The entry of premiership cycles and stage-appropriate list management into the mainstream consciousness of AFL fans has roots in the Alastair Clarkson-led revival of the Hawthorn Football Club.
For ten teams the 2019 season is dust but all is not lost. The post season brings a sense of renewed hope and a clean slate for next year.
Clubs will dive into meetings, analysis, list evaluation and try to figure out what exactly went wrong in 2019.
For some clubs, this year was a trainwreck. Others showed glimpses of the future. And some couldn’t get out of first gear with injuries to key cogs. But with all of the disappointment there were some good things to think about.
It’s difficult not having a team to support in finals football. So let’s find some good things to say about a half a dozen clubs who had underwhelming seasons.
Port Adelaide: Xavier Duursma
Part entertainer, part rising star. You’ll remember him as the “bow-and-arrow celebration” guy, but the kid can actually play.
As a rookie, he kicked 11 goals and averaged 19 touches per game. He looks to be such an exciting talent that the Power need moving on from their Jeckle-and-Hyde 2019.
Duursma was one of the better finds for Port Adelaide but we also need to mention Connor Rozee who kicked 29 goals, the most of any Power player, in his first year of football which is an incredible effort. Both provided excellent signs that at least Port Adelaide’s young stars should pave the way for better years ahead.
Adelaide: Crouch Brothers
If it wasn’t for the Crouch brothers, Adelaide’s midfield would have capitulated. The pair were shining lights in what was an otherwise backward step for the Crows in 2019.
Matt averaged 32 touches and Brad collected 30 disposals per match. The duo accounted for 18 goals, 177 tackles, 147 inside 50s, 461 contested possessions, 77 centre clearances, and 14,306 metres gained. It’s fair to say the prolific pair are a huge driving force inside their engine room.
They can both play inside and outside. They’re consistent. If they keep trending up, the Crows will too.
Melbourne: Clayton Oliver
It won’t be hard for Demons fans to let go of their five-win 2019 season. It was a disaster. But as they try to reconstruct their brand, midfield ball pig Clayton Oliver reminded us this year why he’s a superstar, averaging 30 touches per game at 68 per cent efficiency, ranked ninth-best in the AFL.
He’s ranked third in the league in contested possessions behind Nathan Fyfe and Patrick Cripps and was the best at Melbourne in centre clearances with 56.
The only knock on Oliver in an otherwise stellar season, was the lack of goals (4). As the Demons seek better players to surround Oliver with that goal count should rise. It’s hard to predict where Melbourne will finish in 2020, but at least they can take comfort they have some stars on their list, like Clayton Oliver.
North Melbourne: Cameron Zurhaar
Outside of Ben Brown’s forward dominance, Cameron Zurhaar’s 26.12 goals was fun to watch. His crunching bump on Bomber Michael Hurley will forever be etched in my mind and had shades of a hungry Wayne Carey. Zurhaar looked settled this year up forward and played an important marking role option: 26 marks inside 50, the third best at North Melbourne behind Ben Brown (62) and Mason Wood (34).
He became one of the better assist guys at the Roos with 15 and managed to push up the field and create 62 inside 50s making him quite a unique, versatile big. The good news for North fans: the raging bull is only going to get better.
Fremantle: Michael Walters
In a team where Nathan Fyfe gets most of the attention, Michael Walters had a coming-of-age season. He made a name for himself in 2019 as the clutch-guy, kicking scores after the siren to win games of football. He was also more than that.
He averaged 21 touches, kicked 40 goals (the most at Fremantle), had 86 inside 50s for the year, and became the third most important contested ball winner at the Dockers. Walters was selected as an All Australian in 2019 and has truly arrived. The only question: what is his ceiling? That’s fun to think about. His importance and upward trend will excite Fremantle fans heading into 2020.
Hawthorn: Clarkson At The Helm
In 2018 they finished fourth with a 15-7 record. Most predicted a finals finish again this year, but Tom Mitchell broke his leg before the season started and it left a gaping hole. But the Hawks almost made the finals without completely dismantling their team and descending into a fully-blown rebuild.
They did it without star midfielder and Brownlow medallist Mitchell. They did it without needing former skipper and forward-ruck Jarryd Roughead.
They unearthed guys like James Worpel and James Cousins. Ricky Henderson and Jaeger O’Meara had solid years.
Alastair Clarkson has been lauded as one of the best coaches in modern day football and as long as he’s leading the charge, he’ll continue to get the best out of his list no matter who turns up.