Five-horse race now a free-for-all

Vince Rugari Columnist

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    Congratulations to the Sydney Swans, who were crowned 2012 AFL Premiers on the weekend following their 37-point comeback win over Hawthorn in Tasmania.

    They are now the fifth team to have been awarded the flag early this season after Geelong, the Hawks, West Coast and Carlton.

    Obviously, I’m being facetious. They don’t give out premierships in May, let alone five of them. But if they did all of a sudden, it wouldn’t really surprise, because this has been a very abnormal year so far.

    The natural order has been disturbed, to our horror, and nobody is quite sure what on earth is going to happen from here on out.

    Usually we have some sort of idea by now of how the rest of the season is going to pan out.

    In seasons gone by, there have been established hierarchies. These allow us to divide the various clubs in the AFL into convenient groups – contenders, pretenders, young up-and-coming sides, Richmond and those who tanking for draft picks. It helps us understand where teams are at in the bigger picture.

    Think back to 2004. That was the time of Port Adelaide and Brisbane, when Mark Thompson was still an unproven coach and the Hawks stank to high heaven.

    When Port and the Lions fell, nobody could touch West Coast or Sydney. In 2005, the bottom three was Hawthorn, Collingwood and Carlton. Slowly, they’ve risen.

    Recently it’s been all about the Geelong and Collingwood juggernauts, while St Kilda and Hawthorn sort of bubbled under the surface while the big boys did their thing.

    The point is this – right now, we’re lost. We’ve tried to figure out where we’re going but ended up looking silly.

    The narrative so far in 2012 has been that there is a ‘Big Five’. Geelong, Hawthorn, West Coast, Collingwood, Carlton. Outside of them, nobody can win the flag.

    That was the plan, anyway.

    Hawthorn, the team anointed premiership favourites by an impatient media, have stage fright. The Colliwobbles have been hit by injury and in-fighting. West Coast are up and running, but their true credentials are unproven.

    Geelong, annoyingly, aren’t going anywhere. Carlton are terrific, yet nobody will truly accept it until they’ve got silverware in their grasp. There’s your ‘Big Five’, but there are a couple of spanners in the works.

    Sydney are the flavour of the week – and rightly so, after their amazing come-from-behind win over the Hawks in Tasmania. Steered by everyone’s hero, Adam Goodes, the Swans went from 20 points down at the interval to six-goal victors after the final siren.

    Who needs to bottom out for draft picks when you can stay competitive and play this well?

    The momentum will roll along nicely for John Longmire’s side. Just take a look at their next four assignments – Adelaide, Richmond, Melbourne, St Kilda. There’s every chance they’ll emerge from May with their undefeated record still in tact.

    On the Crows – they look alright too, and Patrick Dangerfield has taken his game to another level, but they’re way too green to move into the competition’s elite bracket. Apparently.

    If we frothed over Hawthorn and overlooked the Swans – not to mention the fact that we were blindsided by the Eagles’ rise last year – what else have we missed?

    Will Fremantle have a say? They’ve taken to Ross Lyon’s gorgeous game plan like a duck to water.

    It’s hard to imagine them being shoved around by the supposed ‘Big Five’ without hitting back. And what of Essendon and North Melbourne, the two sides who are scheduled to go up a level or two this year?

    Who knows. Actually – nobody knows. And there’s no point trying to pretend we do, because it could all change again very quickly.

    After so many cut and dried seasons, to have a genuinely, abnormally, excruciatingly open field is a strange feeling. But it’s worth it.

    Vince Rugari
    Vince Rugari

    Vince Rugari is an Adelaide-born journalist who cut his teeth on the sporting graveyard of the Gold Coast. He fancies the round ball and the Sherrin, and used to be a handy leg-spin bowler before injury curtailed a baggy green push. A Port Adelaide fan by birth, he now is a sports reporter for Australian Associate Press