As the football season proper looms ever closer, it’s time to put my neck on the chopping block and make a few predictions for the year ahead.
Rather than go with the blindingly obvious or highly likely (Collingwood for the flag, GWS for the wooden spoon) I’ve decided to compile a list of predictions that require going out on a limb.
I think they have a sound basis, but if none of these predictions look likely by mid-season, expect the link to this article to be permanently removed to restore some of my credibility.
Buddy Franklin to win the Brownlow
Sooner or later the drought for non-midfielders winning the AFL’s most prestigious individual honour will break, and if any player is capable of tearing Charlie away from those ball-hogs in the centre of the ground, it’s Hawthorn superstar Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin.
Franklin has the ability to turn a match with his freakish skills, and his eye-catching play has seen him poll more Brownlow votes than most other key forwards in the AFL’s highest individual honour. Last year Buddy polled twenty votes, including four best on grounds, and four two-vote matches. When Franklin plays well, he tends to play very well, and he gets noticed by the umpires.
In the Hawks first pre-season hit-out Franklin got a run through the middle of the ground, and if this trend continues for the rest of the year, it will only increase his chances of winning the Brownlow.
I just hope that Buddy doesn’t spoil my prediction by getting rubbed out, as he is prone to doing. If Franklin can hold his best form for much of the year, get the occasional run through the middle of the ground, and avoid having his name penned in the umpire’s book for a tribunal appearance, he could just take out the big one this year.
Fremantle to make the top four
Ross Lyon is a seriously good coach. While his emphasis on defensive game-plans might be the AFL coaching equivalent of a sleeping pill, it gets results. This time last year a lot was expected of the Dockers, but they were cruelled by injuries for much of the season. I expect last year’s result was an aberration, and that season 2012 will see the Dockers surge back up the AFL ladder.
Aaron Sandilands is one of the best two ruckmen in the competition and will continue to give his midfielders first look at the ball. Matthew Pavlich remains under-rated by virtue of playing for the Purple Haze and not on the eastern seaboard. Nathan Fyfe is an emerging star, and Michael Barlow, when fit, is a ball magnet if ever there was one.
The Dockers were luckless last season, but if they get a better run with injuries this year, expect the club to surge into contention for a top-four berth this year.
Adelaide Crows to make the top eight
I’ve just got a sneaking suspicion about the Crows. Of the five rookie coaches this year, Brenton Sanderson is as well equipped as any of them to achieve success in his first year at the helm. Sanderson has been an assistant at Geelong the past four years, and has spent time under premiership coaches Mark Thompson and Brad Scott.
There’s no doubt that the Crows have been poor the past two seasons, but it wasn’t that long ago that they were a white-hot and fast finishing side that missed out on a preliminary finals berth in 2009 by less than a kick. Significantly, six of the seven players who topped the side’s best and fairest that year are still at the club.
The Crows have the softest of draws this year, facing likely cellar dwellers Gold Coast, GWS and Port Adelaide twice each. The Crows will fancy notching up six wins from these encounters alone.
After Neil Craig fell on his sword late last year, Taylor Walker proved he is a player on the rise by booting eighteen goals in his final six matches. If the Walker and Tippett forward-line pairing can find some form, it will worry opposition defences.
Throw in Porplyzia up forward, and Thompson, Dangerfield and Sloane through the midfield, and the Crows are a good chance of getting a taste of September football for the first time in three years.
Collingwood to miss the top four
This is a big call, but not beyond the realm of possibility. Favourite sons returning to coach the club they played for are a bit of a death or glory proposition. For every Paul Roos or John Worsfold who brings premiership success, there is a Michael Voss or Kevin Bartlett who struggles as a coach.
You’d think that Collingwood would have learned from their appointment of Tony Shaw as coach in 1996, but apparently not.
I think the Magpies will start strongly as expected, win around seven or eight of their first ten matches, then gradually fall away after that and miss out on a top-four spot. I look forward to special comments man Mick Malthouse gloating wildly that it would never have happened under his reign if my prediction proves true. Cue the black and white army getting restless and turning on their favourite son Buckley when the Magpies go out of the finals in straight sets this year
Neither a St Kilda Schoolgirl nor Brendan Fevola will occupy the back (or front) pages
This one’s as much a plea as a prediction. After several drama-filled years, I’d be very happy for both to have a year out of the spotlight.
Short of Fev mastering alchemy or Kim Duthie joining the board of BHP, I don’t want to hear or have the need to write about either of them this year.
You can follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelFilosi