AFL fans were reminded of how good the game could be with a number of cracking games that had high scoring and a number of upsets. The Tigers got the job done in their top of the table clash when they overcame Sydney by 26 points to move one game clear at the top, but the same couldn’t be said of Geelong in their chase for a top four spot. The Cats went down to the lowly Dogs by two points after Harry Taylor missed his shot after the final siren.
The Power were made to work by Carlton in Kade Simpson’s 300th game, while the Crows came from 27 points down during the third quarter to breathe life into their season with a ten point win over West Coast. The Magpies moved to second on the ladder with a comfortable win over Gold Coast, while the Giants became the big winners of the round, jumping up to sixth on the ladder with a hard fought 11 point win against Hawthorn, with a number of results then going their way.
The first of those was St Kilda’s upset two point win over a fast-finishing Demons. The Saints held sway through much of the day, and still led by 20 points deep in time-on, but three Melbourne goals in as many minutes kept Saints fans on edge. The Bombers then defeated the Kangaroos in one of the most entertaining games of the year, which resulted in North Melbourne dropping out of the top eight. The two sides combined for 23 first half goals, with the Bombers eventually winning by 17 points. In the final game of the round, the Brisbane Lions recorded their second victory of the season, defeating a hapless Fremantle at Perth Stadium by 55 points.
Here are some (possibly outlandish) observations from Round 15:
The Eagles Could Freefall Out Of Finals
It’s remarkable to think that a side that won 10 games on the trot and were effectively two games clear at the top of the ladder at the halfway mark could miss finals action, but that is a real possibility facing the West Coast Eagles at the moment. The Eagles went into their Round 12 bye with a 10-1 record, but with a mounting injury list that claiming a number of their important spine players, the Eagles have struggled, dropping all three games since their week off.
Losses to Sydney, Essendon and Adelaide have dropped West Coast right back into the chasing pack, after it seemed they were destined for a top two finish and a potential dream ride to the Grand Final. The Eagles sit third, but are one of four teams on ten wins, whilst they also only sit two games clear of the ninth and tenth placed North Melbourne and Hawthorn. Both are considered strong chances to force their way into the top eight by the end of Round 23, with even the Crows and Bombers strengthening their claims over the weekend.
Coach Adam Simpson admitted that there would be no immediate respite, with Josh Kennedy and Tom Barrass both certain to miss next weeks game against the Giants, with Jack Darling still several weeks away and Mark LeCras an unknown. The Eagles have lacked leadership and finishing without their three experienced forwards and a number of first year rookies who were drivers of the early season form are starting to show signs of fatigue; even moreso with the added expectation heaped on them through injury.
On top of all that, the Eagles don’t have a friendly run home. Of the remaining eight games, four are against fellow top eight contenders, with away trips against two of the teams that they are presently separated by only percentage, in Collingwood and Port Adelaide. They host GWS next week and the Demons in the penultimate round as well as a tricky home derby against the Dockers. The Eagles also have to travel to Tasmania to take on the Kangaroos, and a final round trip to the GABBA to take on Brisbane will also be no easy task. Considering the run home for some of the other finals aspirants, the Eagles might just topple out of September action.
Tom Will Be Better Than Paddy
In last years National Draft, the Swans used their second pick (No. 33 overall) to select Tom McCartin from the Geelong Falcons. McCartin had had an interrupted lead up, missing the entire 2016 season, before getting back onto the field in 2017 and ultimately getting picked up as a bottom-ager. His selection at the Swans was no doubt less of an event than the path travelled by older brother and current Saint, Paddy, who had been the coveted number one pick at the 2014 AFL Draft.
Now in his fourth season, Paddy has yet to hit the heights that St Kilda were hoping for, and that many observers were expecting, after a stop-start beginning to his career. The Saints selected McCartin, completely aware of his battle with diabetes, but the young forward has also had setbacks due to multiple concussions he has suffered.
The Swans’ McCartin has only played six games, but is already showing the promising ability that many down at Moorabbin would have been wanting from Paddy. McCartin’s numbers aren’t mind-blowing but he has managed to provide an important link to a flag contender, who were facing a real deficiency at the start of the year. Kurt Tippett had retired on the eve of the season, and with ruckman Sam Naismith also ruled out for the year, Callum Sinclair was required to shoulder the majority of the ruck. That in turn left Lance Franklin as the only tall target up forward, and while that got the Swans by for some time, they clearly benefitted from having Franklin closer to goal.
Tom McCartin has slotted into the Swans’ structure, and has provided the link-man up and down the wings that has allowed Franklin to stay deep in the forward 50. McCartin has good hands, a reliable kick and has shown no issue with the up-and-down nature of his role. His older brother has the same attributes, but has yet to fully display them on a consistent basis and the argument could be made that Tom has been far more impressive at the Swans in just six games, than older brother Paddy has been in four years.
Players Loyalty Is Still Very Much Alive In This Generation
The advent of free agency was expected to see greater player movement between sides and signal an end to player loyalty and the revered notion of being a ‘one-club player’. The AFL were expected to mature with players switching clubs – much like the NRL
In recent weeks several players that were all strongly reported to change clubs have put pen to paper committing to their current clubs. The Crows’ Tom Lynch was supposedly looking at a move back to Victoria amid growing player discontentment at the club but confirmed during their bye round that he would remain with the club, while Jordan De Goey and Marc Murphy both committed to their current clubs for the next two seasons.
De Goey had ‘GodFather’ offers presented to him, but chose to remain with the Magpies in a reciprocated show of faith after Collingwood stuck by their player, despite consecutive pre-season transgressions. Carlton captain Murphy would have lost no admirers had he chosen to leave the Blues and chase team success in his golden years, but opted to remain with Carlton, signing a fresh two year deal. Many had encouraged Murphy to move elsewhere, with suggestions he could be the finishing midfielder at a number of clubs who are on the verge of premiership contention. The Blues may also have benefitted with Murphy’s departure in the form of draft compensation, but will likely see out the remainder of his career.
There are still a number of high profile free agents that remain out of contract, but how many will move seems to be less and less as the weeks go by. Andrew Gaff seems more likely to stay at West Coast than move back to Victoria, while teammate Jeremy McGovern is also a strong chance to remain an Eagle, despite lucrative offers from several Victorian clubs as well as cross-town rivals, Fremantle. Rory Sloane and Gold Coast captain Tom Lynch have also had speculation for much of the year, although they are probably more likely to leave.
Free Agency Will Cost the Expansion Sides
The AFL had Gold Coast and GWS brought into the competition in 2011 and 2012 and in the followings seasons, a strong player push saw the introduction of free agency as part of the collective bargaining agreement. Essentially, a player with eight years service to one club could seek to move to another club of their choice, if their current club chose not to match the contract being offered by the club of destination. If after ten years service the player looked to switch clubs, they could do so without their current club having the chance to match the contract.
Season 2018 is the Suns’ eighth in the AFL competition and any of player that has stuck with the club throughout its life will have the opportunity to explore other options at the end of the season. The most obvious of those is captain Tom Lynch, who is favoured to return home to Victoria, with a number of clubs dangling large contracts. As well as Lynch, Sam Day, Steven May, Rory Thompson, Alex Sexton, Tom Nicholls, David Swallow and Michael Rischitelli would all be in a position to leave via free agency, if they wanted too.
And having stuck out the best part of their careers at a club that has had no success and doesn’t look like being in the finals conversation any time soon, why wouldn’t they leave? The Giants will be in the same boat come the end of 2019, and while they have made the past two preliminary finals, they too seem to have dropped of the pace of the major contenders and may need to re-set their squad over the coming years.
Not being a traditional football state, the Queensland and NSW clubs will rely heavily on their academy programs, which have started to produce quality players. However, the problem has been that they have been created alongside the establishment of the clubs themselves, and any meaningful players that are developed by the clubs may not come through for at least a decade. Until then, Gold Coast, GWS, Brisbane and Sydney need to retain players who have come from interstate, and if the success isn’t there, free agency will give them the chance they need to chase their premiership ambitions elsewhere.
Tex is the Adelaide Barometer
Taylor Walker’s season has been anything but ideal, with an interrupted pre-season resulting in several weeks missed, as well as controversy over the clubs pre-season camp. While many senior players were less than impressed with what went on, Walker publicly stated his support for the camp, which reportedly split the group.
When Walker has been on the park, he has struggled to have much impact, kicking just 18 goals from his first 8 games from an average of just 11 disposals and four marks. In the first half against West Coast on the weekend, Walkers’ performance mirrored that of his side as he was well held by Elliot Yeo, opting instead to argue with umpires and give away free kicks to the opposition. With his side trailing by 26 points deep in the final term, the Crows needed something from their leaders and Walker delivered.
Walker gave his side a sniff when he soccered a goal home right before three quarter time to reduce the Eagles’ lead to 20, and then had the opening two shots of the final term. His first shot was a miss, while he also had a chance to shoot on goal running into the forward 50, but opted bizarrely to pass instead which resulted in a turnover. However, moments later Walker had the mark outside 50 and made no mistake, launching a long bomb to get Crows fans off their feet.
After Tom Doedee had slotted home his first career goal from deep on the boundary, Walker took another towering mark to level the scores, and with momentum completely behind the home side, the Crows recorded a ten point win. By games end Walker had kicked 3.4 from 22 disposals and 10 marks, easily his best performance of the season. Walker’s second half was commanding and it showed how much of a barometer he is for the Crows.
Brisbane Had Their Most Important Win
The Lions have been thereabouts in season 2018 but haven’t managed to get the wins on the board. Many predict rapid improvement in the coming years and when this group do start rising up the ladder, their win over the Dockers in Perth could be the win that is remembered as the catalyst. Wins on the road are gold for developing teams and the nature of the Lions’ win over Fremantle will fill the group with a major boost of confidence that they are going in the right direction.
And its not like the Lions win wasn’t against decent opposition. The Dockers had won their previous two with an impressive win over Adelaide and a thumping victory against Carlton away from home. The Dockers home form had also been solid, with North Melbourne the only interstate side to return home with the points. But Brisbane were the more switched on side from the outset, registering the first seven inside-50’s of the game and generally controlling play from the outset.
The Lions cause was helped before the game when Aaron Sandilands was a forced withdrawal due to a calf complaint picked up in the warm-up and then their chances were further enhanced when Dockers captain Nat Fyfe limped off with a hamstring injury. At this point, the Lions had established a four goal lead, but it was important they hammered home their advantage with the Dockers’ two most important players now unavailable.
That they were able to record a resounding 55 point win away from home could prove to be the stepping stone to a long-awaited period of success.