Wandering down AFL’s expectation lane

Gordon P Smith Roar Guru

By , Gordon P Smith is a Roar Guru


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    Four weeks into the season and the stratification is already happening. Let’s take a stroll down Expectation Lane, where as many as 16 teams can be happy a month into the home-and-away.

    West Coast made quick work of Lance Franklin’s ribs and his shot at eight ton on Thursday.

    The Eagles made a lot of people who compete in tipping contests very happy, coming up with a victory margin right about in the expected ballpark for playing an 0-3 grand finalist.

    Meanwhile, Sydney is one of just two teams undeniably unable to put lipstick on this pig of a start to their season. Between March and August, the Swans lost just five out of 22 games in taking the minor premiership. Since the grand final, they’ve lost five in a row.

    Franklin’s 250th came and went with a whimper, held goalless by the Magpies (it could’ve been worse – ask Travis Cloke how he’s feeling after his 250th this weekend, or Lindsay Thomas after his kick at the death missed on the occasion of his 200th). But he’ll reach 800 soon enough, and become only the 12th man ever to do so in AFL/VFL history.

    My footy experience extends just 15 years, plus lots of archive digging, so I won’t sit here and tell you about the wonders of Gary Ablett Sr or Tony Lockett with ball in hand. What I can say definitively is that there’s never been a goal-kicking superstar who’s looked like Buddy Franklin. He has, as Liam Neeson might say, “a very particular set of skills”, skills that allow him to do what no one I’ve ever seen can do with a football in hand.

    I’m hopeful he holds up another few years, hits 1000 goals and establishes a number that will make future folks like me go back into the archives to marvel at his talent.

    Swans' Lance Franklin kicks the ball

    Good Friday footy is here to stay, and if it’s given to anybody except the Bulldogs and Kangaroos, that will be a travesty.

    All the other Victorian clubs have a special event or three, and the eight interstate clubs have each other for the Showdown or Q Clash or whatever. Leave them this bone, AFL! They absolutely earned it Friday night!

    The other team which cannot in any way, shape, or form claim that 2017 has been a success is no mystery. If there were a 19th place, Hawthorn would be in it right now – they trail even the other winless teams by expansion-like percentages. There are far too many people overanalysing their flaws this week, so I won’t join them other than to say they got too old too fast. So did Sydney, but the average age of the Swans’ list is 24 and in the youngest quartile. The Hawks are the oldest team in the competition.

    We all knew that; many of us (ahem) had them dropping out of the eight this season. But nobody predicted this. That list has to change for the younger this week, not next season, or they may not win a game for a long time.

    As for the other 16 teams? North can claim success: competitive losses to four current top-six teams when you jettisoned all your older talent? Right now, the Hawks would trade places in a heartbeat. The ladder divides up neatly into six groups of three, and we’ve examined the bottom three already.

    Next tier up, at 1-3, Carlton and Brisbane have punched above their weight already, while Collingwood could rocket up the ladder if they had anyone playing in front of their 50 with, say, 250 games of solid goal-kicking experience…They can’t panic yet (Magpie army will anyway).

    Six teams are at 2-2: three who have won their last two (Gold Coast, St Kilda, and Fremantle) who can legit consider themselves on the way up, and three (Port, Essendon, and Melbourne) whose first two wins were impressive enough not to have the shine removed by the last two weeks’ defeats.

    Then you have the six teams atop the ladder, all of whom would have to be anointed as favourites: Adelaide, Richmond, Geelong (all 4-0 against varying levels of difficulty) and Greater Western Sydney, West Coast, and Western Bulldogs, all with one loss to an undefeated team at home (except the Dogs, who as premiers I allow a stumble out of the blocks).

    My ELO-style rating system has the Crows and Giants at 82.1 and 81.3, a full eight points ahead of Geelong in third, and I’d say those are indeed the two best teams right now.

    Weekly wanderings
    I was proud of my sport and the way they stood up for our indigenous players last week against what I pray are the actions of some lone bigots. I hope that we, as a code, have learnt our lesson from the ramifications of taking the vilification of men like Adam Goodes too lightly.

    I am certain Goodes retired a season or so before he really wanted to because he refused to subject himself to the abhorrent behaviour of subhumans who thought rights beyond reason were granted to them with the purchase of a ducat.

    Adam Goodes Australian of the year 2014.

    Eddie Betts admitted on 5AA last week that “stuff like this wrecks it”, even when he’s firing on all cylinders and should be loving every minute of his success. He and Paddy Ryder had done no harm to anyone except each other’s team aspirations, which was their job.

    Do you want to help your team? Cheer.

    What can I say about what it’s like to be insulted like people of colour are in both Australia and in the United States, where I live? Nothing. I’m not a person of color. I’m a pale person, probably like many of you reading this.

    So, like you, what I have to do – all I can do – is support them when it happens, call out racism when I see and hear it, like the footy family did this week, and keep doing it until we eliminate it or we’re gone from the planet. Whichever comes first.