A Very Mongrel Xmas - The Gifts Your Club Needs

Almost a year ago, I sat on my couch at home, thinking of a good idea for an article about Xmas presents for AFL teams. I dragged my feet on it, and a few days later, as I was perusing Facebook and Twitter, I was a little alarmed to see basically every outlet covering footy had concocted the same ‘brilliant’ idea.

At that point, I made a note not to drag my feet again, and also came to the conclusion that my idea was neither a) original, or b) brilliant. Yet here I am, having designated time to do this a week ago, still at the introduction.

It takes me a while to learn lessons, and who needs their ideas to brilliant, anyway?.

Alas, it’s almost that time of the year- a time when increasingly pissweak local councils start fearing they may offend someone with Christmas decorations, progressive businesses start wishing people “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” to be inclusive, and you’re kind of forced to see your relatives.

Here at The Mongrel, we say Merry Christmas without fear of ostracizing anyone. Seriously, if that offends you, dislike our page now and never return. There are bigger things to worry about.

And one of those things, in keeping with the tradition of Santa’s birthday, or whatever, is the giving of gifts.

We’re a benevolent bunch here at The Mongrel, and this year is no exception. There are some clubs needier than others, and some players who are due for a little luck from Santa. Some will end up receiving a lump of coal in their stocking, but hey, with a bit of patience, and a fair amount of pressure, that coal may end up turning into a diamond.

So with that, we open our bag of gifts and give your club exactly what they need… whether they know it or not.

 

ADELAIDE

The fate of the Crows is in their own hands, but a bit of luck never goes astray. Whilst I am sure the coaching group won’t be enlisting the aid of any half-qualified mind gurus this off-season, I’m not entirely sure that the problems were upstairs in 2018 with Adelaide.

I’ve written before about the rash of injuries that struck the club. Of the top ten finishers in the Crows’ 2017 Best and Fairest count, only one player managed to play every game – the ageing Sam Jacobs. The others combined for 80 missed games last season. No team can overcome that sort of injury plague.

I don’t care deep a side is, when your top ten players all missing significant game time, something’s gotta give. Perhaps a gift of a good yoga instructor at Adelaide will do the trick in 2019. With the Hawks, Swans, Cats and kangaroos in the first four weeks, a full list to select from is paramount. If the hamstrings are going ‘twang’ early in the piece, expect some heads to roll in Adelaide.

 

BRISBANE

The pressure is on now. The Lions have been touted as the big improver, and with that comes the weight of expectation. Geez… they’d have really like Dayne Beams there to absorb a bit of it, huh?

No matter – it’s a definite dark cloud/silver lining scenario here. The addition of Lachie Neale is the kind of present that’ll keep on giving for years. Unsung at Fremantle despite two Best and Fairest awards (no AA gigs), and in the shadow of Nat Fyfe, Neale now has the opportunity to become THE midfield star at Brisbane.

It is a gift that has been thrust onto the Lions the past few years, but patience is required at the moment. Yes, they should be better, and yes young stars like Cam Rayner, Harris Andrews and Daniel McStay will take further steps toward becoming stars, and Charlie Cameron will be like a recruit again up forward, but to think the Lions are ready at this stage is ludicrous. They won five games in 2018. They ‘should’ do better than that, but if they don’t it’s not the end of the world.

Patience may be virtue, but as a fan, it can be as frustrating as hell to be told to wait, yet that’s what Brisbane supporters need to do.

 

CARLTON

There’s a bit going right for the Blues at the moment. With Docherty back this season, giving them a sense of leadership and stability in defence, to the addition of Mitch McGovern, Carlton are starting to get a little bit of swagger about them again. It’s something we haven’t seen in a long while. As a matter of fact, they’ve been anything but swaggering for years now – limping is probably a better description.

But whilst they’ve already received gifts in the form of Sam Walsh and Liam Stocker, my gift is a little more practical, and it’s what I’d like to call the gift of awareness. And the recipient of that gift is Liam Jones. Seriously, watching he Blues last season, I couldn’t fault Jones’ attack on the ball when it was in the air, but the number of times he’d take out a fellow defender as he tried to spoil, allowing an attacking player (sometimes his direct opponent) to run onto the ball uncontested, had me dropping my head into my hands.

Jones can be a weapon. He proved that in 2017, but at the moment he needs to be a sniper rifle, and what he’s most like is a sawn-off shotgun. When he lets loose, everyone cops it, and fellow defenders like Caleb Marchbank and Jacob Weitering must hear footsteps whenever there is a high ball into forward 50. Jones is going to hit something – chances are it might be them.

 

COLLINGWOOD

The Pies already have their jolly fat man, Big Ed handing out contracts to some, and asking for others to take a hit to accommodate Dayne Beams, but if the Pies could use one thing, it is the continued development of Mason Cox.

With just 44 games under his belt, and a spectacular performance against Richmond punctuating just how far he’s come, Mason Cox has the potential to be a break out star in 2019. There were times last season where I was wondering what the hell he was doing on an AFL field. He looked like a baby giraffe, only with less coordination. His display against West Coast in the Qualifying Final gave his critics huge ammunition, but his ability to front up the next week and absolutely decimate the lauded Richmond back six spoke volumes about both his resiliency and determination.

If Cox takes things to another level in 2019, the Magpies become even more dangerous. Defensive coaches have no doubt been perusing match footage to see how to impede his run at the ball without giving away a free kick, but with set positions at centre bounces, the quick break out of the centre could become a nightmare for defenders forced to combat the reach of Cox.

And I wouldn’t mind a full season from Jordan de Goey, either. Love watching him play.

 

ESSENDON

It’s easy to look at the Bombers’ 2018 and see where they fell down.

Everywhere.

But most of all, removing a focal point like Joe Daniher from the attack left a hole that was simply gaping all year. No one could fill the void left by big Joe, despite some excellent efforts by Laverde and Stewart. A healthy Joe Daniher is the difference between Essendon being a top four contender, and a team struggling to make the eight… and no, not in a Robert Baratheon kind of way.

Are Game of Thrones jokes still ok? Seems like forever since it’s been part of popular culture.

Anyway, check out the progression of Daniher prior to 2018.

2015 – 34 goals. 2016 – 43 Goals. 2017 – 65 goals. I suppose he was due for a hiccup, but even if he gets back to somewhere between 2016-17 form, a 50-goal forward in the Essendon forward line would be the gift that keeps on giving…

… right into the finals.

 

FREMANTLE

So much of who Fremantle will be in 2019 will rely on Jesse Hogan up forward, and so much of whom Jesse Hogan will be at Fremantle relies on the delivery to him going forward.

And that’s where the absence of Lachie Neale hurts. Nat Fyfe is a ball-winner, and a contested possession beast, but let’s face it – his disposal sucks. Yes, a little blunt, but not at all untrue. The bloke absolutely hacks it even when given time and space to hit targets.

If I’m sitting on Santa’s knee and asking for something for the current squad, it’s that David Mundy starts getting on the receiving end of Fyfe handballs forward of the centre. In the absence of Neale, he is the guy I want leading the charge inside 50. Mundy, the Hill brothers and Nathan Wilson kicking to Hogan will be instrumental in his success.

If they’re relying on Fyfe to hit him on the chest, he may want to get a bigger chest.

A couple of travel-sickness tablets might go okay as well. Only one win outside WA in 2018.

 

GEELONG

One more year from the ‘Little Master’.

Where does Gaz Junior rate in the greatest players of the AFL era? He’d have to be close to top five, surely, but at 34 years old as the season starts, many have questioned his ability to play at a level that justifies his role as a mid.

He’s a victim of his own lofty standards.

At 29 touches, and almost a goal a game, most players would be delighted with the returns Ablett provided in 2018, but there are many who like to cut the tall poppies down, and there are no taller poppies in the AFL, sans maybe lance Franklin, than little Gaz.

I reckon there are two things that could’ve changed the perception of Ablett’s 2018. One was his hamstring going ‘twang’ in the Round Three encounter against West Coast. Ablett was looking good in that game, with 26 touches before limping off, and his previous two games saw him amass 39 and 35 touches in vintage Gaz displays. The hamstring injury derailed what was looking to be another fine Ablett season.

The other was the missed goal against Richmond. Four points down with less than two minutes to go, Ablett received a ripping handball from tom Hawkins, but his running right foot shot from 40 metres faded badly. He kicks that, and we’re celebrating an amazing Geelong victory, but instead, we get Dermott Brereton criticizing him for avoiding contact.

One more great season from Ablett would cement him in the upper echelon of those to ever play the game. Can he do it?

 

GOLD COAST

We all know what the Suns need – a Christmas miracle!

Nah, I’m kidding. What they need more than anything is these three young kids to get together, look each other in the eye and say “we’re in this for the long haul.”

Imagine that? Jack Lukosius, Izak Rankine and Ben King all sit down together and make a pact that they will be the three players that make Gold Coast a team to reckon with. There is no doubt in their voices. There is no shirking the responsibility. They approach Stuart Dew and Tony Cochrane and state that they are the three to make Gold Coast work, and they’re not going to be going anywhere.

But Ben… don’t you want to go and play with your brother? “No. I want to beat him.”

But Jack, don’t you want to head back to Adelaide? “No, this is my home now.”

But Izak, every club wants you. “I don’t care. This is where I want to be.”

Far out… Gold Coast fans – that’d be like all your Christmases coming at once.

 

GWS

Very similar to the Crows, the Giants were smashed by injury in 2018, and though they lost Dylan Shiel to the Bombers, they still have a first class midfield, with youngsters ready to step in and usurp the spot left by Shiel.

Tim Taranto looks the most likely to get more midfield time. Entering his third season, Taranto is already ticking over 20 touches per game, and unless the injury bug bites him hard, he should eclipse that.

Having said that, it is up forward that the Giants need a gift or two. Toby Greene made headlines for the wrong reasons in 2018, but in 2019 it needs to be his match-winning qualities that draws the spotlight to him. He is a star of the competition, irrespective of whether you approve of the way he plays, and there is not a shred of doubt in my mind that when Greene is on and playing well, the game itself is better off for it.

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HAWTHORN

The addition of Wingard may well aid the Hawks up forward, but the lack of a clear marking target inside 50 is a real concern, for mine. Unless the big Rough can turn the clock back a bit and clunk some marks, the Hawks may find themselves having to lower the eyes more than they ever have in the past.

The Hawks looked extremely thin in the midfield when O’Meara was unable to play against the Tigers in the Qualifying Final. It was Tom Mitchell, and little else. Wingard showed that he could perform at a high level when Ken Hinkley threw him into the middle last season, but will he have to plug holes both forward and in the guts for the Hawks.

If the Hawks could get one gift it would be for Mitch Lewis to get a regular game and clunk some marks on a consistent basis. Let’s face it; there isn’t much use wasting a Christmas wish on Tim O’Brien starting to mark the ball, is there?

 

MELBOURNE

Quite simply, the Dees need sustainability. No whetting the appetite of supporters with one trip to the finals. No flash in the pan, one and done September berths. Your supporters have waited too long for a sustained run at success. You have the cattle, you have the structure, and you have the players in place. Make it happen!

It’s hard to find fault with the Dees’ list. Excellent defenders, hard-at-it mids, accountable forwards, an excellent tagger. What could go wrong?

That’s the question that eats away at the Melbourne supporters I know – what could go wrong? For mine, the health of Tom McDonald is the one thing that has to go right. They’ve taken a huge risk in releasing Jesse Hogan, although The Mongrel thought he was a bit of a flat-track bully in 2018, anyway. Sam Weideman is the man set to slot in as the second tall option, but he has such a small sample size of good games to go on.

The Dees did a courageous thing in watching Jesse Hogan wander off to purpler pastures. They need TMac to stay healthy to make that decision look wise. What could go wrong, right?

 

NORTH MELBOURNE

Champion data released their player rankings earlier this week, mostly to confusion from the general public as there was little explanation as to why Jared Polec Aaron Hall and Trent Dumont could all be ranked above Andrew Gaff as wingmen. Maybe they’re just really good at cutting a couple from the herd for their mates?

They were ranked third, fourth and fifth respectively. If only an AFL field had three wings…

But a third wing is not the gift North needs most. They need Mason Wood to find some consistency.

The retirement of Jarrad Waite is something that’s hanging over the Roos’ forward line. With big things expected of Ben Brown again (despite a delayed start to training – spells trouble, I reckon), he will need a good second option to draw defenders away from the double and triple teams he experienced in the second half of 2018. As much as I love Jack Ziebell, he isn’t the answer.

If Mason Wood becomes a viable option for the Kangaroos across half forward, Brown could once again contend for the Coleman. If he is left without a good second tall to use as a foil, by the end of 2019, we could be asking what went wrong with Brown and North?

 

PORT ADELAIDE

The 2017 Christmas present for Port Adelaide would’ve been an easy one. It would’ve been for new recruits, Tom Rockliff, Steven Motlop and Jack Watts to fit right into the club and make a big impact.

Twelve months on from thinking that’d be a great gift, we’re re-gifting it to them.

With a year under the belt, each of these players now have no excuse. No more Homer Simpson-like “It’s my first day…” excuses. No more taking your time to slot into a team. This is now your team.

Motlop needs to be better than the flash in/flash out kind of player he was in 2018. Tom Rockliff needs to do the exact opposite of whatever he was doing early in the season last year, and Jack Watts needs to be more than just a bloke who likes swimming and tits. Anyone can like swimming and tits, Jack. We all do!

Port made big moves following the 2017 season. They are yet to reap any rewards for them. Failure to do so in 2019 would surely see repercussions for those at the top.

All that aside, my personal hope is that Todd Marshall has a blinder in 2019. he deserves it.

 

RICHMOND

The Tigers picked a bad day to have a bad day. Dominant all year, particularly at the MCG, it all fell apart for Richmond when they ran into a buzzsaw called Collingwood in the preliminary final.

There were those who were engraving Richmond’s name on the cup in June, but footy is a cruel mistress, and with Dusty hobbled, and Astbury struggling, the Tiger machine ground to a halt, ending what should’ve been a glorious season.

For the Tigers, The Mongrel gives the gift of salt. I want to rub it into the wounds that should still be open and painful. I don’t want you to forget what you allowed to slip in 2018. I don’t want you to be satisfied with the ground-breaking 2017 flag. I want those wounds to fester. I want them to burn like the diseases my mate, Joe Ganino routinely picks up.

I want 2018 to be something the Tigers never forget. It will drive them to once again be the best team in the competition in 2019.

 

ST KILDA

The gift of relevancy.

In the dying days of the magazine, Inside Football, the headline screamed “Why not us?” and accompanying that headline, along with a couple of other teams, was Paddy McCartin.

Well, 2018 answered that question. The Saints were woeful, with players like Seb Ross and Jack Steven seemingly only getting the job done in games once the score no longer mattered.

The recruitment of Dan Hannebery, who looked completely banged up at the conclusion of the Swans’ 2018 campaign, is a do-or-0die move. If Hanners is able to get his body right, it’s a masterstroke. If he has a similar year to 2018, that long-term deal is going to be an albatross around the neck of the club.

If I’m placing something under the tree for the Saints, it’s two wins from the first three games. They have Gold Coast, Essendon and Fremantle. They are all winnable if the Saints hit their straps early. I also wouldn’t mind seeing a big win over the Power in China, and if Jack Steven could actually look for Paddy McCartin when he makes a good lead, that’d be nice too.

 

SYDNEY

It was a weird year for Sydney in 2018. Unable to defend their home ground early, but brilliant on the road, the swans really could’ve had a great year if they’d just won at home! Wins over the eventual premiers in Round 1 in WA, and a great nail-biting win at the MCG against the Hawks showed their class, but with Cal Mills down injured, and February/March champion, Sam Reid out of the side, combined with the normally unflappable midfield faltering at points (Josh Kennedy had some very un-Kennedy-like outings) too much went against them.

If the Swans looked under their tree, I reckon a nice little stepladder might make a nice gift, because there are a few players primed to take the next step in Sydney. Yeah… crappy present, I know, but it’s all about the symbolism.

Florent, Mills, McCartin, Ronke, Hayward, Melican… if you don’t know the names already, learn them! You’re going to be hearing them a lot more.

And I wouldn’t mind seeing Buddy deep forward more often than not in 2019, either.

 

WEST COAST

What do you give the team that has everything? That’s what you ask when the team has just won the flag. They want for nothing at the moment – two excellent forwards, a settled, powerful defence, a skillful kicking game, and a home ground that gives opposition teams fits.

If pressed, you look at the side and the only question is about what happens with Jack Darling. Twelve months ago he looked like a man that was still haunted by a fumbling, bumbling 2015 AFL Grand Final. Hell, halfway through the 2018 Grand Final, he looked like that player had jumped into a time machine and leapt three years into the future to botch up another day on the biggest stage.

Then he turned on a third quarter for the ages before reverting to fumbling, bumbling Jack in the dying minutes of the game.

He is a polarising figure – his best and worst are so far apart. But what we saw in the first half of 2018 was the Jack darling every West Coast supporter thought he could be, and perhaps the Jack Darling he may have questioned he could be, himself.

For the team that has everything, I offer the gift of belief to Jack Darling. With no self-doubt, he could become the most dominant forward in the game, as he was through the first ten matches of 2018.

 

WESTERN BULLDOGS

It all begins and ends with Bont, right? A healthy Bont, with a pre-season under his belt should remind people why he was rated above Patrick Cripps right up until half way through 2018.

But no… that’s not the gift I want for the Bullies. Even a three-quarter fit Bont is more than a handful for the opposition. The Bulldogs need their young talls to develop and get better, because I think a couple of them could develop into genuine stars of the game.

Tim English had given us a small sample size thus far – just nine games, but in those games he has shown great hands and the capacity to read the ball in the air beautifully. Whilst still a stick figure, his mobility and reach/judgment in marking contests will give opposition coaches absolute fits.

But the one I really want to see develop is Aaron Naughton. Thrown forward at points in 2018, a settled season in defence could see him emerge as one of the premier defenders in the game in short order. He is a contest killer when allowed a clean run at the ball, and with a year under his belt, and another pre-season, I hope that both Schache and Boyd can start to form a workable combination up forward to give Naughton the time he needs. The Dogs have an absolute gem here. He just needs time to add some polish.

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