Round-by-round: Let the footy begin

AFL Round 1, 2013 Unpredictable. That’s probably the word supporters and experts alike would use to describe the football landscape of late. There were arguably more surprises in the 2012 season than any other: Hawthorn, the team with the shortest odds ever to win the premiership, was rolled by Sydney, a team not even considered a premiership contender for the first half of the season; The Brownlow and Coleman medals went to two players whose teams didn’t make the finals; and Free-agency stamped it’s authority over the game in the off-season, with 13 established players moving clubs and another 28 being traded.This sense of perpetual change in the AFL shows no signs of losing momentum in 2013—as many as 13 clubs have a reasonable claim to play finals football. While this doesn’t suggest each club is a chance to win the flag, it speaks volumes about the increasing evenness in the current competition. As such, it was fitting that the first two matches of the season be contested by four of the clubs with finals ambitions. Adelaide vs Essendon (Friday, March 22)Surprisingly, Essendon fielded a full-strength list for the game, with Zaharakis and Hurley declared fit.The first half was characterized by the momentum constantly shifting. In the first fifteen minutes, Adelaide scored three goals before Essendon could score. Then rain started falling and Essendon controlled the play, taking the lead before Graham Johncock put Adelaide back in front halfway through the second term. Essendon responded with three unanswered goals, taking a 14-point buffer into half-time.Despite an early lift in intensity by Adelaide after the break, Essendon retained their superiority around the packs and through the midfield, with Dempsey providing penetrating run and setting up multiple scoring opportunities. By the third quarter, Essendon had kicked 9 of the last 12 goals since Adelaide’s early burst. The don’s midfield effectively curbed the influence of star midfielders Dangerfield and Sloane, extending their lead to 23 at three-quarter time.After an even start to the final quarter Taylor Walker, beaten by Jake Carlisle for most of the night, kicked two goals in three minutes to keep Adelaide within 18 points. Essendon staved off this late charge, however, kicking the last three to secure a convincing and stirring win. Reigning Brownlow medallist Jobe Watson lead from the front with 34 touches. Meanwhile, Howlett’s four goals made him a surprise performer in fantasy leagues, while Kommer and Goddard made solid debuts for the Bombers. Essendon 18.9.117  def  Adelaide 11.16.82 West Coast vs Fremantle (Saturday, March 23)In the 37th derby, the two teams looked evenly matched. Two of the game’s best ruckmen were missing, Sandilands from Fremantle, Naitanui from the Eagles, while both sides welcomed big forwards back for their first match of the year. In his debut for the Eagles, Cripps kicked the first goal, before the Eagles added another two in a flying start. A couple of free kicks gave Fremantle their first two goals before quarter time.Fremantle completed the turnaround in the second term, kicking another two goals to take the lead by a point, before the fervent atmosphere and pressure that has become synonymous with the Western derby came to a head. A tussle and some head-high contact on the Eagles forward fifty — and the subsequent goal by LeCras — reclaimed the lead and rejuvenated the Eagles. They took a nine-point lead into half-time after some late Fremantle misses.LeCras’ return to the AFL didn’t last long; missing all of last season with a knee injury, he looks set for another stint on the injury list, nursing a broken arm following heavy contact with Mzungu in the third. West Coast’s injury woes continued when Mackenzie and Schofield came off second best in marking contests, the latter receiving a late blow from Pavlich, which also landed the Fremantle captain on report. Kepler Bradley went forward for Fremantle, and brought the “mosquito fleet” of small forwards into the game. Pearce, Suban (3 goals), Walters and Hill were all influential as Fremantle took control in a 6-goal-to-1 third term.The last quarter saw the arm-wrestle of the first half return, as the Eagles went almost goal-for-goal with Fremantle, but by then the damage was done. Barlow and Mundy were the best for Fremantle with 27 touches each, while Priddis and Waters did their best in a bruised and battered Eagles side.Fremantle 16.12.108 def West Coast 11.14.80 These matches may have been played far from the AFL heartland of Melbourne, and there weren’t enough of them to constitute a full round of results. Yet in an off-season of tanking, salary cap breaches, rule changes and the performance-enhancing drug scandal, where the game has constantly tested the faith and allegiance of its fans, it was nice to have even a small reminder of what the AFL’s all about, and why, for better or for worse, we still love Australia’s Alexander Darling

March 26th 2013
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