Disclaimer: I’m a West Coast Eagles fan, so figure that into your assessments when considering my objectivity. However, for the purposes of this prediction, I’m calling that the Eagles will be the best performed of all the expansion teams.
With the season opener just a few weeks away, now’s the time to congratulate the last dinosaurs left standing.
The modern game is supposed to be fast flowing, fair and skilful. The big men are supposed to be mobile. Defenders attack and attackers defend.
But nobody told these guys. This is my team of favourite dinosaurs, the survivors from a bygone era.
FB: Dustin Fletcher, Daniel Merritt, Michael Firrito
HB: Jack Grimes, Lynden Dunn, Dylan Grimes
C: Matt Thomas, Liam Pickering, Rhyce Shaw
HF: Steve Johnson, Tyrone Vickery, Steve Motlop
FF: Ivan Maric, Jack Riewoldt, Jack Gunston
Followers: Aaron Sandilands, Mitch Robinson, Kane Cornes
Interchange: Clint Jones
And now let’s sing their praises, starting from the backline.
Daniel Merritt. In an age where fullbacks are supposed to take intercept marks and provide dashing rebounds, Daniel Merritt just punches. Daniel punches anything that comes near him. And if he can’t punch it, he’ll wrestle it to the ground and land awkwardly on top of it.
Dustin Fletcher. As a kid, Dustin practiced his spoiling on low-flying pterodactyls. No-one can quite remember when he played his first game of AFL football but grainy traces of archival footage show it was an era when monstrous beasts like Plugger Lockett and Saverio Rocca roamed the earth. You can’t write an article about dinosaurs without mentioning Fletch, the ultimate survivor.
Michael Firrito. Last year I wrote that Firrito and Nick Maxwell were the last of the old fashioned back pockets – the ones who rely on determination and footy nous instead of pace and skill. The great tradition of the battling back pocket gave us half of the coaches of the modern era. And the last of their kind is the fumbling, heart-of-a-whale North Melbourne defender.
Lynden Dunn. With legs made of railway sleepers and feet made of concrete, Lyndon looks and moves like a 1970s footballer.
Jack and Dylan Grimes. In an age of silky rebounders, the Grimes brothers stand out. Even their name lacks finesse.
Liam Picken. Most of today’s midfielders would be more at home in a spa bath than a 1970s centre-wicket mud patch. Not Liam. Liam’s tactics are about as old-fashioned as they come. Not many players can get up Gary Ablett’s nostrils like Liam can.
Matt Thomas. Remember the days when wing men were no-nonsense battering rams? If you got hit by Geoff Cunningham, Darren Millane or Robert Dipierdomenico, it took a month for the bruises to subside. Nowadays the wings are graced by Isaac Smith, Steele Sidebottom, Lewis Jetta and Bradley Hill. Let’s play 87-kilogram Tiger Matt Thomas on the wing. He may struggle for speed and skill but he’s a battering ram, and he’s a survivor.
Rhyce Shaw. With Heath Scotland, Jonathan Brown and Ashley McGrath retiring last year, Rhyce is the sole survivor from the 2003 grand final. And his beard has survived from the 19th century.
This position itself has gone the way of the dodo. But don’t tell Tyrone Vickery. His 1970s whack on Dean Cox last year earned him a spot in our team. It was part Neil Balme and part Bruce Lee.
Steven Motlop and Steve Johnson. Nowadays, half forwards don’t fly for pack marks, they don’t try 60-metre torpedoes and they don’t take low percentage shots from the boundary line. We thought all the lair and flair was gone when Jeff Farmer and Alan Didak faded into oblivion.
But we forgot about Stevey M and Stevey J. No-one quite knows what these two are going to do next – least of all their coach. But they’ve got a pile of premiership medallions to prove that there’s still room for a couple of lairy rogues in an era of airtight systems and discipline.
Jack Riewoldt. Remember when full forwards didn’t need to chase? When they could rely on a fast lead to kick most of their goals, and giving away free kicks was par for the course, especially if done while leaping waywardly on the full back’s shoulders? Emotional outbursts and staging for free kicks were also perfectly forgivable, if not an essential part of the full forward’s mental make-up. Jack belongs in that era, and we love his frailty.
Ivan Maric. For the resting ruck, it was a toss-up between Tom Bellchambers, with his 1980s mobility, and Ivan Maric, with his 1980s mullet. I went with the hair.
Jack Gunston. In the 20th century, mid-sized forwards were feared. Tony Modra and Gary Ablett Sr led the way. But in today’s game, mid-sized forwards are too big to chase and too small to take marks. That’s why Jack Gunston’s dominance is an anomaly. He kicks straight like a 20th century footballer too.
Aaron Sandilands. I wrote two years ago that the increasing speed of the game would soon leave Sandilands behind, but he’s still there in 2015.
Dean Cox, David Hill, Dean Brogan and Darren Jollie have been replaced by new mobile rucks like Nic Naitanui, Paddy Ryder and Brodie Grundy, but Sandilands is still keeping Zac Clarke out of the number one ruck spot in a top team. Aaron’s not much value when the ball hits the ground but when the ball’s in the air, it’s an advantage being eight foot tall.
Mitch Robinson. Mitch makes the game look simple and the game makes Mitch look simple. Get in, get it and bomb it long. No game plans. No pin-point passing. No frills on Mitch.
Kane Cornes. A few years ago, Cornes was gone for all money. Too old, too short, too slow, and couldn’t kick over a vegemite jar. He was the 21st century equivalent of Tony Shaw, surviving only on his wits and his ability to scratch, scrounge and scrag. Then along came Ken Hinkley. Cornes is still there, and still scrounging his way to a spot in the midfield of one of the best teams in the comp.
Clint Jones. An article on dinosaurs has to mention the modern-day AFL club that most resembles a 1980s club. At the Saints, they still score more in the party after the game than they do in the game itself. And who better to lead our dinosaurs’ culture than the dwarf-burner himself – Clint Jones.
On field, Clint’s got blue ribbon dinosaur credentials: kicks like an old-fashioned back pocket, loves it tough and scrappy, and is right now on the verge of extinction. It was great to see him being thrown a temporary life-line by the Bombers last weekend. With his tenacity, he deserves another chance in 2015.
Which other dinosaurs should get a game in this team?