AFL 2013 season preview: part II

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Sydney Swans fans at the AFL Grand Final. (AFL Media/Slattery Media)

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With the AFL season just an agonising two months away, we take our next look at the contenders and pretenders for the 2013 flag, with part two of my 2013 season preview.

Collingwood Magpies

The Collingwood Magpies had another standard year, this time finishing one game away from the MCG. They made some interesting off-season recruits, picking up veterans to help with their young core.

Whilst they did take a step back in the regular season last year, it is clear the Pies will be around as premiership threats for the next decade.

The Magpies continue to show that they are one of the classier clubs in the league, both and on and off the field. It’s a pity I can’t say the same about their supporters.

The Pies’ off-season was an brilliantly underrated one.

Whilst they didn’t make all that much noise with the recruits they bagged, they continued to focus on recruiting for the best of the squad rather than recruiting superstars for the fans or the profile of the club (which doesn’t need much boosting mind you).

One could be as brave to say they picked up some moneyball players in Quentin Lynch, a strong forward/ruckman who can help out in either position when called upon, and Jordan Russell, an underrated, out-of-form backman with the ability to shut down defenders.

They also picked up Ben Hudson to help out their youngsters with the ruck duties. They also added to their young core of potential stars by stealing Ben Kennedy late in the first round.

By the looks of things, Collingwood haters will be back in full force this season to try and bring down the evergreen Magpies.

There’s not too much to look down about at the Lexus Centre. While Nathan Buckley isn’t the coach that Pies fans hoped he’d be, he did an incredible job getting the squad as far as he did in his first year (for whatever credit he gets for it).

If anything, they should be a little bit cut up about Carlton’s new coach, the legendary Mick Malthouse. But if the Blues do anything similar to what they did last year, I’m sure there’ll be no hard feelings.

However, whether winning or losing, fans of the Blues and the Pies will have both rounds 2 and 15 circled in their diaries.

The Collingwood Magpies are one of those sport-defining teams such as the Lakers, the Yankees and the Packers that will compete for the premiership just about every single season.

And they only ever seem to be getting better. They’ve added plenty of valuable players, had their questions about their coach answered, and have plenty of support for the new season behind them. They always do.

It looks like it’ll be another year of us against them.

Prediction: 5th

Essendon Bombers

What on earth does 2013 hold for the Essendon Bombers? I really had to bust out my magic eight-ball for this one.

Out of all the clubs in the AFL, 2013 proves to be biggest for the Bombers. In 2012 they experienced a completely ungraceful fall, from the top of the ladder to 11th, finishing the season with seven losses in a row and a combined 173 points conceded in their last three matches.

Over the off-season, they picked up arguably the biggest recruit of the year, enticing Brendan Goddard away from the beach to come to Windy Hill. In the draft they picked Joe Daniher, who has received mixed reviews. Some call him the best player in a draft for a long time. Some don’t.

There’s no doubt the Bombers’ list is one of the best in football. Stars and potential at every position, and they’ve only added to that by bringing in Mr. Versatile, Brendan Goddard.

He will most likely spend most time in the backline for the Bombers, providing a skilful and veteran link between the backs and the forwards, and is one of the premier players in the competition.

They also drafted Joe Daniher, a ruckman-forward with a who as been described as Kurt Tippett 2.0. Combined with the rest of the Bombers’ list, which includes Brownlow medalist Jobe Watson and breakout midfielder Brent Stanton, suddenly, the Bombers are again looking like that early-season team that made their case for the premiership each week.

Last year, the Bombers fell victim to the soft tissue injury monster. And they were devoured, with the amount of soft tissue injuries experienced tallying over 20.

There was red and black blood everywhere. Most of their key players spent at least a few games out with injury, and when Brownlow medal challenger Brent Stanton went down with an injury, and didn’t return back 100%, the wheels started falling off the challenge.

Injuries in many different areas of the field didn’t help, and if the Bombers want to unleash their potential like they did in the early part of 2012, they’ll need to make sure they’re 100% healthy.

There’s no doubt the Bombers have one of the most talented lists in the comp. If they can keep said talent healthy, then there’s no reason for them to finish outside the top eight.

With a solid group of veterans mixed with some good youngins, the team basically coaches itself.

Their first match of the year, also the first match of the season, against the Adelaide Crows will be a big one in perhaps giving us a glimpse of whether the Bombers will be one to keep an eye on or 2013 easy-beats.

It will probably be somewhere in the middle, but boy I hope they prove me wrong.

Prediction: 9th

Fremantle Dockers

The Fremantle Dockers, the serial overachievers of last year are back and not bigger or better than ever. In fact, they are a rather easy team to review due to the fact that we will find out over the course of the season whether their lack off off-season activity will hurt them or not.

Yes, Freo fans, you did manage to recruit Danyle Pearce, but in a good team, his effectiveness remains to be seen.

But if he does in fact continue his good form from 2012, and integrates himself as a link-up man into Freo’s fairly slow midfield, then they will have themselves a prize recruit. And I hope they do.

The pros here are obvious. Fremantle had a good team in 2012, and they are bringing it back in 2013. Matthew Pavlich, who was supposedly on the decline, had one of, if not his best year last year.

He nearly won the Coleman and made his case for the Brownlow Medal.

Hopefully he can continue his form into this year.

Keep your jaws dropped as Freo also achieved what they did last year much without their brightest star, Nat Fyfe.

His presence was definitely felt in the finals when they shocked Geelong, and if he can stay as a regular-season fixture this year, then he’ll definitely be keeping opposing midfields on their feet.

And what ‘Avatar’ Fyfe lacks in speed, Danyle Pearce makes up for. Ross Lyon should be able to integrate him and improve their midfield further.

However, the Dockers’ strength may also turn out to be their weakness. While teams around them are looking actively to improve, and have, the Dockers have declared faith in their current group.

And why not? They managed to knock off the reigning premiers in their first venture to the finals as a team.

Often the best moves are the ones that aren’t made. But while everyone around them gets better, do they also get better with time, or do they fall behind the pack? A viable case can be made for the latter.

The team’s physical and spiritual leader Matthew Pavlich gets another year older, and is more prone to falling off in production, or injury. If the Dockers do chose this approach over the next few seasons, it may hurt a little more, but over one year, they shouldn’t experience too much backlash.

Freo were a solid team last year, and they were rewarded at year’s end with a thumping of the previous years’ champions in the finals.

Their zeal was unmatched in the finals by everyone not named the Sydney Swans, and they have shown maturity beyond their age.

Matthew Pavlich has blossomed from just being a great player to also being a great leader, and the Dockers have plenty to be positive about. Here’s hoping they have a solid year, and hopefully make some more noise this September.

Prediction: 8th

Geelong Cats

And for my first victim, I give you the Geelong Cats. I must warn you, many out there will not like my review of this team.

But I would not write it if I thought it was not the truth. Geelong will not make the finals this year. They may very well, but I would not be the least bit surprised if they didn’t.

Yes they have a great team, and they are doing well to prepare for future years, but I think they do not have what it takes to make the finals. That said, never count the Cats out.

First, let’s focus on the good: the Cats are moving in the right direction. This season they acquired Hamish McIntosh, Jared Rivers and Josh Caddy. All great acquisitions.

As good as Orren Stephenson was last season, Geelong have brought in an elite-level ruckman to take the reins. McIntosh has also shown capability to go forward and kick goals, which neither Stephenson nor Trent West could manage to do.

Jared Rivers is a good key defender who can give some height up back, and the highly sought-after Josh Caddy magically fell to the hands of the Cats, and shows great promise to be a future star wherever he plays.

With the average age of the three being 25, they all still have plenty of footy left in them, and are all great players. That’s pretty good future planning I’d say.

However, there is some bad news on the horizon for the Cattery. The core players of the team are getting older as we speak, and aside from Josh Caddy, there are few on the list that can qualify as “dominant youngsters”.

Yes this team is built with a lot of experience, but to compete with the dominant teams that I have in my eight, they will need the right mix of youth power, which I don’t believe they have.

Yes, the Cats may end up beating out some of the younger teams for a spot in the finals, but we have already begun to see their steady decline when they were demolished by Freo in the first round of the finals.

Yes Jimmy Bartel can still play like a Brownlow medalist, yes the old dogs can still fire, and yes they have a few young pieces to build around for the future, but it takes more to be successful in this league.

This season, Geelong may not have it in them.

Geelong did some propitious work in the off-season, managing to recruit some good talent to come up the highway to play, which should give Cats fans something to look forward to.

However, this will be a less than typical year for the Cats, who will likely experience a downward slide.

The core that they built around and reached the grand final in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011, winning three out of four, has started to fade. Their finals magic has started to disappear.

However, considering how professional a club they have been in the last decade, the Cats should be back on their feet and challenging for the flag once again in a few years time.

Prediction: 11th.

The AFL is now a year-round beast. From the pre-season Cup to the draft, it's always on. What's on your Christmas wishlist for 2015? What are your reflections on the year that was? If you're feeling inspired, you can share it with other Roarers by submitting an article.
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