Another week of footy has passed us by and, while it doesn’t quite line up nicely with the end of a round, Sunday night is the night for AFL talking points – no doubt about that. Here are mine from the week past.
It can take a long time for a football team to gain legitimacy – especially if it’s one we’ve seen a few false starts from in the past.
Think of Richmond in 2017, for example. I don’t think I started to believe they really could win the premiership until about halfway through the grand final.
Port Adelaide in 2020 have been in a similar boat. They are going to remain a game clear on top of the ladder this week, 9-2 after 11 rounds, but many of us are still only just coming around to believing in them.
And in another similarity to the Tigers of 2017, they entered this season with their senior coach as the most under-pressure of any in the league.
Damien Hardwick went from that position to a premiership in 2017, Nathan Buckley took Collingwood to a grand final in 2018 – whether Ken Hinkley can reach the same level remains to be seen.
The Richmond side they played on Saturday may not have been at full strength, but they’re still a top-four side and the reigning premiers.
Given how thoroughly they dismantled Brisbane just a few days earlier, I’m not sure there are many – if any – more impressive scalps to be had in the competition.
With the Power, Lions and St Kilda all well entrenched in the top four, it’s beginning to look a lot like 2004 at the pointy end of the ladder, a year Port Adelaide fans remember well.
And it’s getting harder and harder to deny the fact that Port Adelaide are premiership contenders.
Ben better but Max wins in Clash of Kings
When it began last week, the first few games of the ‘footy festival’ were such dreadful blowouts as to make us question the wisdom of playing 33 games in 20 days.
Not so the more recent fixtures, which have seen some of the best spectacles of the year, including one we might not have anticipated prior to 2020: St Kilda versus the Suns.
Ben King has picked up right where he left off last year for Gold Coast in 2020, while his twin brother Max is showing just as much promise at the Saints.
The two went head to head in an AFL match for the first time on Thursday night in what we’ll be hoping is the first of many titanic struggles to come.
Ben was undoubtedly the better player of the night with three goals to one, but it was Max who left with a smile on his face after the Saints snuck home by four points.
That made four consecutive wins for St Kilda against Gold Coast which have all been decided by less than a goal – as bizarre a streak of outcomes as footy has seen.
It was the kind of match which justified ten times over the AFL’s decision to put these sides on a primetime Thursday night fixture.
Both have taken big strides forward in terms of the quality of their football this year, and both are playing the game in an exciting and watchable manner.
Can’t wait to see the sequel to his one, and it might not be long before it’s marquee match-up. Who could’ve seen that coming?
Lions and Tigers (but no bears) – oh my!
Speaking of kings (in this case, of the jungle) and great matchups between AFL clubs – Brisbane and Richmond is a combination that is only getting more intriguing.
We’ve seen the Lions make incredibly swift progress over the last two years to become one of the competition’s top sides, but Richmond are an opponent that still comfortably has the wood on them.
The Tigers walloped them by 41 points earlier this week and in doing so extended their winning streak over the Lions out to a remarkable 15 consecutive victories.
These two sides have met three times in the last 12 months and each time Richmond have walked away comfortable victors, but despite the wide margins Brisbane would feel frustrated with just how close they have got.
In last year’s qualifying final, for example, the Lions dominated much of the first half but simply couldn’t convert the shots needed to put Richmond away.
The Tigers then stole back momentum in the late part of the second quarter and ran away with what was ultimately a very comfortable victory after the long break.
It was a similar story for both clubs this week past with Brisbane playing excellent footy in just about every area of the game except the one which counts.
Trailing by only a goal at quarter time, they had 13 scoring shots to nine over the next two quarters but kicked only 1.12, and entered the final quarter 27 points behind, a deficit which would only grow larger.
It follows a familiar pattern for the Lions who’ve regularly put up inaccurate scorelines in 2020 and relied on volume to get the win.
That’s clearly a mighty hurdle for them to overcome, but so is beating Richmond, and you’d imagine their players are hungry for the next chance to do so. Fingers crossed we see these two go head to head again in finals.
New contract for Cameron, but Giants yet to convince
One of the under the radar pieces of news to pop up in the last two weeks is that GWS have signed Leon Cameron to a two-year contract extension.
That – along with Stuart Dew’s recent extension – means with the exception of Ken Hinkley’s finals-based trigger, there are no coaches in the game without a deal for 2021 already on the books.
I’ll admit the news piqued a bit of surprise from me given that GWS have been such an unconvincing side this year, a trend that very much continued on Friday night.
They’ve had probably the best run of injury we’ve seen from them so far in 2020, but even then are still barely on the fringe of the top eight.
On one hand, you could point out that Cameron’s resume includes three preliminary finals and a grand final appearance in the last four years, results no club would turn their nose up at.
Cameron himself has in the past poked fun at those who talk about the immense talent he has available on his list – but it’s not an unfair commentary to make. Given the quality of their players, better performances should be expected.
Picking out where these things are going wrong from outside the four walls of an AFL football club is almost entirely guesswork, and I’m a long way from calling for Cameron’s head.
But I’ll admit that I find the idea of GWS under a new coach interesting to ponder, and I wonder if some executive decisions makers the club don’t occasionally do the same.
Evidently not if the new contract extension is anything to go by, and to be fair to them, they did manage to sneak by for a win against Essendon, their third in a row.
Still one suspects they can still go up a few gears yet, and I look forward to watching when they do.
Dees down North in future pick derby
I’m sure the win and the four premiership points is all that would’ve been on the minds of Melbourne’s players and coaching staff on Sunday night, but they won some pride also in knocking off North Melbourne.
The Dees sent their first-round selection for 2020 to the Kangaroos in last year’s trade period, a move which had fans of both clubs circling this fixture in the calendar.
That said, this particular future pick trade hasn’t become quite the same storyline that Adelaide and Carlton’s did in 2019.
Perhaps that’s due to there only being one future pick involved rather than two, or future pick trading being more commonplace now, or a story just being more entertaining when there’s a chance it ends in misery for Carlton.
I’ll admit that as a North Melbourne fan I’ve spent the year both silently and not-so-silently barracking for any side in the competition going up against the Dees.
But while it certainly hasn’t all been pretty, Melbourne have improved this year – maybe only to the level of a mid-table side, but it’s improvement all the same.
The players they were able to pick up thanks to that swap of picks have been among their positive stories from the year.
They originally received pick eight from North but managed to turn into two selections thanks to a swap with Fremantle, ultimately drafting Kysaiah Pickett and Trent Rivers.
Both played today and had plenty of nice moments – meanwhile, their first overall pick at the draft Luke Jackson is the AFL’s most recent Rising Star nominee.
North 12 months ago weren’t sure where they were headed, but now they are – the club is clearly on the rebuilding path and holding over an early pick to this year may prove smart, now that they know where they’re at.
And of course, the deal gave them an extra shot in the second round last year, which will hopefully prove to be a winner.
Only one team could win on the field and the Dees are a few steps ahead of North right now. It wasn’t poetry in motion, but they got the job done.
Off the field, the trade deal is looking like a win for both.
Everybody gets a turn
Adelaide Crows (0-10) – Best hopes of a win now seem to be someone like Hawthorn, Carlton or the Bulldogs putting in a flakey one against them. Which is not impossible, but even they might not be good enough.
Brisbane Lions (8-3) – A long-term knee injury for Charlie Cameron would’ve been one of the worst twists in 2020 so far – so glad that it seems not as serious as the first look might’ve suggested.
Carlton Blues (4-6) – Really liked seeing Zac Fisher back in the side today and having a serious impact. Very good, exciting player.
Collingwood Magpies (5-4-1) – Another really impressive performance by Josh Daicos, having a genuine breakout year and doing his old man proud. Dangerous player and there’s another one coming at the end of next year.
Essendon Bombers (5-4) – Understand frustration at the Callan Ward free kick, but really, the ball spent the entire final quarter in GWS’ forward half. They could’ve easily lost by more.
Fremantle Dockers (3-6) – Can’t say much about a side that didn’t play a game this week. Excited to see how they go against Hawthorn on Monday night.
Geelong Cats (6-4) – Cam Guthrie’s one of those players I thought we had pegged after nine years in the league, but has been a noticeable improver this year. Averaging three more disposals per game – in shortened quarters!
Gold Coast Suns (4-6) – I suggested last week they might be winding down for the year, but they showed me up this week (albeit without getting the win). Dominated the clearances in particular.
GWS Giants (6-4) – Two goals for Heath Shaw for the first time in eight years. In terms of players name Shaw, Matt Shaw (of Gold Coast and Carlton) had kicked two goals in a game more recently!
Hawthorn Hawks (4-5) – Another side who didn’t play a game this week.
Melbourne Demons (5-5) – The Christian Petracca breakout has definitely been the highlight of the year so far for them, but I would also be really encouraged by the improvement we’re seeing from Sam Weideman.
North Melbourne Kangaroos (3-8) – Very little to write home about today but four goals for Nick Larkey and some good midfield work from Luke Davies-Uniacke were highlights.
Port Adelaide Power (9-2) – There was talk around Ollie Wines looking to find a new club late last year – would he still be looking now? With the form he’s in, and the form the team’s in, I’m thinking not, which would be a great result.
Richmond Tigers (6-4-1) – Although Damien Hardwick wasn’t enjoying the final quarter, I don’t think Richmond would be too dismayed with the loss against Port Adelaide. Still some good players to come back, they’ll be confident of a better result come finals.
St Kilda Saints (7-3) – “Dan Butler is All Australian” wasn’t on anyone’s bingo card for season 2020 – but it’s happening. Incredible in the final quarter this week.
Sydney Swans (3-7) – Dylan Stephens was one of my favourite players out last year’s draft and a great pick by Sydney. Loved his first goal on Saturday – hope to see plenty more.
West Coast Eagles (7-3) – Dom Sheed might not ever become West Coast’s best midfielder, but he has a great habit of kicking clutch goals. Couldn’t ask for much more.
Western Bulldogs (5-6) – They’re not the worst side of 2020 but I reckon they’re close to the most disappointing. Instead of taking the next step, they’re just mediocre.