The three most successful teams of the last fifteen years, Hawthorn, Geelong, and Sydney, are finished – at least in the short term. In fact, all three will miss the finals in 2019.
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There’s only so much Lance Franklin and Patrick Dangerfield can do.
A week after Franklin was named AFL All-Australian captain and Dangerfield was honoured as his deputy, what the two stars want most looks well out of reach.
Franklin’s most recent premiership was five years ago, in his last year at Hawthorn, and Dangerfield is yet to play in a grand final for either Adelaide or current club Geelong.
Franklin went goalless on Saturday as Sydney kicked their lowest SCG score in the comprehensive elimination final loss to GWS.
Dangerfield had been kept awake for much of the previous night, stewing over Geelong’s elimination final loss to Melbourne.
When Franklin landed his monster nine-year free agency deal with Sydney and Dangerfield similarly left the Crows at the end of 2016, premierships were front and centre of their thinking.
Franklin has played in two losing grand finals at Sydney and the Cats made last year’s preliminary final, but have only won three of their past 12 finals since lifting the 2011 cup.
There were times last month when both teams sat outside the top eight.
It begs the season-ending question – can the Swans and Cats return to premiership contention, or are they just making up the finals numbers?
Sydney badly need more support for Franklin in attack and their midfield depth also needs a boost.
Geelong have a worrying gap growing on their list between a group of ageing stars and some very promising kids.
Tim Kelly and Esava Ratugolea were major finds, but how much longer does Harry Taylor have? Is free agent Luke Dahlhaus what they really need?
While Cats great Jimmy Bartel remains bullish, he says they must give more experience to their youngsters, especially in the midfield.
“If you get into that situation again, where you go ‘this mix we’ve gone with, our one wood, is getting blown off the park’, then we have this, this and this that we can fall back on,” Bartel told 3AW.
Former Sydney and Melbourne coach Paul Roos says injuries to small forwards such as Nakia Cockatoo and Lincoln McCarthy hurt them, but he thinks Geelong are still finding their way.
“There have been circumstances for both those teams, but we know what Sydney’s game style is – we’re probably still trying to work out what Geelong’s game style is and I think they really need to establish that in the off-season,” Roos told AAP.
“Both teams have the personnel.
“They’d be disappointed in their midfield group against Melbourne, but they’d be hoping it’s a one-off poor performance.”
Roos, Sydney’s 2005 premiership coach, says the Swans will look a better side with Sam Naismith returning to the ruck, freeing up Callum Sinclair to spend more time in attack alongside Franklin.
Isaac Heeney and Callum Mills are developing guns who will boost their midfield.
“They’re very good at making the eight and the next stage is making top four – they were one game off top four,” Roos noted.
“Some people are doomsayers, but I’m probably a little bit the other way.”