There’s four weeks remaining of the 2019 regular season and we can safely start to look at some of the teams that won’t make finals.
Some of the bottom eight sides have serious upside for 2020 (I’m looking at you North Melbourne), while other teams are still a question mark (yes, that’s you Gold Coast). But if you had to buy stock in one of the bottom eight football clubs, who would you back knowing what you know right now?
Who’s the closest to winning a flag?
I’ve gone back and forth on this a bit and the three bottom eight teams I think could win a flag in the next ten years (if not sooner) are Melbourne, Carlton and St. Kilda.
We know the Demons story: preliminary final last year to major flop this year. They still have a talented list so they should be able to get back to the lofty heights of their 2018 campaign and if they do we know their best is very good.
St.Kilda showed they can perform extremely well earlier in the season. They still have some gaps to fill, starting with a new head coach, but throw in three to four quality players and they would look like a team that could contend.
As for Carlton, forget what you saw for most of the year and focus on their 4-1 run in the last five weeks. Exciting results for a club looking to resurrect itself with a rampant Paddy Cripps at the helm.
No matter how many games these three teams win in the next month it won’t change their 2019 outcome. What they lack in depth they make up for with potential and raw talent.
Some might think this is a no brainer and that Melbourne look closer to a flag than Carlton and St. Kilda, but based on this year I’m not so sure about that.
No-one can predict the future but we’ve seen enough from the Demons, Saints and Blues to know that if they produce their best football and add some more parts along the way that one of these teams are closer to claiming a flag than the other two.
But which one would you bet on?
Let’s take a look.
No-one would have expected the Demons to be second last after a preliminary final berth in 2018. The fact is, they are now competing for a Wooden Spoon which is absolute madness.
Last year they were flag contenders and attacked the ball with a hunger that was scary. This year it’s like a team playing with lost souls. How did we get here?
The Demons continue to be one of the best teams at winning the ball and creating opportunities. They are ranked first in the AFL for centre clearances and third for contested possessions. You can thank superstars Clayton Oliver and Max Gawn for that.
They are also ranked second for hitouts and second for Inside 50 entries.
It all comes down to effective touches for the Demons. Once they get the ball, which they are very good at, they cough it up.
They are ranked 16th for effective disposals and are the fourth highest turnover club. Is that because they lack true forward presence when they move forward of centre? Probably. Losing guys like Jesse Hogan and Mitch Clarke in recent years has hurt their forward set up.
Being ranked 16th for offence and 13th for contested marks tells us they haven’t been able to finish off good play and that they lack key position men around the ground.
The Demons need to put some serious work into building a forward line by adding one, maybe two true forwards in the same vein as the Tigers who have Jack Riewoldt and Tom Lynch. This will provide the glue and the other forwards will thrive around those pillars.
Imagine Christian Petracca, Jake Melksham and Jayden Hunt being the third, fourth and fifth options instead of being the go-to guys? Unless they fix their forward line structure they won’t win a flag before the Saints or Blues.
In 2016 they finished ninth and just missed out on finals. They haven’t been able to finish higher than that since then. This year though they’re setting their sights on a strong finish with Brett Ratten in charge.
It’s likely the Saints won’t play finals this year but what they achieved in 2019 will put them on a course for finals in 2020 and beyond.
It’s always tough to squeeze out the positives in a tough year, but the Saints can look at the things that ticked for them on the field. Like first-year defender Josh Battle who is averaging 14 touches in 15 games.
They have a great midfield dup in Jack Billings and Sebastian Ross, as well as two key forwards: Tim Membrey and Josh Bruce. They are ranked second for tackles and have been an effective team when they have the ball. All of these things count.
The Saints have holes. But they also have injuries in all areas of the ground. This year they needed help getting their hands on the ball. For clearances, contested possessions and centre clearances they are ranked 10th, 14th and 11th respectively. And quite simply if you can’t win the ball you are going to struggle in other areas of the ground.
To be fair, they’re missing extremely important stock. They are missing Jack Steven (four games), Dan Hannebery, Jarryn Geary (five games), Paddy McCartin, Jake Carlilse, Dylan Roberton and others. Insert that lot into the mix and it’s almost a completely different team.
It’s hard to read the 2019 version of St.Kilda. You have the 4-1 Saints who shot out of the blocks earlier this year.
Then there’s the Saints who went 2-9 after that initial run, a slide caused by a wave of injuries. But what we do know is that their core players do hold up and that their early season form was real.
If they can get their full team on the park, add a dominant ruck to feed their very good ball getters, and perhaps include one more quality tall forward (if Paddy McCartin is unable to overcome his concussion symptoms), they become contenders who are definitely winning a flag before the Demons.
But I’m not sure they can win one before the Blues as they have too many health concerns over vital players.
At 1-10 after 11 rounds there wasn’t much to smile about for the Blues. But since Brendon Bolton’s departure they have won five of the last seven, including four of the last five. Things are looking up!
They’ve been good in the areas you think they’d be good at, according to their list: ranked fourth for clearances and fifth for contested marks.
Guys like Harry McKay, Jacob Weitering and Charlie Curnow have been exciting to watch and will be forces as they develop into key forwards that are hard to match up on. Patrick Cripps will win a brownlow one day.
And Sam Walsh, Zac Fisher are future stars.
During their 1-10 phase it appeared that Cripps needed help in the midfield. They weren’t effective with the ball, they struggled to create inside 50 opportunities and they lost the contested possession count most weeks.
When the ball use from midfielders is impacted, that can in turn, throw off the forward line and its movement. Which was the case for Carlton. They haven’t been able to heap scoreboard pressure on during periods of dominant play until recently.
Things look a lot better now than they did way back in Round 11, don’t they? The improved results has made their list look very enticing and now the raw talent and confidence is starting to emerge and grow.
Just how quickly can this club improve is a hard question to answer. But right now, on paper, their list seems more capable of winning a flag before the Saints and Demons.
They have youth, contested marking power, elite and emerging midfielders, good stoppers in defence. Filling the head coach role will become pivotal as to how quickly Carlton can trend upwards in 2020.