Nine rounds into the season and the competition is separating in the usual way.
Do we remember Adrian Cox?
He was a Hawthorn player, a dashing winger with a shaved head at the turn of the century who played 54 AFL matches. For some reason he was the player that really stood out for me from Hawthorn’s nifty finals series of 2001 and the fraught Essendon versus Hawthorn preliminary final, only his 11th game.
I was shocked to read that he only grabbed 11 possessions that match because he hangs tall in my memory. I remember him taking one of the ‘marks’ of the century in that match, similar to that one where Warwick Capper’s midriff dangled over his defender’s shoulders.
Unfortunately for Cox, he did this as a defender on his own goal-line, and Essendon’s shot at goal was judged to have marginally crossed. There was, therefore, no mark of the century, or even a possession stat. Essendon were given six points on the play and they won a quite dodgy match by nine.
Adrian Cox, rather than remaining a niche premiership player in the AFL memory forevermore like Shane Biggs and Clay Smith, was simply never heard of again.
The 2000-01 period turned out to be a false dawn for the Hawks. They had an inconsistent home and away series but clicked for the finals in both years, winning three in total. Ask Essendon and Richmond (pre-2017): three finals wins for a developing team are nothing to scoff at. They can be cherished by the fans, but the hard work always starts again tomorrow.
Some teams play beautiful home and away seasons but simply can’t pull it together in the physical and mental pressure of a final. Then we have the more bizarre cases of the opposite effect.
Port Adelaide’s 2013-14 story almost completely matches Hawthorn’s listed above. Two finals series (but no top-four ladder finishes or truly consistent home and away seasons) yielded three finals wins over two years and another agonising preliminary final loss. Conventional wisdom suggested a young team was set for glory over the following years. Conventional wisdom was wrong – they had left it all on the field in the 2014 finals series.
We then had the most star-crossed case of all, where a young Western Bulldogs had a two-year finals stint (no top-four finishes) and cobbled together four finals victories over the period. They were clever enough to have grouped theirs in the same season. Then they were gone.
I can’t say more about September 2016 than say, Martin Flanagan can, but magnificent achievement aside, the Doggies were ultimately little different from Hawthorn 2001 and Port 2014, except their preliminary final was won by a few points rather than lost.
Look, this article is not based on anything substantial. It’s just a possible pattern I noticed. A gun finals series is simply no guarantee you’ll be any good next year over the 22-game haul, especially if you’re a young team.
Melbourne’s 2018 home and away season until Round 22 was rather ratty. Human memory, being skewed towards the end of things, is kind to the 2018 Demons. They did win four tremendous matches in a row. This, however, is definite proof of only 27 days of form.
Maybe they made the step up. They could go on with it. They might not. Collingwood, too, played an admirable 2018 finals series but it was only their first finals appearance of this spell. I guess I could make this same argument for them too.
Personal feeling is that Collingwood’s foundation is better and they are not as risky as Melbourne, for cultural reasons as much as their playing list, but I’m not being paid the big bucks. My opinion is as much an indication of the future as a fart in the wind. But we’ll see.