IF you go off pure numbers you could argue that the West Coast Eagles were the winners and Carlton the losers this season. The past nine months of football add up to so much more than just that though, with hundreds of games, thousands of kicks and an abundance of other winners and losers emerging in 2018. Here are a handful of the most relevant/memorable subjects.
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AFTER the way Demons fans were robbed of a September berth last season it’s only fair that the footy gods made things right. Finally, a 12 season drought was snapped when Melbourne officially qualified for the Finals this year. The good news didn’t stop there, the Dees went on to play in the clubs first preliminary final since 2000 when they finished runners-up. Things are trending in the right direction for Melbourne fans.
DIDN’T he prove his doubters wrong! Long before Dom Sheed became an Eagle’s hero with his match-winning goal in Saturday’s Grand Final, the 23-year old had to battle his way back into the side. Inconsistent form led to Sheed being dropped multiple times this season, but after Andrew Gaff’s famous brain fade, a spot was Sheed’s to lose. He responded by averaging over 28 disposals a game since rejoining the team in Round 21 including a 32 touch performance against Collingwood. Gun.
I’M not exactly breaking news by telling you that ruckmen have a tough time winning a Brownlow Medal. In fact, traditionally, ruckmen find it tougher to poll on Brownlow night and not since Aaron Sandilands in 2010 had a ruckman gathered 20 votes. Not only did Max Gawn manage to achieve this feat in 2018, but his star ruck peer Brodie Grundy (17 votes) wasn’t far off the pace. It’s a just reward for the two stars who were named All-Australians only one short month ago, the first time multiple rucks had been included in five years. Return of the ruckmen?
I’LL admit it I didn’t have high hoped for North’s season, given their lack of star power after failing to recruit big names like Josh Kelly and Dustin Martin last offseason. That mattered little once the season got underway though with Shaun Higgins, Ben Cunnington and Jack Ziebell leading the charge and big bodies like Robbie Tarrant and Ben Brown becoming key pillars down back and up forward respectively. With a strong recruiting class set to join Arden Street, the finals in 2019 should be a formality.
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WHILE their siblings in the north are struggling to retain players (more from them soon), the Lions are thriving. 2018 didn’t reap as many victories as they would have liked, however, the culture of the clubs seems to have been altered for the better. Chris Fagan has steadied the ship and as a result, Brisbane seems on the right track to play finals footy before too long. Some smart recruiting to solidify their already promising list could see that wish come true sooner rather than later.
RICHMOND supporter or not, you have to love this character. Jack Higgins captured the attention of football fans well before his now classic Brownlow night speech, most notably with a stunning Goal of the Year in Round 20 against the Pies. The first year Tiger achieved plenty else on the field as well, playing 20 matches in his debut season averaging 16.2 disposals a game. Keep your eyes on this surprise packet moving forward.
DO I need to spend too long on this one? Yes, I understand that congestion around the ball makes for a less glamorous football game. Still, trends change to combat winners in sports and at the moment there is a lot more congestion and players around the ball in the AFL. Don’t for a second think that the game needs to be radically changed by including netball like zones. I think Saturday’s Grand Final proved that there’s nothing dramatically wrong with the game right now. Oh, and an 18-metre goal square? Please.
THIS season didn’t exactly pan out the way Michael Barlow imagined. A case of Bell’s palsy caused the former Docker to miss the first half of Gold Coast’s campaign. Once he was able to get back on the park, Barlow tore up the reserves competition, amassing 42 touches, six tackles and eight marks a game over his last seven NEAFL contests. Barlow was able to squeeze his way into the side for the last two games of the season but was shown the door once exit interviews came as the Suns shift their focus to youth. Still at the age of just 30, the ball-magnet is eager to chase a 3rd AFL lifeline this offseason.
Port Adelaide’s Recruits
SPEAKING of new clubs, Port Adelaide went shopping last season and landed some top-notch talent. Or so we thought. Steven Motlop is the only one who can maybe hold his head high, barely. Tom Rockliff struggled, Jack Watts spent half the year in the two’s and the likes of Trent McKenzie, Jack Trengove and Lindsay Thomas combined to play 11 games of senior footy. Not exactly the ‘top-notch’ recruits we first thought.
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NO coach is sitting on a hotter seat than Alan Richardson (Brendon Bolton is a lucky man). Richo was meant to help St Kilda take a leap this season into finals contention, but instead, they took a big step backwards. The year from hell ensued as the Saints struggled to compete for the majority of the season with everyone pointing fingers at one another. Their problems weren’t all the player’s fault though, with questionable selection calls throughout the year mounting more pressure on the Saints frontman. They might be big winners this offseason and if they land the expected players they have been linked to its finals or bust for Richardson in 2019, or he’ll be looking for a new job.
TIMES are tough for the two newest AFL clubs. Nearly a decade since their induction, GWS has managed to play in a few finals campaigns and yet they have nothing to show for their troubles. Instead, they now face an inflating salary cap and are facing the difficult possibility of having their stars walk. Speaking of having stars walk, there are serious problems in the Gold Coast with a massive exodus of senior talent over the last 24 months. With Tom Lynch and Steven May basically, goners and young duo Jack Scrimshaw and Kade Kolodjashnij also keen to leave, the Suns seem set for a few more losing seasons before breaking through with their maiden finals berth.
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The Patrick Dangerfield Experiment
THERE are no ifs, ands, or buts about it, Patrick Dangerfield spending more time as a forward this season didn’t work for the Cats. The arrival of ‘The Chosen One’ Gary Ablett gave Geelong a deep midfield, which allowed the luxury of using Dangerfield as a weapon inside 50 on a more permanent basis. The result wasn’t as fruitful as first thought as they struggled to find the right mix of forward-midfield time for Danger, leading to the Cats finishing 8th and bowing out in the first weekend of finals. They need to slot their superstar back onto the ball to give themselves the best chance of winning before their premiership window closes.
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