New World Order
Here’s an indication of what a quirky opening AFL round we have had. Twenty years ago, not so far into the mists of time, not one of the top four teams on the ladder part way through round one were playing in the competition. Three of them did not even exist in 1994.
The AFL has been plugging its television advertisement with the catchcry ”Anything’s possible”, and it seems the clubs and players took it to heart. Somewhere out there, Andrew Demetriou was chortling as on the one day, his expansion clubs Greater Western Sydney Giants and Gold Coast Suns both won over highly-rated opponents, the first time ever that the newbies had triumphed in the same round.
Eddie McGuire called it the stirring of the AFL’s monster in the lab. Ken Hinkley thought it “the arrival of the national competition”, and promptly steered his own team to a win over Carlton. It is certainly a different look to Essendon and Collingwood on a cold Saturday afternoon at Victoria Park with a pie and a tinny.
The Giants’ five-goal triumph over their bigger cousins Sydney Swans before a raucous 17,000 on Saturday at Homebush was the unequivocal highlight, just the fourth-ever win for the club, and a rare chance to sing the rather unique team song that recruits Shane Mumford, Heath Shaw, Dylan Addison and Josh Hunt had to be coaxed through.
Here was what the cynics would call karma for the Swans, who have invested $10 million in a nine-year contract to lure Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin, trumping the Giants’ $7.2 million, six-year offer. Franklin kicked a trademark first-quarter goal, tried hard, but his return of that single goal and seven disposals was disappointing.
Meanwhile, the Giants showed a willingness to win the in-close ball even against the vaunted Swans, led by Callan Ward’s astonishing 24 contested possessions, winning the contested possession count and the clearances and laying 30 more tackles (88) than their 2013 average.
Moreover, in Jeremy Cameron and Jon Patton (seven goals between them) they have a pair of key forwards for a decade, with No. 1 draft pick Tom Boyd still to be introduced. It is a scary scenario for the opposition clubs, and plainly the Giants, with St Kilda to play in round two, are not going to be the easybeats they have been in seasons one and two.
The Swans, premiership favourite in some people’s eyes, now have some serious thinking to do. The feel that it was the biggest shock result in a long time was completed by the fact the game was delayed more than 20 minutes at quarter-time by an electrical storm, surely a first.
Then there was the Gold Coast Suns, who delivered Richmond the traditional poor start with their victory in Queensland. Not even the loss of two injured players – Charlie Dixon and boom teenage recruit Jack Martin – could deter the Suns, who had just 74 interchanges, way below the new cap of 120.
A certain Gary Ablett had 41 disposals and two goals including the sealer deep in the final quarter, and a third Brownlow Medal awaits him if he can stay upright for most of the season.
Certainly the Suns, with the likes of David Swallow and Dion Prestia offering up help for their brilliant captain, look capable of winning enough games for Ablett.
Richmond puzzlingly deployed Jack Riewoldt up high and went to him just three times for the game; not surprisingly the two-time Coleman medallist managed just one goal.
Afterward, coach Damien Hardwick was unsparing in his criticism, calling Riewoldt and Ty Vickery “very poor” and picking at his midfielders, too.
While too much can be read into round one, the Tigers have some analysis to do this week. Fortunately, they are only 1/22nd of the way into a season that of course, can be retrieved.
Collingwood cannot win the flag. We know that already.
The Magpies were schooled by Fremantle to the tune of 70 points after starting well on Friday night at the Docklands, and if ever there was a reality check, this was it.
Nathan Buckley still has the likes of Ben Reid to bring back into his team, and he may have erred in not selecting either Lachie Keefe or Quentin Lynch on the night, but supporters lamenting the absence of Jessie White through injury and pitching him as some kind of saviour are kidding themselves.
White has had six years at a club (Sydney) famous for developing and nurturing talent, and he has never kicked more than 22 goals in a season. He has upside, but he is no Wayne Carey.
Buckley’s contract extension, done for his reassurance and to prevent speculation, suddenly looms large; it is bound to cause more discussion if Collingwood cannot make some ground this year with its young team.
The draw is not kind in the first half of the season; after a bye next week the Pies have to travel to Sydney (albeit where they have a good record), then play Geelong, Richmond and North Melbourne, with no obvious win until round 11.
As for the Dockers, there was a redemption theme when you saw the likes of Hayden Ballantyne kicking goals over his shoulder. The agent provocateur had a woeful grand final in 2013 that will live with him forever, but he showed that he has moved on, and the same could be said for the team.
Nat Fyfe is a monster around the ball and Aaron Sandilands is Everest in the ruck. Moreover the Dockers looked different; more aggressive with ball movement through the corridor, including several coast-to-coast goals, all very razzle-dazzle for a Ross Lyon team.
It is on the public record that coach Lyon wants an average of two goals a game more in 2014, his theory being that Fremantle needs to be at least top-four in scoring (the Dockers were 12th in 2013, but No. 1 for defence).
Lyon almost certainly pinched the notion from Denis Pagan, but 17 goals in round one was a good start. Fremantle is in this up to its neck.
Power and glory
It is Port Adelaide’s turn in 2014 to be vastly underrated in the media. Did anyone imagine that the Power’s rise with a youthful team last year was a fluke? Yet the majority of experts did not have Ken Hinkley’s team in the top eight.
They ran over Carlton at the Docklands with Justin Westhoff (five goals) providing the inspiration and teenager Ollie Wines (28 disposals, 2 goals) the grunt.
Compounding the troubles for the Blues, running defender Andrew Walker was reported for hurling Angus Monfries into the boundary fence (and deserves a sanction for it) and will be scrutinised for an earlier late hit on Westhoff that sent the Port player from the field for a concussion test. Possibly he will escape penalty for that incident but it is line-ball.