It was already shaping up to be the most thrilling run to the finals in many years, and Round 14 has somehow made things even tighter.
Shock losses from St Kilda and Sydney, more injury woes at Carlton, Richmond’s resurgence and Port Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs showing signs they’re far from spent forces has left spots in the eight about as uncertain as they’ve ever been – and from Brisbane in first to the Saints in eighth, nobody could safely say they’re certain to feature in September.
With some thrilling footy, most notably from Essendon, the Bulldogs and GWS, there was plenty to keep us entertained on the field, too – and come next week, we’ll again have three extra games for our viewing pleasure.
Let’s unpack all of that, and what it means as the race to finals begins in earnest!
To be honest, I wouldn’t blame you for skipping ahead to Point 2, if you’re like me and are just sick of hearing and talking about Jordan De Goey by this point.
But if we’re going to talk about it, it’s worth starting by separating the legitimate anger at De Goey with the unhelpful, over-the-top parts of the criticism, mostly from the media.
There is no issue with Collingwood allowing him to go to Bali for his break, or for that matter, De Goey choosing to go there. Players can and should be allowed to do whatever they like in their time off, provided they stay within the law and return in condition to play.
There is, however, a serious issue with trying to remove a woman’s top against her wishes in a public place. Regardless, in my view and many others, of whether she is fine with it afterwards.
The defence of De Goey in this case has either been that the woman, Remy Jackson, described the interaction as ‘nothing to see’ on Instagram, or that the hand in question wasn’t De Goey’s. Regarding the second, if it wasn’t De Goey’s, it was a remarkable coincidence that a man with identical tattoos was involved in all this (and yes, I’ve wasted far too much time looking at Tweets forensically analysing this), and he then showed remarkable restraint in not directly saying it wasn’t his in his now-widespread Instagram condemnation of the media.
Regarding the first, I think it’s problematic if society still holds the view that people can’t violate other people’s right to give consent if they’re fine with it afterwards. Remy Jackson seeing it as harmless fun doesn’t mean another woman, or indeed man, in that exact same scenario, will as well.
I personally found it quite distasteful that De Goey is the one to be making an otherwise quite legitimate plea for media introspection over stuff like this in his Instagram response.
He’s not without a point – a lot of the attention directed at this has been over the top and directed at the wrong things, and the plot has officially been lost over the phrase ‘breaks his/her silence’ – but surely we can all see there’s a difference between reporting on incidents like De Goey’s and the sort of speculation and innuendo that, say, Jason Horne-Francis has copped this year.
If you’re going to compare De Goey to anyone, compare him to the NRL’s Jack De Belin: accused of sexual assault in 2018, he was barred from player for two years under the league’s ‘no fault stand down’ policy, was acquitted in 2021 after two full seasons out of the game, and has at least had the sense to mostly avoid trouble since then. Or Ben Stokes, who went to court over an assault charge in 2017, missed a chunk of cricket, was cleared and has since been clean enough for everyone to basically be fine with him being named England’s Test captain.
De Goey was not suspended for a single game over either the indecent assault charges laid against him in 2020, or the assault and harassment charges stemming from last year’s New York incident (he missed one game in 2020, but only because he had to go to a police station and violate the AFL’s biosecurity protocols; and he was barred from training while the New York investigation was ongoing in 2021, but was ready to go by Round 1).
Is it any wonder, then, that he has neither felt the need to address his behavioural problems, or shown any kind of public remorse or introspection from them?
This case isn’t even a straw breaking the camel’s back – the camel’s back has been broken for two years, and the Magpies have been carrying the carcass of a crippled mammal across the desert ever since.
It doesn’t mean giving him the sack. It doesn’t mean trading him at the end of the year. Hell, it doesn’t even mean giving him the two weeks that Smith got.
But if Collingwood once again refuse to address this with some form of sanction – and previous community service and counselling punishments don’t seem to have done the trick – then they will undoubtedly have to keep doing damage control with him again, and again, and again.
The AFL’s revelation it’s seriously considering bringing in the SANFL and AFLW’s ‘last possession’ rule (calling it ‘last touch’ makes it seem as if anything from a spoil to a smother would result in a free, when really it’s just for a kick or handball or player with the ball in hand going over) has quickly divided footy fans around the country.
Some are all for it, some are against it, and some just want the game left alone.
Those in favour of the rule say that it would eliminate the grey area around umpires paying deliberate out of bounds, and incentivise teams using the corridor rather than cutting down risk by kicking long down the line. Those opposed say the rule effectively makes the ground narrower, making it easier for teams to set up defence, and have issues with the SANFL interpretation where kicks inside 50 that trickle out are free kicks against.
I’m not wholly against this new rule in theory, but I can’t be alone in not really trusting the AFL with something that so radically changes a fundamental part of our game. This is a far bigger change than the ruck nomination or even the stand rule – I’d argue it’s the biggest since the deliberate out of bounds rule was tightened nearly a decade ago.
If the league want greater scoring, and every rule they’ve brought in has been made to that effect, I’d argue a step backwards would be to penalise teams for having shots at goal inside 50 that go out of bounds, rather than an opportunity to reset and a chance at a goal from a boundary throw-in.
As with every rule the league brings in, there will surely be consequences we haven’t even thought about, that will become obvious the minute it comes in in the major competition. Equally, there will be controversial moments no matter what interpretation is applied – for example, did he get a hand on that ball before it rolled out of bounds?
The SANFL response is mixed – while plenty of fans love it, Tyson Goldsack made it clear on Twitter this week that it doesn’t necessarily have the impact you might think.
The game has had enough changes in the past few years. Let’s wait a while, and at least get more of a grip on what this rule would look like and whether it would have the impact the AFL wants, before rushing it in.
I’m loath to bring it up again, but it’s worth making it clear just how stupid Eddie McGuire’s infamous Footy Classified proposal of a Tasmanian ‘superteam’ is.
To begin with: I think McGuire stating from the outset that any Victorian club could be the ones to join with a Tassie franchise, but then having all the graphics ready for that to be North Melbourne, is pretty dodgy.
The plan itself somehow manages to be the worst outcome for absolutely everyone involved. It’s an insult to Tasmanians, who have made it clear time after time after time that nothing but their own, new team will suffice. Any proposal that does not have this as its starting point is just not an option.
It’s an insult, too, to North Melbourne fans – I’ve written at length about the pile-on on the Kangaroos already this year. The club is debt-free, has been a leader in both women’s footy and severing ties with the pokies business, and from Good Friday to Friday night footy in general, has been a bigger pioneer in shaping the game as anyone else. They and their fans deserve more than to be the league’s sacrificial lamb to get them out of making a necessary decision off their own bat.
Alienating tens of thousands of fans from the game just isn’t a viable option for the AFL at the moment – they already have enough issues with dwindling crowd numbers and plenty of frustration with the game from rusted-on supporters. Especially if the solution, as McGuire’s would, then ends up ignoring the one thing Tasmanians have said this whole time.
This posturing from club presidents and detractors about the game not being able to afford an extra franchise, or the talent pool not being sufficient, is also hogwash. The AFL can’t expect Tasmania, a state with its own economic concerns, to spend hundreds of millions on a new stadium and then say a lack of money is the issue.
Equally, the amount of non-drafted players who are making a sizeable impact in the league at the moment, from Jai Newcombe to Marlion Pickett to Nic Martin and many other examples, shows there is plenty of undiscovered talent across Australia – if you know where to look.
If the league is still, after all this time, looking for a way to get out of giving Tasmania its own club outright, look them in the eye and have the decency to at least flip them the bird directly, and then deal with the consequences of severing the cord with a heartland footy state. Following a plan like McGuire’s would genuinely be the most catastrophic decision they could hope to make.
It’s been a bugbear of mine for the last fortnight – despite a colour similarity, Carlton has taken on Richmond and Essendon in consecutive games without either side needing to wear a clash guernsey.
I fail to understand how the Tigers were required to wear their clash strip for the 2017 grand final against Adelaide, when the Blues’ jumper – just as difficult to distinguish from a distance as the Crows’ – was fine and dandy on Thursday night.
It’s certainly not an AFL problem, and not even a major gripe, but surely it’s time to make a clash away jumper mandatory for all teams, to remove any issue once and for all.
The Premier League has dedicated away strips for just this purpose; I think it’d be beneficial for the clubs as well, giving them an extra set of merchandise to sell. You could even have the way strip permanently be an Indigenous Round-themed guernsey, a permanent acknowledgement to the history of the game.
Either way, surely there has been enough consternation over this, and enough vision-impaired people who understandably have issues telling similarly-shaded teams apart, for this very minor tweak to be made mandatory.
It’s a point of real concern for Adelaide that their best and most impactful player remains Taylor Walker – a player who is not only 32 years old, but according to reports, is every chance to head elsewhere next season.
The Crows have a swathe of developing forwards, chief among them Riley Thilthorpe and Darcy Fogarty. Both were given the chance to make the attacking 50 their own against Gold Coast, with Walker spending plenty of time further up the ground.
Against one of the AFL’s most rock-solid defences, both showed glimpses of a bright future – but the last thing they need is to be the main men in attack just yet.
The Crows have one of the worst inside-50 differentials in the league this year, and when they do go in, the kicking has often been poor. But when Walker moved closer to goal in the third quarter following a Thilthorpe injury, things started to happen.
Twice nervous Suns backs gave away silly free kicks trying to worry him out of contests. It also took substantial pressure off Fogarty, with the Suns’ best defender, Sam Collins, having his hands full at all times.
Letting him go at the end of the year would surely be a disaster for the Crows. If the biggest rival offer, as reported by Mark Bickley, is two years, then Adelaide must match it – even three would be worth the risk.
In an era where Tom Hawkins is in career-best form a year older than Walker and Lance Franklin is still lighting up games on the regular at 35, there’s enough precedent to at least offer the two years he wants, with achievable triggers for a third.
As for suitors, take your pick. Melbourne, Fremantle, the Western Bulldogs and Collingwood are in particular crying out for a Walker-type, and that’s just among the sides in the premiership window. If we wanted to cross enemy lines, Port Adelaide also strikes as a good home.
But none of those teams need Walker more than Adelaide themselves do right now.
Has the AFL ever had this many finals-worthy sides?
At this point last year, there were 18 premiership points between GWS in ninth and Melbourne atop the ladder. This year, that gap is down to eight – and ninth, Collingwood, has knocked over two of the top four in the last month.
After 13 games apiece, I’d argue 12 teams are well and truly capable of making an impact in September. Should they get there, of course.
At the same time, every single one of those teams has also shown some level of vulnerability. Melbourne have lost three games in a row; Fremantle still have question marks on them in the wet; and while Brisbane haven’t done much wrong this year, they haven’t really had that statement-making win over another contender. They get their chance on Thursday night against Melbourne.
Those three are the frontrunners for the top four, but there are no shortage of contenders nipping at their heels. Geelong have won four in a row to push their noses clear of the pack, Carlton have been one of the stories of the year, Richmond are on a tear with six wins from seven games, while Sydney and St Kilda have learned the hard way just how costly a single misstep can be in this most even of seasons.
The Saints were fourth at the start of the bye period; two defeats later, they’re clinging to eighth by percentage, and with a brutal fixture to come. The Magpies are guaranteed a spot in the eight if they can beat GWS next week, and if the Cats beat the Tigers, the Western Bulldogs can squeeze in too by beating Hawthorn.
Gold Coast’s draw opens up magnificently for them; Port Adelaide, too, are fast closing the gap, though their 0-5 start means they remain permanent residents at the last-chance saloon.
Making things even harder, the bottom six are all dangerous opponents in their own right. The Giants’ thrilling, slicing footy will test many teams in the run home, Essendon just roared back to relevancy by tearing apart the Saints, and the Hawks have caused many better sides a significant nuisance all year. Even West Coast seem to be turning a corner.
Last year, Richmond and the Eagles both fell off the wagon to miss finals in the second half of the year. Right now, the Saints and Swans are the hot tip to be the ones doing that this time around; but a month ago, it was Geelong and the Dockers. Who’s to say who it will be in a month’s time?
And look at the fixture for Round 23. The Lions hosting the Dees. Carlton and Collingwood locking horns again, perhaps with the top four on the line for one and finals for the other. St Kilda taking on Sydney at Docklands. There’s a Showdown too!
There’s a lot of fair criticism about the state of the game at the moment, but one thing’s for certain: this season will surely prove to be the most exciting, captivating and engrossing in many a year.
– Well done to Fox Footy for not showing any replays of that Wil Powell leg injury. As gruesome as I’ve seen since Nathan Brown.
– Probably hasn’t been mentioned enough what an incredible achievement it is for Southport to be second on the ladder in the VFL as a standalone side.
– Shout out to St Kilda’s Josiah Kyle for being brave enough to say that the AFL wasn’t for him and going back to play with mates in suburban footy the same week as retiring. Elite.
– Don’t think I’ve ever seen a dumber five minutes than Peter Ladhams against his old side Port Adelaide. And yes, this was a dog act.
– Reckon Cody Weightman’s reputation will start to turn around a bit after coming back from that horrifying elbow injury on Saturday night.
– Thank goodness the bye rounds are over. Empty Sundays until 3:20pm are absolutely putrid.