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Five talking points from AFL Round 9

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Editor
19th May, 2019
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Evening Roarers! I’m pleased to tell you that today I successfully complete the Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon. Great news for me, but bad news for my aching calves, and bad news for you, as today’s column is a little light on as a result.

Let’s get started.

Blowouts be damned, Brendon Bolton doesn’t deserve scrutiny
As a footy fan there’s nothing I hate more than when my team is playing in the last match of the round – it’s hard to enjoy other games from a neutral perspective when you’re still fretting about how your own will go.

What’s worse is when your team plays in the last game of the round and puts in a poor performance, as Carlton have done this week. It makes you public enemy No.1 in the media for the week to come, especially when it comes to big clubs like the Blues.

Undoubtedly one of the big talking points of the media cycle this week will be the future of Brendon Bolton at the Blues. Expect the conversation to follow much the same lines as it did two weeks ago when Carlton were uncompetitive against North Melbourne.

My take? Quite simply, it’s unrealistic to expect any more from Brendon Bolton than what we’re getting right now. His arrival at the club coincided with Carlton going down a list management path, the upswing of which we haven’t even begun to see yet.

Stephen Silvagni arrived at Ikon Park a year earlier and in every year since the Blues’ list has become younger than it was before – dropping by almost a full year from the 2015 list Silvagni took over to that which they’ve got on their books in 2019.

The decline in average experience hasn’t been quite as linear, but is still unmistakable. Carlton are a 5.5 games less experienced side in 2019 than they were four years ago.

Carlton’s list under Stephen Silvagni
Year Average age Average games
2015 24.1 59.8
2016 24.0 53.3
2017 23.9 51.9
2018 23.8 56.4
2019 23.5 53.3
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This isn’t to say Silvagni’s been doing damage to Carlton’s list – I don’t agree with every move he’s made, but his strategy has been bold, transformative, and tirelessly creative, even if sometimes that is to his own detriment.

It’s only natural to expect improvement from a young team after a few years of rebuild, but the reality is that Carlton weren’t as young when this process started as we thought, and they’re only now just finished laying the groundwork from which improvement will eventually come.

There will be talk about sacking Brendon Bolton this week – but he’s the last person to blame for Carlton’s Blues. Swinging the axe in his direction would only be making him a scapegoat, and a decision that could set Carlton’s patient rebuild back further still, if not derail it entirely.

Brendon Bolton

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

A week of ‘almosts’
It would be fair to say that almost winning was just about the theme of Round 9, kicking off with what could have been a massive confidence builder for Melbourne on Friday night, but was not to be.

The Dees finished the first quarter of that game two points ahead and were able to gradually build their lead until they went into the final change up by two goals.

However it wasn’t to be – the Eagles blasted away with six goals in the final term while Melbourne prove only one. It was quite a different loss to the one Melbourne copped in last year’s prelim, but no less damaging – proving there is more than one way to devastate a Demon.

Similarly St Kilda were able to keep it within a kick until the final quarter against Collingwood before getting blown away in the last quarter.

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Meanwhile in the north, Adelaide came breathtakingly close to snatching a last-minute win at the Gabba, but fell just a point short.

Fremantle kicked the last three goals against Essendon but get over the line, North kicked the last four against Sydney but hit the same roadblock.

Four points is four points regardless of the manner in which you win or lose, and in a highly competitive season you can expect these sides will wind up rueing the missed opportunities.

What can we do to avoid losing another Tom Boyd?
Tom Boyd’s early retirement this week unfortunately was not the surprise it might have been, given how he has struggled with both his mental health and injury in recent years.

The speculation has always been there that the extreme expectations placed on Boyd – perhaps the most hyped draftee ever to enter the AFL – had contributed to his poor mental health, something Luke Beveridge’s comments seemed to comfirm.

Beveridge did single out one specific ‘black souled’ journalist to remain anonymous – but of course being true to form, Damian Barrett was happy enough to make himself completely un-anonymous within less than 24 hours.

However while Beveridge did single out ‘one in particular’, the truth is that if only those in the media who had never put forward an unneccessary and unkind take on Tom Boyd were allowed to throw stones, not many people would be putting them in the air. Certainly not myself.

What can we do to prevent this happening again? Certainly we can put some more time into thinking before we publish – I’ll try to, and I invite you to tell me when you don’t think I have.

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However there’s also a discussion to be had over the enormous scrutiny players come under when they move clubs, and especially how this has the potential to affect young players.

The AFLPA has fought back against suggestions of extending the length of initial draftee deals, arguing that this damages a player’s ability to seek out the best financial offer early in their career – but should this really be a top priority?

Perhaps the best move would be for Gillon McLachlan and some key figures at the AFLPA to have a sit down with Tom Boyd, when he’s ready, and ask him what he thinks could’ve been done to make things a little bit easier.

Lastly, on the topic of Tom himself, all the best to him. Raising the profile of the mental health conversation might wind up being his most valuable and lasting contribution to the game – but it has a bloody good grand final performance to beat first.

tom-boyd-western-bulldogs-afl-2016-grand-final

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Is Brad Scott selecting in North Melbourne’s best interest?
After Josh P Kennedy was withdrawn as a late out, North Melbourne went into Saturday night’s match against the Sydney Swans at Blundstone Arena as the vastly older and more experienced sides, while the Swans fielded the youngest side any club has so far in 2019.

The final result was close but really the Swans largely dominated the game and it was only as a young team perhaps started to run out of legs in the final term that the ‘Roos started to reel the margin in.

North’s active pursuit of mature-aged players at the end of 2018 signalled that the club doesn’t feel it is in the position of needing to rebuild, but their two wins from nine attempts so far this season points strongly in the opposite direction.

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Has the club’s mentality switched yet? Brad Scott’s decisions at the selection table would suggest not. Luke Davies-Uniacke and Paul Ahern are both impressive young talents and fan favourites to boot, yet Scott seems uninterested in giving them a chance to develop at AFL level.

Scott comes out of contract next year and after a relatively mediocre decade in charge of the team it’s clear that a conversation will need to be had about whether or not he’s the right man to lead the club’s coaching staff into the future.

Some wins would be bloody nice and it’s not too speculative to suspect that’s probably why he’s sticking with his most mature and experienced players. But is getting wins now to build a case to keep his job really in the club’s best interests – or just his?

Tigers behind, but they’ll fight and fight – and win?
After Richmond’s drought-breaking and somewhat surprising run to the premiership in 2017 the hunter quickly became the hunted and 17 other clubs spent an offseason looking for ways to get around the Tigers’ gameplan.

Despite this they nearly went back-to-back in 2018 all the same – widely tipped to do so even as things got a little shaky in the final rounds of the season, before they were eventually blown away by Collingwood in a memorably preliminary final.

Picking up Tom Lynch as a free agent but them right back in the conversation as premiership favourites but their case was quickly dealt swift damage over the first month of the season as Alex Rance, Jack Riewoldt and Trent Cotchin dropped like flies, while Dustin Martin seemed at his lowest ebb in years after being run ragged by Matt de Boer.

Crisis has proved as it so often does to be an opportunity, and the testing of Richmond’s depth has revealed genuine star power in both players who’ve been on the list a few years and those who just months ago walked through the doors.

Sydney Stack and Jack Ross have quickly ingratiated themselves with the Tiger faithful, Liam Baker and Shai Bolton are on the verge of cementing spots on the side, and today Ivan Soldo showed that the club has ruck options beyond Toby Nankervis (and of course, recently retired premiership ruckman Shaun Grigg).

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The Tigers won’t get Alex Rance back this year – well, probably. If anyone could do it. But they will get Jack Riewoldt and Trent Cotchin back at some point, and when they do there’ll be serious competition for spots that should drive every Richmond player to go at their absolute best.

Oh – and they keep winning. Six from nine despite all the talent they’re missing. In my mind, Geelong, GWS and Collingwood are the three side most thickly in the race for the flag – but the Tigers are the team most capable of joining them.

They love being the hunters, and they just might build momentum at the right time, much as they did two years ago. Watch this space.