The Optimistic Mongrel – Part 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 was Christmas, and there are kids at my house who make things very difficult. Why do they do that? Is it like their job. They’re really good at it, too!

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

The second one covered the Dockers, Kangas, Crows, Dees, Giants, and Hawks. You can have a gander at those ones HERE.


And this week (after a bit of a delay, and being called out on my tardiness by a couple of readers) we’re onto the last six teams.



I know this is optimism, but we should start with a reality check.

Chances are, the Blues won’t go into the last round of the season on a nine-game winning streak. Those types of runs just don’t occur that often. But what is also a reality is that this team won’t stink it up in the first 13 rounds the way they did in 2023, either. They’re too good to do that.

At that stage of the season, Carlton were sitting at four wins, one draw, and eight losses.

It should be the last time the Carlton “faithful” hurl abuse at the team as they depart the arena.

The mission for Carlton in 2023 is to solidify the work they put in during the back half of last season. Sometimes, things just start clicking for a team, and that is where the Blues found themselves heading into finals last year. They pushed all the way to the Prelim before bowing out, beaten but far from disgraced.

After such a drought, they have tasted finals again, and they’ve liked the taste of it.

2023 should be remembered as the season the Blues turned it all around, but that can only happen if they continue on in 2024 where they left off.

If 2023 was the entrée, Carlton fans should be readying themselves for the main course in 2024. They are no ‘hit-and-run’ diners.



I don’t expect Brisbane to be going anywhere for a while, yet. A quick look at their list and you can see they have some wonderful young talent coming through to build their next generation around.

That said, how long can a team be “up” for?

The Lions have been close to the mark for five-straight seasons, now. They came from nowhere in 2019 and have set up shop in the top four. And the best-case scenario for them in 2024 would see them doing the same, all over again.

No, this is not Brisbane acting out the definition of insanity – no, they know what needs to be done to give them every chance. A pair of home finals is the quickest way back to the MCG, and a shot at redemption.

There is only one form of optimism for the Lions in 2024, and that is to go one step further. That’s as simple as it gets.

And they are very capable of doing just that.



In many ways, it’s put up, or shut up time for the Gold Coast Suns.

Have you ever been in a situation where someone has threatened you, but you know that’s all they’re ever going to do?

“Mate, if you do X, I’ll do Y!!!”

So, you do X, and they do… nothing!


Because threats mean nothing, both in life and in footy. If I wanted to do something, I sure as hell wouldn’t give someone a warning by threatening them! Yet, that’s all we’ve had from the Suns for years. They’ve threatened to make the top eight several times.

Time to stop the threats.

Time to start doing.

The Suns have their ducks in a row. Their young mids are elite. They have Ben King back after a year of adjusting to life after a knee reconstruction (believe me, it takes more than just the time you’ve been off the field), and now, they have a finals-hardened coach at the helm.

Can Dimma push this team into September action for the first time?

I hope he lets his team’s actions do the talking and makes no threats. There have been enough of them from the Suns, already.



Hands up if you saw St Kilda coming in 2023?

*Raises hand*

And I’m on record saying it, too!

I was doing a bit of research for our St Kilda Season Preview (coming up int eh next week or so) and found that in his second season coaching a team, Ross Lyon has a history of finding a way to elevate their performance and make something of them. He doesn’t pissfart around!

Was he able to do this a year early with the Saints? Or does his new/old team have another level to get to in 2024?

I don’t want to ruin the preview, as it is a belter for the Saints, but what we’ve got here at Moorabbin is a great mix of talent, drive, and a bloke at the steering wheel who knows exactly what he wants out of this group, and knows exactly how to get it.

Many wrote the Saints off to begin 2023. Nathan Buckley called them a bottom four team.

This club took the verbal hits and dished up a few physical ones of their own en route to making the finals in a year when no one had any expectations of them other than to be punching bags for the contenders.

The Saints were plucky. They were desperate. And they had a contained rage to the way they applied themselves. Brad Hill attacked the contest hard, for crying out loud! That hadn’t happened since… well, since the last time Ross Lyon coached him!

The Saints proved a point in 2023, but that was just step one. The job is far from over – it has just begun.

Maintain the rage. Go again!



2016 seems so far away, doesn’t it?

That’d be because it is. We’re closer to 2030 than we are to 2016 – let that sink in, you old bats and codgers!

Since that fateful day in 2016, the Dogs have retained a very good list. They have cultivated the talents of arguably the best player in the competition, and stacked their midfield with enough talent to power two senior teams. But the Dogs have underachieved.

A Grand Final appearance in 2021 had them 35 minutes from a flag… but that 35 minutes saw the Dees go absolutely nuts!

Since then, this team has hovered around the bottom end of the top eight, and the top of “the rest” section of the ladder. When you look at what this team possesses, it is incredible that they’re unable to be at, or near the top of the competition.

Bont, Libba, Treloar, Jones, Smith, Dale, Daniel, Naughton, Jamarra, Weightman, English… the Dogs have talent to burn and although they seem to be able to put it together on occasion, their second half of 2023 was abysmal for a team with this much going for it.

From Round 12, their record was 5-8.

This team, with A-Grade players coming out of places other teams don’t even have places, and they finished ninth?!?!

This team is squandering a period they should be one of the best in the competition. They are going up and down on the one spot when they should be sprinting to the finish line. They need to start making hay while the sun shines with this group, because one day, all there’ll be is dark clouds, and if they think things are bad now, they are going to be in a lot of trouble when the true bad times hit.

Not overly optimistic, I know, but I expect far more from this group than we’ve seen in the last two years. Time for them to deliver.



If you’re looking at what stood out for the Magpies in 2023, it would have to be the belief the team had in itself. No matter where they found themselves in games, the Magpies seemed to find a way to either claw their way back, or run over the top of teams.

They never genuinely laid down

It was as though they knew something other teams didn’t. Almost as though they had a superpower other teams didn’t possess.

If you look back at the season the Pies compiled, the only times they looked truly vulnerable were when they lost genuine key pieces late in the season. When Nick Daicos and Darcy Moore both went down, it was the only period of the year when I started questioning them.

And they answered those questions emphatically over the month of September.

I am sure supporters of the Dees (and maybe some players, too), the Lions, and the Giants all have legitimate cases that had the ball bounced the other way, or had a decision been paid the other way, things would have been different.

And maybe they would have, but at the end of the day, the best team all season reigned supreme. And now, if they’re up for it, the work starts all over again.

And that remains the challenge.

There are some teams that can find the magical ingredient a second time and cast the same spell as the year before, but so many times, what worked so well the season prior fails to have the same effect. Other teams learn and adapt.

In 2023 (and 2022 for that matter) the words of Craig McRae rung true with his charges. He preached and they believed, but do they believe again this season? Or are they content with one magical season?

Make no mistake, the ball is well and truly in the court of the Pies heading into the 2024 season, and they will need to subscribe to whatever McRae is attempting to create again if they’re going to make it back-to-back.

It is not easy to do, unless… you believe!



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