigers missed the 2023 finals, my perception was that Lynch’s absence was the factor that pushed Richmond out of finals contention.

If they can get him playing a full year and Jacob Hopper fully fit, those who speculated that the Tigers would be in contention for the wooden spoon will be pretty damn quiet when the subject of Richmond in 2024 comes up.



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