AFL: 2013 Home & Away Season Wrap

Pick for Premiership: Geelong CatsGeelong just seem to know how to beat the best sides in the league. They have an 8-1 win-loss record against the top eight sides this year, having taken out Hawthorn (1st) and Sydney (4th) twice, and also thumping Fremantle (3rd) at home. Aside from Collingwood, their other 3 losses were to teams that can’t make the finals. After six years in the finals and three premierships, you get the feeling the Cats are the masters at winning games when the pressure is on. Though Chris Scott criticized his sides’ inability to play a consistent four quarters of football earlier this year, Geelong still won most of these matches through stirring comebacks, and they seem to have sorted their consistency issues out in recent weeks by thrashing St. Kilda and West Coast.Player-wise, they welcome back premiership forwards Chapman and Hawkins; Johnson, Christensen and Stokes have all become ball magnets at half forward; and Geelong has four skilled ruckmen at their disposal. In short, there’s not a lot of evidence out there that “The greatest team of all” won’t continue their legendary era with a fourth premiership in seven years.And of course, it’s an odd year, the last three of which the Cats have won the premiership. Coleman Medallist: Jarryd Roughead (Hawthorn Hawks)Hawthorn owes much of its supremacy in footy to the depth and talent of its forward line, and chief among these was Roughead. Though in previous years Lance Franklin took all the glory and goals up forward, a series of injuries and a form slump due to speculation over his contact meant Roughead had to step up, and he definitely did.In 2013, Roughead embodied the seemingly endless talent and dexterity of his Hawthorn side, playing as a second ruck-man, a tall midfielder, a crumbing forward pocket and a big marking forward leading out from the square. He frequently featured in the top three players of each match, and might be a smoky for Hawthorn’s Best and Fairest averaging 16 possessions, 2.4 hit-outs, 2.5 tackles, four marks and three goals a game.Roughead won the Coleman with 68 goals, one of the lowest tallies in 50 years. Older fans might pine for yesteryear when players had to kick more than twice that to win it, but Roughead’s win shows how a modern day forward’s main role is not to kick goals, but to apply pressure in the forward half and give the team every chance of kicking high scores. Brownlow Medal Pick: Ryan Griffen (Western Bulldogs)I’m not one for picking the favourites to win the Brownlow, mainly because these players come from great teams that have half a dozen other payers who can (and do) take votes off them. Hannebery (Sydney) has captain Jack, O’ Keefe and Josh Kennedy to compete with each week for best on ground, and while Ablett (Gold Coast) only slipped below his phenomenal standards in the last month of footy, he’ll still have the likes of Bennell, Prestia and O’Meara snapping at his heels for the three votes each week.Ryan Griffen has neither equally elite midfielders (with the exception of Adam Cooney), nor future champions to worry about at the Dogs. At 27, he is at the peak of his powers, with pack-busting run-and-carry and long-range goals his trademarks. His average a bang on 29 disposals, and 6 clearances and Inside 50s a game puts him well within the league’s elite midfielders. This consistency might mean, as well as polling three votes frequently he also pinches single votes in many of the club’s losses. An example is the 41 disposals he racked up against Sydney in Round 19, though the Dogs lost that match by 35 points.Thus, my tip is the Charlie heads to Whitten Oval for the first time since Cooney won it in 2008. Rising Star Pick: Jaeger O’Meara (Gold Coast Suns)Unlike the Brownlow, I’m definitely one for backing the favourite to win the Rising Star. The nineteen-year-old number one pick in the 2011 mini draft catches my eye especially for two reasons. The first is his obvious prowess on-field—of all 22 Rising Star nominees this year, O’Meara ranks first in Total Disposals, Goals, Handballs, Tackles, Clearances, Contested Possessions and Effective Disposals, and second in Total Inside 50s, Kicks, Disposals per Game and Total Time on Ground. Little wonder people are saying he’ll be the best player in the league in five years.The second is his match-readiness. Whereas many first year players and even Rising Star nominees take years to string together a season of games, O’Meara played every game of his first year in the AFL. He’s in good company; one of the last people to do that was Richmond’s Brett Deledio, who won the Rising Star in 2007 and is part of the reason Richmond went from the lower reaches of the ladder then to playing finals this year. On what we’ve seen so far, there is no reason to suggest Jaeger won’t take Gold Coast to similar — and perhaps even greater — heights in year to come. End of Year evaluation: The Bottom 109th – Essendon BombersEssendon had an amazing first five months of footy that belied their off-field issues, winning their first six games, beating Adelaide and Fremantle against the odds, thrashing Collingwood on ANZAC day, and hence in the running to finish top four at season’s end. Their on-field courage had the playing group held in high regard, while the rise of Jake Carlisle, Mike Hibberd and recruit Brendan Goddard in defence were also positive.But in the last month, it all fell apart: they lost four games in a row by an average of nearly 10 goals, sliding down the ladder as the merciless supplements scandal finally took its toll. A Round 22 last gasp win against Carlton reminded supporters of Essendon’s early season heroics, but while they finished 9th as part of their penalty for the supplements regime, they almost deserved the spot given their overall performance in season 2013. With a new CEO, chairman and coach, and with no first or second round draft picks over the next two years, the rebuilding of Essendon’s form and reputation starts now. 10th – North Melbourne KangaroosIf only. You could almost leave it at those two words to describe North’s season, where they frequently lost games they seemingly had won by quarter time. Five of their losses were by under a goal, meaning their average losing margin was only 13 points, while their average winning margin was 53. Rest assured, North Melbourne are a formidable outfit when on song, and they’ll be the best team not playing finals this year.North may also have trouble in future seasons should their young brigade not stand up and fill the shoes of their senior on-field leaders. Many times this year, the best tagger of the opposing team went to 35-year-old Brent Harvey. The club and its players have some consistency to strive for in the off-season, though they may take heart out of holding on to an early lead against Collingwood in the last round. While North might prefer to forget 2013, they’ll need to revisit it many times if they hope to develop into a finals playing side. 11th – Adelaide Crows“No Tippett, no problem”, the Adelaide faithful went in the 2012 off-season. But more of a burden to Adelaide than the loss of their key forward to Sydney was the weight of expectation. After missing out on the 2012 Grand Final by only five points in coach Brenton Sanderson’s first season, people had hopes of greater success for 2013. Instead, Adelaide proved themselves to be an inconsistent team in the absence of their big names. A loss to Essendon in Round 1 brought Grand Final predictions crashing down to earth, while the loss of power forward Walker to an ACL in Round 5 left a gaping wound in the Crows forward line which they never really plugged. Their best player Dangerfield also missed game time, but what really defined the disappointment of Adelaide’s season was narrow losses to top eight contenders Port and West Coast and a crippling 77-point defeat at the hands of Sydney (mercifully without Tippett). The Crow’s young squad of Crouch, Laird, Henderson, Brown and Kerridge need to improve quickly, while either, or both, Lynch and Jenkins need to find their feet up forward if Adelaide want to become more consistent in 2014. 12th – Brisbane LionsBrisbane can take about the same amount of positives and negatives out of season 2013. They let all the promise that came with winning the pre-season slip away after being crippled by the Dogs in Round 1; though a comeback win from 52 points down against Geelong in Round 13 showed just how valiant a side they can be (they almost beat them again in the last round). The sacking of coach Michael Voss and uncertainty around captain Jonathan Brown’s playing future were also issues for the club, but the development of big-bodied midfielders Redden, Hanley and Rockliff brought with them good signs for the future. Brisbane broke even in 2013, and it’s hard to predict whether they’ll go backwards or forwards next year. 13th – West Coast EaglesIt’s rather fitting that Adelaide and West Coast finished next to one another in the final league ladder; both had such great seasons last year and brought so much promise into 2013, and both delivered disappointing results. Despite one of the most potent forward lines in the comp — boasting Darling, Kennedy and LeCras — a poor record at home (winning only 3 of 12 matches) and a lack of intensity when playing against the best teams in the league brought West Coast undone.Essendon was the only team in the top eight they beat in 2013, and this was during the Bomber’s run of four games lost by over 7 goals when the drugs scandal took its toll. This was followed by their lowest score at home against the Cats, followed by their lowest score at the MCG against Collingwood and their ninth loss from 12 home matches to Adelaide in the final round—three matches which pretty much reflect the uninspiring nature of West Coast’s play all year. Coach John Worsfold says he wants to stay on next year, but maybe the Eagles would benefit from a change of face in 2014. 14th – Gold Coast SunsEasily the side with the most ahead of them out of all the 10 clubs here, Gold Coast went from being a cellar dweller last year to an outside finals contender by the middle of this season. Such credibility was achieved by frequently beating sides lower than them on the ladder (Western Bulldogs, St. Kilda, Melbourne) and also finals contenders (North Melbourne, Collingwood). Captain Gary Ablett junior remained the best in the league and young guns O’Meara, Bennell, Prestia and Hall began their maturation into superstars, but more encouraging was the Sun’s newfound ability to link up and play as a team and maintain their effort for a full four quarters. Suffice to say, the task of 20,000 members and a premiership by 2015 which Gold Coast set themselves in November last year is looking far more realistic 10 months on. 15th – Western Bulldogs Though they still got comprehensibly beaten by most sides, 2013 was the first season in many that suggested the Dogs have a bright future. While old Dogs Griffen, Boyd, Cooney and Minson were as impressive as ever, it was the new crop of talent including Dalhaus, Liberatore, Wallis and Grant that will give the Dogs’ faithful something to cheer about. In fact it already has: starting with a win over St. Kilda in Round 9 (only their second win over this side in 20 encounters) the plucky Dogs beat finals hopefuls Port, West Coast, Adelaide and Carlton, showing the same promise as they did with a thumping Round 1 win against pre-season premiers Brisbane. Coach Brendan McCartney was earmarked as a good developer of youngsters when appointed in 2011, and this year I think we finally saw the proof of that. 16th – St. Kilda SaintsSt. Kilda are well and truly on the decline following three grand finals in two years over 2009-10, a combination of their star players knowing they missed their opportunity at ultimate glory and their youngsters getting little game time until recently. As the stars that made up the core of this once successful Saints retire over this year and the next few, the development of the team’s younger players is crucial.The development of Jack Steven into a ball magnet and club champion Lenny Hayes committing for another year were some of the few positives for the Saints this year. They’ll need to be smart and shrewd in trading and at the draft in the off-season, with a big-bodied defender and some experienced midfielders their top priorities. Without this long-term vision, they may well be adding a few more Wooden Spoons to the twenty-six they’ve already accumulated in their VFL/AFL history.  17th – Melbourne DemonsWe’ll remember 2013 as the year Melbourne hit rock bottom and just kept on digging. The league’s oldest club endured the same media scrutiny and controversy as Essendon without any of the success. The coach, CEO and chairman were either sacked or stepped down throughout the year, while the ghastly on-field form of the club that bears this city’s name sparked calls for the AFL to intervene in its rebuild. From Round 1 it was clear the addition of experienced players to the Melbourne list wouldn’t change the club’s poor accountability for on-field woes. So frequent and unrelenting were the massive losses, in fact, the club seemed to downgrade success from actually winning matches to “honourably losing”. It’s a sign of the low morale and lack of hunger for the contest that now seems endemic at the club. Melbourne need nothing short of a miracle to progress beyond their darkest period of their 155 year history, and I would argue their 2013 is the worst season of football we’ve seen by any team this century. 18th (Wooden Spooners) – Greater Western Sydney GiantsAside from the stratospheric rise of full forward Jeremy Cameron — now with 91 goals from his 37 games — GWS have next to no positives to take out of their second season at AFL level. They fared worse than their first season last year; winning only one match (against Melbourne) while suffering an average losing margin of over 10 goals and — like Melbourne — redefined success to remaining competitive rather than actually winning matches. Coach-in-waiting Leon Cameron will no doubt have his work cut out when he takes over from Kevin Sheedy next year, coaching a team that’s won only three games, failing to make an impression in the soccer and rugby heartland of Australia.Perhaps GWS can take hope from fellow expansion club Gold Coast, with their breakout third season this year after struggling in their Alexander Darling

September 3rd 2013
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