One month out from the AFL season opener, players, coaches and supporters of each team are optimistic about the year ahead. Every club is bristling with ‘February Flyers’ – players who are fit, tanned and toned, each one a ball of health and muscle. Every coach speaks confidently of the new tactics they have implemented, and supporters are sure that ‘this is the year’ their young guns will take the competition by storm.

But not all of these hopes and dreams will come into fruition for every team. The harsh reality is that some will suffer a sobering fall down the ladder, despite their best intentions.

So who are the candidates for collapse in 2012?

I believe the Western Bulldogs will suffer the greatest fall this year, tumbling five spots from 10th to 15th.

For a team that began a slide down the ladder last year, they are ill-equipped to lose their leading goal-kicker and best young midfielder, which has happened through the retirement of Barry Hall and the defection of Callan Ward to GWS.

With Barry in the side last year the ‘Dogs were largely competitive, winning almost half their games. When he wasn’t there they could only win two out of eight, those victories coming against lowly Richmond and Adelaide. Losing Hall’s sure hands, threatening presence and 3.6 goals a game will be something they can’t recover from.

His ninth placing in the best and fairest despite only playing fifteen games underlines how important he was.

The recent appointment of 21-year-old Callan Ward as a co-captain at GWS shows that not only did the Bulldogs lose a young gun who averaged 20 hard-won touches a game in 2011, they also lost a leader and arguably the player being groomed as their next skipper.

With his fourth placing in their Best and Fairest standings, he was one of only two players in the top-seven under the age of 28 (Griffen, at 25, was the other).

Yes, Matthew Boyd is a very good player, albeit lacking in class. Yes, Daniel Cross and Dale Morris are courageous and honest. And yes, Robert Murphy had a fine season at half-back. But none of these players are going to improve at their age, and pickings underneath these veterans are slim.

Compare their outlook to that of Richmond, which won only half a game less last year, and whose top seven players didn’t contain anyone over the age of 24!

Given those age profiles, which team would you rather be on?

The last point proves that the outlook for the ‘Dogs is grim, and not just for this season. AFL football is a winter sport, and the team from Melbourne’s west is in for a long, dark, cold time over the next half-decade.

Essendon is another team that I expect to slide. Although getting off to a flyer last year, making the final of the NAB Cup and sitting third after eight rounds, I believe their output from that point onwards is a truer reflection of their standing within the competition.

With a draw in 2012 that includes a savage finish to the season, I can see something similar happening again, except this time with no bonus of valuable finals experience at the end of it. From round one onwards, the Bombers play Geelong, Hawthorn, Adelaide away, North, Carlton, Richmond and Collingwood, each of whom I expect to finish above them. With the exception of the Tigers, they are all likely to be finalists.

It is widely known that Essendon lack midfield class outside of Jobe Watson, and I think this will be another year of James Hird finding out more about the young players on his list. David Myers and Kyle Reimers are entering their fifth and sixth seasons of AFL football without making a consistent mark.

The class of the ’09 draft has been a disappointment so far. Jake Melksham, Travis Colyer and Jake Carlisle were all top-30 picks from that year, and are all categorised as ‘below average’ in Champion Data’s rankings at this stage of their careers. Of this group, Carlisle looks the most promising, but having key position players is the one area where the Bombers are actually well stocked.

So in summary, Essendon fans can have no fear about planning holidays for this September (the Gold Coast is lovely in the spring), and Western Bulldogs supporters may look at spending their winters abroad in the coming years.

The outlook for them is bleaker than No. 1 ticket holder Julia Gillard’s future as Prime Minister.

Cameron Rose
Cameron Rose

Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for there's nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.

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The Crowd Says (29)

  • Roar Guru

    February 26th 2012 @ 9:31am
    The Cattery said | February 26th 2012 @ 9:31am | ! Report

    Worth mentioning that today at 12:30 Kevin Sheedy is being interviewed on Radio National.

  • February 26th 2012 @ 9:48am
    Fitzy said | February 26th 2012 @ 9:48am | ! Report

    I wonder how Geelong will fare without Ottens and Ling, watching them the other night they have some good kids but long term over season how will they stand up in the big games?

    • Roar Guru

      February 26th 2012 @ 10:00am
      The Cattery said | February 26th 2012 @ 10:00am | ! Report

      Geelong has become the number one club at ongoing renewal – no one does it better – in the history of the draft, they have never bottomed out and now have 3 premierships and 8 grand final appearances in the last 23 years.

      Sewell is already an elite midfielder at the age of 22, and Billy Smedts looks like he is going to walk straight into that team first season, and the oldest draft pick in history already looks like he will play plenty of games this season.

      Geelong can pick ’em.

      • February 26th 2012 @ 11:11am
        Chris said | February 26th 2012 @ 11:11am | ! Report

        I have a massive amount of respect for the cats (as a dogs supporter) but they never needed to bottom out with all those handy father-son picks. To me they’ve been the most exciting and entertaining side I’ve ever seen. They’re still my favourites for this year though especially with the Pies falling like flies. Nice to hear your comments about Smedts. He’s one of my Supercoach bargains I’m hoping will pay off big time.

        Hate to admit it but I think that the Bulldogs scenario painted here is far more likely then us heading the other way, although injuries aside I think we were probably a better team then where we finished last year. So I think just out of the eight is about right for where we’re at however in the end it will only be delaying an inevitable slide that could take a few years to bounce back from. I will be extremely worried if come the end of the year we are still heavily reliant on our older players and little progress has been made with our younger ones but I’m expecting some strong development under McCartney.

        • Roar Guru

          February 26th 2012 @ 11:43am
          The Cattery said | February 26th 2012 @ 11:43am | ! Report

          Chris – you and a million others will be counting on Smedts!

          By the way, do you know if Smedts is related in any way to the ex-Footscray player Alby Smedts?

          At least the bulldogs have their own good father-son selections, two very good ones from last year, plus Ayce Cordy from a few years ago – in an era where the two expansion clubs have gobbled up all the young talent – those three will be very valuable for the club.

          • February 26th 2012 @ 11:54am
            Chris said | February 26th 2012 @ 11:54am | ! Report

            Not sure of any relation but if there was I’d be pushing for some kind of grandfather-grandson selection policy. Retrospectively in this case of course.

            Yes we’ve had a few recently with Cordy, Libba and Wallis, hopefully they come good. There’s also a few on the horizon. I think a story was published in the media last year about all of the potentially future ‘pups’. Could be the only thing that gets us back up the ladder without priority picks and as the gap between the haves and have nots continues to grow.

      • February 27th 2012 @ 6:40am
        Fitzy said | February 27th 2012 @ 6:40am | ! Report

        Don’t mean to disagree Cat but Geelong had no finals appearences between 1998 and 2003, during that time the club was 5 mil in debt and playing kids. I hope Smedts will be all you say he will, only a couple of stats on Saturday.

        • Roar Guru

          February 27th 2012 @ 9:36am
          The Cattery said | February 27th 2012 @ 9:36am | ! Report

          Fitzy
          but even during that period, the Cats didn’t finish lower than 13th (from memory).

  • February 26th 2012 @ 10:16am
    Swampy said | February 26th 2012 @ 10:16am | ! Report

    I love the hope and promise Tiger fans show at the start of every year!

    Think there is at least 2 glaring omissions from this article.

    How anyone could think St Kilda will hold their place is beyond me.

    West Coast have come off the most amazing season (one in which they were predicted to go close to last place) where they almost made the GF. Already losing the competition’s best small forward for 2012 has not been a good start. In my opinion it would be a major effort to equal last year’s finish.

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    • February 26th 2012 @ 1:39pm
      camtherose said | February 26th 2012 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

      Swampy – I was only writing about the two teams I will think fall the furthest. I do think the Saints will fall from the eight this year – I have them finishing ninth.

      I think WC’s resurgence was based on a manic defensive press, and based on last weeks (admittedly slim) evidence, their intent has not diminished. Yes, LeCras will hurt, but is he a bigger loss to them than Ablett was supposed to be to Geelong?

      And yes, I do barrack for Richmond (well picked up on), but I actually think we’ll finish 10th this year. It’s just that when you’re in the bottom half of the ladder, you want your best players to be young (Cotchin, Martin, Deledio, Riewoldt, Vickery), rather than old like the Dogs.

      • February 26th 2012 @ 2:59pm
        Robert said | February 26th 2012 @ 2:59pm | ! Report

        Please play the ball, not the man. Thanks, Roar Mods.

  • February 26th 2012 @ 11:14am
    Bob said | February 26th 2012 @ 11:14am | ! Report

    The dogs would have finished 12th or 13th last year but for Richmond, Melbourne and Freo virtually giving up in the last few rounds last season (which cost us at least 3 positions in the draft BTW). That would have put them ahead of GC, Port, Adel and Bris. Which of those teams do you see climbing up the ladder?

    The truth is that the competition at the bottom of the ladder is so poor that it would be pretty hard for North, Rich, Freo, Melb and the Bulldogs falling anywhere even if they were to have a bad run.

    The problem for tehse teams is that Carl, Haw, Syd, WCE (teams just above them) are likely to be getting a lot better.

    • February 26th 2012 @ 1:46pm
      camtherose said | February 26th 2012 @ 1:46pm | ! Report

      Adelaide will rise, I have them in the top eight based on an extremely favourable draw and expected improvement under Sanderson.

      Brisbane are actually quite honest for a poor team, and I expect them to finish ahead of the Dogs.

      Your last line is accurate, and all teams you mention there will improve again. I don’t forsee great change at the top of the ladder this year.

      • February 26th 2012 @ 7:41pm
        Bob said | February 26th 2012 @ 7:41pm | ! Report

        With Cooney, Lake, Hargrave, Higgins and eventually Morris all back fit hard to see the dogs being any worse than 2011.

        • February 26th 2012 @ 8:40pm
          Ian Whitchurch said | February 26th 2012 @ 8:40pm | ! Report

          Bob,

          I saw the Dogs against GWS. I can easily see them as being worse than last year.

  • Roar Guru

    February 26th 2012 @ 11:50am
    Lachlan said | February 26th 2012 @ 11:50am | ! Report

    Improvers:
    Adelaide, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Fremantle
    Teams that will fall:
    Western Bulldogs, Geelong (not by much)

  • February 26th 2012 @ 2:40pm
    TW said | February 26th 2012 @ 2:40pm | ! Report

    Adelaide will play the GC and Giants twice – Should win all 4. They then have to find another 7 wins at home to get to 11 – Any other wins away will be a big bonus.

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