This year’s top three AFL disappointments
Darren Glass evades Leigh Harding during the AFL Round 08 match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the West Coast Eagles at the Gold Coast Stadium.
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Every year, there’s a small handful of AFL clubs that don’t just fail to meet expectations, they fall drastically below them.
In 2013, three clubs stood out.
The output of these teams was the furthest below what was or could’ve been expected of them.
Before we get into the top three, an honourable mention – if that’s the right term – to the one-win Greater Western Sydney.
The Giants were saved by the fact they were expected to finish last and more or less struggle for wins.
The third-biggest disappointment was the Dees.
This writer said during the Mark Neeld saga that everyone got their Melbourne expectations way wrong this year. They were always going to be bad.
Given they lost so much experience over the break – and, despite reports, didn’t gain anywhere near enough to make up for it – they were never going to match their 2012 efforts of four wins, 16th place and a 67.5 percentage.
In the end, though, that they got nowhere near any of those three indicators was damning. They were more than just bad.
The Dees dropped to two wins, ended up three wins short of 16th and had a paltry 54.1 percentage – worse than Gold Coast in either of their first two seasons.
While the co-captains certainly worked hard, like others at the club before them they’re behind where most expected them to be after a few years in the system.
It didn’t help that the two big recruits of the past two years, Mitch Clark and Chris Dawes, either barely appeared or were never at full fitness. But these points are only part of the story.
For those wondering, yes, had Neeld continued and they remained this far off the pace, even his most ardent defender would have nothing.
In the end, both Neeld and Neil Craig had a 1-10 record in 2013. With the respected Craig having four cracks at the eventual bottom four versus Neeld’s one, the notion that Melbourne’s issues extend well beyond the coaches’ box has been well and truly validated.
The Blues have made it to September, which would normally give them a get-out-of-jail-free card in an article like this, but we know the events that transpired to get them there. They got lucky.
Basically, this is the same middle-of-the-road team we had at the end of last year.
Same number of wins – 11 – and virtually the same percentage – 108 down to 106 – and probably the same number of frustrated pre-season tipsters.
Mick Malthouse was meant to be an instant saviour. Pundits had his presence alone as a deciding factor that would push them up the ladder.
Some of us weren’t that spellbound, however it was difficult to picture another 11-win season.
Mitch Robinson, Chris Yarran and Lachie Henderson finally had 50 games under their belt at the start of the year. They’d blooded 12 debutants between 2011 and 2012.
They made the pre-season final despite acknowledging that players were still getting their heads around Mick’s game plan.
And they were also “that” team: the one that drops out of the top eight after a promising season and is now expected to bounce back with a vengeance.
The Blues ultimately lost more than they won at both home grounds, noteworthy given they had a winning record at the MCG in each of Brett Ratten’s final three seasons and also given Malthouse has stated he wants all the Blues’ home games there.
They lost twice to teams from the eventual bottom four, something that had happened just once between 2011 and 2012.
The way things have worked out, they have the opportunity to completely change perceptions about their year this weekend. Maybe they will.
But two weeks ago, when they were out of the finals race, this year was absolutely a disappointment. We shouldn’t lose sight of that.
#1. West Coast Eagles
The biggest disappointment of 2013, however, was the West Coast Eagles. Boy oh boy.
Injuries have hurt, but they do not explain going from a 16-win team to a nine-win team. They do not explain the conceding of 15 extra points per game.
The players who finished top ten at the Eagles’ best and fairest last year missed a total of 35 games.
Guess what? Those that made the Dockers’ top ten missed 37 this year. (The Blues’ top ten, for any angry fans still reading, missed 40. So there’s that.)
Injuries are most definitely a part of the slide, but to put 100 per cent of it on that one issue is to grossly misallocate blame. Let’s recap what went wrong.
West Coast slipped eight ladder positions.
They surrendered the Patersons Stadium fortress.
They registered not a single win against the eventual top eight.
Their final three games of the year were each losses by more than ten goals. Their highest score from those games was 43.
In Rounds 21 and 22 they registered their lowest ever scores at Patersons Stadium and the MCG. In Round 23 they lost to non-finalists Adelaide by 86 points – their biggest loss since Round 3, 2009.
It’s hard to believe this is the same team that was seen by some as flag favourites. Pre-season, seven club captains said it would be the Eagles they face in the grand final.
The only other side to register more than one vote was Hawthorn.
With a highly efficient forward line and an elite spine, you get the sense West Coast will assume the “that” team mantel going into next season.
There’s enormous potential for them to bounce back in a major way.
But as far as 2013 is concerned, the past 23 weeks are best forgotten.
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