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Why we should celebrate Dane Swan and the AFL's other characters

For every Dane Swan, there are dozens of more regular, less colourful personalities

For every Dane Swan, there are dozens of more regular, less colourful personalities Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

England’s sacking of star batsman Kevin Pietersen recently got me thinking about the AFL and how modern-day footy treats its characters.

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when AFL clubs were full of rogues. In fact, if I look at the All-Australian teams of the late 1990s, they were overflowing with weird and wonderful personalities: Jason Akermanis, Ben Cousins, Tony Lockett, Peter ‘Spida’ Everitt and Daryn Cresswell among them.

Coaches who had been plying their trade for years, such as Kevin Sheedy, Mick Malthouse and Denis Pagan, understood how to communicate with these guys. They tolerated their slightly unusual behaviour, forgave them their occasional slip-ups and yet still found a way to bring out the best in them – and get them to function as part of a team. I played with a few beauties at North Melbourne in the 1990s, guys who really broke the mould, but that was a different era when players were given more latitude and allowed to express themselves more freely.

But obviously I understand that what might have been acceptable 20 years ago is not acceptable now. These days, the picture is quite different. For every Dane Swan, Dustin Martin or Jake King, there are dozens and dozens of more regular, less colourful personalities. Many supporters will say that’s no bad thing. Collingwood has chosen over the past year or two to dispense with several of its mavericks, players who helped win it the premiership in 2010, and replace them with younger, more ''coachable'' recruits.

Heath Shaw, Alan Didak, Ben Johnson, Dale Thomas and Andrew Krakouer have all been moved on to other clubs or moved out of the game altogether. Plenty of Magpie fans will have been sad to see them go. Coach Nathan Buckley has clearly put his stamp on his team, and indicated he would prefer to deal with younger players who don’t stray too far from the pack. I make no judgment about that - 'Bucks' might well have pulled the right rein - other than to say the next season or two will define the success of that philosophy.

But for me, it was always those left-of-centre players that not only made a football club but, through their unpredictability, their X factor, their madness if you like, often helped achieve team success.

Which brings us in a roundabout way to Swan. Swannie is one of a kind in today’s footy. Obviously he’s covered in tattoos but I don’t think it’s his artwork that makes him intriguing to fans. I think it’s more to do with his laidback attitude to football - as though he’s running out for a game of country footy on a sunny Saturday afternoon. It’s not that he doesn’t care about the game, or his performance - it’s just that football doesn’t consume his entire life. There’s a mystique about him because no one’s sure what makes him tick. So as footy becomes more analysed and scrutinised - where there’s less room for the game’s characters - Swannie is almost the Last of the Mohicans.

In spite of all that, I reckon he’s been - after Gary Ablett - probably the best player in the competition over the last eight or so years. In a move that was met with some criticism, Collingwood president Eddie McGuire and chief executive Gary Pert this week gave Bucks a great show of support by handing him a two-year contract extension. Being backed publicly in that way will give Buckley a lot of confidence.

My old coach Denis Pagan, who never sugar-coated the truth with his teams, used to say: ''I don’t care if I’m liked by the players, as long as I’m respected.'' And that, for me, is the big question about Collingwood this year: will the players play for their coach or not?

Which brings us to the season-opener at Etihad Stadium on Friday night. What a public test it will be for the Pies’ coach and his players because they’ll be coming up against a team, Fremantle, that I have tipped to win the premiership.

Collingwood is the great unknown of 2014. It has blooded a lot of young guys in the past season or two, got rid of some experienced and popular blokes, and will step out with a new captain and leadership group. Can Buckley get his new-look Pies to gel and play at the level they did in 2010 and 2011? In their premiership year, Collingwood hardly missed a tackle - or a smother or shepherd. It put pressure on opponents better than any other team.

Other sides strived to match the Magpies with that intensity.

The Dockers have taken over that mantle in the last 12 months: they’re the best defensive team now. The pressure they put on the opposition ball-carrier is second to none. I like Freo’s chances this year purely because of the hurt of last year’s grand final loss, which will sit with the players for the rest of their lives.

Having Matthew Pavlich fit for most of the year will be a huge bonus, ditto Aaron Sandilands who’s had an uninterrupted pre-season. I’m tipping even more improvement from their midfield group, Fyfe, Hill, Barlow and Mundy. And Michael Walters has the makings of a genuine star. The only thing that stands between the Dockers and a winning start to the season is Buckley’s remodelled team, and the bloke who wears the No.36 guernsey.

After a long summer, I can’t wait for it to start.

5 comments so far

  • Great article Wayne,
    I too miss the characters of the game, I think theres another reason why they are a dying breed.
    Obviously media plays a huge role in swaying public opion, i think some fans of the game need to sit back and see things for what they are sometimes. Lots of people are to quick judge one players actions differently from anothers. Take for emaple the way interstate champions/players are reported for misdemenours as compared to largely suppported Victorian sides. Perfect example is Ben Cousins, a champion, a trouble maker and in the end an addict. The way Ben was protrayed in vic media early into the peice was extremely different to the way victorian champions were reported a few years back when it was becoming more apparent there was a problem (illicit drugs). To such an extent that Cousins was sacked from the club due to AFL pressure, all this without one positive test and charges droppped by police for his last indescretion. Dont get me wrong maybe Ben deserved his fate, maybe he wouldnt be where he is now if he kept playing? The fact is some players are looked at in a less light than others when crimes are pretty much the same, look at the bombers. All players in the spotlight are still playing, whether you agree or not there is probably more evidence than Bens case to suggest they shouldnt be. But we the public get pretty tired of the 'oh but the players are so brave' maybe they are. But what about the players cruxified, when others with equal or worse crimes are almost revered. Im a little over the biased media these days, im sure you would have some thoughts on this Wayne with your experiences in football. Cheers

    Commenter
    Chris
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    March 14, 2014, 11:49AM
    • How can you compare Ben Cousins to what has happened at Essendon?! Where is the evidence to suggest that they shouldn't be playing?
      Not one single Esendon player has tested positive, granted Ben never returned a positive test either. But Ben was a repeat offender and was quite often in trouble off the the field, lets not forget the night he abandoned his car to avoid an RBT, and of course the infamous scenes where he was arrested for possesion.

      Ben Cousins and the saga at Essendon are completly different-

      Commenter
      Barney
      Location
      South of the border, down Mexico way
      Date and time
      March 14, 2014, 12:48PM
    • I agree Barney, Im an Eagles member & comparing Cousins with the Essendon thing is not accurate at all.

      If in fact the Essendon players get charged (big if), in my eyes they will be unlucky given they put faith in their employer. Not saying they are completely immune, but in reality I feel they are the one's who are totally blindsided. Ben on the other hand listened to nobody & ran his own agenda. Two different things. However he was welcomed over the Victorian border with open arms, which showed the big V hypocrisy at its best.

      I feel for the Essendon players, not the coaching staff. I hope the players get through this OK, they are young men who were perhaps naïve. Not a hangable offence in my eyes.

      As for Characters, we need them and we have plenty of them really.

      Commenter
      Coaster86
      Date and time
      March 14, 2014, 1:34PM
  • Cousins was sacked not because of the Vic papers or reporting. He was caught in situations that showed up what was rumours at the time. The Victorian Press would report with the same vigour any Victorian in the same situation. Living in WA I have heard but never repeated alleged and I emphasise alleged drug use of a few players around Cousins time. We will likely never know if there was a group abusing drugs at The Eagles at that time nor if The Eagles were trying to manage it on the quiet. What we do know is after Cousins sacking The Eagles set up systems to prevent and better deal with Drug use to the point they are likely to be the cleanest club in the comp and a good environment for players starting out.

    Commenter
    Go Blues
    Date and time
    March 14, 2014, 1:12PM
    • @ GoBlues
      Thats the whole point, there was obviously a problem at the eagles thats not the point, but people actually beleive that it was only an eagles problem which clearly it wasnt.
      Pretty sure your club would have had its bad eggs at the time, every club would have.
      It would be naive to think otherwise.

      Commenter
      Chris
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      March 14, 2014, 2:22PM

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2014 Home and Away

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NTH 60 vs ESS 99 Report Stats
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HAW 139 vs BRI 91 Stats
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Round 2
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RIC 98 vs CAR 86 Report Stats
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ESS 86 vs HAW 90 Report Stats
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STK 95 vs GWS 88 Stats
PTA 127 vs ADE 73 Report Stats
FRE 87 vs GCF 39 Report Stats
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BRI 68 vs GEE 93 Report Stats
MEL 30 vs WCE 123 Report Stats
WBU 54 vs NTH 83 Report Stats
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Round 3
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HAW 137 vs FRE 79 Report Stats
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WBU 100 vs RIC 98 Report Stats
ADE 71 vs SYD 134 Report Stats
GCF 114 vs BRI 61 Stats
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COL 76 vs GEE 87 Report Stats
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GWS 79 vs MEL 47 Report Stats
NTH 97 vs PTA 90 Report Stats
ESS 138 vs CAR 57 Report Stats
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Round 4
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RIC 72 vs COL 110 Report Stats
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CAR 58 vs MEL 81 Report Stats
PTA 159 vs BRI 46 Report Stats
GWS 83 vs WBU 110 Report Stats
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GCF 49 vs HAW 148 Report Stats
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SYD 48 vs NTH 91 Report Stats
STK 50 vs ADE 136 Report Stats
FRE 113 vs ESS 60 Report Stats
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Round 5
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BRI 63 vs RIC 106 Report Stats
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COL 93 vs NTH 58 Report Stats
SYD 92 vs FRE 75 Report Stats
WCE 56 vs PTA 70 Report Stats
ESS 65 vs STK 81 Report Stats
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ADE 137 vs GWS 72 Report Stats
MEL 78 vs GCF 86 Report Stats
WBU 91 vs CAR 119 Report Stats
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GEE 106 vs HAW 87 Report Stats
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Round 6
Fri, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
COL 83 vs ESS 60 Report Stats
STK 79 vs BRI 82 Report Stats
FRE 61 vs NTH 74 Report Stats
Sat, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
GCF 134 vs GWS 94 Report Stats
CAR 92 vs WCE 89 Report Stats
MEL 38 vs SYD 69 Report Stats
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WBU 83 vs ADE 92 Report Stats
RIC 52 vs HAW 118 Report Stats
PTA 107 vs GEE 67 Report Stats
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Round 7
Fri, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 70 vs COL 104 Report Stats
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HAW 175 vs STK 30 Report Stats
GWS 97 vs PTA 132 Report Stats
ADE 67 vs MEL 70 Report Stats
BRI 44 vs SYD 123 Stats
ESS 73 vs WBU 65 Report Stats
Sun, 04 MayTimes shown AEST
NTH 77 vs GCF 120 Report Stats
GEE 81 vs RIC 76 Report Stats
WCE 54 vs FRE 73 Report Stats
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Round 8
Fri, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD 107 vs HAW 88 Report Stats
Sat, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
PTA 94 vs FRE 76 Report Stats
BRI 57 vs ESS 65 Report Stats
MEL 83 vs WBU 99 Report Stats
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WCE 188 vs GWS 77 Report Stats
Mon, 12 MayTimes shown AEST
STK 69 vs CAR 101 Report Stats
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Round 9
Thu, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE 76 vs COL 55 Report Stats
Fri, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS 64 vs SYD 114 Report Stats
Sat, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC 74 vs MEL 91 Report Stats
NTH 125 vs BRI 38 Report Stats
FRE 96 vs GEE 64 Report Stats
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STK 87 vs GCF 125 Report Stats
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Round 10
Fri, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
GEE 111 vs NTH 91 Report Stats
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GWS 41 vs RIC 154 Report Stats
COL 109 vs WCE 101 Report Stats
PTA 100 vs HAW 86 Report Stats
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GCF 119 vs WBU 74 Report Stats
CAR 81 vs ADE 76 Report Stats
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Round 11
Thu, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD 148 vs GEE 38 Report Stats
Fri, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
STK 54 vs COL 140 Report Stats
Sat, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL 75 vs PTA 95 Report Stats
BRI 98 vs CAR 91 Report Stats
ESS 104 vs RIC 54 Report Stats
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ADE 109 vs GCF 77 Report Stats
WBU 51 vs FRE 89 Report Stats
HAW 94 vs GWS 87 Report Stats
WCE 44 vs NTH 82 Report Stats
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Round 12
Fri, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE 107 vs CAR 102 Report Stats
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HAW 123 vs WCE 79 Report Stats
PTA 129 vs STK 59 Report Stats
WBU 87 vs BRI 95 Report Stats
GWS 66 vs ESS 81 Report Stats
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GCF 74 vs SYD 109 Report Stats
FRE 90 vs ADE 50 Report Stats
NTH 116 vs RIC 88 Report Stats
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MEL 28 vs COL 61 Report Stats
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Round 13
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CAR 90 vs HAW 118 Report Stats
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RIC 85 vs FRE 105 Report Stats
SYD 98 vs PTA 94 Report Stats
WCE 103 vs GCF 100 Report Stats
BRI 80 vs GWS 125 Report Stats
ADE 109 vs NTH 73 Report Stats
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GEE 133 vs STK 37 Report Stats
COL 98 vs WBU 106 Report Stats
ESS 77 vs MEL 78 Report Stats
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Round 14
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RIC 51 vs SYD 62 Report Stats
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PTA 128 vs WBU 56 Report Stats
HAW 115 vs COL 86 Report Stats
GCF 118 vs GEE 78 Report Stats
FRE 105 vs BRI 22 Report Stats
ESS 101 vs ADE 92 Report Stats
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GWS 100 vs CAR 92 Report Stats
STK 70 vs WCE 103 Report Stats
MEL 66 vs NTH 107 Report Stats
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Round 15
Fri, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE 89 vs ESS 80 Report Stats
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HAW 116 vs GCF 63 Report Stats
STK 73 vs RIC 117 Report Stats
FRE 88 vs WCE 81 Report Stats
SYD 106 vs GWS 60 Stats
BRI 70 vs NTH 66 Report Stats
Sun, 29 JunTimes shown AEST
WBU 91 vs MEL 85 Report Stats
ADE 99 vs PTA 76 Report Stats
COL 91 vs CAR 76 Report Stats
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Round 16
Fri, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
NTH 108 vs HAW 88 Report Stats
Sat, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC 79 vs BRI 54 Stats
GWS 72 vs ADE 140 Report Stats
GCF 80 vs COL 75 Report Stats
MEL 34 vs FRE 97 Report Stats
PTA 60 vs ESS 62 Report Stats
Sun, 06 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR 151 vs STK 66 Report Stats
WCE 51 vs SYD 79 Report Stats
GEE 69 vs WBU 56 Report Stats
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Round 17
Fri, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
ADE 92 vs HAW 104 Report Stats
Sat, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL 36 vs GEE 102 Report Stats
NTH 92 vs STK 33 Report Stats
WBU 94 vs GCF 66 Report Stats
BRI 64 vs WCE 76 Report Stats
SYD 122 vs CAR 51 Report Stats
Sun, 13 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC 126 vs PTA 106 Report Stats
ESS 103 vs COL 39 Report Stats
FRE 136 vs GWS 60 Report Stats
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Round 18
Fri, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR 109 vs NTH 86 Report Stats
Sat, 19 JulTimes shown AEST
STK 118 vs FRE 60 Report Stats
GWS 87 vs GEE 94 Report Stats
Sun, 20 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA 72 vs MEL 69 Report Stats
WBU 94 vs ESS 101 Report Stats
Fri, 25 JulTimes shown AEST
WCE 42 vs RIC 59 Report Stats
Sat, 26 JulTimes shown AEST
BRI 110 vs GCF 56 Report Stats
HAW 104 vs SYD 94 Report Stats
Sun, 27 JulTimes shown AEST
COL 82 vs ADE 98 Report Stats
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Round 19
Thu, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
FRE 83 vs CAR 78 Report Stats
Fri, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD 79 vs ESS 57 Report Stats
Sat, 02 AugTimes shown AEST
ADE 105 vs WCE 136 Report Stats
RIC 89 vs GWS 62 Report Stats
GCF 117 vs STK 64 Report Stats
NTH 79 vs GEE 111 Report Stats
Sun, 03 AugTimes shown AEST
MEL 51 vs BRI 74 Stats
HAW 107 vs WBU 45 Report Stats
COL 76 vs PTA 70 Report Stats
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Round 20
Fri, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC 95 vs ESS 77 Report Stats
Sat, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
GWS 51 vs NTH 126 Report Stats
CAR 97 vs GCF 58 Report Stats
HAW 115 vs MEL 65 Report Stats
PTA 58 vs SYD 84 Report Stats
GEE 81 vs FRE 79 Report Stats
Sun, 10 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI 63 vs ADE 168 Report Stats
STK 99 vs WBU 122 Report Stats
WCE 126 vs COL 66 Report Stats
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Round 21
Fri, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
CAR 76 vs GEE 82 Report Stats
Sat, 16 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD 127 vs STK 56 Stats
GCF 47 vs PTA 56 Report Stats
ESS 77 vs WCE 74 Report Stats
COL 56 vs BRI 123 Report Stats
ADE 69 vs RIC 79 Report Stats
Sun, 17 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH 111 vs WBU 61 Report Stats
MEL 34 vs GWS 98 Report Stats
FRE 110 vs HAW 91 Report Stats
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Round 22
Fri, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
PTA 140 vs CAR 37 Report Stats
Sat, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH 101 vs ADE 94 Report Stats
ESS 108 vs GCF 89 Report Stats
GWS 67 vs COL 75 Report Stats
WCE 119 vs MEL 53 Report Stats
HAW 94 vs GEE 71 Report Stats
Sun, 24 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI 48 vs FRE 106 Report Stats
WBU 67 vs SYD 130 Report Stats
RIC 98 vs STK 72 Report Stats
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Round 23
Fri, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
COL 56 vs HAW 121 Stats
Sat, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
CAR 90 vs ESS 90 Stats
FRE 105 vs PTA 97 Stats
SYD 65 vs RIC 68 Stats
NTH 123 vs MEL 93 Stats
GEE 143 vs BRI 81 Stats
Sun, 31 AugTimes shown AEST
GCF 99 vs WCE 151 Stats
ADE 141 vs STK 62 Stats
WBU 109 vs GWS 115 Stats
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AFL Finals Round 1
Fri, 05 SepTimes shown AEST
HAW 104 vs GEE 68 Report Stats
Sat, 06 SepTimes shown AEST
SYD 93 vs FRE 69 Stats
NTH 93 vs ESS 81 Report Stats
Sun, 07 SepTimes shown AEST
PTA 132 vs RIC 75 Report Stats
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AFL Finals Round 2
Fri, 12 SepTimes shown AEST
GEE 92 vs NTH 98 Stats
Sat, 13 SepTimes shown AEST
FRE 83 vs PTA 105 Stats
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AFL Finals Round 3
Fri, 19 SepTimes shown AEST
SYD 136 vs NTH 65 Report Stats
Sat, 20 SepTimes shown AEST
HAW 97 vs PTA 94 Report Stats
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AFL Finals Round 4
Sat, 27 SepTimes shown AEST
SYD 74 vs HAW 137 Report Stats
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AFL Home and Away
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Sydney Swans 22 17 5 0 142.88 68
Hawthorn 22 17 5 0 140.78 68
Geelong Cats 22 17 5 0 113.77 68
Fremantle 22 16 6 0 130.40 64
Port Adelaide 22 14 8 0 129.92 56
North Melbourne 22 14 8 0 117.04 56
Essendon 22 12 9 1 106.34 50
Richmond 22 12 10 0 105.77 48
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