Chaotic is probably the best word I can use to describe this year’s season. 12 teams in contention for finals all year with finals spots still up for grabs in the final round is the way it was meant to be. For the bottom 6 teams, you’ll get there someday, except Carlton, you guys need help. Number one picks at each position, yet two wins is all you can deliver your fans? Come on. One of those two wins did come against Essendon and looking back now, we can see what might have been.
Let’s review the games that cost teams a better position on the ladder, and in some cases, dashed all hope of getting to the finals.
Adelaide: Finished 12th with 12 wins
After falling at the final hurdle in 2017, much was expected of the Crows in 2018, but a raft of issues, ranging from ill-fated camps to plagues of hamstring injuries derailed a promising season. A disastrous run from Round 10-14 resulted in four losses the club simply couldn’t recover from.
Round 8 vs Port Adelaide: What happened? Up four goals at half time, before a brief comeback by Port and Robbie Gray. Adelaide recovered, pulled ahead on the back of huge goals from Tex Walker and Mitch McGovern, and then… lost. With 40 seconds left the ball was in the centre and all you had to do was flood the backline and prevent a clearance. Sounds simple, huh? Enter, Steven Motlop in his first showdown. I’m sure you’ve seen the footage of his goal enough times, so I won’t explain how it happened. This was a game you lost, as much as Port won.
Round 10 vs Melbourne: Saying this game cost you a spot in the finals would be a stretch, but what it did cost you was a hell of a lot of percentage and even more confidence. It was as though all the things that went wrong added up on this day at Traeger park, resulting in a 91 point loss.
Round 11 vs GWS: Momentum is everything in today’s AFL. I get that once a team gets on a roll, it’s difficult to stop them, but when you’re on your home deck and get up in the last quarter, you need to run the game out better. Managing only 4 behinds after the 3.18 minute mark goal to Fogarty, and just two behinds in the final 25 minutes of play just isn’t good enough for any team, especially last year's grand finalists at home. The Giants kicked the last three goals of the game to resurrect their season, and push the Crows to the edge of the cliff.
Round 19 vs Melbourne: How can you allow 7.4 in a quarter and 11 scoring shots to three in the third quarter? Another 15-minute brain fade that cost you a spot in the finals. Red time goals to Hogan and Garlett were the capper on a five goal run in the third that proved too much to overcome.
Round 21 vs GWS: Seems like I’ll be asking “how” a lot during this article. I’ll ask it again; how can you lose a quarter when the other team has just one player on the bench and your chance at finals is on the line? I understand fully that GWS are a quality side, but you’re meant to be one as well. The Giants had no Heath Shaw, Sam Reid or Josh Kelly for the last quarter and you still could only manage 3.5 to their 4.2. If GWS resurrected their season against you in Round 11 against you, Round 21 was their ascension back into contention.
Essendon: Finished 11th with 12 wins
After an off-season to dream of, the Bombers unleashed their new trio on the league, but whilst Smith, Stringer and Saad all found their feet, the Bombers lost their big forward, and lost their mojo in the process. By the time they found it, they were looking down the barrel of an early finish to their season.
Round 2 vs Fremantle: FREO! After a cracking Round 1 win over the Crows, you managed to kick the last three of the game to make this one respectable, but still, you lost by three goals to Freo! Alex Pearce made a people question whether Joe Daniher was right, and the top five disposal gatherers on the ground wore purple and white.
Round 3 vs Western Bulldogs: Look I don’t want to say it, but the Bulldogs?!?! 34 scoring shots to 23 is ridiculous enough against a good team contending for finals, but the Bulldogs? Again, no one could get their hands on it – only one of the top nine in disposals wore the sash.
Round 6 vs Melbourne: I’m not going to say you should have won this game, or any other, but when you lead at half time you should come out fighting in the second half. One goal to seven in the third quarter killed you. The game was gone by three quarter time, but on the positive side, several Bombers started getting their hands on the pill, and Jake Stringer started hitting the scoreboard.
Round 7 vs Hawthorn: Before you jump down my throat for including losses against eventual finals teams on here, note that you had the lead at half time and then failed to kick a goal until the 7.47 mark of the last quarter. In the meantime, the Hawks piled on seven. No Bomber was able to kick multiple goals, but The Dons were able to slam on five goals in the final quarter - way to show heart.
Round 8 vs Carlton: Horrible loss against the worst team in years. The Blues kicked three of the last four goals to claim their first win of the year. This was the bottoming out, and thankfully things got markedly better as the season carried on.
Geelong: Finished 8th with 13 wins
The Cats are a top four team, or at least they should’ve been. With a star-studded midfield and a dominant power forward, the table was set for them to feast in 2018, but here they are, squeezing into the eight and picking up the crumbs of other teams.
Round 2 vs Hawthorn: Eight inside 50’s in a row in the final quarter and a draw with a few minutes left… Enter Jarryd Roughead. I don’t know why an Auskicker (Zach Guthrie) was playing on him, but Roughie took the mark and kicked a behind to win the game for the Hawks by a single point.
Round 6 vs Sydney: Up 24 at three quarter time at the Cattery is another saying for the game is pretty much done and dusted. But nobody told Josh Kennedy. The man was back to his brilliant best to will his side over the Cats and snag the four points.
Round 9 vs Essendon: I know that this was the game where everything clicked for Essendon and their pressure was some of the best the game has seen, but Essendon at their best shouldn’t be thrashing the Cats, even at their worst.
Round 15 vs Western Bulldogs: Harry Taylor, 35m out, slight angle, set shot. Sounds like your bread and butter for the modern AFL player, Harry however, is prehistoric. I hope he still can’t sleep because of this.
Round 20 v Richmond: If you had told me prior to the game that I was going to see a blockbuster Friday night game where Gary Ablett would have a chance to win with a kick on the run in the dying stages, I’d put my house on him kicking it. But he missed. He missed badly. The Cats lost and the Tigers continued their streak at the G.
GWS: Finished 7th with 13.5 wins
The Giant’s season was hard to get your head around. Everyone in the footy world knows the Giants for two things - stupid amounts of young talent and injuries, and in 2018 we got a whole lot of both. Nevertheless, Giants fans, you should be top four.
Round 5 v St Kilda: I know it was a draw, but when you look at the final ladder, putting the Saints away would’ve given the Giants a home final. You had 28 shots at goal to the saints’ 23, and just couldn’t convert. 0.3 to Coniglio hurt.
Round 9 v North Melbourne: Leading by five points at half time, you were only able to add two goals in the second half as the Kangaroos kicked ten. Ben Brown and Jarrad Waite combined for nine goals as the absences of Josh Kelly, Phil Davis and Brett Deledio amongst others started to hurt.
Round 10 v Essendon: A five point three quarter time deficit quickly turned into a 35 point loss, with the Bombers finally getting things together to kick six goals to one in the last quarter. The Giants welcomed Kelly back, but he. Stephen Coniglio and Heath Shaw were unable to prevent the Bombers kicking the first four goals of the last.
Melbourne: Finished 5th with 14 wins
After a premature celebration in 2017, the Demons needed to take the next step in 2018, but a couple of stumbled early almost saw them land flat on their faces. In the end, they came good when it mattered, but for three quarters of the year, big questions hung over Melbourne,
Round 1 vs Geelong: This is one of those losses that can haunt a team. Max Gawn… thirty metres out… less than a minute to go… you know how it all played out.
Round 14 vs Port Adelaide: 30 more inside 50’s meant nothing, when the Dees allowed the Power to kick three goals in the last quarter whilst adding none, themselves. The Power turned an eight point deficit into a ten point win.
Round 15 vs St Kilda: You lost to St Kilda St Kilda!! You’d think if you won the clearances, inside 50’s, contested possessions tackles and hit outs against St Kilda you’d be safe, right? Nope. Gresham, and Membrey combined for eight goals to between them as the Saints held off a spirited seven goal last quarter to hold on.
Round 18 vs Geelong: It happened again. Another shot with the game on the line; this time Geelong’s Zach Tuohy did what Max Gawn couldn’t earlier in the season and drove a dagger into Melbourne’s top four hopes after the siren. 14.14 for the game contributed to the loss.
Round 21 vs Sydney: 57-19 hit outs yet the clearances ended up equal? It doesn’t make sense. The Swans’ mids cracked down on the normally excellent Dees clearance brigade. Gawn may have got his hands on the ball plenty, but the Swans took the Dees’ mids down as soon as they touched it. It was a great defensive midfield performance.
North Melbourne: Finished 9th with 12 wins
Oh, what could’ve been… The Roos were right in the mix until Round 21 when they started playing like a team many predicted to finish at the bottom.
Round 1 vs Gold Coast: A lot of rain and even more excuses for North. 2.5 to 0.2 in the last quarter won it for the Suns, but really, playing in a swimming pool masquerading as a football field made this anyone’s game.
Round 17 vs Sydney: You’d think you’d be safe if Ziebell kicks five, Brown kicks four and Majak has four as well, right? Unfortunately for the Kangas, they just couldn’t stop the Swans in the last 5 minutes after being up two goals. Aliir Aliir kicked his first after switching off Daw and going forward. It proved to be the match winner.
Round 21 vs Western Bulldogs: Ahh the Dogs - on a good day they can take it up to the best of them. They seemed to play a half of footy against the Kangas, after North found themselves up by 28 at the half. Just 3.8 by North in the second half to the Dogs’ 9.7 closed the doors on the finals.
Port Adelaide: Finished 10th with 12 wins
Prized recruits, high expectations and a wasted season. After being 12-6, the Power failed to win another game over the last four rounds. They have no one but themselves to blame for this fade out. Good teams win the close ones.
Round 11 vs Hawthorn: Won the centre clearances by seven, however this only let them add five more points than the Hawks. In a close last quarter they took the lead with 10 minutes left, but Jarryd Roughead intervened and kicked the game winner.
Round 17 vs Fremantle: The headline from AFL.com’s article said Port losing was a “hefty blow” to their top two aspirations. Remember when Port was pressing for the top two?. Although Freo only had the one goal of their own, Port managed only two goals in a half as well. This is nowhere near good enough for a team wanting to play finals. And the standard of the game was a disgrace, too.
Round 18 vs GWS: One goal in the first quarter and one goal in the last is not the kind of scoring that propels teams to wins. Absolutely destroyed in the ruck with Paddy Ryder – the Giants had the top four clearance players on the park.
Round 20 vs Adelaide: We know - it looked like it hit the post…
Round 21 vs West Coast: The Eagles didn’t lead all game except for after the siren. The Power had a ten point lead with less than a minute to pay. The odds of the Eagles snagging two goals in that time are pretty remote, but somehow the Power failed to get their hands on the footy and hold it up. Another loss at home and another game blown.
Round 22 vs Collingwood: While this game wasn’t one the Power should have won, it was a clear indication that they were nowhere near the standard needed to play finals. Outscored seven goals to one after Steven Motlop threw a punch and broke a deadlock, the Power allowed their season to meekly slip away. Only a Gold Coast win over Geelong, and a huge win over the Bombers allowed for even a glimmer of hope.
Round 23 vs Essendon: And the light on the finals went out completely as once again, Port failed to hold up their end of the bargain, meekly falling to Essendon by 22 points.
Sydney: Finished 6th with 14 wins
Whilst Sydney made a stand when many thought they were gone was admirable, but they now find themselves in a cut throat elimination final when top four was once beckoning.
Round 2 vs Port Adelaide: Won the inside 50 count in the first half by 21 but only managed a 14-point lead at the main break. Second half saw the Power win the inside 50 count by 21 as well, however managed to win the half by 37. Obe team used the ball well. The other team was Sydney.
Round 5 vs Adelaide: Another loss at home to another Adelaide team. Never took the lead after the first quarter. Inaccurate kicking in the second half (4.9) cost them dearly, particularly with Franklin kicking 1.3.
Round 7 vs North Melbourne: ANOTHER LOSS AT HOME! Mason Wood returned, and stole the game late in a high quality match marred with controversy when Billy Hartung’s late snap appeared to be touched off the boot by Jarrad McVeigh, but was awarded a goal. Papley and Rampe both had chances to win the game but were ineffective. Game North.
Round 16 vs Geelong: These losses at home! Smashed all night and were lucky that the Cats had a terrible time in front of goal, 31-14 scoring shots should have resulted in an absolute belting, but instead the Swans “only” lost by two goals.
Round 18 vs Gold Coast: Guys, it’s officially ridiculous. At home, playing for a top four spot against the Suns, perfect weather, and…what went wrong? All of a sudden the Suns learned how to play footy? All of a sudden the Swans forgot? The late game inside 50 entries were atrocious, kicking the ball time and time again to Steven May on the last line. It should not have come down to the last game of the year against the Hawks to secure a top four finish. It should’ve been done and dusted right here.
Round 19 vs Essendon: Another loss against a bottom 10 side, but at least it wasn’t at home this time. The Bombers had 72 inside 50s to the Swans 39, and 224 contested disposals to 185. They were completely outplayed with and without the ball, with five of the top disposal gatherers wearing red and black.
Round 23 vs Hawthorn: Playing for top four with Buddy and Parker both late outs, the Swans were gutsy but fell short as the Hawks finished strong. Up by 26 points in the second quarter, you got the feeling that one more goal would have broken the Hawthorn hearts. But this was the SCG, and the Hawks love beating the Swans there. An inspired comeback knocked the Swans into an elimination final against the “little brother”.
Looking back, it just seems so simple - one winnable game allowed to slip away was the difference between playing finals and watching on, or the difference between the double chance and an elimination final. Yes, we all play the game of "what if..." but when they're right there, looking you in the face, it's hard not to lament the one that got away.
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