Concerning Matters in 2019

I’m not the type who worries a lot. I amble along through life, taking what comes and seeing how things play out. Really, I think most things are out of my control, anyway, so why stress about them? It can be infuriating for others, but that’s the way I like to live, so that’s what I do.

So when I start to dwell on something, I know it can’t be great. Right now I’m looking toward the 2019 season, and there are a few things that, whilst not necessarily worrying me, have got my attention to the point I am a little concerned. What’s that, you say? Worry and concern are pretty similar? Well, I don’t worry enough to concern myself with statements the likes of that.

Instead, I’ll blurt out some of the things I am a little concerned about as we creep closer to 2019, and you tell me if they worry you as well. How does that sound?

 

LATE STARTS FOR BIG FORWARDS

I’m not sure another team lives and dies in 2019 by how one player performs as much as the Bombers will with Joe Daniher. Other than perhaps Lance Franklin and his impact in Sydney, the return of Daniher as a legitimate forward target could be the biggest story in football if he can get back to anything like his 2017 form.  It could be the season-maker or season-breaker for the Bombers.

However, as we head into 2019, Daniher and three other spearheads are having delayed starts to their campaigns.

Daniher is still not training with the main group, despite being done and dusted with the 2018 after Round seven. That was seven long months ago, yet it appears as though he hasn’t been able to kick the residual effects of the osteitis pubis that plagued him and ended his year. How much osteitis can one pubis have???

Whilst the Bombers are confident that he’ll be training with the team in the new year, the fact he hasn’t recovered to the point where he’s training with the main group at this point would have to furrow some Bomber brows.

Franklin in Sydney is in a similar boat after delaying surgery in the hopes his groin injury improved with rest.

It didn’t, and upon his return to the team, Franklin was sent in for surgery. It’s put him behind the eight ball after struggling through a season with several ailments. He looked absolutely cooked as the Swans bowed out.

But Buddy is a different player to Daniher, and a heavier, stronger Franklin out of the goal square could add another dimension to his game later in his career, particularly on a quick break from a centre bounce with set positions. We covered this angle here in an article earlier in the month. I don’t want to repeat it, so you can update yourself on it if you please – Buddy becoming a stay at home forward.

Josh Kennedy is still recovering from shoulder surgery, which is restricting him to non-contact stuff as well.

And then there’s Ben Brown, who had surgery on a problematic hip complaint and is yet to really do anything too strenuous thus far. North say he’ll resume full training in January, but when there is a delay in starts to the year, history tells us that related problems usually follow, lack of conditioning first amongst them.

If you’re Jack Riewoldt, looking at these blokes limping into 2019, you’d be casually eyeing that Coleman medal for a fourth time. But then again…

 

CAN LYNCH AND REIWOLDT WORK?

They’re big boys, and I am sure they’ll be able to work something out, but for the past couple of seasons, the Tigers have made defences nervous with their one-tall set up. Their pressure and tackling inside forward 50 has raised the bar for work ethic by forwards, and now… now the bar is moving again.

Yes, we’ll still see Dan Butler, Jason Castagna, Josh Caddy and Daniel Rioli at the feet of Jack, but there’ll also be this other bloke looking to get in on the action, and I don’t know about you, but when I think of Tom Lynch, I don’t think of a player renowned for his pressure when the ball hits the deck. I reckon he’s got away with looking a little “laconic” at times because he played for the Suns and wasn’t under intense scrutiny. Half-hearted chases and trying desperately to get out the back for an easy goal won’t cut the mustard now. He has to lift all aspects of his game, and whilst I am sure he’s aware of it, playing for the Tigers in front of 90,000 people puts all facets of your game under the spotlight, and it shines brightly on those who aren’t pulling their weight.

In the past couple of years, we’ve seen a maturation of Jack Riewoldt. We’ve seen a team-oriented, unselfish forward maestro who has looked in control at all times. Part of me wonders whether we’ll see pouting Jack re-emerge if things don’t go as expected next season? The finger-pointing, angry, petulant Riewoldt was thought to be a thing of the past, but could a dysfunctional Tiger forward set up see him re-emerge?

I can name 17 other teams that hope so.

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MORE 50 METRE PENALTIES… “VOMIT”

This was a strange piece of news, trickling through over the past few days in what is traditionally a dead time for footy news. The AFL has announced that should a team opt to throw an extra player or two behind the ball at centre bounces late in games to protect a lead, not only will they concede a free kick, but a 50 metre penalty as well.

Whilst I understand the thinking behind the extreme rule – giving away the free by itself may be somewhat palatable if it means 2-3 extra defensive players can congregate in the back half and clog things up – I can see this new rule costing a game at some point. How do we handle it if a player cramps, or has twisted an ankle in the defensive half? Do we hold the game up? Do we bounce the ball and that team cops the consequences? Do we leave it up to the team to send someone else to the wing, or to that player’s designated position? It’s a rule they’ve rushed in and I’m not sure they’ve thought it through. Elvis knew that fools rush in – he should’ve talked to Steve Hocking a little more before he kicked the bucket.

A free kick and a 50 metre penalty is a huge penalty to pay, and not dissimilar at all to the interchange infringement penalty that was introduced years ago. I can remember Cyril Rioli kicking long for goal against St Kilda in 2010 when the whistle blew and an interchange infringement was called. The Saints got the ball and were able to walk the ball out of defence due to the penalty. The goal would’ve put Hawthorn up by 13 points. Instead, the Saints scored twice and the game ended in a draw. It was ludicrous for something as insignificant as an overstepping of a line (of which there was no conclusive evidence) to have such a significant impact on the result, but it did.

It burned at the time, and obviously still stings a little inasmuch as I remember it vividly.

How many rounds into the season will we be before a combination of fatigue, soreness or injury sees a team penalised in the same manner under the enforcement of the 6-6-6 system?

It’s going to cost a team a game at some point, and there will be a heap of pissed off supporters screaming that the AFL should leave the bloody game alone.

And I’ll probably be one of them. I didn’t think it was broken to begin with.

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THE WEIDEMAN GAMBLE

OK, you’ve heard the saying that one swallow does not make a spring, right? Does one good finals game make a forward? The Demons are hoping so after waving goodbye to their former number forward option at the conclusion of the 2018 season.

Jesse Hogan, after much posturing, is now a Docker, and in his place, Tom McDonald is elevated to the position of number one forward – a position he claims now as much due to sustained good form as the absence of Hogan. The worry for me is that the small sample size we’ve seen from Sam Weideman is just a flash in the pan, and that the Dees have messed with something that was working for them.

I loved Weideman’s effort against Geelong in their Elimination Final – 24 touches, seven marks and three goals (all career high levels) are the sort of return you love from a second forward option, but a combined 18 touches and eight marks to go with three goals over his next two finals might be an output that’s a little more realistic for him in 2019.

Melbourne were on the cusp of greatness last season. They were everyone’s Cinderella team until West Coast came along and turned it into more of  Grimm Brothers fairytale than a Disney movie. If Weideman does not continue to develop, the Dees may find themselves up a certain creek without a big man who knows how to paddle them home.

Getting rid of Hogan was a calculated gamble by the Dees, and truth be told, if I were in their position I would’ve pulled the trigger on the deal as well – I found that Hogan had been great against underperforming teams in 2018, yet continually fell over in big games. Brass tacks – he was a flat track bully and it was a gutsy move by the Dees; I have to respect it. The time was right to move him on, but the problem is that contingency plans can come undone very quickly. The responsibility is a large weight on the young shoulders of Weideman, with just one game in his young career where he’s kicked over two goals.

The Dees had better cross their fingers for an injury-free TMac run in 2019, as I think Weideman needs another 12 months before they can rely on him.

 

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I HOPE GAZ’S HAMMIES ARE OK

I’m still a believer in Ablett, but there were points last year  when that belief was shaken a little. He looked a little fragile at times, almost timid, and didn’t look like the amazing ball winner we’d seen for so many years. At 34 years of age, you’d have to expect that there’d be some sort of drop off, right?

It was Round Three that derailed what was starting to shape as another stellar Gaz Jnr season, when his hamstring went ping early in the last quarter against the Eagles. Whether the Cats manage his minutes or use him differently, I think it is fair to say that Geelong will not make any noise in 2019 without a fit, firing Ablett playing really good football.

Yeah, there’s Danger and Joel Selwood, the latter of whom was extremely stiff not to even get a look in for the AA squad of 40 (seriously, he held this team together at points last season), but Gaz was supposed to be the icing on the cake in that midfield. Instead, he was just another ingredient in a recipe that wasn’t working out. He needs to provide something special for the Cats to be more than a one-and-done finals team.

Personally, I want Gaz to succeed. I want to see him reach high highs and avoid low lows. I want to watch as he takes a game on, wins the ball and threads a crucial goal. But what I want and what actually happens seldom align – I’m still yet to date any of the models I had a crush on many years ago.

I think people forget at times that in Ablett, we have witnessed one of the greatest players of the AFL era – I just want to see him have one more year, injury free, for fans to truly appreciate how good he is. Is that too much to ask? Maybe it is…

 

COULD THE SAINTS GIVE UP ON PADDY?

You know when you’re watching a movie and one of the main characters… let’s just say it’s Harrison Ford, and the movie is Star Wars, says “I have a bad feeling about this”?

Well, whiten my teeth and thrust me into a mediocre Indiana Jones sequel, but that’s how I feel about the direction of Paddy McCartin at St Kilda. There are no good feelings about it, despite reports that he’s “flying” in preseason training yet again. It’s the same old song…

The poor bloke has been unable to catch a break, and even when he has got a bit of a run at it, his teammates burn him (cough*Jack Steven*cough). It’s now at the point where I look at the Saints and I see a team teetering on the edge of collapse.

Look at their talent – their mids should be killing it. Steven, Seb Ross, Jack Steele, Blake Acres - all highly capable players. Their forwards – Membrey, Billings and Gresham should form the nucleus of a potent scoring machine, and they have Jake Carlisle anchoring their back six – one of the best key defenders in the game when he gives half a shit. Yet they have this aura of mediocrity about them, and it is palpable. You almost expect them to fail, and that’s the way I feel about McCartin right now as well. It’s like the stars have aligned against him, and they’re all seeing who can screw with him the most. More goes wrong for him than goes right, and St Kilda aren’t known for their patience (which is quite amazing since their supporters have been forced to be patient forever!) when dealing with their employees.

Perhaps the inclusion of Dan Hannebery to the group will add some desperately needed grunt? He looks to have shown up in immaculate condition, as evidenced by his early return to the track. It’s a wonderful sign, particularly given how broken and spent he appeared at the conclusion of last season.

If the Saints don’t get it together this season, we can say goodbye to Alan Richardson (who my missus calls the “sad coach” after seeing his appearances on AFL 360 over the course of 2018) by mid-late 2019, and there might be others who are made scapegoats as well. I reckon McCartin – the full forward who doesn’t kick goals – might be one.

 

SWANS MIDFIELD NEEDS MORE HEENEY

The Swans have a habit of making people look silly. They were written off three quarters of the way through 2018, yet they ramped it up in a wonderful series of wins to go close to claiming a top four berth, but something happened to them in 2018 that I’m not sure can be rectified quickly.

They got old. And they got old fast!

Josh Kennedy has been an absolute star for that team for years, but there were points in 2018 where he looked a far cry from the centre square powerhouse he’d been for years. Kieren Jack went backwards in a huge way for the second consecutive season, as did Dan Hannebery, and I’ve already mentioned Kennedy. Luke Parker’s output dropped again, and if not for the continued emergence of George Hewett in the middle, the Swans might have been smashed at the centre bounce more often than not.

It’s time for Isaac Heeney to make the Sydney midfield his own. Used all over the park as a stop gap, it’s time Heeney is unleashed in the guts on a near-permanent basis. Sydney need an injection of something in there, and with Daniel Menzel up forward to somewhat alleviate the pressure on Buddy, and Melican and Mills back in defence, Heeney can ply his trade in the middle more often and remedy what was fast becoming Dad’s Army in there.

If it is left up to the old guard again, it could spell trouble. They showed they needed help in 2018.

 

THE WEIGHT OF EXPECTATION

I read an article recently that posed the question as to which teams would move up, remain in a similar spot, or move down the ladder next season. The article then provided answers. In a stunning turn of events, 11 clubs were expected to move up the ladder, three were staying stagnant, and four were dropping. That’s a hell of a drop for those four clubs to make way for all that improvement.

I get that preseason is a time for hope, and the expectation is that teams will improve, but in looking at, and listening to long-suffering fans, I get the feeling they may be jumping the gun a little.

Brisbane has been talked up. Their list is full of young talent but they are coming off a five win season. Some are predicting they’ll play finals, but it’ll be a stretch. They may have picked up Lachie Neale (great get, Lion fans) but the loss of Beams mitigates it. If they go from five wins to seven, it’s probably not the stuff dreams are made of, but it is far from terrible, and probably realistic.

Carlton fans are buoyed by a solid off-season (so far), and after a season that saw them register just two wins, they can’t possibly do worse, can they?

But to expect the Blues to jump out of the box is a little far-fetched. If they’ve improved to 5-6 wins, it would be exactly the shot in the arm the club needs. And anything less than that would probably see Brendan Bolton on his very last legs.

The Blues have got the Suns twice and St Kilda twice. There’s four very winnable games. Unfortunately, their only meeting with Freo is on the road, and the Dockers had seven of their eight wins at home last season. The Blues may cause an upset here or there, but anything above five wins would be amazing for them.

The last team I am concerned for here is North Melbourne. Yeah, I get that some North fans have a bit of a complex whenever I mention something negative about your team – I read your comments – but let’s get this straight; I have a huge soft spot for the Kangaroos. I loved watching North last season; of all teams, yours was the most entertaining as a whole. The Roos were fast, exciting, and showed plenty, but sadly, I believe North played above themselves in 2018. I’m not sure they can do it again. They’ve got new blood and those players take time to slot in and find their roles (look at Port and Essendon last season as examples of team chemistry taking a while).

It’ll be interesting to see how North can adapt after a surprisingly good season. They were expected by many to finish bottom, yet there they were, knocking on the door of finals until the last couple of weeks. Career-best seasons for Higgins, Cunnington and Anderson, combined with a renaissance from big Goldy pushed them to the brink of September action. But doing it once and sustaining that level, let alone improving on it, are two very different scenarios. Can those mentioned take it to another level? Can Ben Brown find the same form he had in the first half of 2018? He’ll need to, or the Roos are one team I think could slip.

 

I THINK WE’VE SEEN THE BEST OF NIC NAT.

Coming back from a knee reconstruction is hard work. Coming back and doing it again is soul shattering. Coming back from the second one… now that takes its toll on a person.

When I looked at the Eagles before the 2018 season, I wondered whether too much pressure was on the shoulders of Nic Naitanui. After the Eagles had knocked Port out of the finals in 2017, there was part of me that wanted to see them go all the way. They did… 12 months later, and they did it without the man many believe is their best, most impactful player.

When Naitanui was on the field in 2018, he was a wrecking ball. He was burying people in tackles (I still say it was legal, damn it!) and making opponents look over their shoulder with his physical pressure. However, after an excellent start to his season, around the halfway point, you could see signs of fatigue. He looked weary, and his impact diminished. He started to look tired, and then… it happened again.

In Round 17, in a run-of-the-mill ruck contest against Brodie Grundy, Nic Nat stumbled and ruptured his ACL. A collective groan went up from West Coast supporters, and fans of the game alike. A second reconstruction was required, and another twelve months on the sidelines to recover.

Naitanui is eyeing a mid-season return, but how he performs after a second significant setback remains to be seen. He became a burst player in 2018, playing limited minutes with the aid of Scott Lycett. His partner in crime is no longer there, replaced in the side by Tom Hickey. That’s like trading a good, reliable four wheel drive for a Datsun that struggles to get out of second gear. Vardy can provide some relief, but his body has been an issue for years as well.

Once he’s back, Naitanui may not have the luxury of limited minutes, particularly if Hickey is playing at the same level he was at St Kilda. Naitainui will have to get straight back in and make a significant impact, but after two knee reconstructions, I’m not sure he has the capacity to do it, at least not to the level we are all used to seeing.

It’s a sad fact, but at 29 years old by the time he returns, we may have seen the best of Nic Nat.

 

 Every piece we wrote about the West Coast Eagles during the 2018 season in one e-book. Click the pic and grab your copy. Epub format. Mobi also available

Every piece we wrote about the West Coast Eagles during the 2018 season in one e-book. Click the pic and grab your copy. Epub format. Mobi also available

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