Updated: Jul 19, 2020
Welcome back! A few days ago we looked at what the AFL competition might look like post-COVID and who were the winners and losers from the pandemic. As I said in my most post last week (scroll down if to read), my belief is that the AFL is an incredibly close league. Come 2% off your game - skill or intent - and expect trouble. Further, I thought Round 1 (seems like an eternity ago now) offered some interesting insights into how crowd-less games may play out. Quite a few teams opened with 3-5 goals in a row. Creating your own intent and intensity will be huge this year.
The other day I broke the hearts of those teams that I thought would be the cap catchers this year and early next week I’ll give you my 1-8 in order. So now, let’s look at those that’ll miss the finals but perhaps some of them might see some improvement on their finishing positions from last year.
9th - St Kilda
Every year there is a team everyone thinks won the off-season. 2019 trade period premiers, St Kilda. With 2019 first-rounder Max King as good as a new player in 2020, the Saints were happy to part ways with numerous draft picks. Forward and ruck depth in Paddy Ryder, key defence in Dougal Howard, mid-field grunt in Dan Butler and Zak Jones, and elite run in Brad Hill had people wondering what might be possible for the Saints in 2020.
Then they lose to North in Round 1. Go figure. An improved outfit in 2020, they’ll take time to gel as a team. I expect them to finish fast, beating teams who have quit and head to 2021 as everyone's team to beat ala Essendo in 2018.
10th - Melbourne
Could be worse, could be scouse, eating rats in your council house. A little like Melbourne - could be first, could be last, skiing down slopes at Falls Creek. Tough, bold, and thrilling in 2018. 2019 was an absolute disaster.
13th, 11th, 9th, 4th; it was all going so well. Bang 17th. Surely 2019 is the aberration. It was well documented that Melbourne's 2018/19 off-season was spent in a doctor's surgery. Largely unaffected by COVID-19; 10 extra weeks between Round 1 -2 won’t hurt a list that grows healthier by the day. Whilst they tried not to use this as an excuse; it no doubt had a massive effect. Full disclosure, I have them 10th, but the more I think about it, the Demons could make a lot of noise in 2020.
Harley Bennell may hold the key for the Dees.
2 top 15 draft picks who could play roles along with wingers Adam Tomlinson and Ed Langdon, their list has improved. If Harley Bennell can use the extra time to prove his fitness, the Dee’s are in business. Then you remember their Round 1 thrashing at the hands of West Coast. 5 goals to naught at Quarter-time. Que in the rack for the Eagles.
There is a little bit of Harry Potter & the Sorting Hat about the Demons. What on earth do we do with them? Boldy, we throw them in the middle of the pack! I’ll stick to my original gut feeling. For the neutrals; throw a pineapple on them to win the flag & get on board. The club song alone is worth it.
11th - Essendon
Thrilling at times, flat as tacks at others. The Bombers have consistently shown their best is good enough to trade punches with the best. Frustratingly for all involved, they have also shown their worst is about as bad as it gets. Bomber stinkers, seem to usually occur in the week after a massive MCG game and feature highly frustrated Bomber fans - at Quarter-time! With this in mind, there is a strong argument that the Bombers will provide a more consistent level of performance in 2020. The level of this performance we don’t know!
One of the big off-season stories was the Essendon injury list. Numerous surgeries, stars out of shape, and only 25 fit players at one point. Potentially a huge win for the bombers, especially with the club having had experience in preparing players to play on their own, without practice matches.
Whilst we don’t question how the players of Richmond and Collingwood would have trained over the isolation period, plenty will wonder about the Bombers. Perhaps those on the list who served WADA bans provided some helpful experience to the list. Yet, you can’t help but feel Essendon has never quite managed to reach that premiership level of work ethic across its list.
Dominant at times in round 1, they let an injury riddled Fremantle work their way back into the contest. Holding on to win by a kick, the Bombers are actually undefeated in 2020. I don’t expect this to last. A potentially awkward coaching situation sits in the shadows, ready to rear its ugly head at the first signs of poor form.
12th - Port Adelaide
3 points from a grand final appearance in 2014, Port have played finals just once since. Despite frequently being picked to return to those heights, their recruiting has let them down, dearly. However, they dismantled Gold Coast in Round 1 with remarkable ease. Their best is often amongst the most exciting and enjoyable football in the league.
Port fans are some of the most intense in the league; making Adelaide Oval a fortress to visit. Whilst the situation is very fluid, it seems as though Port will be Gold Coast based as well. Brilliant front runners and always a chance in intense home games against the top sides; I am not sure how they will fare playing in front of no one week-to-week.
10th last year, a couple places up or down would not surprise. I’ll go with down, they’ll have a few second year players suffer the sophomore slump.
13th - Western Bulldogs
Not really a winner or loser, it’s just the Bulldogs are not very good. I tend towards a loser based on their efforts post their 2016 premiership team. There are big questions to be asked. Is this a list whom were prepared to work during isolation? What is their identity? Spanked in Round 1 by the Pies, the doggies created just 9 scoring shots. They were completely outclassed.
The middle of their list since 2016 has left, with some fair replacements, yet still a big loss of depth. They’ll win games - their very best players amongst the best in the league - they’ll lose a lot as well. Finalists in 2019, but others have improved more.
14th - North Melbourne
10 wins for 12th place, North in 2019 looks like a step back on paper from a near finals appearance in 2018. To be fair 2018 was a surprise result for a youthful Roo’s. Since 2008 - apart from 15th in 2017 - North have finished between 6th and 13th every season. They face one of tougher tasks a club can deal with.
North has tried boldly to move into the top quarter of the ladder; bold plays for big-time free agents have never quite come off. Jarrod Polec does not count. Without access to a consecutive top 5 draft picks, North have found themselves stuck in the middle table vacuum.
A decent list, it’s just hard to see them breaking out of the 6th - 14th part of the ladder. Port, the Bulldogs & Essendon all have a little bit more about them in 2020.
29th May, 2020
COVID-19, creator of surprise champions in 2020? While this pandemic is far greater than sports, it will provide a fascinating sports landscape over the next few years. What sports will survive, shall TV rights fall away, and it will change the destiny of some teams?
Forced into tough decisions across the world, sporting bodies are trying to figure out their best paths forward. Committed to excellence, the sports scientist will be earning what is left of their paydays. In the AFL, the change in season structure will undoubtedly favour some and disadvantage others. With that in mind, let's take a look at what a post-COVID top 8 might look like.
What drives my thoughts and opinions? My belief is that the AFL is an incredibly close league. Come 2% off your game - skill or intent - and expect trouble. Skill and intent, the two key factors in winning games, will be impacted by crowd-less games. I think we will see some guys thrive under these conditions, before returning to normal ways once crowds return.
Michael Johnson - the former 200m/400m world record holder - famously said “pressure is nothing more than a great opportunity.” For years, we have watched players earn the tag 'clutch'. Undaunted under pressure, they came through when all seemed lost. However, people struggle under pressure; a large part of the pressure has been removed, crowds. It will be fascinating. Conversely, some stars will struggle, having used the crowd and the moment to thrive. This includes the umpires!
I thought Round 1 offered some interesting insights into how crowd-less games may play out. Quite a few teams opened with 3-5 goals in a row. Creating your own intent and intensity will be huge. In a league where it always feels possible anyone can beat anyone, I think we will see more upsets this year. This opens itself to a crowded ladder and a premiership who gets hot late. Interestingly, quite a few teams made runs late in games to get back in the contest. Exhausted in round 1? Perhaps. In a few of these, you felt like after 2 goals in a row, the winning teams crowd would sense the momentum swing and you would feel the nerves of the supporters, we all know the feeling. Without this, it felt like losing teams were able to sneak up on their opponents a little more. Will we see teams win in Perth more as an example.
Finally, as Collingwood Coach Nathan Buckley said, this will be a survival of the fittest. Forced into unique circumstances, this will be more than faster, bigger, fitter. More than normal, the 2020 premiership will be decided between the ears. The aforementioned lack of crowds and the impacts that will have, life in hubs and isolation, and how athletes prepared during isolation are going to play a huge role. I have questions galore about this to debate with whoever wants to! For example, every club every year will have a group who enjoy the AFL lifestyle a little too much if you get my drift. Forced into isolation, will we see some soon to be wasted talents thrive and change the course of the season! Will loneliness set in between the ears, causing critical form slumps.
I've worked out what the ladder might look like by the end of the season, let's start by listing the bottom 4, the clubs who are most impacted by COVID or who otherwise don't have the right pieces to be competitive