50 reasons to get excited about season 2019
The tennis is over and that means the AFL season is on its way.
JON RALPH lists 50 reasons to get excited about what's to come this year.
1. HIGHER SCORING
The NFL and NBA have produced attacking, high-scoring games and watched their crowds and ratings soar. The same wowsers bleating about how they love close, defensive games will applaud the AFL if its rule changes have the desired effect.
2. DARCY MOORE PLAYING 18-PLUS GAMES
Collingwood insiders are still mystified by how his 2018 ended. Did he really badly damage his hamstring against Sydney? How did he miss two months of footy if he didn't? Would he have been the difference in the Grand Final? Track watchers say he is flying, so slotting Moore, Jordan Rougheadand, potentially, Isaac Quaynor into the back six mix would surely help.
3. ADELAIDE USING DEEDS, NOT WORDS
So much nonsense over its defence of its contentious pre-season camp last year, too many mistruths over injuries. The only way to prove the Crows have learnt is through actions.
4. MITCH MCGOVERN AS A GOALKICKER
For all his talent his best season haul is 32 goals, an average of nearly 1.5. He has found a club where he feels settled and it's time to repay Carlton's faith.
5. GOLD COAST'S IZAK RANKINE
Not for the debate about his future, but to see what he is capable of. Before the draft, recruiters went weak at the knees talking about his game-changing abilities. No reason the Suns won't play him from Round 1.
6. JARROD LYONS
Whatever he does will be interesting. He left for Brisbane on a three-year deal after the Suns made it clear he wasn't in their best side. Really? If he brains it as a Lion it will be another poor list management decision. No one doubts he can win the pill.
7. THE LIAM STOCKER DEBATE
Carlton rated him sixth in the draft and the Blues probably need a finish better than bottom-five to justify handing over their first pick this year to Adelaide for him. There is pressure on everyone for the bold decision. Only one way to justify it - win more games.
8. GILL MCLACHLAN RETURNING TO FORM
Gill looked rested at the Australian Open, his bushy beard reminiscent of Anchorman's Ron Burgundy after he was fired from his job ("It's so damn hot … milk was a bad choice".) The AFL had a shocker of a year in 2018 with gaffes and missteps. Time to find form, Gill.
9. A RESPONSIBLE ATTITUDE TO THE AFLW
There are sycophants who gush over every mention on social media and those who want to bash it to death no matter how profound the gains it makes. Surely that leaves plenty of middle ground to celebrate its stars, examine its weaknesses and hope it continues to provide role models for young women. Can't wait to take my five-year old to her first game this year.
10. HOW LONG RICHMOND TAKES TO SORT OUT ITS FORWARD LINE
For all the talk of Jack Riewoldt being one-out last year, Josh Caddy was a hit-up forward who kicked 46 goals. He is more likely to be affected by Tom Lynch's arrival than Jack, who should have his career extended. If Lynch's knee doesn't give him trouble he will be one of the league's top-five forwards by August.
11. THURSDAY FOOTY SHOW WARS
By the end of 2018 The Front Bar, with its blend of footy nostalgia and humour, had seen off the legendary Footy Show. What now for Nine given it will air a Thursday show with a "completely different format", according to Eddie McGuire. Seb Costello's name has been raised as a potential host. Nine faces what seems like a mighty task to come up with a competitor for The Front Bar juggernaut. Last year, checking the Thursday night ratings figures on a Friday became routine. The competition sure is fun to watch.
12. LITTLE GAZ
What do you do with him next, Scotty? Ablett had a solid 2018 by anyone else's standards. But, once again, his every on-field move will be scrutinised this season.
13. TIM KELLY'S NEXT MOVE
He can only take a leaf out of Patrick Dangerfield's book when he was at Adelaide. Put together a blinding season then, when you leave for home in October you can hold your head high knowing you gave everything for your club - which got a tasty trade in exchange for you after two seasons.
14. BETTER MEDIA ACCESS
In September, Travis Varcoe spoke emotionally in Grand Final week about his sister's passing, Adam Treloar detailed his mental health battles and it seemed Scott Pendlebury and Tyson Goldsack discussed their fitness issues daily. The fans loved it and it didn't affect their football. More please.
15. LIAM PICKEN
The roar will be huge if Western Bulldogs fan favourite Picken returns to the field after his concussion battle. Not sure if or when that will happen, but he couldn't be in safer hands with the Dogs' doctors. If he is given the green light by doctors to return, fans will make sure they are there in big numbers to witness it.
16. THE WEEKLY DEBATE OVER MELBOURNE TRADING JESSE HOGAN
Not since Josh Kennedy went west have we had such a rich trade conundrum to debate, with Melbourne clearly worried about his lifestyle and content its finals wins proved it didn't need Hogan to capture a flag. As with last year's Crows' camp, the only way to quieten the debate is to win.
17. THE BONT AS BROWNLOW CONTENDER
Marcus Bontempelli won the 2017 best-and-fairest and was third last year, but every Dogs fan knows he has much more to give. Played banged up for a lot of last season, but so do many elite players. Time for him to re-enter the conversation about the best youngsters in the game, alongside Patrick Cripps, Charlie Curnow and Zach Merrett.
18. CHEAP-SHOT CRACKDOWNS
The AFL must follow through on its promised crackdown on cheap-shot punches and niggling tactics. Still think it missed a chance to introduce a red card system, but it can all but eliminate punching from the game.
19. ESSENDON IN THE TOP FOUR BY APRIL
Pre-season injuries are a worry, but here are the Dons' first seven fixtures - Giants (away), St Kilda, Melbourne, Brisbane, North Melbourne, Collingwood and Geelong. Only one is out of Melbourne. The time for talk is over.
20. WHAT CLARKO DOES NEXT?
No Tom Mitchell, so back to the drawing board. Wonder if he gave Cyril Rioli another bell over the summer? Still can't see why two-time Magarey medallist and noted ball-winner Mitch Grigg is unwanted by AFL clubs.
21. MICHAEL GIBBONS IN A CARLTON JUMPER
The Williamstown star has dominated in the VFL, and for Victoria, for years. The Blues have until late March to list him. Can't see why they wouldn't?
22. THE EVOLUTION OF HARRY MCKAY
Blues fans went right off when Brendon Bolton wouldn't play him last year. But holding him back allowed him to build the fitness that by year's end had him roving up the ground to as a lead-up forward who averaged seven marks in the last seven games. After 21 goals in 13 games and a strong pre-season base, the world is his oyster.
23. BEN MCKAY
The unfortunate situation surrounding Majak Daw gives Harry's brother his chance to shine as Daw's replacement at the Kangaroos. Just one game for the 21-year-old so far but he and 2017's top-10 pick Luke Davies Uniacke get a chance to cement spots in the Roos line-up.
24. THE CURIOUS CASE OF AARON HALL
When he isn't winning three Brownlow votes for pulsating 35-possession displays, he's been dropped for lack of defensive run and not going hard enough at the ball. Now Brad Scott gets the chance to do what others couldn't - turn him into a consistent, week-in, week-out contributor.
25. FIRST TIME A PLAYER IS HONEST ABOUT LEAVING A CLUB
If a player like Josh Kelly was to say before Round 1 he had made up his mind about leaving at year's end, would the earth stop turning?
26. PADDY MCCARTIN FLOURISHING
Finally has himself at AFL standard fitness after a big off-season and a career-high 13 games last year. Few of us would know how hard it has been to juggle diabetes with repeated concussions.
27. SYDNEY MANAGING LANCE FRANKLIN
Sounds obvious, but the Swans need him fit in the finals to win the flag. Over his time at the Swans he has continually performed mid-year heroics - often playing hurt - then hit the wall in September. He is goalless in his past two finals. Last year it was a bruised heel suffered in Round 1, this year it is groin surgery. If he only plays 15 home-and-away games but peaks for September, so be it.
28. BRISBANE WINNING
For all the encouraging progress last year the Lions still only won five games. After five wins in 2017, three in 2016, four in 2015 and seven in 2014. Anything less than eight wins should be categorised as a failure, even after Dayne Beams' departure.
29. DYLAN SHIEL SILENCING THE DOUBTERS
As clubs clamoured for his services some pundits painted the picture he was the Giants' fifth-best midfielder. He will do what Devon Smith did last year at Essendon - have the critics standing up and taking notice of his true worth.
30. PORT'S NEED FOR SPEED
A final-month fadeout and a conscious decision to jettison Jared Polec and Chad Wingard has heaped pressure on Ken Hinkley. In early 2017 he walked about a whiff of blood being in the air. Ain't no different two years on.
31. HOMESICKNESS OR TAKING CLUBS FOR A RIDE
A proper discussion is needed about homesickness and whether players are taking their clubs for a ride. One non-Victorian club went close to asking the AFL's officials to interview a Victoria-based draftee in the days before the draft, believing he was exaggerating his feelings of anxiety of about moving away if drafted. Non-Victorian clubs invest too much in early draftees to see them fleeing home at the first opportunity.
32. KICK-IN CHEATS
The gnashing of teeth when certain kick-in specialists boost their stats by running out of the goal square every time - sometimes only by a metre - and record official kicks under AFL rules.
33. STEVEN MAY
The former Gold Coast defender has already dropped 4kg. Those who don't watch the Suns regularly might not be aware just how strong his attacking game is. The Demons have recruited Michael Hibberd, Jake Lever and May in successive years - a masterstroke.
34. AARON FRANCIS IN FULL FLIGHT
It is amazing to think he's only played 10 games, but after 10 contested marks in the last fortnight of 2018, he can take the game by the scruff of the neck.
35. BEAMS AT THE PIES
Dayne Beams gives Collingwood's midfield flexibility. Does Scott Pendlebury play at half back, does Adam Treloar play 40 per cent at half forward. Steele Sidebottom, as always, will roam around where he pleases. Watch for Josh Daicos to make a big move this year after a cracking pre-season.
36. SHANE MUMFORD ON THE WARPATH AGAIN
We know about the cocaine controversy, we know about the hamstring setback. But while the cheap shot has no part in football, there is still a place for Mumford's ball-and-all tackles on victims like Geelong's Mitch Duncan.
37. JORDAN DE GOEY ON THE WARPATH
Just because he is so darned fun to watch.
38. SHANNON HURN'S LONG BOMBS FROM FULL BACK
As if the premiers needed more help, with Hurn having the wide open spaces of Optus Stadium and new kick-out rules meaning the coast-to-coast goal could be back in vogue.
39. TOM LIBERATORE EARNING A MULTI-YEAR CONTRACT
If he does, the wildly talented Dog will have proven he is committed enough for the hierarchy to show they are ready to trust him again. The ball is in his court.
40. MORE CHARACTERS IN THE GAME
Max Gawn let his personality shine last year - in TV ads, on TV panel shows, in on-field interaction with fans - and everyone lapped it up. Ditto Jack Higgins.
41. ANDREW GAFF'S RETURN
No one condones the act which saw him miss a premiership after an eight-game suspension for a hit on Andrew Brayshaw. But he passed up millions to stay at the Eagles despite having every reason to leave. Returns in Round 3 before a Round 4 clash against Fremantle.
42. PATTY CRIPPS GETTING MIDFIELD HELP
Played the most midfield minutes last year. Finally the cavalry is arriving, with Sam Walsh, Patty Dow, Zac Fisher, Matt Kennedy, Will Setterfield, Marc Murphy and Ed Curnow. Now we are getting somewhere.
43. A REALISTIC ASSESSMENT OF ALAN RICHARDSON'S FUTURE
The Saints don't need to make finals, they need to fast-track a long list of 20-50 game players and make a march up the ladder for Richardson to shore up his position.
44. MORE AFL SUPPORT FOR THE GOLD COAST
Already the league has committed more funds to the league's basket case over the off-season, but the doom loop cannot continue forever.
45. AN AFL PATHWAY FOR TASMANIA TO HAVE ITS OWN TEAM
Gill McLachlan stepped in to intervene into the state's troubles in 2018. The next step is defining exactly what the state must do to get an AFL team, even if those criteria are ambitious.
46. MORE JEFF KENNETT, DAVID KOCH AND PETER GORDON
The AFL presidents are vocal and at times controversial, but they are also prepared to keep the league accountable in an age where many clubs are on the league drip and unwilling to rock the boat.
47. THE GWS KIDS
So many of the stars that once populated the list are gone. The future is now for Tim Taranto, Aiden Bonar, Sam Taylor, Jacob Hopper. The Giants' success depends upon it.
48. DUSTY MARTIN WITH THE FIRE IN THE BELLY AGAIN
He admitted last week it was tough to find the motivation in 2018, having achieved so much the year before. If that doesn't do it, his below-par performance on one leg in the prelim surely will. He doesn't love the media, but would love to hear what makes him tick this year too.
49. JOHN WORSFOLD'S COACHING WRINKLES
Already we have heard about Ben Rutten coaching team defence at a club that finished 11th for points conceded. What else has Woosher got in his trickbag to help win the battle in the coaching box? Talent alone won't get them to the promised land.
50. A MELBOURNE PREMIERSHIP
A Saints drought-breaker is too much to ask for. But after so much misery for the Melbourne fans, a charge all the way to the premiership would captivate the state given their eye-catching style of play.