The AFL and its predecessor, the VFL, have always been a rich source of exasperating characters. It would rival politics or a Fox News station.
The All Australian squad hit lows last year when Dustin Martin was named in a forward pocket and yet he’s not really known as a crumbing type.
With the AAMI series coming up and the pre-season known as the prediction season, who is someone from each club that is a cheeky outside chance of getting an All Australian blazer?
Adelaide: Reilly O’Brien
There’s usually three rucks in the squad and with Brodie Grundy, Max Gawn and Nic Naitanui seemingly fighting for those spots, why can’t Reilly O’Brien go to another level? He does a lot of things well and perhaps isn’t A+ at any. But at only 25 years of age and with potential help from number two pick Riley Thilthorpe, he can absolutely get the push to the bench. It’s a pipe dream to think he’d be the premier ruck in the competition.
Brisbane: Jarryd Lyons
Harris Andrews and Lachie Neale are the easiest picks for the Lions and Hugh McCluggage is a gun who could be a winger. But the Robin to Neale’s Batman, Jarryd Lyons, is a genuine star. He has averaged over 20 disposals a year since 2016. He can get to 26-plus and put himself in the conversation.
Carlton: Harry McKay
He’s a personal favourite of mine and with Jacob Weitering criminally missing out, Patrick Cripps is of course the easiest pick and Sam Walsh deserves a mention. But McKay is a man who has breakout written all over him. The prediction of the year is he’s a top-five finisher in the Coleman and can genuinely get himself a tall forward spot. With Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron trying to gel, could it be a McKay-Tom Lynch pick? He is a smokey but his rolled ankle is a concern.
Collingwood: Josh Daicos
A Josh Daicos-Hugh McCluggage wing combination could genuinely be the best thing in recent All Australian memory. The world is okay with the fact he’s not his old man. He is an outside gun. He is young, quick, smart and won’t get tagged.
Essendon: Andrew McGrath
Zach Merrett and McGrath are the only two who will even come close to the All Australian side. If Jordan Ridley couldn’t get in the team with the quality last year, and if he doesn’t have Adam Saad and Conor McKenna around him, he’ll get more attention. Whereas McGrath was in the top three in his draft with Hugh McCluggage and Tim Taranto and is ranked third with those blokes. But he broke out last year before the injury. Although he’s had a concussion setback, there is not a lot of faith in the Bombers’ group in 2021.
Fremantle: Michael Walters
It seems the footy world has forgotten about Walters. Of course, a Nat Fyfe spotlight is ever glowing on the purple haze. There is the young midfield core of Adam Cerra, Andrew Brayshaw and Caleb Serong among others, and Luke Ryan finally got the All Australian recognition he deserved. There are two half forward spots on offer and if Justin Longmuir’s words about him playing forward are true, he could have his name written all over one.
Geelong: Shaun Higgins
Speaking of blokes who could have an All Australian forward flank, the smooth mover from the Dogs and the Roos has the hoops on and will have the Gary Ablett Jr role from last year. He is an upgrade from Ablett’s 2020 year. This isn’t a career comparison but with Ablett’s off-field issues and health, Higgins is an upgrade. He is a quality user. With Geelong going to finish in the upper echelon, the 33-year-old could absolutely slot himself in there.
Gold Coast: Sam Collins
The 2020 best and fairest winner was criminally underrated by the All Australian panel with the fact he didn’t even make the squad. But he can go one better in 2021. He is a fantastic tall defender and although the likes of Harris Andrews, Jeremy McGovern and Jacob Weitering are in contention, he’s in career-best form.
GWS: Tim Taranto
The best and fairest winner from their maiden grand final year in 2019, Tim Taranto has largely gone under the radar from the footy media. Josh Kelly is the Rolls-Royce of the midfield but Taranto is a bona fide star and if 22 games are into him, look out for perhaps a bench spot.
Hawthorn: Luke Breust
The two-time All Australian is 30 and he signed a two-year deal over the summer and after a couple of years below his best, he looks fit as fit can be. He’s still a top small forward in the league and his biggest enemy seems to be whether the panel actually want to acknowledge small forwards this season, with Charlie Cameron, Tom Papley, Dan Butler and the like knocking on the door.
Melbourne: Steven May
He’s finally figured out how to play his best footy. His back half of the year was superb. Melbourne are a weird club to analyse in 2021 but the likes of Max Gawn, Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver are easy picks and we don’t want all the smokeys to be midfielders (even if the panel want there to be 12 in the side). If May can roll out his best form, he can definitely be up there.
North Melbourne: Robbie Tarrant
He is perhaps the most criminally underrated man in modern times with the All Australian panel. North are seriously lacking in A-grade quality talent so I am reaching for the stars here. But at 32 on Anzac Day, it is probably his last chance and perhaps best chance, with North being not a good side.
Port Adelaide: Xavier Duursma
Connor Rozee was the pick before his foot issues came about. But the man who pulled out a bow-and-arrow celebration in a scratch match to put his side up by 102 points is everything footy fans love. He doesn’t have an exact role as his game time is split across the ground so on-field might be a struggle but he is potentially a sneaky bench player.
Richmond: Nick Vlastuin
He is one of the hottest ticket free agents of 2021 that not many are talking about. But Nick Vlastuin is a star in an unheralded Richmond defence. He’s smart, quick, good in the air and rarely loses a contest but is known for a dive, which is just blatantly a shame. He’s in his prime at 27 in April and he is one of my favourites in this series so far.
St Kilda: Brad Hill
The epitome of a smokey, Brad Hill had his worst season in memory in 2020 and like a few other wingmen, he struggled to cope with the shortened quarters and couldn’t use his endurance to its capacity. But going back to normal in 2021, this man has won a best and fairest in his career. Although it’s a reach, it’s a crazy or genius call. But I’m backing a bounce back and he’s only 28 in July.
Sydney: Callum Mills
His 2020 was fantastic. He’s a defender but Sydney are trialling him in the midfield. He was best on ground in a scratch match and he looks like bursting into the things Sydney wanted when they got him with the third pick in the 2015 draft. He’s only turning 24 in a month and the next eight years or so could be elite viewing.
West Coast: Tim Kelly
A fellow writer on this platform got Kelly in his top five for the Brownlow but after a difficult year last year, he can and will go better. He finished fifth in the Brownlow in 2019 and is a smooth operator. If Nick Vlastuin is one of the favourites in this piece, Kelly is on the podium. Look out.
Western Bulldogs: Lachie Hunter
When Adam Treloar crossed from Collingwood, the media talked about how it would affect Marcus Bontempelli, Jackson Macrae, Bailey Smith and Tom Liberatore. Have they forgotten Lachie Hunter? No, because Hunter can go to a wing and absolutely burn teams with his pace and clean ball movement. He won’t get tagged due to the quality of the players listed above. If wingmen are put on the wings, Hunter could be the only Dog in the All Australian side.