This week, 19-year-old Sam Walsh – who is undergoing only his second pre-season in the AFL system – was elevated into the Blues’ now seven-man leadership group.
How to you even begin to comprehend the events of the last week in the AFL?
At one stage I forgot that we still had semi-finals to play.
It had it all.
A player caught tampering with urine tests, the fifth senior coach departing their post this season, a number of key players re-signing, a CEO preparing to leave his club, the unveiling of a statue immortalising an important moment in the AFLW, trade talks ramping up and a big night for Toby Greene at the tribunal.
But for all the chaos and carry-on this week, it has been overshadowed by grief and sadness.
Last Monday afternoon the AFL world was rocked by the loss of former St Kilda great, Richmond coach and much-loved media personality Danny Frawley.
It left the entire community heartbroken.
Wherever you looked and listened over the course of the week, Danny Frawley was there.
Countless tributes flooded TV networks, radio stations, newspapers and online news outlets across the country. Everyone wanted to share their story about Spud and the legacy he has left behind.
Prior to this week, many were unaware of the mental struggles that burdened Frawley for the last 15 years.
He spoke candidly about them recently, on Herald Sun podcast Sacked with Jon Ralph and Glenn McFarlane. His episode aired in the last week of August.
Frawley, who coached Richmond from 2000 to 2004, told the hosts that it was the “toughest” thing he ever did.
“I never talked to anyone (about the pressures of coaching Richmond),” he said. “I was stubborn, I didn’t sleep for three weeks and the result of that was I basically had a nervous breakdown.”
And he carried those mental health struggles for the rest of his life.
The coaching pressures Frawley spoke of were brought to light again on Thursday when Don Pyke stood down as coach of Adelaide.
Quitting after four seasons at the helm, Pyke said in a statement, “There is no doubt that the last 18 months have been very challenging for all involved at our club and from a personal viewpoint particularly frustrating and draining,” and he went on to thank his wife and daughters for their support.
Many will look at the fall of the Crows over the last two seasons and mark Pyke’s time at the club as a failure. But he took on one of the hardest coaching gigs in history following the murder of former Adelaide coach Phil Walsh, and he continued to build what Phil Walsh and his men started. It resulted in a minor premiership and a grand final appearance for the Crows in 2017.
The downfall came just a few months later in a gruelling preseason camp on the Gold Coast.
Following the camp in February 2018, Fox Footy’s Tom Morris said the “emotionally distressing” experience left a number of senior players “shaken and frustrated”.
“Multiple experienced Crows were bewildered and mentally distressed after the club’s first preseason camp in seven years turned sour,” Morris reported at the time.
“The cause for concern centred on the emotional wellbeing of players, especially half a dozen or so senior members of the team.”
Reviews of the camp have taken place since then and many AFL figures have spoken out against it.
Ultimately it is Pyke’s job as the senior coach to take responsibility for his team’s performances week in and week out, but you can’t help but think that he took a bullet for a few staff members and officials with his resignation.
The dramas of this week escalated on Friday and Saturday night, as fans were treated to two cracking semi-finals.
Within ten minutes on Friday the Cats had refound the intensity and hunger that made them unstoppable in the opening half of the season.
After watching their lack of spark and energy against Collingwood in the qualifying final, I thought they were shot and was already looking to a West Coast vs Richmond preliminary final.
But the Cats set the standard very early in the piece and were already 19 points up inside ten minutes. As expected, West Coast fought back and hit the front in the third quarter, even taking a lead to three-quarter-time.
But that’s where the resurgence ended, with Geelong running over the Eagles in the final term and into a preliminary final.
There were few better players on the night than Joel Selwood. It was an inspiring performance from the Geelong captain, who along with many other senior players was quiet the week before.
You could say his performance was Danny Frawley-like.
As for West Coast, their back-to-back premiership dream came crashing down in front of them. They were well and truly outplayed for most of the game and clearly needed to play more than one and a half brilliant quarters to claim victory.
The Willie Rioli urine test tampering news threw them off course mentally, but as a group of professionals they needed to keep their focus on the task at hand. Sure, it’s easier said than done, but it cost them the chance at a second successive premiership.
In case Friday night’s action wasn’t enough, Brisbane and GWS took it to another level on Saturday. The Gabba was rocking as both sides gave fans a final to remember.
A three-point loss ended the campaign of the Lions, whose rise had most of the AFL world excited.
From 15th in 2018 to second in 2019, Chris Fagan and his men lost no admirers on the weekend, with their achievements this season leaving many optimistic for the years to come.
The semi-final loss was just Brisbane’s third defeat at the Gabba in 2019, and those came against three of the final four remaining. It’s a fair effort that suggests they’ll be back again next year.
They did, however, lose champion Luke Hodge, who announced his retirement for a second time on the weekend. His career with Hawthorn and the Lions will be celebrated by many in decades to come.
As for the Giants, their toughness and determination has led them to a preliminary final against Collingwood. They will quickly need to learn how to conquer the MCG if they are any chance of playing off in the grand final.
Both games on the weekend opened in silence, as the venues stood still to respect and remember Danny Frawley.
His courage as a player then experiences as a coach, entertainer in the media and all-round sensational bloke have been remembered in various ways over this week in what we will forever remember as the week the AFL lost one of its favourite sons.