The Optimistic Mongrel – Part Two 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.

With that, let’s have a look at some potential good news stories that may (but probably won’t) come to fruition during the coming season.

I have broken this up into a few bits because it’s school holidays, it’s Christmas, and there are kids at my house who make things very difficult. Why do they do that? Is it like their job

Last time, we covered the Swans, Eagles, Bombers, Tigers, Cats, and Power. This time, we’re not. If you’re after those teams, click HERE



Oh, there were some who took great delight in the fall of Fremantle in 2023.

In 2022, Freo built their game plan in a similar way to the wonderful 2013 incarnation of the Dockers. Their “anyone, anywhere, anytime” attitude saw them knock over Geelong at Kardinia Park, Adelaide on the road, and Melbourne at the MCG, amongst others.

As a matter of fact, they were the best road team in the game that season – they played like mongrels, and I loved it!

2023 was not as kind, with Freo playing a style that seemed to be content with waiting for opponents to make mistakes. That, in itself, was a mistake. Check their Round One game against St Kilda as a prime example of this. Relying on your opponents’ errors whilst not pressuring them into making them means they own the footy. Freo needed to start taking the footy away, but by the time they started to work things out, the season was lost.

Remember when Rocky Balboa lost the Eye of the Tiger? The Dockers had one season of relative success and started to play like champions. They’re at their best when they play like the hungry predator stalking its prey; not the satisfied one with a full belly. They need to find that Eye of the Tiger and become the toughest team in the league to play against again.

And what better way to make that statement than to knock over the Lions in their opening game? I reckon that game sets the tone for the entire year.

Eye of the Tiger, Freo… but maybe no hugging on the beach. That was just weird.

If this team can get that aggro back in their game, they will go places.



What have we heard about Melbourne since the end of the 2023 season? Anything positive? Hell, Simon Goodwin saved a bloke from drowning and it was almost begrudginglyreported. It kind of ruined the vibe the SEN blokes were looking for.

You know, I remember another team seemingly under siege a couple of years back, and they responded in such a way they’re now the reigning premiers. Do you remember that? McGuire, Buckley, the board… all in disarray. The press were all over them like fleas on a mangy dog.

Sound a little familiar?

The Demons have not had a great off-season, copping hits left, right, and centre. However, that kind of stuff can really ingrain an “us versus the world” mentality within a group if cultivated well, and if Melbourne are able to harness that type of energy and attitude, it could provide a springboard for the club to bounce back.

I want to see the Dees harden up. I want to see them look the press, the naysayers, the critics in the eye and, figuratively at least, say “screw you!” Maybe something a bit stronger, but hey, I run a tight ship here and save the swearing for when I really mean it.

The Dees are immensely talented. They should be right in the window to contend again, but there seem to be plenty of people wanting to knock them down.

Stare ‘em down, Dees.

Prove them wrong.



After the Horne-Francis debacle of a couple of years back, North got things exactly right with the way they handled Harry Sheezel in his first year in the league.

Playing off half-back, the Sheez slotted right in, gathering the footy at a rate rivalling the way Nick Daicos found it in his first year. You could argue that Daicos was more potent with the ball in hand, but North were content allowing their young star to work at his own pace and develop his game in a ‘safe’ position.

That said, I am very keen to see what happens when things are less safe.

I worry about North’s defence, as tall timber seems pretty scarce (hold it together, Charlie Comben! This is your chance to repay the faith), but I’d love to see this team adopt a run-and-gun identity, with their young stars permitted to play with a bit of flair. Sheez, Wardlaw, LDU, Simpkin, and now Colby McKercher in the mix and pushing hard forward… the Roos’ youngsters have the capacity to take the game on.

Will Clarko give them the green light to do so?



This club should make finals. No ifs, buts, or goals called as points should stop them in 2024.

However, whilst most of us believe the Crows are prime for a finals run, there is something else I would love to see occur to secure their future. I want to see Darcy Fogarty and Riley Thilthorpe reward the work of Tex Walker over the last few years by taking up the reins and guiding this forward line to glory.

Tex has been huge for Adelaide, playing career-best footy in his twilight years to afford the young forwards time to develop without the pressure of carrying the forward line. It has been Walker doing the heaviest of lifting whilst the Fogarty/Thilthorpe combination has been brought along slowly.

2024 should see that pairing pick up the pace.

I know Walker is a controversial figure. I know many dislike him. However, I absolutely LOVE what he has been able to do for the Crows and if the club can reward him with a deep finals run whilst deferring to Fog and Thrillhouse a little more, it would cap one of the best, and more enjoyable periods of a veteran taking the hits for his young teammates and having them emerge as better players as a result.

And if Fog knocks a few into the middle of next season when they drop in the hole in front of him, that’d be great, too.



If I were to follow a different team, it’d be GWS. If the Hawks start paying out members’ money in settlements, I just might.

For years, we’ve heard about how GWS have been plundered and how they are a farming system for the Melbourne clubs, but far out this club has done a masterful job of retaining such a brilliant mix of players, and turning those leaving into high draft picks to ensure the club remains in the mix.

They deserve a heap of credit.

When you look at their list, players like Finn Callaghan, Tom Green, Lachie Ash, Leek Aleer, and Aaron Cadman headline the group emerging as those who will lead the club forward. And then they go out and not only fall one kick short of the Grand Final, but were also able to work the draft to finish with two first rounders to net Phoenix Gothard and James Leake – more blocks to build upon.

When the AFL look at expansion teams done correctly, GWS are Exhibit A. Yes, they lost a heap of talent along the way, but the way the club has created an environment that continues to produce top-line players is exactly the type of thing that should be applauded and recognised. Toby Greene, Stephen Coniglio, Nick Haynes, Josh Kelly, Lachie Whitfield… the Giants have retained such high quality, and with blokes like Sam Taylor, Connor Idun, and Harry Himmelberg looking as though they’ll end up one-club players, as well, it’s high time we tip our hats to what the Giants have done.

And I’d love to see them win the flag, for the record.



I’m sure I am showing my age, here, but I am sure a few of you remember the TV show The A-Team. It had Mr T in it right around the time of Rocky 3 and his appearance at the first ever Wrestlemania… far out, the bloke had a profile at that time. Second Rocky 3 appearance in this article… I do love it.

Anyway, the leader of the A-Team, Hannibal, used to sit back with a cigar in his mouth after his team pulled off a wild adventure and say “I love it when a plan comes together.”

And that’s how I’m picturing Hawks coach, Sam Mitchell if the team starts to build on the momentum they started to generate in 2023.

A couple of years back, Sam Mitchell cleaned out the Hawks. The old guard was sent packing and the focus went onto the new guys. Those new guys now comprise one of the more impressive 22-and-under squads in the comp – Will Day, Jai Newcombe, Josh Ward, Cam MacKenzie, Josh Weddle, and they’ve added Jack Ginnivan and Massimo D’Ambrosio this off-season, as well as drafting Nick Watson.

The Hawks are building, and if you can’t see that, you need to take the blinkers off.

As with most young teams, I am sure they’ll fall away at points, but the positives should now start matching the negatives. And hell, Sam Mitchell even relented a bit and allowed old man Gunston back “home” to finish his career. He might be ruthless as a coach, but he does have a heart.

And he’ll be loving seeing his plan come together in 2024.



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