Geelong's James Podsiadly celebrates a goal against Hawthorn on Easter Monday. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
It seems 24 hours can be a long time in football these days, let alone a month. But that's how long the 2013 AFL season has been in progress, a whirlwind of news, crises and controversies.
Plenty of those have been founded in club boardrooms, medical departments and, apparently, chemical laboratories. But while without a degree in science one struggles to get their head around a catalogue of proteins, powders, extracts and supplements, we can at least all agree there has been some pretty compelling football played, too.
Already this season, the game has looked quicker and cleaner, and certainly higher-scoring. Some teams have disappointed, a few more have surprised. A few stars have hit their very best form, others have had careers seemingly revived.
There is still a long, long way to go in season 2013. But here is what we have already learnt:
THE CATS ARE COMING ... AGAIN
Just when you thought it was safe to ... Yes, these are Cats, not sharks, but Geelong 2013 seems no less ominous-looking than those three flag-winning versions of recent years. Much was supposed to revolve around the returns of Travis Varcoe and Daniel Menzel, one now gone for three months, the other perhaps forever, yet still Geelong looks a slicker, zippier outfit through names like Steven Motlop, Allen Christensen, Jordan Murdoch, George Horlin-Smith and Joel Selwood, a peerless leader. Be very afraid, rest of the AFL. And remember, this is an odd-numbered year.
COONEY BACK WITH A BANG
It could be another long year for the Western Bulldogs. But one clear ray of light has been Brownlow medallist Adam Cooney's return to his 2008 best. After several years marred by a degenerative knee complaint, Cooney in 2013 is averaging 25 disposals, five clearances and three tackles a game, consistent with his Brownlow-year returns, and has booted six goals besides. A real injection of class into a line-up that needs every bit it can get.
MEDALS BECOMING A MILLSTONE?
Case No.1: Sydney speedster Lewis Jetta was a key to Sydney's 2012 premiership success. His form, or lack of it, this season is the Swans' biggest concern. Averaging just more than nine disposals, Jetta has kicked just two goals in four games, compared with 11.2 to the same stage in 2012.
Case No.2: Brisbane Lion Daniel Rich was a deserved Michael Tuck Medal winner in the Lions' pre-season success. Like his team, the returns have been scant since, career-lows for disposals and disposal efficiency, and now a shoulder injury set to keep him out for two months.
Of course, Brownlow medallist Jobe Watson may be the exception.
DIFFERENT PORT IN A STORM
Ken Hinkley could not have asked for a better start to his senior coaching career. The unbeaten Power is being given every chance of knocking over pre-season flag fancy West Coast, unthinkable a month ago. Ascore of players have lifted for the new master's voice, most notably new skipper Travis Boak, averaging career highs for disposals, contested possessions, clearances, inside 50s and goals, while enigmatic Justin Westhoff has become the ultimate utility, but still ranking equal second in the league for scoreboard impact.
QUICKER UMPS MEAN CLEANER FOOTBALL
While contested possessions are at an all-time high, with an accompanying drop in disposal efficiency, throw-ups replacing bounce downs and quicker ball-ups are helping clean up congestion. Long kicking is at its highest since 2005, and scores are creeping up, the current average of 14.4 goals a game is the highest since 2000. Coaches aside, no one who saw last week's 15-goal first term at the SCG will argue these are not positives.
IF THE CAP FITS, WEAR IT
And just on that congestion being cleared, we have not been hearing much debate about the proposed cap on interchanges these past few weeks. Why aren't the AFL and rules people banging the drum quite so loudly? Perhaps because to date in 2013, interchange numbers have remained almost identical to last season, indeed a fraction lower at 130.9 per game compared with 131.3 in 2012, appearing to have found their maximum level. Other, more direct measures taken by the umpires have helped clear the clutter. Are we really going to need this bigger step as well?
THOMAS MAKES A POINT WITH GOALS
After being plagued by the kicking yips like few other forwards before him (21.36 in 2011), North Melbourne's Lindsay Thomas has got his radar going beautifully this season. Equal AFL goalkicking leader after four rounds with 16, Thomas has a career-high scoring accuracy of 77per cent. He has been equally lethal from the set shot and at ground level, seven of those 16 majors coming from general play.
THEY MIGHT NOT BE GIANTS
They said it would take the expansion teams a while to get there, and they were not wrong. Gold Coast is stringing its form together at least for a few weeks on end. For GWS, meanwhile, it is still a quarter here and there, last Sunday's last-quarter capitulation a good example. The loss of Jonathon Patton really hurts, but others need to show a bit more resilience. Needless to say, this week's clash with the Suns is a crucial test.