AFL

VFL Match Report: Box Hill 10.12.72 defeated Casey 9.16.70

IN a classic heavyweight clash, Box Hill Hawks survived the Casey Scorpions’ second half surge and prevailed by two points.

The Hawks were perhaps the weekend’s biggest winners. They secured a home final and can avoid meeting Geelong possibly until the Grand Final, as Michael Collins reports.

The game was what you would have expected from two premiership contenders fighting to secure second place, and avoiding Geelong in a qualifying final This match was all about imposing wills and dictating pace.

Bryce Retzlaff’s four goals gave Box Hill the decisive scoring punch but it was Matt Spangher (two goals) who willed the Hawks over the line. While he wasn’t always tidy by foot, he was the Hawks’ energy spark plug, the game’s dominant player and was involved in countless Box Hill scoring chains.

On the other hand, ruckman Max Gawn’s physicality in the air, Neville Jetta’s creativity and speed and James Sellar in defence propelled Casey’s second half surge.

The Scorpions pounced on Box Hill early in the first term, controlling general play with manic defensive intensity and Mark Jamar providing a target in the forward half. Yet, Box Hill worked its way into the game in typical Hawks fashion. After allowing Casey to snag the opening two goals, the Hawks kicked three of the next four by generating its forward forays from halfback.

The second quarter proved to be the opposite of the first term. The Hawks looked like tightening its grip on the game but this time the Scorpions arrested the momentum and forced a scrappy arm-wrestle leading into halftime.

After leading by nine points at the long break, Box Hill lifted a gear and created a 26-point buffer midway through the third quarter. Xavier Ellis was terrific in the clinches and in space.

Yet Casey answered through sheer weight of numbers around the contest and unrelenting tackling. In fact, the Hawks suffered a serious case of identity theft as the Scorpions began to slice them up from halfback.

James Magner’s stirring snap from the boundary line ensured Box Hill’s lead was only eight points at three-quarter-time. All the momentum was with Casey.

But like footy so often is, the last quarter came down to executing in front of goal. The Scorpions kicked 2.7 in the final term, including Dom Barry’s miss from the pocket that would have sealed them the game, a home final and ensured an easier road to the Grand Final.

The Box Hill Hawks hung on for victory in the end, with their reward a home final in their best finish to a season since 2002.

Part 1: AFL season in cinematic view

Australian sport has been unforgettable this year for so many many reasons. Well, really only for two- Essendon and Australian cricket. One’s been accused of immorality and taking PEDs and the other should seriously consider pill popping.

AFL fans have been the losers this year. Richmond finally crack into the finals after 12 years in September exile and arguably the greatest player of all time is at the peak of his powers, but so what? James Hird read children books to his kids this morning! So yeah, consume that.

With the AFL’s war with Essendon bound to outlast the footy season, it might be best to look back on what has been a very hectic AFL season … with a little help from timeless movie classics. The Melbourne footy club used Brad Pitt’s performance in MoneyBall to underpin their recruiting policy, so why can’t I?

“Sidney, relax. Have a cream soda. Everything is gonna be all over with in a few minutes” (Midnight Run, 1988).

To the poor Demons fans, who sit rocking in their straitjacket begging for it all to end. It will, very soon. The season that is. A coach sacking, obvious player discontent and a wilfully incompetent football department, made this season business as usual for football’s foundation club. Melbourne might be bottoming out on most KPIs but they have a few winners. Jack Watts leads the league in trying-to-look-like-I’m-doing-something (an honour previously bestowed to Brad Miller) and now the Dees have secured another high draft pick. Which reminds me…

“Is this Moron No. 1? Put Moron No. 2 on the phone”

So Melbourne thought that baseball analytics can be applied to AFL recruiting? Dumping an overvalued talent in Brent Maloney and recruiting an always underrated David Rodan would have actually been a good move… if it was 5 years ago! Mark Neeld’s team clearly forgot that moneyball is purely a geek number-crunching exercise. Not a community recycling initiative. Without sounding as dramatic as Luke Darcy was in 2010 when he predicted Richmond were at least five years off from being competitive in games (seriously, no team with Cotchin, Martin and Delidio will be fundamentally insipid), the Dees’ summer will dictate their fortunes for the rest of the decade. It’s all Roos. Or seriously nothing.

“I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse” (The Godfather)

Sheeds. Buddy. What a duo. If someone ever (and I mean ever) visited Blacktown, we’ll finally have a reason to read one of Sheedy’s books and buy Buddy’s cheap Jordan knock-off shoes (C’mon Buddy, you gotta be the GOAT to have your own shoe line). Assuming Hawthorn win this year’s flag, which they should by talent alone, Franklin’s move will give everyone what they want. The Hawks finally cement themselves as one of the great teams of the modern era, Buddy becomes the game’s highest paid player (interestingly, Aussie basketballer Patty Mills will still earn more towel waving in the States… not a bad gig) and Jarryd Roughead becomes Hawthorn’s undisputed best big man.

“Welcome to Fight Club. The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. The third rule of Fight Club: someone yells stop, goes limp, taps out, the fight is over. The fourth rule: only two guys to a fight. The fifth rule: one fight at a time, fellas. The sixth rule: no shirts, no shoes. The seventh rule: fights will go on as long as they have to.”

Andrew Demetriou broke the first rule: Do not comment on the investigation. And therefore, the second. But both Demetriou and James Hird have definitely embraced rules three through seven. Looks like we are headed to Main Event, baby! Demetriou v. Hird. The LEGACY SERIES. It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? How ever this war ends, legacies will be severely damaged for both Essendon staff and AFL House. Which leads me to…

“I got 8 days to my retirement, and I will NOT make a stupid mistake!” (Lethal Weapon 3)

Any chance of nice guy Doc Reid and Demetriou bowing out gracefully is shot. How will Demetriou’s tenure be remembered? Powering the AFL into economic domination? Or, allowing certain injections to be had that sound as legitimate as antler-spray and massaged goat-brain? And for football’s friendly and cuddly neighbourhood doctor? Well, history will probably forget him and, if he’s accused of anything, it would probably be naivety.

“And… Here… We… Go!” (The Dark Knight)

We got there. Eventually. The lid is off down at Tigerland. But truth be told, the lid has always been off. Even in the Wallace years, Tiger fans were drooling over Dean Polo, ‘Bling’ Tambling and Adam Pattinson running amok in September (I still want to put a fork in my eye when I think of this). Despite making the finals and looking set to challenge for premierships in a few years time, Richmond are still the dumbest good team running around. What do you do if Sydney play four ruckmen? We’ll counter it with playing one recognisable ruckman and have Ricky Pettard concede 15kg and 10cm to his direct opponent. Then, snaring the lead with 90 seconds against Fremantle, not one Tiger thinks to flood their own defensive fifty. Knuckleheads.

“I’m Tony Montana. You f–k with me, you f–kin’ with the best!” (Scarface)

Bucks, Mick and Eddie. Or is it Mick, Eddie and Bucks? Whatever the order, it’s one of the underrated story lines of 2013 (thanks Jimmy). Is anyone else hoping Mick’s Blues creep into the eight and knock off Buck’s Pies in the first week of the finals? I’d never be so excited for a post-match press conference. Just one spiteful up-yours comment, Mick. Even something simple like “This is paradise, I’m tellin’ ya”. Would that kill you?

“Come on, Mr. Frodo. I can’t carry it for you… but I can carry you!” (LOTR)

Has anyone else carried a team more than Nick Riewoldt, this season? Roo is enjoying his best season in three years and the Saint’s are suffering its worst in 12. Ross Lyon’s coaching nearly won the Saints a premiership but it also has landed them in the dog house. Lyon left St Kilda with old beaten veterans and little youth shining through. I really like Scott Watters as a communicator but his years at St Kilda will be very dark. Might be best he takes a leaf out of Lyon’s book and bolt to a better situation. Wait, I hear a coaching vacancy might be opening at Carlton soon…

Part 2 coming soon…

Box Hill Hawks 15.21.111 Defeated Essendon 5.9.39

BOX Hill Hawks cemented a top four spot and dented Essendon’s late season surge with a dominant 72-point win. 

Essendon emphatically answered the pregame questions marks lingering over its finals credentials, but just perhaps not in the positive manner they would have liked, as Michael Collins reports.

Joe Daniher, who presented strongly all day up forward, fired Essendon’s only meaningful shot two minutes into the first term with a typical key forward mark and goal. But Box Hill’s defence quickly settled and made Essendon look mostly disorganised in its forward half.

At the other end, the Hawks had a plethora of goal scoring options with Dalton Graham and Tim O’Brien slotting a combined seven goals in addition to Sam Cust’s two goals.

While the match was not always a showcase of finesse, Box Hill’s intensity and manic pressure around the contest was the day’s constant theme.

Hawks’ rucking pair, Luke Lowden and Jonathon Ceglar, convincingly nullified the experienced David Hille. Yet, it was across halfback where Box Hill really overwhelmed a flat-looking Essendon.

Kyle Cheney (24 disposals) was the Hawks’ main architect across halfback as he provided offensive drive and a defensive lockdown on the dangerous Stewart Crameri. But Cheney wasn’t alone. Sam Iles was prominent in many of Box Hill’s linking play and Derik Wanganeen’s burst of speed added another dynamic level as he looks to be more settled since moving down back.

Although Essendon endured an old fashioned drubbing, there were some positives. Elliot Kavanagh held his own in his tagging job on Liam Shiels and Lachlan Dalgleish never stopped trying.

While the Bombers failed to penetrate the Hawks’ defence at one end, Box Hill took advantage of Essendon’s lack of discipline in the first half by bagging multiple goals from free kicks.

The Hawks’ poor goal kicking (6.13) afforded Essendon some hope as they trailed by 38 points at the main break, despite only kicking the solitary goal.

Yet, the Hawks’ tackling pressure did not relent in the third quarter and nor did Cheney’s ability to dictate play down back as Essendon’s twin towers, Daniher and Crameri, were starved of opportunities in their own attacking 50.

Despite the goal kicking yips still plaguing the Hawks, they extended their lead to a telling 10-goal margin at three-quarter time.

Essendon doubled its score in the final term but still failed to minimise the damage as Box Hill won every quarter.

The Hawks’ fine blend of talented youth and experienced leadership makes them dangerous premiership contenders.

Essendon’s season now comes down to a thrilling ‘win or go home’ battle against Frankston on Saturday while Box Hill can continue their good form in the lead up to the finals as they clash with Coburg.

Box Hill Hawks 17.13.115 defeated Port Melbourne

15.10.100

BOX HILL HAWKS secured a gutsy 15-point win over Port Melbourne and importantly clawed its way back into the premiership conversation, as Michael Collins reports. 

Trailing for much of the second half, Box Hill reeled in the Borough with a combination of the x-factor from Sam Grimley- three of his four goals coming in the final term- and Derek Wanganeen and David Mirra’s swift ball use.

Sam Pleming was Port Melbourne’s best and the game’s most influential player as he once again freely dictated play across halfback with timely intercept marking and instilled calmness.

The signs for Box Hill weren’t positive in the first quarter as Port’s Dean Galea took hold of the Hawks’ backline with four first term goals. Despite playing against the wind, the Borough held a four-point lead at quarter time.

In the second term, the Borough appropriately grabbed advantage of the slight breeze. Due to Box Hill’s poor discipline during the term – three of Port’s six goals coming from free kicks – Port gained a 17-point lead at the main break.

After halftime, Port Melbourne threatened to blow the flood gates wide open with the first four scoring shots. Yet, a sudden stop in play due to Hawk Jordan Kelly coming off second best in a contest, allowed Box Hill to regroup and seize the all important momentum. Hawthorn-listed players Matt Spangher and Kyle Cheney began to win critical contests deep in defence and with Jed Anderson’s classy dribbling goal, the Hawks closed the difference to seven-points at three-quarter-time.

The final deciding quarter became more about ‘cometh the moment’ than about a sheer test of will. With no more than five minutes left, Port’s Josh Scipione, who marked strongly at half forward, tragically watched his kick pick out the man on the mark and it went like a slingshot to the Hawks’ end for the game-breaking goal.

Footy can be so cruel but where there is a loser there is always a winner. And for Box Hill, this is perhaps its greatest win yet this season.

Only time will tell if the Hawks’ comeback victory was a season defining one but what we do know now is that the race for the top four is wide open.

Next Saturday, Box Hill Hawks will look to try and further entrenched itself in the top four against Bendigo Gold, while Port Melbourne enjoy a week off before an important test against the Werribee Tigers.

Port Melbourne 13.10.88 defeated Williamstown 2.7.19

PORT Melbourne reaffirmed its premiership aspirations and surged to third position on the ladder after a smothering 69-point victory over old rival Williamstown at North Port Oval. 

Port entered Saturday’s clash with an indifferent month of form but the grinding conditions provided them with the ideal opportunity to lay strong defensive foundations for the finals.

And they did exactly that, writes Michael Collins.

In wet and bitter conditions, Williamstown recorded its lowest score of the season, kicking just two goals for the match – both in the first term.

The Borough’s emphatic suffocation of the Seagulls was headlined by their ruthless intensity around the contest and an even spread of goal kickers with Julian Rowe and Danny Hughes contributing three goals each.

The opening 10 minutes were played mainly in Williamstown’s forward half as Seagulls Captain Ben Jolley (30 disposals) led from the front with strong contested work and tackling. Yet, after conceding two of the first three goals, Port Melbourne slowly gained the ascendency and ensured they only trailed by two points at quarter time.

After the first quarter promised a dogged arm wrestle, Port’s Chris Cain’s contested clearance work (26 disposals) and Shane Valenti’s efficiency (21 disposals) separated the two old rivals in the second term.

The Borough kicked three goals and gained a 17-point lead at halftime. In a predictably scrappy affair, Sam Pleming was the calming architect across halfback as he continually found himself at the drop of the ball.

After halftime Williamstown struggled to match Port’s second efforts and hunger. A goal to Rowe that resulted from Dean Galea’s lunging second effort smother at half forward, typified the Borough’s frantic pursuit for the ball.

No rivalry is genuine without a few ‘choice’ words exchanged. Trailing by 42-points at three-quarter time, Williamstown showed their frustrations as some needless ‘push and shove’ developed on the center wing at the final break.

Unfortunately, the Seagulls’ goalless effort since quarter time continued until the final siren, as they could not counter Port’s pressure during the contest.

Tom Campbell’s ruck duel with Port’s Wayde Skipper was one of the few highlights for Williamstown as he showed great competitiveness against one of the league’s prime moving ruckman.

Next Saturday, Port Melbourne will look to continue its momentum against finals contender Box Hill Hawks, while Williamstown can regroup at the comfort of its home ground against Frankston.

Port Melbourne 22.21.153 defeated Bendigo Gold 14.10.94

PORT Melbourne ended its three game losing streak by overpowering a more competitive Bendigo Gold outfit by 59 points.

Inside the first minute of the game, Bendigo’s Steven Stroobants clashed heavily with a Port player on the wing that seemed to signal Bendigo’s intention of not backing down to the more experienced and finals tested Port Melbourne.

Yet, the Borough showed their seniority early with purposeful forward forays but their inaccuracy cost them early, registering 14 scoring shots for only five goals in the first quarter.

Port’s wayward goal kicking remained a concern throughout the afternoon but the sheer volume of marks in the forward half by Josh Scipione (six goals) and Dean Galea (four goals) – who combined for 18 marks – ensured high percentage looks in front of goal were had.

Trailing by 20 points at quarter time, Bendigo momentarily stunned the home crowd by closing the gap to nine points in the second term. This was largely due to Daniel Toman’s classy finish from the forward pocket. But Port showed its finals credentials by slamming home four of the next five majors to close out the first half.

John Baird (34 disposals) and Chris Cain (23 disposals) formed Port Melbourne’s engine room. In particular, Cain was influential with multiple inside 50 entries. Team of the year candidate, Wayde Skipper, ensured Bendigo’s midfield rarely gained ascendency as he asserted his dominance in the ruck.

A seven-goal-to-two third quarter hauled Port to a commanding 59-point lead that would hold firm until the final siren.

While Bendigo seized moments of control, Port proved the cleaner, composed and more fundamentally sound team as theycapitalised on theiryoung opponents’ sometimes-sloppy ball use.

Gold’s Tom Hams (23 disposals), Alik Magin (37) and Shannen Lange (three goals) persisted all afternoon to ensure the game was Bendigo’s second smallest defeat for the season.

In the final term, the match petered out into a shootout and some tired push and shove.

“The boys were getting stuck into me, I like showing some aggression and that’s the way I play my footy. We got the 4 points and that’s the main thing,” forward Dean Galea told the ABC after the game.

Port Melbourne might need some of Galea’s aggression as they look to recapture their dominant form from recent years as the finals draw near.

After a break this weekend as the Round 13 split round is completed, Bendigo travels to Sandringham in search of their first win while Port Melbourne remain at home in Williamstown.

The “other” big three

Richmond’s rise from mediocrity to near top eight certainties in 2013 has been driven by an unspoken big three at Tigerland.

First round draft picks Reece Conca, Brandon Ellis, and mature age recruit Steven Morris have become what has been lacking at Richmond over the last 30 years. Depth.

Even in previous failed Tiger rebuilds, they have always had two or three well-established, maybe even A-grade quality midfielders, like Wayne Campbell and Matty Knights. Yet, through a combination of ill-advised contract handouts and wasted player development, the Tigers struggled to bat any deeper than two to three elite midfielders. Today, Conca and Ellis provide the sort of midfield depth that Premiership teams have and that the Tigers haven’t possessed for 30 years. Both developing youngsters have taken their games to another level. Conca is noticeably underrated by the media and he typifies the Tigers’ elite ability to spread swiftly from congestion and deliver the ball inside 50 (averages 4.4 inside 50s and registered 8 against St Kilda on the weekend). Meanwhile, Ellis is a strong mark for a midfielder and is poised at either end of the ground. Both are no where near maximising their ability but both are already forming Richmond’s “other” big three.

Finally, there is one of Punt Road End’s favourites, Steve Morris, who’s burst of speed, ferocity and toughness has turned him into an elite small defender. Before last weeks game against St. Kilda, Morris conceded only six goals to his direct opponent this season. Historically, small forwards such as Milne and Betts inflicted the most pain on Richmond supporters. However, Morris, who made his AFL landing via years in the SANFL, has made that pain history, and only when he was suspended  in round five against Fremantle did the opposition small forwards dominate Richmond. In all likely-hood, the Tigers would be 10-3 if Morris escaped suspension.

In 2012, the Tigers hoped for Cotchin, Delidio and Martin to carry the load but this season the “other three” have arguably had more consistent seasons. Cotchin and Delidio are not as productive as they were last year as Cotchin’s disposal numbers have dipped from 27.6 (2012) to 25.4 per game and Delidio’s 27.5 to 24.2. Martin has made the only upward curve in his disposal count.

Richmond’s rise has been determined by a combination of subtle and discernible factors but perhaps no more determinable by the trio of Conca, Ellis and Morris. Last season St Kilda Coach Scott Watters wetted Richmond supporter’s enthusiasm by naming the Tigers’ midfield as the best in the AFL. Watter’s may have jumped the gun but he was foreshadowing the Tigers’ future. Until Conca and Ellis’ emergence as genuinely reliable AFL midfielders, Richmond’s midfield had the flash but lacked the required substance.

Richmond’s fragility in telling moments and meek surrender to opposition forward forays was due to a lack of ingrained toughness and inspired dash. Coach Damien Hardwick, CEO Brandon Gale and even Captain Trent Cotchin capture the praise for reshaping the culture at Punt Road but Steve Morris’ impact on the field in the back half must not be ignored. Morris’ kamikaze assault on the footy and belligerent neglect for his own safety out on the field makes him the Tigers’ toughest competitor. Despite not always polished by foot, Morris represents the new and still developing Richmond identity of commitment to the contest and to the yellow sash.

For so long the Tiger army searched for hall of fame names like Matthew Richardson or Ben Cousins to lead the tiger hoards out of the darkness but it is the “others” and the undervalued who are making the telling difference.

Power Rankings (June Edition)

Sunday football has become a tired and neglected day on the football calendar. The AFL has worked so hard to establish blockbuster games on Friday nights (Collingwood versus Brisbane aside) and explore the commercial advantage of Monday nights that family friendly Sunday afternoon football has become a stage for putrid mediocrity.

The AFL enjoy embarking on so-called educational trips to the US to learn from the big four American professional sports. Surely, Andrew Demetriou could take note on the NFL’s polished Sunday football product.

Next round of footy we are blessed or maybe cursed to watch the struggling Saints and underperforming Eagles as the only game for Sunday viewing. Twilight game scheduling is not the answer, instead, a themed marquee match, like traditional foes slogging it out at the spectator friendly time of 2:10pm would be more inviting for neutrals and committed supporters.

Team of the month: Fremantle (3 wins, 1 draw) have scraped their way into the top four without their champion Matthew Pavlich.

Team of the weak: Greater Western Sydney (0 wins, 4 losses) have lost their last four by an average of 103 points. The Giants are non-competitive and is a part of the miserable Sunday package of games.

 

2013 Power Rankings (Month of June) 

1. Geelong (–): The “flicking the switch” catchphrase is one the most inaccurate and overused analysis made in sports commentary but perhaps Geelong truly does flick the switch after halftime. Over the past month, the Cats slammed home nine goals to one in the last quarter against a tougher Suns unit and won the premiership quarter against a confident Essendon team (six goals to one).

2. Hawthorn (–): Again, the Hawks are proving to be the best well-rounded offensive team by leading the league in points scored. Hawthorn’s attack starts from half-back with Grant Birchall who is proving to be their most important player (25 disposals per game). He dictates the game’s pace with his precision by foot (fourth in the league for effective disposals per game) and makes those around him better, which is the ultimate praise for any footballer. No Birchall, no 2013 flag.

3. Sydney (–): The Swans have had an indifferent month in terms of the win, loss and draw column but they are importantly playing far better football now than they were a month ago. Despite unneeded off field distractions, 33-year-old veteran Adam Goodes played his most devastating footy since 2009 over the last fortnight by slotting 7 goals and 45 disposals combined. Dustin Fletcher might be everyone’s Benjamin Button but Goodsey isn’t to far behind.

4. Fremantle (+3): What do you get when you combine Ross Lyon and the Fremantle Dockers? Efficiency. Despite key injuries to senior and star personnel, Lyon’s men find a way to grind their way to the four points and avoid blatant mental mistakes. Last year, the eventual premiers Sydney, were ranked number one in the league for fewest goals conceded (10.4 per game) and this year the Dockers are the league leaders in fewest goals against (also 10.4 per game). Freo’s ability to setup behind the ball and intercept forward thrusts is elite.

5. Carlton (+3): A tough opening to the season followed by a favorable stretch of games and the Blues still remain an unknown quantity. Wins against bottom feeders GWS, Brisbane, Melbourne and Port Adelaide hardly provide a sound test but Jarrad Waite is back and hopefully longer than a Mick Malthouse glare. Waite is clunking marks (leads league for contested marks per game) and giving his midfielders a competent key target to spot up.

6. Essendon (-1): The Bombers are succumbing to the law of averages. After averaging 123 points in the first six rounds, the Bombers’ attack has dramatically cooled off averaging only 83. Although, Jobe Watson is becoming the model of consistent excellence and Brent Stanton is starting to heat up over the past two weeks (collecting 39 and 36 disposals).

7. Collingwood (-1): The most recognisable club in this land has the most evident identity problem. Under Mick, the Pies’ identity was using the wings when in possession of the ball and hunting in tackling packs when without it. Under Bucks, the Pies’ inconsistency can be linked to their inability to establish a distinctive style of play and best and fairest winners like Dane Swan turning the ball over repeatedly (ranked 9th in the league for total clangers)

8. Richmond (+1): The Tigers followed up a bewilderingly poor Dreamtime effort by a ferociously committed win in the Wild West. Nathan Foley looked desperately lost and lacking his usual burst speed since returning from his Achilles injury (averaged 14 touches in first three games back). However, Foley rediscovered his ball winning ability and importantly his breakaway pace from the packs against the Eagles (22 touches, five inside fifties, four tackles), which could be one of the most undervalued developments for the Tigers as they surge into the second half of the season.

9. West Coast (+1): An AFL record 81 hit outs against the Tigers proved meaningless, as the Eagles looked one paced in the midfield. Their forward line is always threatening to kick a winning score but there is not enough assistance from the midfield quartet of Matthew Priddis, Daniel Kerr, Chris Masten and Andrew Gaff who have 12 goals between them.

10. Adelaide (+3): Adelaide’s forward line has been blown apart due to Tex Walker’s injury but Brenton Sanderson is doing a wonderful job in forcing mismatches and rotating players through the forward 50. Six Crows have kicked double-digit goals for the season.

11. Gold Coast Suns (+1): The Suns have become more than just a one-man show in Gary Ablett Jr. Jaeger O’Meara looks the most polished, assured and explosive young midfielder since Chris Judd. He leads all rising stars in total disposals, contested possessions, tackles and clearances.

12. North Melbourne (-1): North simply don’t apply enough defensive pressure to sustain momentum for four quarters against the seasoned teams (rank 16th in tackles). The Roos led at three quarter time in 7 of their 10 games so far this season.

13. Port Adelaide (-9): Port is starting to look like an exhausted and inexperienced team in need of the bye. The Power has succeeded when Justin Westhoff has flourished. In the Power’s 5-0 start to the season, Westhoff averaged 5.4 scoring shots per game and registered 20 plus possessions on three occasions. In the Power’s current 5 game losing streak, he averages just 1.4 shots per game and has failed to amass a 20-disposal game.

14. Western Bulldogs (+2): Tom Liberatore became the first player since Simon Black in 2000 to amass at least 35 disposals, 20 contested possessions and 12 clearances in a game (sourced from the Fox Footy Analyst on Twitter). There might be plenty of holes on the Doggies list but there is plenty of heart and youthful enthusiasm.

15. Brisbane (-1): The Lions rank in the bottom four in nearly every offensive category. With Simon Black and Jonathan Brown likely in their final seasons, who are the next leaders? Worryingly, crowd attendances continue to drop yearly as they average 22,683 people a game.

16. St Kilda (-1): Jack Steven is one bright speck in a fairly bleak tunnel for the Saints. Unlike most of his teammates, Steven is having a career year in disposals (25.6 per game) and ranks in the top 20 for contested possessions and clearances.

17. Greater Western Sydney (–): Could go winless in 2013 yet escape the same scrutiny that the Suns endured in their second season. Enticing Buddy Franklin could be a nice step in the reaching the path of competitiveness.

18. Melbourne (–): Would sacking coach Mark Neeld solve anything? Unlikely. Yet, the players are obviously not responding to Neeld’s message and not one player has noticeably improved under his watch.

Power Rankings (May edition)

Midfielders might win the individual accolades but this season has again reinforced that the big fellas up forward are the ones that win games and turn pretenders into contenders.

Collingwood learnt last September that two disengaged and hopelessly out of form key forwards, Travis Cloke and Chris Dawes, meant that they were merely making up the numbers, while, Adelaide nearly overran Hawthorn in the preliminary final largely due to their frightening one-two punch of Kurt Tippett and Taylor Walker.

Now, the Crows are quickly evaporating into the irrelevance in 2013 without Tippett, who defected to Sydney, and Walker who succumbed to a saddening season-ending knee injury this past weekend. Whereas, the Magpies who have been wildly inconsistent thus far, remain genuine premiership contenders because of a focused Cloke and the newly acquired Quinten Lynch roaming up forward.

The big men are often the ones who decide whether their team’s season is a tale of woe or of glory, and this year is no different.

Team of the month: Port Adelaide (4-0) flicked off their off-field insecurities and played inspired team football. How Oliver Wines slipped to pick seven in the draft will become another draft mystery.

Team of the weak: West Coast (1-3) yet to win at home and conceded a 41-point lead to the Power.

1. Geelong (+3): Geelong’s opening to the season has been scripted for them with mostly gritty comebacks and gun-blazing shootouts (no not referring to the burglary prank). Chris Scott will expect the Cats’ defence to pick up (ranked seventh in goals against) but they have engaged in plenty of slingshot football. Oh and the corridor is back in vogue down at Kardinia Park.

2. Hawthorn (+4): Since their yearly capitulation against Geelong, the Hawks have swept by three premiership contenders by an average margin of 49 points and then battened down the hatches to deny North Melbourne. Injuries remain the constant theme though, with news that Cyril’s hamstrings will keep him sidelined until at least round 11.

3. Sydney (-3): Geelong is the only team since 2010 to break through the Swans defence and score more than 120 points (achieved three times). While this is a concern for the Swans as Geelong remains a possible match up in September, John Longmire’s group still has the most upside of any team, with Kurt Tippett yet to play.

4. Port Adelaide (+8): Defeating the Gold Coast, GWS and Melbourne came as little surprise but showing fortitude and a killer-instinct in unlikely comebacks against Adelaide and West Coast certainly was. Ken Hinkley is an early coach of the year candidate and Justin Westhoff may be the most improved player in the AFL (20.2 disposals, 8.8 marks and 2.6 goals per game).

5. Essendon (+5): Are Essendon premiership contenders or dreamers? ASADA and the AFL will seemingly have the most to say in this as they deliberate potential punishments. On the field, no team is playing more destructive and beautifully balanced football than Hird’s men. They rank first for goals for and fewest for goals against. Not even the absence of key men Dustin Fletcher and Michael Hurley slowed them down on ANZAC Day.

6. Collingwood (-4): Scott Pendlebury was right to call his teammates out for “cheating” on the defensive side. Collingwood’s renowned tackling and hunting in packs has been nearly non-existent in their two biggest games so far (Hawthorn and Essendon).

7. Fremantle (-3): Fremantle were the beneficiaries of another Richmond late game meltdown. With Matthew Pavlich out, mercurial pest Hayden Ballantyne’s return to goal kicking form (4 majors against Richmond) will be crucial to keeping the Purple Haze above water in the early part of the year.

8. Carlton (+1): Mick proclaimed that the process was more important than the wins. Well, Mick’s Blues must have got his processes right as they have recovered from a 0-3 start and look nicely poised to make a run for the top eight. The longevity of Jarrad Waite’s latest comeback attempt will play the most influential part in Carlton’s climb up the ladder.

9. Richmond (-2): Richmond let slip the classic eight-point game against Fremantle. After a hyped three game winning streak the Tiges are now staring at three straight defeats. Defender Alex Rance’s commitment to the contest cannot be questioned (fourth in the league for one percenters) but his drop in confidence and composure is a huge concern for the Tigers.

10. West Coast (-5): The leading underachievers thus far this season. The Eagles would hope that Nic Natanui’s return will make the decisive difference. Yet, creativity and acrobatics is not what the boys out west necessarily need at the moment. Currently, they rank 16th for disposals per game. Simply, the midfield just isn’t getting their hands on the ball enough.

11. North Melbourne (-3): North isn’t too far behind West Coast in the underachiever list. All bar one game the Roos have been in winning positions and let the moment slip. Even at the age of 34, Boomer Harvey’s absence is most telling, as he remains North’s only proven line breaker and classy match-winner.

12. Gold Coast Suns (+3): The Suns forward line is beginning to take shape with Charlie Dixon (career high six goals against GWS) manning the key forward position with Steven May, Aaron Hall and Brandon Matera providing some spark. The little genius Ablett continues to build his case as the greatest player of this generation.

13. Adelaide (-2): It’s been one knockout blow after another for the Crows as Walker’s season has been declared finished. Adelaide’s run of cruel setbacks has shown that success is never a given, regardless of a previous year’s achievements.

14. Brisbane (+1): Could be Jonathan Brown’s last season so we better sit back and suffer the insufferable Lions so that we can watch Browny’s greatness perhaps for one last time.

15. St Kilda (+1): Nick Riewoldt turned back the clock in New Zealand with a vintage gut busting display (22 disposals, 13 marks, 2 goals and 7 tackles). Riewoldt, Nick Dal Santo, Leigh Montagna and Lenny Hayes still lead in all key statistics. This must change for the transitional period to gather pace.

16. Western Bulldogs (-3): Liam Jones is beginning to flourish up forward with two strong four-goal performances against Richmond and Geelong. Since opening the season with 127 points against the Lions, the Dogs’ scoring woes have come back to haunt them as they averaged just 65 points over the past month.

17. Greater Western Sydney (–): The Giants are showing their youth in last quarters in 2013, being outscored by an average of five goals, whereas, in second quarters they are outscored by just a solitary goal.

18. Melbourne (–): Consider all the great and even all of the terrible (characteristically from this century) Melbourne teams. Then consider that on the 21st of April, Neeld’s dispirited players, who at three-quarter time seemed on the verge of handballing their coach’s head on a platter to their fans and the media, slammed home a club record 12-goal final term. Such is football.

Good news at the dog kennel

It might seem like good news and the AFL rarely go hand-in-hand, as controversy has dipped its toe in nearly every AFL club and administration over the past 12 months. At the moment, Essendon and Melbourne are absorbing the scatter fire and moral condemnation.

Yet, here’s the good news that you might have missed behind the doomsday headlines. The Western Bulldogs are turning into the feel-good story of the 2013 season.

The preseason predictions weren’t very flattering for the Bulldogs. Most pundits had them reeling in the bottom three and I had them floundering behind Melbourne, can you believe?

Sure, the Bullies won’t press for September action this year and will likely endure a few heavy-handed defeats along the way but Brendan McCartney’s men sure play with renewed commitment and focused effort. The Bulldogs’ rebuild is not yet complete but the on and off field foundations are evidently strong and well intentioned.

Even before the NAB Cup, the Dogs and the Demons were tossed into the same basket. However, the two clubs have taken startling different turns. Sometimes complacent attitudes can be spawned due to players accepting mediocrity as the theme while the club undergoes a drawn-out rebuild.

Yet, Bulldog leaders in Captain Matthew Boyd, revitalised Will Minson and veterans Rob Murphy and Daniel Giansiracusa have accepted that the premiership window is shut and have embraced their mentoring role as pacesetters for the younger players.

The Bulldogs’ commitment to the contest and trust in McCartney’s preaching is clear. They have adopted a philosophy where commitment is an act, not a word (a concept that the Dees are sadly still fumbling with).

After two rounds, the Bullies swiftly disposed of the Lions and were competitive against the surgically methodical Dockers.

The Bulldogs’ ball movement sometimes resembles the Harlem Shake instead of the Berlin Orchestra but the players have bought into McCartney’s system of fundamentals, contested ball and strict preparation.

Over the first two weeks, they averaged 66 tackles and put a high price on maintaining possession and tempo by amassing 98 marks per game (fourth in the league). Undefeated teams in Essendon, Port Adelaide and Fremantle are the only teams ranked higher than the Doggies in marks per game. In such an even and competitive season, dictating the speed of the game is crucial to obtaining the four points.

The Dogs’ forward line is still raw and very dependent on the cleverness of roaming smalls like Luke Dahlhaus and Giansiracusa. In the long-term, Liam Jones’ development will be the key to a more rounded forward line. Retired Geelong power forward Cameron Mooney who now works with the Bulldogs forwards, believes Jones with a greater tank will develop into a strong and reliable key forward.

No doubt McCartney, whose credentials are often underrated or even dismissed in the wider public due to his lack of AFL playing experience, must become an enduring figure at the dog kennel. His ability to turn Minson from a journeyman ruckman into an early All-Australian contender and develop Tom Liberatore into a dogged clearance king puts paid to the myth that “you can’t coach in the AFL if you weren’t a league footballer”.

McCartney’s capacity to build relationships and become, in the words of legendary basketball coach John Wooden, a teacher-coach to the young players should comfort Doggies supporters.

The Dogs have certainly come out snarling and the rebuild might be swifter than first realised.

AFL Power Rankings (Round 1)

Watts wrong with him?

Melbourne passing on Nic Naitanui and selecting the young man from Brighton Grammar, Jack Watts, headlined the 2008 AFL Draft.

Both were scouted as key position players, one a forward and the other a ruckman, who you could possibly build a team around.

One player has wowed the footy world and shows maturity and improvement on nearly a weekly basis. The other stagnated at his key forward post and tossed to the backline as a sweeping halfback.

Some vocal Melbourne supporters and past players, like David Schwarz, tipped Jack Watts to have his most consistent year yet. On Sunday at the MCG he was lethargic and not engaged in the contest. As a halfback flanker, he finished with an unacceptable 7 disposals.

Here lies the problem for Watts and the Melbourne footy club. There is a wealth of effective half back flankers in the AFL and as Richmond has shown with Bachar Houli, they come cheap. For Melbourne to be wasting their number one pick in this position is counterproductive for the team and for Watts.

In his fifth year, it’s time for Watts to move to a key position post where he can pick up the good habits of accountability, responsibility and hard work.

Team of the week: It seems like a long time ago the Bombers knocked off the Crows in the season opener. Facing the aggressive off-field scrutiny, James Hird and Jobe Watson led their troops wonderfully to an impressive road win.

Team of the weak:  No surprises here. Pick whatever adjective you like to describe the Melbourne footy club. To lose by 79 points at home against a lowly interstate team is insipid.

2013 Power Rankings (Round 1)

1. Sydney (–) : Not a bad way for the reigning premiers to ease into the season with the young Giants and then the Suns. Big Mummy (Shane Mumford) looks near his belligerent best with 25 hit outs and 4 scoring shots. Can’t see the Swans falling down the rankings anytime soon.

2. Collingwood (+1): As I noted in the first power rankings, Collingwood has the most depth in the league, and they showed why against the Kangaroos. Dayne Beams and Heath Shaw’s late withdrawals somehow didn’t disrupt the Collingwood machine. No other team truly embodies the “one man goes down, another man steps up” mantra more than the Pies.

3. Geelong (-1): The Cats extend the Kennett curse to 10. Joel Selwood’s play was unconscious in the second half as he burrowed in the packs and froze Hawthorn’s midfield. The so-called “end of an era” down at the cattery is just a myth.

4. Fremantle (+3): Tough, committed, disciplined and top four contenders. Ross Lyon’s Dockers surgically dissected an undermanned West Coast Eagles. Danyle Pearce, one of the underrated recruits of the year, and Stephen Hill roaming the wings is a terrifying sight. Lyon teams just don’t beat themselves.

5. West Coast (-1): Another luckless start to their season campaign. The only obstacle denying the Eagles a top four spot is injuries. Add Mark Lecras (again) and Eric Mackenzie to the injury list with Nic Naitanui, Daniel Kerr and Matt Rosa. Adam Selwood is the ultimate role player as he smothered Hayden Ballantyne (subbed off in the last) into submission.

6. Hawthorn (+2): Hawthorn is the first team since 2001 to lose a match after having 39 first half inside 50s. While the Kennett-curse lingers, the Hawks are nowhere near full strength and shouldn’t be to concerned with a mere loss in round one. Bradley Hill’s first half run and creativity across half-forward and Ryan Schoenmakers’ clutch defensive work were positives.

7. Richmond (+4): The monkey is off the back, just. While the Tigers’ last quarter collapse was worrying and a mirror of the 2012 Tigers, at this time of year, four points is all that matters. It’s the first time in nine tries that the Tigers have won when Jack Riewoldt has been held goalless. The Tigers have two very winnable games coming up against St. Kilda and the Western Bulldogs.

8. North Melbourne (+1): The Scott-Buckley feud has blanketed a disappointing showing by North. If Kieran Harper isn’t finding the ball as the high half-forward and drawing defenders away from his three key forwards than North’s forward line becomes clustered and sometimes stagnant.

9. Carlton (-3): Carlton threw the gauntlet and nearly broke the hearts of Tiger fans in the second half by attacking the corridor and abandoning Mick’s boundary hugging system. Despite a change of senior coach and a fitter list, the Blues’ key forward stocks are still a concern as they move forward.

10. Essendon (+8): The northern press might have included the Bombers in their AFL witch-hunt but Hirdy’s men were big winners in the season opener. Jobe Watson was simply a ball-hunting machine against the Crows and he is the favourite to go back-to-back as the Brownlow Medalist. Brendan Goddard made an understated debut but showed his value with a telling clutch goal.

11. Adelaide (-1): Without the versatile Kurt Tippet, the Crows are one-dimensional in attack. While its been just one game, the winning formula against Adelaide looks dangerously simple- smother Patrick Dangerfield in the middle and collapse your defence on the aspiring caravan owner Tex Walker.

12. Port Adelaide (+2): Ken Hinkley has stripped back the circus act and is drilling the fundamentals into his men. Oliver Wines’ 24 disposals, seven inside 50s and one goal in a winning team on debut should be rewarded with the round one Rising Star Nomination.

13. Western Bulldogs (+4): Get used to hearing these two names in tandem: Liberatore and Wallis. Brett Goodes following the modern footy tradition of mature age recruits proving more valuable than some highly touted first round picks. 19.13.127 is the Bulldog’s highest posted score since round 22, 2011. They only passed 100 points or more twice last season.

14. Gold Coast Suns (+1): Gary Ablett Jr. has put a strong case forward of being the superior player to his champion old man. Jr. is the most complete midfielder of the modern era as he finishes around goal better than Chris Judd in his prime and is more dynamic than the big four of Voss, Buckley, Hird and Harvey. He could kick 50-60 goals this season.

15. Brisbane (-10): No more summer loving for the Lions. They conceded 19 goals to a team that ranked 16thin 2012 for goals scored. Matt Maguire’s succumbs to injury… again.

16. St Kilda (-3): Sometimes the Ablett-show gets all too much but the Saints can only blame themselves for their poor execution. The Saints are not at full strength but at the moment their list is unbalanced for the short-term. Only 10 players on the list are between the age of 23-26 years old and 10 players are in the 29+ bracket. Expect them to regroup and claw their way higher in the rankings in weeks to come.

17. Greater Western Sydney (-5): GWS threatened in bursts against their Harbour City rivals but they just lacked the surety of experienced heads to really scare Sydney. Kevin Sheedy promised after the game that the Giants are a superior and more attacking team than from last year.

18. Melbourne (-2): Things can only get better from here, right? Colin Sylvia still flushing away his talent at Melbourne is as puzzling as first gamer Jack Viney addressing the team after the game. The debutant has Melbourne blood streaming in him and the 138 game veteran seems satisfied by the paycheck.

AFL Preseason Power Rankings

The real stuff begins

After months of drugs, tanking, salary cap breaching scandals and enduring Cricket Australia’s intolerable spin, it’s almost here.

The AFL Premiership Season!

Disheartening as it is to see “drugs in sport” embroil our game and test the fans’ trust in professional sport, round one will remind us why this indigenous game is so ingrained in the Australian DNA and why we love its theatrics, heroics and stories.

The rankings are based on current form, fixture, injuries and long-term outlook.

 

By the numbers:

1819: The number of days since Richmond defeated their old rival Carlton by the time March 28 comes around.

10: The number of preseason premiership teams that went on to make the finals that same year (since 2000).

21: Brendan Goddard’s career disposal average against his new team Essendon.

2013 Power Rankings (preseason)

2013 Power Rankings (preseason)

1. Sydney: We just witnessed the finest 1-4 preseason record from any team, with power forward Kurt Tippet jumping on board and new leaders, Kieren Jack and Jarrad McVeigh taking the captaincy reins from Adam Goodes (what a luxury!). Somehow the Premiers are once again flying under the radar as the Big Four Victorian clubs dominate the hysteria.

2. Geelong: Who was ready to write off Geelong after their finals defeat to Fremantle (be honest, I’m sure you were tempted to!)? How deep will Geelong go in September will depend on how quickly the Cats move on without Matthew Scarlett and if Jared Rivers can adjust to the pressure cooker of finals footy. The Cats were soundly beaten in the ruck last year (hit-out differential of 5) but the acquisition of Hamish McIntosh will bolster their stocks.

3. Collingwood: Depth. That’s the key word for the Pies this season. Open to suggestions on who else you think has a deeper list than Collingwood? A fit Luke Ball, inclusions of Clinton Young, a functional marking forward in Quinten Lynch and three draft picks in the top 20 makes the Pies serious contenders.

4. West Coast: The 2010 number four draft pick Andrew Gaff is ready for a statement year. Last year, the team out west was in the top five for points for and fewest points against, which is the premiership formula. With a bit more luck with injuries, the Eagles could top this list pretty soon.

5. Brisbane: Premiers… well at least of the preseason. Read into it that what you will but Jonathan Brown looks lean and importantly showed he can still monster an opponent. Who has the more talented list in Queensland? Before last season, most critics would say Gold Coast but now I’ll go with Vossy’s Lions.

6. Carlton: When healthy, Carlton is a lock for the top eight but questions remain about the Blues’ backline and Jarrad Waite’s durability, which means that using “contender” and “Carlton” in the same sentence is still premature. At least under Mick Malthouse, the Blues won’t be cast as “downhill skiers”.

7. Fremantle: They might play boring footy but Ross Lyon has his men believing in his defensive system. The purple haze must be in a “win now” mode as Aaron Sandilands, Matthew Pavlich and Luke McPharlin are closer to the end than the start of their careers.

8. Hawthorn: Brendan Whitecross’ knee and Matthew Suckling’s ACL, Buddy’s contract and old man Luke Hodge are all worries coming into this season. Ex-Bulldog Brian Lake will give Hawthorn added size and versatility down back but he is now one of seven players over 30 years old at Hawthorn. Can they all last the marathon season without breaking down?

9. North Melbourne: Safe assumption: North’s controversy-free summer and coaching stability gives the Kangaroos’ finals hopes an early lift over rivals Carlton and Essendon – shame about the tough draw and the empty coffers.

10. Adelaide: Unlike last year, no one will underestimate the Crows in 2013. Whether or not a Dangerfield-led team will make the top four, there appears to be some cautious optimism bubbling in the city of churches after the Crows pushed Hawthorn all the way in last year’s preliminary final. Although, who will fill the Tippett role?

11. Richmond: Hopes are as high as they have been for years at Tigerland, and with good reason. Troy Chaplin’s arrival takes pressure off Alex Rance down back and Dustin Martin has had a strong summer on the track. However, if Sydney is the epitome of a team that thrives by not beating itself, Richmond is the opposite and it will take another solid season to cast off the lingering doubters.

12. Greater Western Sydney: Jon Patton and Jeremy Cameron will make the most deadly one-two punch in the competition in no time. GWS’ young guns might be beaten well throughout the year but they are smug, chirpy, tough and a lot of fun to watch. For now, lets see them slash their seven 90-plus point drubbings from last year in half this season.

13. St Kilda: With a fit Sam Fisher and Ben McEvoy for the year, finals are in the realm of possibility. The Saints unearthed some handy talent last season but it will be the old guard who will drive the Saints fortunes for season 2013. Don’t think for a minute that Lenny Hayes, Nick Riewoldt and Nick Dal Santo don’t have one more September in them.

14. Port Adelaide: Re-signing Travis Boak was a massive win for the Power. Despite the critics, Koch’s arrival has been positive for Port, especially with Renault jumping on board. Toughness has to be Port’s motto as they were ranked 17th in the league last year for tackle differential. On the improve, but how far and how fast, we’ll have to wait and see.

15. Gold Coast Suns: Watching Gary Ablett Jr. burn his opponent and make the impossible seem easy is again the only reason to watch the Suns this year. Yes, they have talent but I’m still not convinced they have the right mix and balance on their list to reach their projected success.

16. Melbourne: Where do we start? Culture, current playing list, recruiting… tanking? To everyone’s delight, we have to wait another year to see one of the rare watchable Demons, Jesse Hogan. Jack Viney paired with Nathan Jones in the middle will at least give us some kind of reprieve.

17. Western Bulldogs: The Doggies ranked only higher than the Suns and the Giants in goals per game last year (9.9). Forward Liam Jones needs a breakout year and the Bulldogs need some polished ball users around Matthew Boyd. The Bullies have added some nice pieces in Jake Stringer, Jackson Macrae, Nathan Hrovat and even Brett Goodes, but winning is going to be difficult.

18. Essendon: The Australian cricket team has had a better summer than Essendon. Brendan Goddard has arrived but serious questions linger over leadership at the club in light of the ongoing drug investigation. Make or break year for coach James Hird on the field, but one that could still yet explode off it courtesy of ASADA.

 

AFL needs to take concussion seriously, now.

Performance enhancing drugs and tanking allegations might have dominated public debate over the past month but the news of Greg Williams’ memory loss, and its possible connection to episodes of concussion on the footy field, is just as shocking.

If the testimony of one of the game’s legends doesn’t make the AFL implement swift and definitive preventive measures, nothing will.

However, if the summer of scandals taught us anything, the AFL will be slow and ultimately indecisive in its actions.

The AFL spin-doctors have been working overtime, but head injuries cannot be spun like tanking.

Andrew Demetriou and the Laws of the Game Committee assert the head is sacrosanct, but here is the moment for them to prove that they are not the spitting image of America’s NFL.

According to available data, AFL players experience comparatively fewer concussions than other contact sports, like the NFL, (around six to seven per team per season) but this should not mean that head-injury prevention shouldn’t be one of the AFL’s main concerns in the long run.

Australian Rules football is developing rapidly and the increase in the game’s speed and power will inevitably lead to an increase in high-speed collisions, of increasing ferocity. The AFL should be ahead of the curve.

Highly respected Melbourne surgeon Dr. Ian Haines wrote in The Age recently, strongly advising that rule changes should include a revised number of players on the field, shortened quarters and a cap on the number of interchanges.

Independent practitioners like Dr Haines should be listened to, perhaps more so than others in the conversation, such as the agenda-driven coaches.

The AFL is a smart, copycat league. It borrows tactics, business models and even athletes from other sports. The NFL is one of its greatest influences and the AFL will be watching with interest that more than 1,500 players are suing the NFL claiming the devastating long-term effects of repeated head knocks were hidden from them.

The 2011 NFL collective bargaining agreement committed the league and the players’ union to set aside $100 million over 10 years to support research on concussion. Although, the sorry truth of the matter is that the NFL only cared for player welfare after their pockets and brand took a serious hit.

Aussie Rules is at risk of tracking down the same path.

Greg Williams says the AFL is in denial on concussion. I say, if the AFL and its clubs do not willingly act on the long-term consequence of head injuries sustained on the footy field then they will not avoid the great American tradition: the lawsuit.

The AFL’s image has been severely tainted over the past few months but swift, honest and medically driven action on the issue of head injuries will rebuild the public’s trust in the league.

It might sound strange but concussions could save the AFL’s broken image.

The medical and legal risks for players, coaches and clubs are just far to great for the sport to ignore.

Five things we learnt from NAB 1

Finals aspirants will hit the ground running

It might still be the cricket season but North Melbourne and Richmond proved that not all have football teams are weighed down by preseason rust. Majak Daw’s don’t-argue and galloping goal, Jack Riewoldt’s slick no-look handball to Shane Edwards in heavy traffic and even old man Boomer Harvey’s never-fading wheels showed that both finals-aspiring teams are ready to burst from the blocks come round one.

League’s future in good hands

One of the highlights of the preseason competition is the opportunity it provides clubs to showcase the future headline acts. Gold Coast’s Jaegar O’Meara, Richmond’s Nick Vlastuin, Melbourne’s trio of Jack Viney, Jesse Hogan and Jimmy Toumpas, and the Giants’ rich flock of juniors, all stood out this weekend, showing the future of the AFL has plenty of toughness and class.

Melbourne might not be able to hit the side of a barn at the moment but they sure look to have hit the right draft picks this time – finally! Predictions at this time of year are always fraught with danger but Jack Viney looks a good early shout for the 2013 Rising Star Award. His almost reckless pursuit for the ball at just 18 years of age suggests he will be the face of the Melbourne footy club in years to come.

Goal kicking blunders still hurt

A footballer’s summer consists of running, weights and learning structures, but how about goal-kicking practice? Football fans now seem resigned to the bleak realization that goal kicking will never be what it used to, but over the weekend kicking for goal was simply atrocious. Collectively, teams converted 43.3% of shots at goal. In a season where up to 13 teams have genuine finals aspirations, accurate and opportunistic goal kicking might just be the difference between a team sneaking into the eight and missing by a whiff.

Never refuse to reuse

Recycling in the AFL often used to be unfairly linked to short-sighted top-up jobs like Michael Voss’ Lions and Danny Frawley’s Tigers but it seems this negative connotation is no longer the case. Sydney won last year’s premiership with a string of important recycled players and now other clubs are following suit.

Former Demon Brent Moloney impressed at Metricon Stadium, adding some grunt to an impressive looking Brisbane midfield. Another former Demon Ricky Petterd also looks refreshed in a new environment, playing across halfback for the Tigers. Add other recycled contributors over the weekend like Giant Stephen Gilham, Hawk Brian Lake and Melbourne’s quartet of Chris Dawes, Shannon Byrnes, Cam Pederson and David Rodan, this pre-season so far has highlighted the changing landscape in player recruiting.

Wait, What?

We open the weekend’s Herald Sun to notice that on one page miniature cricket figurines have replaced standard moment-capturing photography to depict the enthralling Australia and India test match in Chennai. On another page it reads Hawthorn lost back-to-back games to Gold Coast and Brisbane! Oh and a bloke with the last name of Wanganeen was in Hawthorn’s “best players”. Are we living in some strange alternate universe? Hopefully the month of March brings us back to footy as we know it and perhaps even with a few genuine professional photographs to capture the drama.

Expectations grow for fourth-year pair

Player comparisons will forever exist in the AFL and the players subject to such meticulous public debate just have to endure the indecency or the compliment.

Wayne Carey and Gary Ablett Sr; Geelong and St. Kilda; Buddy Franklin and Richard Tambling…

Yet we sometimes forget the men who steer the ship – the coaches.

Richmond’s Damien Hardwick and North Melbourne’s Brad Scott both entered senior coaching at the same time, at similar battling clubs.

They are “players coaches”. That is, Hardwick and Scott believe that the league is first and foremost a players’ league. Both will aggressively defend their troops and deflect any premature or deserved personal praise directly to their players.

Examples of this affinity between coach and player are common. In 2012, Scott stoically defended midfielder Jack Ziebell’s head-high collision against Carlton’s Aaron Joseph by calling his youngster’s four-game suspension an indictment on the game. Dimma recently slammed social media rumourmongers as “Un-Australian” for claiming Dustin Martin was on the verge of being sacked by the Tigers.

In return, Scott and Hardwick’s players are willing to sacrifice their bodies on the field, knowing their coaches are willing to cop fire and ash for them off it.

But that’s about the only similarity in coaching style Scott and Hardwick share.

Scott is the typical modern coach who swears by sport science. Boomer Harvey and company might look rather curious when they walk in clusters during the quarter-time breaks while the opposition stands still in huddles but there is clearly a method to Scott’s perceived madness.

On the other hand, Hardwick does not have a sport science background, and while a strong communicator, he has an obvious no-nonsense. old school edge, which for Richmond sufferers, is refreshing.

Yet, how do we measure coaching success? How can the public or even club insiders judge who the superior coach may be? North Melbourne once considered Hardwick for the senior coaching position, and Richmond rated Scott highly as well for its coaching vacancy at the end of 2009.

By pure win / loss ratio, Scott (52.2 winning percentage) has enjoyed more success than Hardwick (36.4), plus Scott led North back to the finals last season for the first time since 2008. Although, as all coaches reiterate, you can only coach as well as the talent you possess.

Who’s to say that Dimma’s ability to rejuvenate warhorse Shane Tuck, transform Jake King from a club footballer into a crucial cog in the Tiger machine and create roles for rejects in Bachar Houli and Shaun Grigg, isn’t more worthy of acclaim than a Scott-led North Melbourne finals team?

If we look back to each coach’s beginnings with their respective sides, Scott inherited a mediocre list studded with quality veterans like Boomer Harvey, Drew Petrie and Michael Firrito. Scott also had to rebuild quickly while uncertainty lingered about the club’s geographical location.

Hardwick inherited the ultimate basket case. Richmond’s finances and facilities were below pro-sport standard and on the field the club was devoid of leadership after retirements and “quiet nudges out the door” of veteran players. Richmond’s list was stale on every level. Underperforming talent like Jay Schulz, and players who simply weren’t up to the grade like Jordan McMahon, were allowed to linger too long.

Both lists underwent noticeable reconfiguration at the end of 2009. However, the Tigers arguably experienced a more extreme list makeover than the Kangaroos. Dimma culled aggressively and by the end of 2011, 55 percent of 2009’s squad had been given the heave-ho.

Even before Hardwick’s first match as senior coach, the Tigers lost 1078 games experience as five veterans pulled stumps on their careers. By comparison, North Melbourne during the same period lost a modest 461 games experience from the departure of two key veterans, Shannon Watt and Adam Simpson.

Ultimately, performance to expectation is how a coach’s tenure and legacy will be judged.

After three years of foundation work both Richmond and North Melbourne will feel they now have the quality core and sufficient depth in their lists to rise to the top.

In season 2013, Hardwick and Scott will face a new, sterner test of their coaching pedigrees: keeping pace with their clubs’ surging expectations.

The real comparisons between the two fourth-year coaches can start now.

Blinded no more

After a summer of controversy involving crooked third-party deals, likely performance enhancing drug use, criminal association and a tanking probe, our blindfolds have finally been removed to reveal that everything is not “right” in Australian Rules football.

How could we have been so blinded?

“We do things the honest Australian way.” Or that’s how we reassured ourselves as sports lovers.

“We aren’t anything like the rest of the world. Not like FIFA who accepts bribes for World Cup bids or American baseball teams who made the playoffs with the help of drug cheating athletes.” It might be time to recalibrate our moral compasses because our findings have been wrong. We cannot boast that our sport is uniquely immune from the corrupting temptations that other sports face across the globe.

But should this come as such a shock? Take cricket, for example. Historian David Kynaston posits that Australia’s most cherished summer game, rose to prominence in the early 19th Century principally as a “vehicle for betting”. In 1998 Shane Warne and Mark Waugh were caught in an embarrassing scandal, accused of receiving payments for throwing a Test match, highlighting again that Australian athletes are not immune to the presence of temptation.

We should no longer think that cricket, AFL or any other codes are incorruptible.

Whenever there is a large amount of money and competitive consequence at stake there is always the risk of athletes and authorities going past the legal and moral boundaries.

Sometimes the pursuit of securing that winning edge, even if it’s tossing matches for long-term benefit, can spiral out of control. Sponsors, investors, coaches, teammates and unforgiving fans all test an individual and club’s moral resolve.

Lance Armstrong might have secured the “Most Pompous and Unapologetic Asshole” award on Oprah’s show, proudly announced by ESPN’s Bill Simmons, but AFL House might just have grasped the “Most Chronic Spin King” mantle – sorry Warney.

The AFL is the ultimate defender of the “brand”. The AFL spin that its clubs’ dealings are carefully regulated and that all is above board.

The AFL’s inability to cope and respond swiftly and dutifully to accusations of tanking and shady third party deals show that they no longer deserve the public’s trust.

The AFL’s previous denial that tanking does not exist and that illicit drug use is not a massive concern in Aussie Rules is as laughable as NBA Commissioner David Stern telling a reporter that he doesn’t see how performance enhancing drugs would help player performances.

The AFL’s brand, through no fault but its own, is severely damaged by this summer’s long list of revelations.

Unfortunately for Essendon, and even Melbourne, two clubs in the midst of destabilizing scandals, neither has the luxury of the benefit of the doubt, which has protected sport and its fans from confronting the worst. We used to turn a blind eye to any suspicion as long as we were entertained with the big hits, big marks and big tackles. This summer’s catalogue of indiscretions has seen to it that all athletes and administrators alike suffer the public’s instant guilty verdict.

Timing is everything. The Bombers are the local sporting entity put on trial immediately following Armstrong’s public admittance to using PEDs. There could have rarely been a more hypersensitive moment for a bombshell like this to drop.

In cricket, Australians have an old-time response to questions about match-fixing: Aussies always play to win. And therein lies the Australian public’s attitude towards sport. We assumed that all our athletes are stirred by the desire for honest and tough competition – for the thrill of victory. Nothing else matters.

After this summer, the tone in Australian sport has certainly changed.

The current AFL climate

Lance Franklin’s decision to put contract talks on hold till the end of the 2013 AFL season tells us more about the current changing climate in the AFL than the likelihood of Franklin walking out on Hawthorn.

The AFL landscape has changed. Where clubs once held the bargaining power, now the players hold the ace in the hole.

Club, past player and journalists’ claim that free agency will destroy the financially inferior clubs is grossly exaggerated.

In the simple sense, not much will change in the power struggle between clubs. The clubs that make the shrewd decisions in the draft, hand out reasonable player contracts and preach team-first cultures will continue to remain highly competitive and with a stroke of luck, successful.

The clubs that butcher their draft picks, overpay average footballers and have, to put it politely, knuckleheads as leaders on and off the field, will struggle to win six games in a season.

The Sydney Swans are the ultimate model in running a club the right way from top to bottom. Yes, they get a little more room in the salary cap but their ability to identify talent that complements their game style and culture, makes Sydney the consummate professionals.

Granted, life as a Magpie is far less strained than life as a Bulldog. Yet, financial muscle does not mean instant domination.

Perhaps, the most critical draft for Collingwood was in 2005 as they had selections two and five. The Magpies selected Dale Thomas and Scott Pendlebury. The rest is now history.

On the other end of the scale, Richmond in the same draft selected Jarrad Oakley-Nicholls with pick eight. Yes the Tigers were severely under-resourced but to call out Oakley-Nicholls name on draft night without watching him play in person is just absurd. Once again it comes down to knuckleheads.

Around the world, we see small market teams triumph over the big dog and sometimes enjoy unrivalled success. In the NBA, small market teams, the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, have been very successful. Yes, these teams are blessed with superstar talent but they are more importantly blessed with a smart “front-office”.

As a restricted free agent, I suspect Franklin will do his own due-dilligence and opt into free agency and listen to other club offers so that Hawthorn will be forced to match any contract offers, which they will.

Free agency might have wedged a stinging response from the football community but the clubs that exhibit a collective coolness and assuredness will be the ones who will come through kicking.

Pre-Christmas AFL Power Rankings:

1. Sydney: Swans win a Premiership virtually without a conventional forward line. Now they   will most likely add Kurt Tippet who will be fresh after his 11 games suspension and will be primed by the time September comes around. Sydney continues to show why they are the model club in the league. Jude Bolton to return for his fifteenth season.

2. Greater Western Sydney: Remember this is a preseason ranking not a prediction of the Premiers. How can you not like the job the Giants are doing right now. They add more elite young talent (first three picks in the draft) alongside the likes of Greene, Cameron and Patton. Tough and hardened veterans will continue to mould them. They are locked and loaded for the future and could be scary.

3. Hawthorn: Buddy Franklin says he is going nowhere at the end of 2013 season and they now add Brian Lake to sure up the back half. The Hawks will be one of the elite teams in the league once again.

4. Essendon: Perhaps, the biggest winners in this offseason. Stealing Darcy Daniher (father-son selection) and Brendon Goddard were real coups. Daniher makes the bombers spine look dangerous and a motivated Goddard will provide the bombers with much needed class in the middle.

5. Collingwood: Really liked what the Pies did with their trading and drafting. Gaining picks 18, 19 and 20 will provide needed depth as they looked rather thin late last season. Brodie Grundy, while young, is an instant upgrade on Cam Wood. A fit Luke Ball and the inclusion of ex-hawk Clinton Young will cover the departure of Wellingham quite easily.

6. Richmond: It’s not often you see the Tiges in the top six of many rankings, but for now, they sit appropriately at six. Richmond set out to fill obvious holes in their list and they succeeded by adding the underrated backman, Troy Chaplin, injury-plagued but talented high half-forward, Chris Knights, and veteran Aaron Edwards. The Tigers then picked up some interesting project players in the draft and a tough solid citizen in Nick Vlastuin.

7. West Coast: It’s not so much what the Eagles did but what they already have. Another strong pre-season in Nic Naitanui and Andrew Gaff, and the return of Mark LeCras make West Coast possibly scary in 2013. Having the trio of Daniel Kerr, Dean Cox and Darren Glass doesn’t hurt either.

8. Fremantle: Now that the purple haze have earned some respect from their impressive win over Geelong in week one of the finals, they look set for another solid year. A bit like West Coast, another pre-season in young guns Nathan Fyfe and Stephen Hill will help the Dockers become a regular fixture in September. Danyle Pearce from Port Adelaide might just be one of the underrated signings in the offseason. Only because if there is one man who can demand consistency of effort out of perennial underperformers, that is Ross Lyon.

9. Geelong: The Cats have taken a little punt on acquiring Hamish McIntosh and Jared Rivers but both could prove handy in Geelong’s hope to stay relevant. Josh Caddy will thrive in a strong and well established culture down in Geelong. Yet, whenever you lose a champion and future Hall of Famer fullback, you can never expect things to stay the same.

10. North Melbourne: A nice pick up in Ben Jacobs from Port Adelaide and another first round draft pick will please supporters. North will be hoping for continued growth from their young players to make sure they play in September again. Great to see Boomer Harvey running around for another year. Yet as North’s list stands, they will only go as far as Harvey and Petrie take them.

11. Carlton: Get a proven coach and motivator? Tick. Avoid any drunken offseason scandal? Tick. Besides the issue of “Visy”, it has been relatively quite so far in Carlton of late. Drafting Troy Menzel at pick 11 could be a steal as some experts thought Menzel was a top 10 pick.

12. Brisbane: I’m not as bullish on the future of the Lions or on their midfield as Michael Voss is. Brent Moloney made a good decision for his career to leave Melbourne but question marks remain if the game has gone past him or not. If he can recapture form from 2011, he will give the Lions another chop out for champion Simon Black. Pick eight Sam Mayes will gives the Lions much needed depth in the forward half.

13. Gold Coast: Talented? Yes. But you need more than talent and often it’s balance and the right mixture of talent (something which Sydney has mastered). This preseason poses to be their most crucial period in their short history. Gary Ablett Jr. is playing at another level at the moment.

14. Port Adelaide: Resigning Travis Boak was a massive win for the Power. But it has been a tough few months with the death of John McCarthy. Koch’s arrival is a worry though.

15. St Kilda: Goddard was a great get for Essendon but clearly at St. Kilda he just wasn’t motivated anymore after realising the Saints are on an inevitable decline. The gap between the Saints’ veterans and their young players is worrying as they head into the new year.

16. Melbourne: To address the dire state of their list and more importantly their culture, Melbourne acquired veterans David Rodan and Shannon Byrnes to provided much needed leadership. These two will prove more valuable off the field than on it. Top rated draftees, Jimmy Toumpas and Jack Viney will help the commencement of the rejuvenation of the list. Melbourne fans will be pleased Cale Morton is no longer in the red and the blue.

17Adelaide: Controversy. If there is one word to describe their summer, that’s it. The Crows won’t find themselves anywhere near this part of the rankings (or below Port Adelaide) once the season starts but for now its just messy in the city of churches. Losing Kurt Tippet who dominated Hawthorn in the Preliminary Final and future picks doesn’t help them on field either.

18. Western Bulldogs: News of Adam Cooney training and moving well is positive but it’s difficult to get excited about the Doggies. Luke Dahlhaus is worth watching but it’s worrying when he is pinned as the “future of the club”. The bulldogs’ forward line, which was abysmal last season, did not improve via the draft or free agency.

One man band

Gary Ablett Jr. is quietly putting together his most complete season yet in his highly decorated career.

Although, can we really say quite? Ablett is always on the media’s lips. Whether he is criticised for his 53 possession game, his leadership or his decision to leave a club in the midst of a dynasty, he has nearly become the number one most talked about player in the AFL. Yet, of late, it seems to be for all the wrong reasons. Plenty of noise is being made by the media but oh gosh, isn’t misled.

Ablett has surpassed every player in the league and has crept by his father. Lance Franklin can dominate any opponent when his marking game and goal kicking is up and running, and Chris Judd used to dominate in his West Coast days but Ablett does it week in week out for a very poor side.

Last week against North Melbourne, he was simply brilliant. He amassed over 40 touches and finished with four classy roving goals. Late in the game, he was kicking out of fullback, hustling over to the next stoppage on the wing, and then willing the ball forward. If only the currently inept Gold Cost Suns had more pieces to complement Ablett’s champion efforts.

So why is this year his most complete performance? His years at Geelong, especially during their premiership runs, was surrounded by hard-nosed leaders in the likes of Tom Harley and Cameron Ling. So when leadership was concerned, Ablett only had to worry about his own personal performance. Furthermore, when teams targeted Ablett on the field, his teammates blocked for him and often the tagger felt the bruises more by the day’s end.

Today, the help comes from lighter bodies and from few seasoned campaigners. The biggest brute the Suns have is Campbell Brown but he is struggling to even get through a game.

In 12 matches this year, his had his way in 11 of them. He has taken a more proactive hands on role when communicating with his younger teammates. Some corners of the football world criticised Ablett publicly grabbing his ruckman by the jumper earlier in the season. Strong leaders know how their troops react to different situations. If a “in your face” approach is required to fire up a teammate, then Ablett’s actions should be applauded.

In a football culture that is still new to the idea of free agency and still lays more emphasis on old fashioned values like loyalty, Ablett’s move up north shocked and, in my opinion, angered many media and football personalities. Similar to why the media love to jump on Ross Lyon, the football public have found Ablett’s decision distasteful  and against a loved football value of “club loyalty.” This negative attitude is backward and sooner or later journalists must accept that the football landscape has changed. Possibly for the better.

Hence, some are reluctant to acknowledge Ablett’s greatness. For the ones who stick to this anti-Ablett track they might just miss one of the finest football careers in the modern era.

The big three

As Richmond look to surge up the ladder this year and beyond, there are three unheralded players who hold the key to their resurgence.

The rise to stardom from the likes of Trent Cotchin and Dustin Martin is almost inevitable but from other young Tiger talents, it’s not so obvious and clear cut.

Tyrone Vickery, Ben Griffiths and David Astbury’s development as key position players may be the difference between the Tigers becoming premiership contenders or pretenders down the track.

All three have shown ability and all three have endured setbacks in their short but promising careers.

Vickery, the eldest of the three, enjoyed a breakout season last year as a foil to Jack Riewoldt. Unfortunately for the Tiger Army, season 2012 resembles more of 2010 where he looked lost and incapable of imposing himself on a game.

While Damian Hardwick has publicly complemented Vickery’s unnoticed hard work off the ball, the point remains that he must become more than just a decoy lead up forward.

Perhaps, a reason for Vickery’s struggles this season can be linked to the more sophisticated ball movement by the team. In Hardwick’s first two seasons, the ball movement patterns were highly predictable and easy for the forwards to read and react. Led by the rebounding defenders of Chris Newman, Brett Delidio and Bachar Houli, the Tigers would generally move the ball into the forward line with a very direct and long kicking game. If one compares Richmond’s ball movement to Ross Lyon’s St Kilda in the previous two years, you would notice how the Saints’ offensive patterns took the form of zig-zags, meanwhile, the Tigers’ ball movement was very much direct and simple with long forward entry kicking once the ball was 60 to 70 metres out from goal.

Vickery thrived off simple ball movement last season. However, if the Tigers hoped to become a better side and not so easy to defend, Hardwick had to further develop his game plan. Which he did.

Season 2012, we see the Tigers’ aggressive spread from the packs and their use of the width of the ground. Richmond like to use lateral handball until they find space to use their kicking skills. Hence, the Tiger forwards have to be able to read the play and know when to make their leads.

In Vickery’s case, he seems to have struggled to do this. Contrary to what some might think, Vickery has good agility and a strong pair of hands. What he must rediscover is an “edge” to his game, more willingness to compete and a clearer grasp of his role in the forward line.

If Vickery can find his 2011 form and add a few more tricks to his bow such as being a reliable second ruck, than the Tigers will become a more daunting side.

The other two “big” players are a slightly different story.

Griffiths has the physical attributes to be an elite centre-half-forward or back. Standing at 200cm, Griffiths has the size and athletic ability to worry any opponent. Add a booming kick and strong hands, his upside is huge. The key for him is his durability and game understanding. Since, his primary school days, he has endured shoulder problems in particular. Already, in his first two seasons, Griffiths has had surgery and his form fluctuated due to a lack of continuity.

Astbury enjoyed a promising debut season in 2010. He showed a coolness in the defensive end that had Richmond so excited that he received the number 12 before season 2011. Despite a good pre-season campaign in 2011, his form declined once the season started and then suffered a season ending injury midway through the season against the Sydney SwAt the moment Astbury is returning to football via the VFL and by all reports his progression has been slow.

All three young key position players all have enduring football qualities, yet, at the moment we can only speak of them as promising talent. They have teased but if the Tigers want to be a respected side, these big three must stand up in the coming years or Richmond will still have significant holes in the most important positions on the ground.

2012 Richmond season preview

So here we go again. Should I say it?

The f…f-f… I just can’t. I know this situation all to well.

Regrettably, we all know this situation.

The Richmond Football Club has been on the up under the coaching of Damien Hardwick and the ambitious Brendan Gale.

With steady improvement and some young talent that hasn’t been lurking at Punt Road since the wonderful ’70s, there is genuine belief within the headquarters at Punt Road and in the outer that they are finally getting it right.

Dustin Martin, Trent Cotchin, Jack Riewoldt and Brett Delidio all have the potential of becoming the best Tigers of the last 30 years. When you think of Richmond players over the last decade, you think of Wayne Campbell, Matthew Knights, Matthew Richardson and yeah, even Nick Daffy. Despite Campbell playing close to 300 games, he was no more than a “good” AFL footballer. He was a smart and hard working midfielder but his disposal was sometimes sloppy and he lacked explosion to truly dominate games. Knights was a wonderfully gifted and polished footballer whose career is underrated by many. Richo was a great player, yet, not a champion. Then there is Daffy. Well, er, he had his moments.

So, here we sit on the verge of another season of expectations. Perhaps, “hope” is the more appropriate word from a Richmond supporter’s perspective.

The heart has been ripped out far too many times.

Somewhere between dismantling opposition teams in the late ’60s to early ’80s, and becoming the laughing stock of the AFL, Richmond’s modern history has become one of failure.

Sections of the Richmond faithful and media expect the Tigers to fill one of the final few spots of the final eight.

This prediction is not so absurd as in previous years. As Hawthorn premiership coach Alistair Clarkson pointed out, he finally believes there is genuine stability down at Richmond. This “stability”must be largely credited to Brendan Gale. Unlike previous CEOs of the club, he came in with ambitions and carefully laid plans. Importantly, he has set them in motion. He has tried his upmost to bring in the right people, from coaching staff to board members, so that the Tigers can compete on a commercial and on-field level.

However, a close look at Richmond’s playing list and there are still a few holes to fill that may hamper their ambition of playing finals in 2012. Some of the cracks in the list are more due to age than anything else. For the most part, the pieces are there but they need to be connected.

Richmond’s midfield is growing in class and importantly in depth. We all know the likes of Cotchin, Martin and Delidio will hold the key to the Tigers’ future. Yet, below centre stage lies the foot-soldiers who will make the Tiger’s climb from just outside the eight to a genuine finals team, far easier. The forgotten man, Nathan Foley is finally fit and healthy, ball-magnet Grigg, Edwards, the ever improving Nahas, youngsters Conca, Ellis and Heilbig, veterans Jackson and Tuck- all form the nucleus of a strong and potentially elite midfield.

However, where the most immediate problem lies is in the back-half. The Tigers enjoy quality rebounding defenders. Last year, Bachar Houli found consistency as a dangerous long kick from the defensive 50, Skipper Chris Newman remains a sure-foot, and first year player Jake Batchelor plays the medium defensive backman who can create offense well. Now add mature age recruit Steve Morris to the mix and the Tiges look dangerous rebounding out of the back 50.

Perhaps, the most important position in the back-line is yet to be filled. The centre-half-back position remains vacant at Richmond. Short term, this spot is likely to remain vacant. Luke Mcguane has been tried but clearly his days at Punt Road are limited. They continue to experiment with Jayden Post but he simply is not up to the grade. He currently lacks intensity, speed, agility and football IQ to hold down the position. Youngster Dylan Grimes is promising but he resembles more of a third defender. On the other hand, Dave Astbury holds the key to long term hopes, who is coming off a knee reconstruction from last year. He has the size and know-how to play the position for the next 10 years. But at the moment his youth and lack of a full pre-season might play against him in 2012.

Richmond will continue to rely on Alex Rance to shoulder the monster tasks of duelling with the best forwards in the game. Despite Rance having a breakout year in 2011, the jury is still out if he can consolidate himself as a quality fullback. Too often at Tigerland do players let themselves down with a poor year following a career best season. If Rance can raise his game to another level this year than the holes in the back line can be temporarily covered up.

So again the footy public ask, can the Tigers break the seemingly never ending finals drought?

The bright future is genuine at Richmond but we may just be one year premature in tipping the Tigers for a finals berth.

2011 Richmond season preview

Another hopeful season dawns upon the tiger tribe at Punt Road. Historically, the tiger army are out in force with refreshing optimism at this time of year, buoyed by the expression- “it’s a new year”.  However, by the end of round one, the pain-strickened tiger army is silenced with despair and another familiar phrase- “same old, same old”.

So what can we expect from the boys at Punt Road this year?

Finals on the agenda? The word won’t even be mentioned by the players or even the most optimistic supporters.

Noticable improvement? Most definitely. While this season’s aspirations don’t seem too bright, the future certainly does. This year the Tigers will welcome back the forgotten man, Nathan Foley, back in the midfield. A fit and in form Foley will provide Cotchin with a much needed chop out in the middle- which I’m sure Cotchin would greatly appreciate. Hardwick said Foley is like a first round draft pick this year- nearly two injury riddled years for the little hard man- a fair enough point from Dimma. Furthermore, the AFL may just see the best from Trent Cotchin for the first time, as he enjoyed an injury free pre-season for the first time. Cotchin’s combination of slick ball use, hardness around the packs and Ablett Jr-like evasive skills, he looks set for a genuine break out year.

While the Tiges midfield depth and class is developing nicely, their key position posts will be their achilles heel this year. Many Tiger people will tell you that their key position stocks are rather exciting. While this is true, the players who are holding down these posts are lacking hardened experience and are still physically raw. Youngsters like Astbury, Griffiths, Gourdis, Post and Vickery provide the tiger faithful hope, yet the expectation of instant reward from these youngsters is too hasty. Hence, the burden will fall on Jack Riewoldt to carry the sides fortunes. Yes, the Tigers need a spread of goal kickers, but Riewoldt is the only proven Tiger forward. The other potential foils for Jack are simply just that- “potential”. There are too many “ifs” and “buts” for Richmond’s forward line.

The same glaring problems are faced in the back-half. Young talent but still unproven. Dave Astbury shows composure beyond his years, and Dimma will hope he fulfills the “general” role at center-half back. But in his second year, some growing pains should be expected. And then finally, there is the tiger trio who have teased too often over the last 3 years. The stopper Will Thurstfield, the aggressor Luke McGuane and the athlete Dave Gourdis. All three show sustainable AFL traits yet all have failed to nail down the full back position. Thurstfield possesses a solid “stopper” game yet lacks size and a creative offensive side. Furthermore, McGuane shows a burley endeavor but lets himself down with decision-making and below-par skills. Then finally there is Dave Gourdis. He is the modern-day footballer prototype- elite athleticism and impressive size. He looks the part. But can he deliver? The coaching staff have placed great faith and confidence in Gourdis by elevating him off the rookie list. His deficiency, like his other two mates, is his wonky and unreliable kick. Yet, unlike the other two back-man, he has the physical attributes to hold down the full back position.

The year promises excitement but of a different kind for Tiger supporters. Collingwood’ supporters will anticipate back to back flags, Hawks’ supporters will hope for another flag tilt and Melbourne supporters will dream of a rare finals birth this year. Meanwhile, the Tigers’ faithful will sit back and try to relax (never expect that to happen) as they enjoy the ups and down of a team that is certainly on the up, led by the ambitious Brendan Gale and the driven Damien Hardwick. A more consistent effort and natural improvement from the most inexperienced side in the competition (besides the Gold Coast) should see the Tigers’ achieve a higher percentage and a healthier win mark of 7 to 8 wins.

On some poetic level, Richmond’s round one clash with Carlton will once again tell another tiger tail of woe or hope.

The end

So it finally seems the Fev-show has closed for business on Australian shores. Perhaps the showman has seen his last days as an AFL footballer and will now pursue a lucrative deal in the NFL. For the last decade Fevola has simultaneously thrilled and disappointed, appauled and inspired. Not many players can boast such a contradictory reputation.

For all of Fev’s childish antics, his health should remain the number one concern. Yet, not necessarily a major concern for the Brisbane football club. In hindsight, Michael Voss and his wise team made the blunder of the century in believing that Fev would carry more fruits than a loyal good-citizen in Daniel Bradshaw. The Lions owe no loyalty to Brendan. As Fevola very well knows, a punt doesn’t always come off. Sometimes it is sensible to move on and forget.

How should Fevola be remembered? Should he be hailed as a flawed champion? A game-breaker? Or should he just be described as another footballer who toiled with us and ultimately wasted our time- a “waste of talent”?

He is in-fact all these things. Fevola was like four seasons in one match- hot, cold, cold… and hot again. How many times did we hear gleeful Carlton supporters say,”If Fevola turns it on we are within a shot”. His departure from the Navy Blues divided the Carlton tribe and the footballing world in general.

Fevola’s seemingly finished career is not a tragedy but a disappointment. Fevola was more than an entertainer. He was a showman in the truest sense. He wasn’t a part of the act but was the act that we all paid to see on a wintery Melbourne night. Like the great Matthew Richardson, we felt like we intimately knew and understood Fevola when he was out on the footy field. His erratic childish dramas was just part of the Fev charm. He could suck you in and spit you right out in just two hours of footy.

A controversial exit for a sportsman is not new and never will be. In the near future, another frustrating and lovable sportsman will be terminated abruptly from their sport. Would he or she be casted as a “wasted talent”?

Most definitely.

Collingwood 2010 Premiers

On that one day in October, Collingwood storm home to claim the 2010 Premiership Cup.

After a dramatic and intense finish last week, Collingwood simply outgunned and outran a tired looking St. Kilda outfit.

Collingwood’s performance typified a ‘team effort’. Every player played their part. From Nathan Brown’s blanketing job on Nick Riewoldt to Dale Thomas’ extraordinary work rate, the pies dominated from start to finish.

This year’s Grand Final was always going to end in tears. For the long suffering and starved of success St. Kilda supporters, a premiership will remain a dream.

For Collingwood, there were winners all over the ground. Darren Jolly rightfully took advantage of a young Ben Mcevoy. Gardiner was a telling exclusion from the Saints’ line-up. Scott Pendelbury was his silky best, winning clearances and setting up play from the clinches. Always seems to have ample of time. While, he was a worthy Norm Smith medalist, Dale Thomas was stiff to miss out. Once again he backed up a superb Grand Final last week with another hard working and classy performance. Thomas’ ability to spread from the packs proved too much for a slow looking St. Kilda midfield.

On the other side of the fence, there will be some sore and sorry bodies tomorrow morning. Sadly for the Saints, the season was one game too many. Questions marks over players fitness seemed answered. Jason Gram struggled to generate run and was restricted to a stationary defensive role due to obvious injury.

Brendan Goddard in a loosing side was simply inspiring and courageous. Not only has he reaffirmed his position as an elite player in the game, he now poses a strong case as the best player in the league. In both Grand Finals he was the most influential player on the ground. His flexibility around the ground and the ability to raise his game to another level in clutch moments makes him the best player in the AFL. The brilliant Goddard, the never say die attitude of Lenny Hayes, Sam Fisher (before injury), Nick Dal Santo, James Gwilt, Clinton Jones and Sam Gilbert all tired hard for St. Kilda.

At the end of the day, Collingwood had far too many players who contributed. While, the Saints had few. Eddy, Peake, Dempster, Mcqualter and Mcevoy never fired a shot. These players are the Saints’ bottom five players. The Saints’ required significantly more effort and composure from them. Quiet simply, along with Milne, they were pathetic.

Under the leadership of Eddie Maguire, Mick Malthouse and eventually Nathan Buckley, the Pies’ juggernaut seems destined for more ultimate success. The team is still young and has plenty more improvement left.

Like Geelong, Collingwood’s full court press and impressive ability to spread and run in huge numbers will once again be imitated from the opposition.

Another season over. Another team crowned Premiers and another losers. But only this time their are more disgruntled loosers then winners.

Beware.

The Collingwood army is out in force.

My best:

Collingwood: Dale Thomas, Scott Pendlebury, Nathan Brown, Nick Maxwell, Darren Jolly, Steele Sidebottom, Heath Shaw, Sharrod Wellingham, Dane Swan.

St. Kilda: Brendan Goddard, Dal Santo, Gilbert, Gwilt, Jones

Who has the advantage?

The drawn Grand Final digs up an important question. Who goes into this weekend’s Grand Final replay with the advantage?

Collingwood and St. Kilda both have claims of “they should have won it”.

If Travis Cloke had the polish and class to convert his two missed opportunities late in the second quarter, the game would have been shot and the Saints’ fate marked.

If Milne had chased down Lenny Hayes’ kick before the ball rushed over for a behind, the Saints’ 44 year premiership drought would had been broken.

There are countless “what ifs”, but both sides will now be moving on and looking optimistically at their chances this week.

One would suspect St. Kilda will have the psychological edge over Collingwood because of their brave fight back and individual duels won.

While, Collingwood should be more physically fresh then the Saints. Mick Malthouse has rested players throughout the year with consistent rotation of players coming in the side and out. Also, the Pies’ team is considerably younger than the Saints and don’t seem to have the same amount of question marks over players’ fitness.

Jason Gram and Nick Dal Santo are clearly carrying injuries. Both players are crucial to St. Kilda’s ability to penetrate and run through Collingwood’s pressing zone.

What is the better advantage to have? The psychological or physical?

Time will tell.

Review: Collingwood vs St. Kilda

The game ended as it started. Scores level. Still waiting for a result. Yesterday’s epic Grand Final between two desperate and willing sides came to an anti-climatic end. For now.

At the same time and same venue, part two will commence and this time a result is guaranteed.

The drawn result mirrors St. Kilda’s year of controversy and drama. The Saints have proven their ability all year to combat controversies on and off the field. They now have one final hurdle to climb over.

As expected the Pies’ jumped too a wonderful start. They were full of run and carry and were able to play the first half largely on their terms. Yet, the Saints were able to hang in the game at the half, courteous of Travis Cloke’s woeful kicking at goal. His late two blunders at goal provided the Saints with a sniff.

In the first half, Daisy Thomas typified Collingwood’s dominance with his ability to break the lines and deliver effectively in the forward line. What was more impressive was his work rate off the ball. His ferocious harassment on the opposition player with the ball was a highlight in his wonderful performance. Furthermore, the General Nick Maxwell patrolled the back-line and made the swooping half-back role his for the day. He cut off many attacks from St. Kilda and limited Saint Nick’s influence in the attacking 50.

Lenny Hayes’ superior work-rate in the packs and Sam Fisher’s telling marks in defence, kept the Saints alive as they went into the main break.

As the old saying goes, “the third quarter is the premiership quarter”. This was certainly the case at the G’. Coach Ross Lyon swung Sam Gilbert to the forward line. This moved proved vital. Gilbert converted a goal, pressured and presented well. Brendan Goddard went to a whole new level and managed to swing the momentum St. Kilda’s way. Goddard’s penetrating kick, run and the ability to win the crucial contest suddenly saw Collingwood on the back foot. Hayes also lifted to another level. His Norm Smith performance only highlights the absurdity of his non-selection in the All-Australlian team. Yesterday, Hayes possessed the rare herculean quality of willing himself on the contest like no other. Hayes’ in and under work was inspiring. At three quarter time, the Pies were holding on by a goal.

The last quarter was just as enthralling. At every contest, players were throwing themselves at the ball trying to win an advantage for their team. Neither team were willing to concede ground. Daisy Thomas continued to work at an astonishing level and Nick Maxwell with his chest puffed out continued to lead with vigour and determination. Neon Leon was once again no where to be seen throughout the day but manage to bob up and snare one. Nathan Brown for Collingwood performed an honourable job on Skipper Nick Riewoldt. Dane Swan was restricted in the second half in a gritty duel with Clinton Jones and later, Farren Ray. The under-rated “tagger”, Clint Jones, rushed Swan’s disposal but struggled to keep pace with his gut-running. While, Swan played his part for the Pies, particularly in the first half, Ray managed to take the honours in the second half.

Goddard once again loomed dangerous and nearly won the game for the Saints. Goddard’s “hanger” in the forward line typified the effect he was having on the game. It seemed that Hayes and Goddard just carried their team-mates on their backs and said follow us.

Sadly, every supporter and casual observer at the game or watching elsewhere were left stunned at the final siren. Except for the AFL who surely will cash in with two Grand Finals in two weeks.

Both teams fought bravely for two hours for an unjustified drawn result.

Collingwood and St. Kilda will now have to start all over, and come back next Saturday afternoon for another physical and emotional marathon.

Cancel your holidays and Saturday afternoon sport. Another emotional roller coaster is coming our way.

Grand Final preview: Collingwood vs St. Kilda

The Collingwood Football Club storm into Saturdays Grand Final as raging favourites.

The St. Kilda Football Club enter the game as underdogs, yet with a quiet confidence and an unshakable belief.

Both teams managed to conqueror the mighty Cats, which make them both worthy Grand Finalists.

Mick Malthouse tasted the bitterness of two Grand Final defeats at the start of the Millennium. Can he finally deliver the Collingwood faithful a Premiership?

Ross Lyon and his men tasted the most sour of defeats just one year ago. Will the hurt drive Lyon’s men to victory and deliver the Saints their second Premiership in their club history?

The game will be won or lost in the middle.

If St. Kilda can win the stoppages and get first hands on the ball, they can then control the tempo of the game. The Pies’ “full press” game is most suited against a team like Geelong who try to play on at all costs. But the Saints have the ability to slow a game down and play keepings off, and also have the courage to take the game on. Last week, Geelong failed to react to Collingwood’s unrelenting tackling and consistent smothering. The Saints like to play a stoppage game to strangle the opposition but as shown against the Bulldogs in the third quarter, they can also slam home seven goals in a quarter. Therefore, the Saints have the armoury to play with the tempo of the game and keep the Pies out of rhythm.

For the Saints to control the speed of the game, Lenny Hayes must get on top in the stoppages by doing what he does best, burrowing in the packs. He undoubtedly is the motor that keeps “Saints footy” moving.

The much maligned Justin Koschitzke looms crucial for the Saints’ chances. He won’t be a match winner or the “go to man” in the forward line but what he can do is give Nick Riewoldt a one-out opportunity close to goal. If Kozi can clunk a few early and maybe kick 1 or 2, then he will draw the third-man-up, normally Nick Maxwell, away from Saint Nick and force Collingwood to be accountable. If he succeeds, there isn’t any backman who can stop Saint Nick one on one.

On the counter-side, Alan Didak and Darren Jolly are integral to Collingwood’s premiership chances. Jolly’s first class tap work and ability to get around the ground will reduce the chances of St. Kilda controlling the tempo. If he can give Dane Swan and Scott Pendlebury first crack at the ball, then the Pies’ overwhelming runners roaming forward may be just too much for the Saints. Finally, there is the magical and captivating Didak. He has been questioned in previous years for his ability to perform on the big stage. He has proven his doubters wrong in this final series so far. If he causes havoc in the forward line and then push up in the middle and creates from there, he is then the most influential player for Collingwood. St. Kilda must restrict him.

The outcome of this one day in September will be awfully painful for some and overwhelmingly joyous for others. Pending if Collingwood prove victorious, there may be more than just St. Kilda supporters upset and ready to flee. It may just be the longest summer yet.

The contest will be mouth-watering. By Saturday 5pm, a new team will be crowned Premiers.

On the back of St. Kilda’s path to redemption and the leadership of Hayes and Saint Nick, the Saints by the most fractional of margins.

Saints by 3 points.

Brownlow Medal shock

On footy’s night of nights, Dane Swan… no he didn’t win. The little Champ Gary Ablett fell short. Hodge struggled to poll and even Adam Goodes, the perennial vote getter, wasn’t to be seen in the major vote getters.

The 2010 Brownlow Medalist was Chris Judd. He is only the fourth player in history to win a Brownlow Medal at two different clubs.

Judd’s explosiveness and match winning ability was a feature to his game. But this year he has had an average year for his lofty standards. He has developed into a purely inside player who provides all the grunt work for the Carlton Football Club. His precision by foot has declined as a result.

Swan leaves the night empty handed but with the thought of a Premiership in mind. Ablett leaves with a ticket to the Gold Coast.

For the average punter and maybe even for the average player, the validity of this historic award must be questioned. The MVP award is slowly surpassing the Brownlow Medal.

To his credit, Chris Judd showed wonderful gratitude and, like us all, shock.

Collingwood march on

In front of a thunderous 95,000 crowd at the MCG, Collingwood stormed into the Grand FInal after a merciless victory over an ageing Geelong.

The final margin was 41 points but the Pies amassed a lead of nearly 80 points half through the third quarter. The first quarter by Collingwood was simply the best quarter of football played this season. The unrelenting pressure and tackling was taken to a whole new level against a Geelong team which looked second rate and seemingly without a plan B. Watching Geelong attempting to handball their way out of Collingwood’s ‘full court press’ was a sign of a great team coming to an end. Normally so clean and quick with their ball movement, Geelong turned the ball over and failed to adjust by slowing the game down. The cat’s game plan of playing on at any cost was exposed by a hungry and desperate Collingwood side.

Collingwood had stars all over the ground. Scott Pendlebury managed to find space and time and was just so damaging by foot and hand. Dane Swan continued his fine form by collecting over 30 touches and with his partner in crime, Alan Didak turning opponents inside out and playing the game on his terms, the Pies were just to slick and sadly for a mighty Geelong team, too good. Yet, the most valuable player on the ground when the game was there to be won was Captain Nick Maxwell. His ability to run off his man, read the play and provide support for his fellow defenders was inspirational. By quarter time, Mark Thompson moved Cameron Ling on to him, but by then it was too late, the damaged had been done.

While there were winners all over the ground for Collingwood, there were just too many passengers for Geelong. Tom Hawkins, Darren Milburn, Cameron Ling, Cameron Mooney, James Podsiadly and Brad Ottens were exposed at various stages last night. Hawkins looked lost in the ruck, actually the only time he looked likely was when he was sitting on the bench. Milburn has been a wonderful servant for the club but it seems the game has sadly passed him, he can only run in straight lines as his agility and youth is lost. The key forwards were woeful, Podsiadly’s inexperience on the big stage looked obvious while Cam Mooney failed too impose his physical presence on the game and as a senior player his performance was pathetic. Finally, Ottens lumbered over the ground and he too may need to consider his future.

Is Gazza off to the Gold Coast? Likely. After the game, Mark Thompson didn’t seem to hold much confidence in his little champ staying. While Ablett was guilty of over hand-balling (he wasn’t alone), he was Geelong’s best.

Colingwood’s march to glory continues. One more week. One more game. One more win. To win that Premiership Cup and break a 20 year premiership drought.

St Kilda vs Western Bulldogs

A year later, same teams, same venue and both teams playing for the same reward: a spot in the Grand Final.

St Kilda look to bury the nightmares of 2009.

Western Bulldogs look to defy the overwhelming odds of an unlikely victory over a team that denied them so cruelly of a Grand Final birth last year.

The Saints will go in as clear favourites. So they should. They look fresh from the week off and with the return of their Captain Nick Riewoldt, they should prove too strong for an undermanned Bulldogs side.

The Bulldogs showed great heart and determination to come from behind to defeat Sydney and keep Brad Johnson’s career alive. But to be honest, their victory was less than flattering. Sydney kicked 2.8 in the second half. Yet, the final scores never lie, the Bulldogs are through to a third consecutive Preliminary final. The first time in their club’s history.

One of the keys for the Bulldogs’ fortunes is the possible return of defender Dale Morris. Morris is the Bullies best shut down defender and crucial to their defensive setup. If he can prove his fitness, he will be able to free up Brian Lake. Without Adam Cooney, Ryan Griffen and to a lesser Robert Murphy are their only two midfielders who have the explosive speed to break the lines and worry the Saint’s midfield. If Griffin and Murphy can get off the leash, then expect a close contest at the MCG.

Nick Riewoldt, Brendan Goddard and Lenny Hayes loom as the major threat to the Bullies. With doubt over Lake’s fitness and the unlikely-hood of Morris’ return, Riewoldt, as always, is a huge concern for the Bulldogs’ defence. He torched Harry Taylor the other week with his unmatchable running ability and contested marking. Hayes is the motor in their midfield and Goddard is their General and playmaker. As Geelong showed in the second half in the first final, if you shut down Goddard you limit St Kilda’s transition from the back-line to the forward line.

Expect the Saints to be too slick and physical for an undermanned Western Bulldogs outfit.

St Kilda by 28 points.

Collingwood vs Geelong

The Champs verse the challengers. Friday night at the MCG with 90,000 spectators. The winner through to the Grand Final. Doesn’t get any better than that.

Collingwood have enjoyed the week off and some could argue Geelong had a week off as well with their training run against Fremantle.

This game will be won or lost in the forward line. Both forward lines are suspect, but if either can function and more importantly convert their opportunities than that will decide the result.

The key for the Cats is David Wojcinski’s and Travis Varcoe’s ability to break the lines. The usual suspects of Ablett, Selwood, Bartel and Chapman will lurk dangerous as always but what will give the cats an edge is the run and carry of Wojinski and Varcoe. In particular, Wojcinski showed against Fremantle how damaging his blistering pace can be. He was clearly best on ground against the Dockers.

The key for the Pies is Travis Cloke, Harry O’Brien and Alan Didak. If Cloke can get hold of Harry Taylor, clunk a few marks and convert in front of goal then Collingwood will be in the box seat. Further, O’Brien’s daring run out of the backline and Didak’s creative best will be crucial for the pies’ fortunes.

Its going to be a ripping contest. Collingwood are fresh and are in hot form while Geelong know what is required when it comes to the crunch.

Collingwood by 5 points.

Collywobbles

Everyone has their kryptonite.

For Mick Malthouse’s men it’s their goal kicking.

The inclusions of Luke Ball’s hardness and Darren Jolly’s first class tap work, the improvement of Sharrod Wellingham and surprisingly Leigh Brown has seen Collingwood finish at the top of the ladder and now primed to break their 20 year premiership drought. Yet doubt remains over their ability to finish off their hard work.

Watching Travis Cloke kicking at goal is like watching Rob Oakshott talk dribble for 30 minutes as he attempts to explain which party he supports. Its just painfull.

The positive for Collingwood is they continue to have ample shots at goal.

The negative. Come prelimary final or even Grand Final day, neither Geelong or St Kilda will allow their opposition the luxery of 30 to 40 scoring shots a game.

Collingwood’s goal-kicking may just cost them dearly when the stakes are at their highest.

The Fev Show

Brendan Fevola in trouble again, where to now for the controversial footballer?

The circus surrounding Brendan Fevola never seems to end. The latest allegation poses one blatant question: Why Fev, Why?

Whether or not he is guilty in his latest scandal, one just has to wonder why Fev continues to place himself in situations where he is open to boiling criticism from the media.

Fevola is a showman in its pure form. On the field he can do the near-impossible, kicking the most freakish of goals and on the other hand, he performs like he just waltzed out of the pub without the slightest of care.

Every person deserves a second chance but it seems Fevola may have run his race. Fevola’s future hangs in the balance. Once again.

Who’s better: Geelong or Brisbane

As Geelong enter another finals campaign in search for their third Premiership, the question of who is better is an appropriate one. Geelong or the champion Brisbane Lions team of 2001-2004. As it stands the Lions won 3 premierships in 4 Grand Finals and today’s Cats have won 2 premierships in 3 Grand Finals. Geelong boast a superior winning percentage over the home and away seasons but Brisbane have won when it counts most.

Both back-lines and midfields have superstars across the board with class mixed with tough and uncompromising characters. The names of Max Rooke, the Scott brothers, Joel Selwood and Michael Voss all have toughness as their greatest trait.

At their peak, the Lions bullied opponents like no other with physical intimidation. The “Nick Riewoldt incident” typified Brisbane’s near innate ability to beat opponents into submission. Geelong intimidate opposition with their swift and devastating ball movement. Geelong have the ability like no other where they can pile on 5 goals in 10 minutes.

What divides these power house teams is simply the forward line. The Lions’ key position forwards are far superior to that of Geelongs’. Lynch and Jonathan Brown verse Cam Mooney and Tom Hawkins. Mooney provides Geelong with an honest effort with a ‘team’ first mentality. While Lynch had the ability to take a devastating mark and crash the packs that would leave opponents groggy long afterwards. Furthermore, big Jonathan Brown is a proven match winner with “Carey-like” ability to turn the game on his own. Geelong’s only classy forwards are their smalls; Steve Johnson and Paul Chapman. Yet Brisbane also had Jason Akermanis (Brownlow Medalist) who back in the early 2000′s, had wonderful speed and goal kicking ability.

Both sides will go down in history as the all time greats. The proof is in the pudding though, Brisbane by just.

Richmond season in review

The season promised nothing yet this young Richmond team delivered everything. After round 9, the Tigers were compared to the old dying Fitzroy team and were at extreme short odds to win ANOTHER wooden spoon. After round 22, the Tigers finished with 6 wins and plenty of renewed hope for long suffering Richmond supporters. The season included an exciting 2 month stretch where the tigers won 4 in a row and 5 of 8 games.

Jumping Jack Riewoldt enjoyed a wonderful break-out season, jumping out of ’Saint Nick’s’ shadow with 78 goals and the Coleman Medal. The highlight for many was Jumping Jack’s bag of 10 against the insipid Eagles at the mighty G’. He was the first Tiger to kick 10 in a game since Matthew Richardson’s haul against the Bulldogs. Jack shows a real love for the Tiger faithful and more importantly, the direhard Tiger Army love for him. ‘Push-up’ King and Riewoldt have developed a cult following down at the Punt Road end.

Richmond have been accused of poor recruiting in the past, but this year it seems ’Dimma’ Hardwick and his troops have plenty to work with. Dustin Martin showed strength and composure beyond his years with the best ‘don’t argue’ in the league. Along with gut running displayed by Ben Nason, Dave Astbury’s reading of the play, Mitch Farmer’s long kick, Ben Griffiths’ athleticism, Troy Taylor’s freakish yet raw ability and a host of other first year players, Richmond seem to be on the improve.

The most difficult stage in this young team’s development will be the leap from being a competitive team too a consistent finals team. Club CEO Brendan Gale’s bold plan of 3-0-75 seems to be oncourse. Richmond supporters should hope for finals appearances in 2012 and beyond at the earliest, as this very young and inexperienced team still have a long journey ahead. With the outstanding leadership of Coach Dimma Hardwick and Captain Chris Newman it seems things at Punt Road are finally on the up. Well lets hope so, its been 30 years since their last flag and with only 3 finals appearances since. The sleeping giant of the AFL may just be waking up.

Cousins’ farewell game

Ben Cousins was chaired off infront of 37,000 Richmond fans, fans who have forever been in search for a hero. In the last two years, ‘Cuz’ has been that hero for many suffering Tiger fans. At the end of 2007, he left West Coast with his reputation, career and life in shatters. At the end of 2010, he leaves the Richmond Football Club and the game with admiration and respect from the wider football community and in particular, the Tiger faithful who embraced him at his lowest ebb. Such ‘Tiger love’ is kept for Club champions like Jack Dyer and Matthew Richardson, yet Cuz’s contagious nature sees him sitting at the top with fellow Tiger greats with only 32 games played for the club. Whereas the West Coast Eagles collect their first wooden spoon and seem destined for more bleaks years ahead. Such is life.

Ben Cousins’ retirement

The controversial football champ’s retirement gave us all a timely and nostalgic reminder of ’what could have been’. Where would Ben be today without a second chance? Where will ‘Cuz’ be in the future? Both questions will be answered in time, but what Cuz demonstrated today at his media conference was a strong sense of humility and appreciation for the second chance given to him by the Richmond Football Club. Sadly, it is a stark contrast to the outspoken and sacked-footballer Jason Akermanis, who continues to attack the club who once gave him a second chance at doing the thing he loves most- playing footy.

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