The 2019 season has thrown up its share of surprises.
Some have made you marvel, like the Brisbane Lions’ magnificent re-emergence as genuine premiership contenders. When a young group clicks, like the Western Bulldogs of 2016, it’s a joy to watch. You’re taken on a ride.
By contrast, teams that fall drastically short of their potential leave a bitter taste. Melbourne undoubtedly fits into this bracket, but in round 21 GWS and Essendon produced the season’s biggest let-downs. Yes, injury to key players has taken a toll on both sides, but the efforts on Friday and Saturday night were deplorable and inexcusable.
At its best, seventh-placed Essendon plays some of the most compelling football of any team in the competition. Fast and furious, daring and dashing — the Dons are a pleasure to watch.
Against the Bulldogs, the Bombers did the watching.
Players were treated like witches’ hats and no-one intervened as 21 consecutive goals were conceded. The week after a sickly display against Port Adelaide, the Bombers were unresponsive — corpse-like. They’re at serious risk of missing the finals.
For the Giants, a spot in the top four beckoned, freezing conditions in Canberra presented the chance to prove they had the necessary fortitude to endure and succeed. The expansion team’s capacity to fight and scrap its way through adversity has always been questioned. Friday night provided a clear-cut answer.
For the Giants, eight seasons into their AFL existence, to be held to their lowest-ever score was an appalling reflection on a group of players who possess all the attributes but simply can’t be trusted to perform.
As the snow fell in Canberra, it became abundantly clear that the Giants are a fairweather football side. Fairweather football sides don’t win premierships.
On ABC Grandstand’s match broadcast, AFL hall of famer Mick Malthouse said GWS had chucked it in — a damning but completely valid assessment.
What happened to the Demons?
While the disappointment sparked by the Dons and Giants has been punctuated by their inconsistency, for Melbourne, 2019 has been an unmitigated disaster from start to finish.
The Dees were exhilarating last season on their way to a first finals appearance since 2006 and, while it ended in an epic preliminary final failure, there were justifiably high expectations of Simon Goodwin’s side this year.
The return of Jake Lever from injury and the arrival of Gold Coast co-captain Steven May to partner him in defence strengthened Melbourne’s squad considerably. But like the side, May’s season has been a write-off. A hamstring injury suffered during Saturday’s 17-point loss to Collingwood has likely ended his year.
The big question now is whether this season was an aberration for May and for Melbourne.
With a style of play that’s hard to discern and talented players like Angus Brayshaw regressing, the start of 2020 will be telling. If the Dees can’t make an early statement, the club and coach will come under serious pressure.
Essendon premiership player Adam Ramanauskas said during the ABC Grandstand call on Saturday, that how May presents for pre-season training will reveal much about Melbourne’s prospects.
It was incomprehensible that he would arrive for his first pre-season with the Demons in a poor physical state. As one of Melbourne’s most handsomely paid players, May must prove he wants to reward the club’s investment.
The only thing running colder than the Dees? Canberra
Who would schedule a Friday night game in Canberra in the middle of winter? It was a painfully predictable question asked in the aftermath of the clash between the Giants and Hawthorn.
It must be a privilege to live in a world where everything can be viewed with the benefit of hindsight. Rather than criticise the fixturing, this was a night to celebrate a unique and spectacular football occasion.
Like the NRL version, when the Raiders and Tigers braved a snow-covered Bruce Stadium back in 2000, the AFL’s “Snow Game” will become part of footy folklore. For those who witnessed the lights go out at Waverley Park, or saw the MCG scoreboard catch fire, it becomes a classic “I was there” moment.
Commentating the game, I felt a sense of amazement similar to a kid seeing snow for the first time. Images of players obscured by falling powder, fans in ski goggles, tv-camera operators resembling Scott of the Antarctic, and kids defiantly licking ice creams will live large in my bank of footy memories.
The stories passed through generations are part of what makes the game special. We can’t play every game under the roof in the sanitised concrete environs of Docklands. So rather than complaining about the fixture, maybe people should just chill out.
Club legend deserves a fitting farewell
Jarryd Roughead has to play for Hawthorn this week, surely.
Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson is not one typically influenced by sentimentality and will always put the team ahead of the individual, but to leave a loyal servant — a heart-and-soul, four-time premiership player — like Roughead in the reserves is akin to Santa giving your kids a sack of onions for Christmas.
Mathematically, Hawthorn remains in finals contention with a match against Gold Coast at Docklands this week and a trip to Perth for a clash with reigning premiers West Coast in the final round.
As much as Roughead deserves to say goodbye after a distinguished career of more than 280 games, Hawthorn supporters also deserve the chance to farewell their former captain.
Throughout his career, Roughead has endeared himself to the fans and earned the widespread respect and affection of the entire football community. He’s overcome cancer, taken his demotion on the chin and given back to the game, even educating his opponents at VFL level.
Come on Clarko, you may have banned the long-sleeve jumpers at Hawthorn, but this week’s surely one to show your softer side. Let the big fella play.
Alister Nicholson is one of ABC Grandstand’s senior AFL commentators.