Round 8 proved to be another ripping week of footy – history was made, magic happened, and the season at large if anything just continued to build intrigue. Here’s nine quick takes from the round that was.
We’re in a golden age of footy
Steve Johnson sneaking home a goal in the last minute? David Mundy kicking the winner after the siren? Clayton Oliver pulling goals out of his arse? The teams in bottom four pushing and sometimes even knocking off those at the top of the ladder? Just an average Saturday afternoon in 2017 AFL.
Honestly, it’s hard to believe that just a few years ago we lived in a perpetual brown and gold mire where all football felt kind of futile because you knew Hawthorn were just going to bruise their way to another premiership no matter what happened in the first 198 games of the year.
Maybe even a few Hawthorn fans would admit that the decline of the Hawks and the Swans this year has certainly made footy more exciting. Of the eight teams at the top of the ladder right now, only four have won a flag this millenium, and only one of them has saluted more than once.
On top of that though there’s as genuine a belief as there has ever been that just about any team in the comp could beat any other team in the comp on any given day.
Just take a look at the eight games fixtured next week – bar maybe Brisbane and Adelaide, they all look like potential thrillers, and even that one is at least mildly interesting.
All in all, it’s a great time to be an AFL fan.
(AAP Image/Julian Smith)
If there’s a premiership favourite, I don’t know who they are
Following on from that last point, a dramatic season full of upsets and intrigue has made it hard to tell who is leading the race to take home the cup.
Two weeks ago I said the flag race was down to six teams: Adelaide, GWS, Richmond, Geelong, West Coast and the Bulldogs. In the fortnight since those six teams have won a combined four games. Three of them have lost both.
When teams like St Kilda, Fremantle, Port Adelaide and Melbourne keep putting good wins on the board here and there – and none of the ‘top’ teams are consistent enough to build a gap on them – it’s fair to say there’s room for anyone to become the frontrunner.
Those are ten teams none of whom I would be shocked to see finish in the top four at the end of the year. But at least two of them will miss finals!
I asked Twitter who was the flag favourite on Saturday night and got at least half a dozen different answers, and only some of them tongue in cheek. We may already be a third of the way through the season, but it’s still wide open.
(AAP Image/Julian Smith)
China gets a taste of boring footy
The first match played for premiership points in China turned out to be fairly dull affair in the end with the highlights of the day being one ripper goal from Justin Westhoff and the music person briefly forgetting the difference between the Port Adelaide club song and Australia’s national anthem.
Four goals fourteen behinds was horrendous work from Gold Coast in front of goal but even if they had run at perfect accuracy with their scoring shots they still would have lost by two points. Any new Chinese fans watching the match probably left confused about which posts do actually equate to a goal.
I’m sure it was a nice all expenses paid international trip for the AFL executives on the junket tour but with a crowd that was made up largely of expats and travelling Australian fans the match felt largely like the AFL giving itself a large pat on the back while daily life in China continued unimpeded.
It will be interesting to see if it goes ahead again next year given the bad blood that cropped up between the Suns and Power in the lead-up. Is any other club in the league going to be willing to sell a home game to Port for a 2018 game?
We’ll find out later this year but if someone does, let’s hope the sides that go across put on a more entertaining affair than was had in Shanghai on Sunday.
(AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Cartlon are no easybeats
Having already given a nod in general to those lower-ranked teams who are making things interesting, Carlton in particular deserve a significant thumbs up for not just having three wins to this point in the year but for keeping other teams honest.
Bar a blowout loss on Friday night to Port Adelaide a few weeks ago where they played a team so young that most were probably too worried about their VCE results to concentrate, the matches they’ve lost they’ve still competed well and given their opponents a few worries.
It’s clear that even if the talent is raw or just not there, the team is well coached to the point where they’re able to work well together and make a great defensive effort that keeps them in games longer than most opponents will expect.
There’s a decent handful of teams in the top half of the ladder who could learn a few things from the defensive ethic that is becoming synonymous with Carlton at the moment. Fair to say if they keep this up they’ll do a lot better than my pre-season prediction of them winning the spoon.
How will it all translate when the talent matures and the tide starts turning towards offensive footy? Only time will tell on that one, but for now Blues fans can hold their heads high going into games, knowing that more often than not their team will do them proud.
(AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Collingwood need at least one more Ben Reid
Getting Collingwood’s forward line humming has been Nathan Buckley’s top priority for a few weeks now and his decision on Saturday to thrown Ben Reid forward had significant ramifications for the game.
Reid only kicked the one game himself but still had a nice impact – Darcy Moore played with more freedom, and there were more even contest from the Pies’ medium and smaller types to work around.
Even if Collingwood didn’t get the win, the decision paid dividends. Collingwood kicked 15.9, their first instance of kicking more goals than behinds in a game this year, and came within a goal of beating a flag contender on the road.
However, at the opposite end of the ground Reid’s absence was telling. Try as they might, a Famous Arthur’s Daley Clearance House backline of Lynden Dunn and Henry Schade couldn’t stop Jeremy Cameron from kicking a match-winning bag of six goals.
If there’s any club in the league that could afford to experiment around with human cloning it would be McGuire’s Magpies, but in the absence of that it’s clear that they need at least one more elite key position player in the side at one end or the other.
Could that be Sam Reid – Ben’s brother – the Sydney free agent who they’re rumoured to be into for as much as $800,000 next year? Not sure he’s the answer – though he was in good form on Sunday, to be sure – but it’s definitely a “watch this space”.
(AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)
Just call him Coleman Cameron
Speaking of Jez Cameron’s big bag, you’d have to think that he is well in the mix for the Coleman Medal this year, if not the favourite.
He came awfully close to winning it in just his second year in the comp but hasn’t been quite as close since – but the sleeping Giant has awakened, and he’s averaging a career high 3.5 goals per game this year so far.
That’s not to say the medal couldn’t still belong to Josh J Kennedy or Lance Franklin – or Tom Hawkins, Jack Riewoldt or even Eddie Betts.
Still, with Cameron taking a narrow lead at the end of this round, you’d have to like his chances of becoming the first Giant ever to win one of the AFL’s major individual awards.
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Brad, you’ve got to back in the kids
As North Melbourne got smashed in the contested footy against Sydney on Sunday you could just feel Brad Scott’s trigger finger getting itchy to put former captain Andrew Swallow back in the team ahead of Round 9.
The Roos had a bad day, and their effort was poor – definitely their worst of the year and disappointing in the extreme. To be fair, coming off an enormous game last week, it’s not that much of a surprise that they would have a downer.
However the club cannot afford to have a knee jerk reaction to one bad week. The team has played its best footy when the coach backs in the kids, and pulling them out to play the old stagers because of one bad week would just rob them of all confidence.
They’ve earnt over the two weeks before this one the right to be given a bit of time and space to turn it around. Brad, do what Brendon Bolton has done this year and back your young charges in – the future of this club belongs to them.
(AAP Image/David Crosling)
Geelong are hovering on the edge of a wasted year
Geelong have lost three games in a row in a season for the first time since 2006 if you can believe it, and it’s fair to say that not all is well at the Cattery at the moment.
Geelong had -53 disposals on Saturday night against Essendon and if your opponent is getting that much more of the ball you should be winning the tackle count comfortably. Instead, Geelong were -41 there.
They cop a fair bit of criticism for not winning when Selwood and Dangerfield aren’t getting it done – plenty of it coming from me – but while you can’t ask the other players to be more talented, you must demand they put in more effort.
Really though it is hard to tell what the Cats want to be and their list management over recent years has been confusing to say the least.
They’ve pushed out older players in order to make room for youngsters, but having traded away all their draft picks they don’t seem to really have many youngsters coming through to lift the team.
While seeing Irish rookie Mark O’Connor make his debut for the Cats after only a short time in the game was a nice footy story, it does call to attention the Cats’ lack of depth inside their own best 22.
At the same time watching a club champ James Kelly put in a good game on the opposite side of the field, and Steve Johnson kick a winner up in Western Sydney, you’d have to ask if a club that is looking to push for top four and a premiership made the right call letting them go.
Is there the personnel on the list to turn this season around? Or are they just treading water and waiting for the potential return of Gary Ablett at the end of the year? If it’s the former, Friday night against the Dogs next week is the perfect time to show it.
(AAP Image/Joe Castro)
Why not a country game… in the country?
Just a short one here and this is a bit of an odd idea I know, but if the AFL is going to have an annual game celebrating the country, wouldn’t it make sense to play it somewhere other than right in the middle of Melbourne?
I’m not necesarilly saying you have to build a 50,000 seat stadium in halfway across the Nullabor and play it there, but surely Kardinia Park at the very least would make a lot more sense given the Cats are regulars in the fixture.