Lopsided maybe, but this AFL season is a beauty
Ben Stratton of the Hawks and Travis Cloke of the Magpies in action during the AFL Round 17 match between the Collingwood Magpies and the Hawthorn Hawks at the MCG, Melbourne. (Slattery Images)
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A story in the Herald Sun yesterday reported that the AFL is concerned about the thrashings being given to the two new clubs in “the most lopsided season in history”.
Apparently, the average losing margin has gone up to 42.2 points, the largest since league football began in 1897.
While some will look at this with a sense of doom-and-gloom, scaremongering that the league has a serious problem on its hands, in truth is it’s absolutely ridiculous to do so.
Let’s be honest. When it comes to the new clubs, we saw this coming. Or anyone who could look at the situation realistically saw it coming, anyway.
When I was bracing myself for the concept of two teams built mostly from draft picks, I pictured the biggest winning margin record tumbling, the biggest score record put in danger and a zero-win season or two. Honestly.
They were going to be good one day, but not even remotely good in the beginning.
Maybe that was setting the bar too low, but if you are shocked that these teams lose by triple figures from time to time, perhaps you need to admit your expectations were out of whack.
It’s not just that, however. Portraying the 2012 AFL season as all doom-and-gloom because of what’s happening at the very bottom of the ladder is absurd for a far more important reason than expectations.
It’s the very simple fact that regardless of what certain statistics say, the 2012 AFL season has been bloody exciting to watch.
The years of two-horse races (with maybe one outside chance to crash the party) are over. The list of contenders has run so deep for so long into the year, it’s hard to know what the premiership picture will look like in a month, let alone two.
Hawthorn had many fooled when they lost both to Richmond and at their home away from home, Aurora Stadium. But despite a couple of off afternoons, they’ve now won eight games in a row by an average winning margin of 81. Three of their opponents in that stretch are top eight sides.
They are looking very, very ominous. But still, this week they face their bogey side, Geelong. A rival contender they failed to beat earlier in the year, Sydney, await them two weeks later. There’s still a long way to go.
The Swans, for what it’s worth, are in pretty good form in their own right. The lone side atop the ladder, they’ve silenced plenty of critics on their way to a 14-3 record. And they’ve done it all with arguably their two most important players – Adam Goodes and Shane Mumford – in and out of the side.
Adelaide have been aided greatly by a comfortable draw, but they’re still knee deep in the premiership race in third place. Collingwood have shrug injury concerns to sit fourth and have the star power to be a major threat in September.
Remarkably, there’s only four points between top spot and fourth at the beginning of Round 19.
At the end of last year, there was three games between those two spots. In 2010, there was three and a half. In 2009, five. In 2008, eight.
The last time there was even a two-game gap at season’s end was way back in 2004.
But the list of contenders does not stop there. West Coast are a team no one wants to play in September – especially at Subiaco – so despite their injury list they’ll remain in the mix.
Geelong have turned back the clock in the past two weeks and if Friday night goes their way, watch out. They are a team you simply cannot write off, especially if they are indeed finding genuine form at the right time of the year.
Having said that, two weeks ago it was fashionable to write off their finals chances. Not that long ago West Coast were the team to beat. Not long before that the Hawks were simply getting by. Not long before that Adelaide’s form was meaningless and Carlton were premiership favourites.
That’s been the story of the 2012 AFL season. The landscape changes almost weekly.
So yes, it’s true that they’ve been some blowouts this year.
But it’s also true that from a neutral perspective, this is one of the deepest and closest premiership races in years. And at the end of the day, it’s the teams at the top that are a league’s drawcards, not the bottom.
And even then, fans of the Gold Coast Suns and GWS Giants can console themselves with the fact the concessions given to them mean only completely inept management stand between them and being part of that premiership race as the decade rolls on.
Serious problem? Nah.
Give fans more seasons like this and they’ll be very, very happy.
Michael DiFabrizio is completing his journalism degree. As an AFL writer, he has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, and appeared in The Age and on ABC television and radio. Follow Michael on twitter @mdifabrizio