In an indication of how far the AFL umbrella now extends, the super silent Saturday of Round 1 will encompass only one Melbourne-based team.
The remaining seven clubs competing include two Adelaide, two Sydney and three regional clubs based in Western Australia, Victoria and Queensland. The Melbourne team (Essendon) will play Fremantle at Docklands Stadium in the first Saturday game of the year and I have already previewed this match in Part 2.
The remaining three matches involve five of the youngest six teams in the competition, and two of the foundation clubs, and will be played in South Australia, Queensland and Sydney. Each game provides an element of intrigue as the only meetings between the clubs in this truncated 17-week season (finals aside, of course).
The twilight game between Adelaide and Sydney to be played at Adelaide Oval is a game between two disappointing clubs in 2019 who were both considered to have under-performed for other reasons rather than talent at their disposal.
A good first half to the 2019 season by Adelaide was followed by an extremely disappointing second half and the subsequent appointment of a new coach, Matthew Nicks. Nine players exited the club at the end of the season while only three imports with AFL experience joined.
The huge clean-out means that Nicks has a much less experienced group of players to work with and he will need to use all the experience that he gained as senior assistant coach at last year’s grand final losers, Greater Western Sydney, to blend them into a team capable of playing finals.
The three new players from other clubs (Ben Crocker, Billy Frampton and Ben Keays) have only 59 games of AFL experience between them while the six players exported to other clubs had a massive 583 games experience at the Crows and – probably more importantly – 703 goals.
Add to that the retirement of Richard Douglas (number nine on the Crows’ all-time top 100 game-players) and Andy Otten (number 49) and the size of Nicks’ task becomes even clearer.
Sydney also suffered a loss of experience with the retirements of three top ten game-players, who played a total of 837 games between them. But as they only played a total of 15 games between them in 2019, their loss will not be as keenly felt and the loss of their two exports (Darcy Cameron to Collingwood and Zak Jones to St Kilda) should be more than compensated for by the arrival of Sam Gray (from Port Adelaide) and Kaiden Brand (from Hawthorn).
Both teams will only have one 200-game player going into the match, but Rory Sloane will bring up his 200th game on the day to join teammate David Mackay and will be the 17th Crow to achieve this total.
The match for Josh Kennedy will be his 234th game as a Swan after 13 games in two years at the club that both his grandfather and father served with distinction, Hawthorn. This will take him to level with the legendary Paul Kelly, who captained the Swans for a record 182 games before his retirement in 2002. Kelly’s CV included four best and fairests, a Brownlow Medal and three selections in the All Australian team.
In contrast to debutante coach Matthew Nicks, Sydney coach John Longmire will be in charge of Sydney for his 219th time, having endured a season without finals in 2019 – the first time ever since he took over the reins in 2011.
The 219th game as coach will also draw him level with Wally Carter, the first coach to lead North Melbourne to a grand final. Carter – who played all his career at North Melbourne, the same team that Longmire played for – had three separate stints as coach of the Kangaroos.
Longmire is currently the fourth most experienced coach in the AFL and should be able to record a win over the Crows.