Halfway through a woefully disjointed round one, we all already have strong opinions. Here's a few more!
1. We don’t like Sunday (night), no no.
The AFL has always prided itself on its attendance figures, and claims to always be seeking the biggest possible crowds for its matches. Even TV broadcasters prefer the atmosphere created by large gatherings. But in order to mollify its television partners, the league is trying to sell us on Sunday night games, starting at 7.40pm. It will not work. Twilight games, starting at 4.40pm, are barely tolerated on a Sunday. Though there is a hard core of fans who will watch their team at 2am Tuesday morning if so required, weeknight slots are anathema to families and socialisers. Who wants to make a night of it with the working week beckoning? Who wants to be travelling home from Etihad Stadium after 11pm on a Sunday night? No one. The meagre crowd of 24,640 to watch Carlton open its season against Port Adelaide reflects this antipathy. Ahead of a Monday public holiday, the slot might work, but not as a semi-regular feature of the draw. But if the Fox ratings are OK, the cost of alienating fans will be measured against the benefit in keeping a broadcaster happy. The league undoubtedly sees such inconveniences for its consumers as an unfortunate necessity, as TV rights underpin its very existence. The promise to listen to fans on this issue sounds as hollow as the league’s promise to move potential blockbusters from Etihad Stadium to the MCG. Crowds matter, up to a point.
2. Premature prognostications (correct)
It is easy to criticise dramatic conclusions reached from round one matches. So often, a lower-ranked team’s emotional round-one victory is a false dawn, and once the mundanity of another match arrives, without months of anticipation and hype attached, their shortcomings quickly get exposed. In round one, 2012, the Brisbane Lions upset Melbourne at the MCG, raising expectations of a big season. They hosted the middling Blues in round two at the Gabba, and succumbed by 91 points, a much more accurate predictor of their eventually mediocre season.
But sometimes round-one assessments are correct. Collingwood played premiership favourites Fremantle on Friday night, and had some short-term personnel issues, but the gap between the Magpies and the Dockers was a grand canyon, exposing the fact that the Pies are rebuilding, not contending. Collingwood lacked skill, confidence, cohesion and physical presence, not all of which can be attributed to the immense pressure exerted by Fremantle. Thus, the most important of the players missing from their line-up are not seasoned key position types Ben Reid and Jesse White, but sidelined youngsters Matt Scharenberg, Nathan Freeman, Tim Broomhead, Adam Oxley, Paul Seedsman, Marley Williams and Josh Thomas. If that group proves good enough, Collingwood has a chance to re-emerge as a flag prospect in the next few years, with the likes of Travis Cloke and Scott Pendlebury still in their prime. Fremantle is the current benchmark, and the Magpies may improve with Reid, White, Sam Dwyer, Alex Fasolo, Jarryd Blair and Lachie Keeffe putting pressure on Nick Maxwell, Martin Clarke, Jack Frost, Ben Kennedy, Tyson Goldsack, and Ben Sinclair. But the Magpies lack a settled back six, team spirit, crumbing goalsneaks, foot skills and secondary midfield depth. They will not be a flag contender in 2014.
3. Premature prognostications (incorrect)
Carlton really did look underdone in Sunday night’s eventual capitulation to Port Adelaide. They started strongly, playing with verve, system and aggression, and ended up being beaten by a better team. Blues like Lachie Henderson and Dale Thomas will get better, and losing to Port will soon not be looked at as a terrible result. Port Adelaide is (a) one of the fittest teams in the competition and (b) still grossly underrated. With Jared Polec added to Chad Wingard, Brad Ebert and Ollie Wines, Port Adelaide is compiling an awesome running brigade, with Travis Boak and Hamish Hartlett revelling in the spreading of the load. Port also possesses two of the league’s most underrated targets, Justin (Mr Fixit) Westhoff and Jay Schulz, and a no-name backline that is versatile, tough and quick. While the Blues will be one of many teams fighting for a berth in the eight, Port Adelaide is on the improve, and ought to push for a top-four berth. Get on them before they become fashionable – they are currently ranked eighth for the top four, at $4.25, behind some questionable commodities such as Adelaide, North Melbourne and West Coast
Reliable, comforting in their predictability. Banal. The same things are said every year. Here come the talkback offerings from half-way through round one:
Sack the coach (Nathan Buckley).
Sack the coach (Mick Malthouse).
Umpiring is ruining the game (a missed head-high tackle Sunday night).
He wasn’t worth the money (Dale Thomas and Buddy Franklin).
The expansion teams will rule the earth.
For the record, our responses…
Nathan Buckley and Mick Malthouse deserve more time to prove their vision for their teams has the genuine prospect of a flag in the short-to-medium terms, but they would want to hold their ground this season.
The less-is-more umpiring at the weekend was generally excellent, as it was during the pre-season. Let the game flow.
Dale Thomas started brightly and faded. He is only 27, and needs game time after barely playing last year. Whether he was worth the amount he is being paid is debateable, but he has plenty of good footy left in him.
Lance Franklin will be serviceable, and he will tear some teams apart this season, once Sydney gets its mojo back. But that deal never seemed Swans-like, and suspicion lurks that it has cost Sydney more than money.
The expansion teams will become strong teams, as intended. It will not be a bad thing. But winning premierships is another matter. They just aren’t that easy to snare. All that is happening is that these clubs are becoming hard to beat, which, though painful when your teams loses to them, is good for the overall competition. They have many further phases to experience before cups are being held aloft at Blacktown and Carrara.