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The AFL has confirmed 2018’s All Australian squad of 40, from which a best 22 for the season will be named on Wednesday night.

Premiership favourites Richmond have been given a strong vote of confidence by the selectors with the most players picked in the squad – no less than eight.

That is twice as many as any other team in the league – Collingwood, Geelong and West Coast have all picked up four nominees each.

Hawthorn have the least of any top-four side with three, while Melbourne (3), GWS (2) and Sydney (2) all have some representation.

Even wooden spooners Carlton have gotten a nod with their only nominee, Patrick Cripps, certain to be included in the final team.

Gold Coast and St Kilda are the only teams in the league to not have a single nomination in the 40, while along with Carlton, Adelaide (Rory Laird), Essendon (Devon Smith), Fremantle (Lachie Neale) and the Western Bulldogs (Jack Macrae) only have one each.

The full squad is as follows:

Rory Laird, Adelaide.
Harris Andrews, Brisbane.
Dayne Beams, Brisbane.
Patrick Cripps, Carlton.
Jordan de Goey, Collingwood.
Brodie Grundy, Collingwood.
Scott Pendlebury, Collingwood.
Steele Sidebottom, Collingwood.
Devon Smith, Essendon.
Lachie Neale, Fremantle.
Mark Blicavs, Geelong.
Patrick Dangerfield, Geelong.
Tom Hawkins, Geelong.
Tom Stewart, Geelong.
Callan Ward, GWS.
Lachie Whitfield, GWS.
Luke Breust, Hawthorn.
Jack Gunston, Hawthorn.
Tom Mitchell, Hawthorn.
Max Gawn, Melbourne.
Clayton Oliver, Melbourne.
Ben Brown, North Melbourne.
Shaun Higgins, North Melbourne.
Robbie Gray, Port Adelaide.
Tom Jonas, Port Adelaide.
Josh Caddy, Richmond.
Trent Cotchin, Richmond.
Shane Edwards, Richmond.
Dylan Grimes, Richmond.
Kane Lambert, Richmond.
Dustin Martin, Richmond.
Alex Rance, Richmond.
Jack Riewoldt, Richmond.
Lance Franklin, Sydney.
Jake Lloyd, Sydney.
Andrew Gaff, West Coast.
Shannon Hurn, West Coast.
Jeremy McGovern, West Coast.
Elliot Yeo, West Coast.
Jack Macrae, Western Bulldogs.

Article link: AFL releases 2018 All Australian squad of 40. Written by The Roar, on The Roar - Your Sports Opinion.

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Later on today the AFL will unveil the initial All Australian squad of 40, ahead of the team’s announcement on Wednesday. We can skip all that: here’s the team of the year for 2018.

If there is one thing the pre-finals bye affords us it is some time to breathe. We don’t need to jump into finals mode instantly – we can spend a little bit of time relishing a compelling 2018 home and away season, which ultimately came down to the second last game of the year. But what it could’ve been, as Brad Scott said in his post-game press conference after the ‘Roos 12th win of the year.

It was a season that turned on a knife’s edge about 973 times. Four teams finished on 12 wins and didn’t make the finals, which was surely the first time that has happened in the history of the league.

What if North Melbourne hadn’t been bested by Gold Coast in a torrential downpour in Round 1? What if Adelaide had put a few less kilograms on the machines on leg day this off season? What if Essendon had’ve shown up against Carlton and Fremantle in the first half of the season? What if Port Adelaide had closed out just one of the half a dozen games it let slip in the last ten minutes?

That’s for later in the week. For now, we have business to attend to: the All Australian team for 2018.

First of all, this is supposed to be a 1,000-word column so my remarks on my team will be relatively (for me) brief.

Second of all, I am a firm believer in the notion the All Australian team should be something of a time capsule for the season it represents. There is some conflict in this: we want a team that captures the essence of the year from a structure perspective, but equally we have to reward the best 22 seasons if we can. That will lead to some harsh calls – particularly for tall forwards.

Finally, past performance does not matter, nor does potential. We value what happened in the 2018 home and away season. One selection I ummed and ahhed over for far too long (given I have no say in the selection of the actual team) was between Josh Caddy and Jack Gunston. I was so torn I put up a Twitter poll, and a lot of folks pointed to Gunston’s ability to go back compared to Caddy’s more defined role.

That’s fine, but isn’t relevant to the discussion.

This also means players don’t get judged because they’ve had a ‘down year’ if a ‘down year’ means going from Brownlow medallist to ‘leading the league in score involvements and centre bounce clearances’. Dustin Martin is in.

Dusty Martin (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

And here is who else makes it into my team.

FB R Laird A Rance T Stewart
HB S Hurn (c) P Davis L Whitfield
C J Macrae T Mitchell A Gaff
HF P Dangerfield L Franklin J Caddy
FF L Breust J Riewoldt T Hawkins
Fol. M Gawn C Oliver P Cripps
Int. B Grundy D Martin M Bontempelli
N Fyfe

Let’s go line by line in a paragraph each.

Rory Laird is the golden god of small defenders, blanketing his man when he has one, helping over the top, and winning an extraordinary amount of the ball on the deck. Alex Rance is a default selection, and contrary to popular opinion leads the league in defensive one on ones this year (and has twice as many as Dylan Grimes, who’ll no doubt make today’s squad).

Tom Stewart is my choice for the flex spot, the Geelong defender as competent beating his man as he is in spoiling over the top and powering the ball back on counterattack.

Shannon Hurn has had a career year on the half back line, his disposal quality returning to his mid-20s peak as the Eagles’ game plan demanded it. Phil Davis beats out Jeremy McGovern to the centre half back spot, the Giant an anchor down back in what was a tough year for GWS from a player availability point of view.

What Davis gives up on McGovern in intercept marking he more than makes up in defensive one on one prowess, spoils and work once the ball hits the deck. His team mate Lachie Whitfield is the other half back – sneakily good as a defender, while absolutely lethal with the ball in hand (as Cam Rose often says, gun midfielders make the best half backs because it’s a much easier position to play!).

The centre line picks itself: Andrew Gaff has had a career season, adding some inside flex to his previously outside-oriented game. Tom Mitchell is Tom Mitchell. Jack Macrae was like Gaff-lite over the full year, but for a month around the mid way point looked like the best player in the competition.

Tom Mitchell of the Hawks. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Patrick Dangerfield is the only time share midfielder picked in my forward line, a reflection of his changed role in 2018 plus his still-stellar midfield output. Lance Franklin played 18 games but crammed 25 games worth of output into them – and almost won the freaking Coleman medal again.

The aforementioned Caddy makes it on the left half forward flank – a dead eye with the ball, he’s the ideal flex forward in a year where the position became its own sub-type.

Luke Breust was far and away the best small forward of the season, leading the league in forward 50 ground ball gets and finishing top five in the Coleman medal. Coleman medallist Jack Riewoldt stands at full forward as is tradition, but he’s earned his place with his play outside of kicking six pointers.

The final forward spot is tricky because there is no way known we can pick three talls. Except we have to – there has been so many quality seasons by tall guys, and comparatively few from strictly small forwards. Tom Hawkins gets the nod over Ben Brown, booting three less goals in two fewer games, but assisting on plenty more and being involved in even more again. I briefly considered Melbourne’s Jake Melksham for the spot, but sanity (I think) prevails in the end.

The follower line is largely uncontroversial. Max Gawn gets the starting ruck spot for his ruck work, plus his ability to work the wings and defensive end of the ground. Clayton Oliver was probably the most influential player this season outside of Franklin; at 20 years of age this guy’s ceiling isn’t in our view.

Patrick Cripps broke the record for most contested possessions in a home and away season, and carried his entire club on his heavily taped shoulders. I just hope the Blues are good again before he breaks.

Patrick Cripps of the Blues (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

As for the bench, Brody Grundy has to get the number one bench spot in recognition of his remarkable season. He can’t be penalised because his season happened to happen simultaneously with Gawn’s. Dustin Martin led the league in score involvements and centre bounce clearances; he might’ve less grunt work on the outside for the Tigers, but he didn’t need to do it this year, and the killer was still there for all to see.

Marcus Bontempelli put together an under-the-radar stellar season, his hands and kicking boots as clean as ever. He doesn’t need 35 touches to influence games.

The Bont. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Speaking of which, Nat Fyfe probably won’t get picked in the All Australian 22 on account of playing 15 of 22 games, but his performance in two thirds of the season was enough for him to be considered one of the best players of the season as a whole for mine.

There are probably quibbles everywhere. Ben Brown was in the All Australian team for two thirds of the season, but a quieter end to the year once the ‘Roos started to slow down as well as his more one dimensional game cost him.

If Elliot Yeo won another bench spot over Bontempelli or Fyfe I wouldn’t be too perturbed. Nick Vlaustin is one of my favourite players and could easily be in instead of Whitfield. The Giants haven’t got a midfielder in my side, but either of Callan Ward or Stephen Coniglio could make it in and that would be fine.

Jeremy McGovern will probably make it into the side over Davis because of the fetishisation of intercept marks. Robbie Gray could be an option for a small forward spot. Steele Sidebottom will make the squad and could be worthy of a bench spot; Shaun Higgins, Paul Seedsman and Devon Smith are in that class as well.

Injury will rob Harris Andrews, Josh Kelly, James Sicily and Adam Treloar of a place. There will undoubtedly be an obscure stats-based squad selection (Mark Blicavs lost just 14 per cent of his defensive one on ones – that would be my pick).

But it doesn’t matter, because you already know the All Australian team for 2018. It’s a scroll or two above.

Article link: Ryan Buckland’s All Australian Team for the 2018 season. Written by Ryan Buckland, on The Roar - Your Sports Opinion.

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The dust has settled on Carlton’s 2018 season and after 22 games, they’ve recorded just two wins and a percentage below 60 – their worst result in any season since 1901.

It’d be easy to forecast nothing but doom and gloom given those results, but a closer look at Carlton’s list suggests that while they’re pretty rubbish right now, it won’t stay that way forever.

Today in the first of instalment of my postseason list breakdown series we’ll take a look at Carlton, asking and answering all the big questions.

Are the kids alright? Where do the Blues need more players? Did they overperform or underperform? Which contracts are their top priorities? Will they sign a big free agent? Can they land Dylan Shiel at the trade table? Should they trade pick 1? If not, who should they draft with it? Will they get a priority pick? Should they? And more.

Enjoy the read today and be sure to check in over the next ten days as I breakdown the lists of every 2018 non-finalist.

Two important things to note before we get started.

Firstly, most references to player age in this series will be based on what age the players will be on Jan 1, 2019 – so some players may be described as being 23 when they’re presently 22, but will turn that age soon.

Secondly, I’ve used AFLCA votes extensively as a measure of on-field performance. No, it’s not a perfect measurement – not even close. But, it’s about as good as we’re going to get for an objective perspective.

List breakdown

As you’d expect for a club that’s firmly in the middle of a rebuild, Carlton entered the league as one of the youngest and least experienced sides of the season.

They were the fifth-youngest team in terms of the average age of the playing list, and equal-fifth least experienced (tied with the Western Bulldogs).

The Blues have 24 players on their list who are 23 or younger, which is slightly more than the league average of 22.

You can tell they’ve invested heavily in the past three drafts though, as 19 of those players are 21 or younger – way up on the league average of 14.

The Blues pumped 36 per cent of all games this year into their players aged 21 or younger, and just shy of 49 per cent of games were invested into players 23 or younger.

The league averages for those categories are 19 and 38 per cent respectively, so it’s clear the Blues are making an above-average investment in their youth at the selection table.

No other team in the league put as many games into players 21 or younger, and only Brisbane, Gold Coast and the Western Bulldogs gave more games to players 23 and under.

The Blues were rewarded with 26 AFLCA votes being picked up by players aged 19-21, and a further 89 by their players 22-23 (most of those belonging to Patrick Cripps).

(Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Compare that to an average of 25 votes across the competition being awarded to players 19-21 on each list, and 46 for players 22-23, and there’s enough evidence to suggest Carlton’s youth is on track in terms of their match-winning ability.

The key players here are of course Patrick Cripps but also Charlie Curnow, Zac Fisher, Paddy Dow, Matthew Kennedy, Caleb Marchbank, Harry McKay, Lochie O’Brien, Sam Petrveski-Seton, Lachie Plowman and Jacob Weitering.

In them, Blues fans have cause enough to believe that while the present may be unpleasant, the future is bright.

Unfortunately for the Blues, while the kids held up their end of the bargain, it was a lack of quality prime-age players that let them down.

The Blues saw just three AFLCA votes awarded all year to their players aged between 24 and 28, by an enormous margin the worst count in the league where the average list had 212 votes awarded to players in this age bracket.

You can tell why pretty quickly when looking at the players in this age group – Jed Lamb with 18 games and Liam Jones with 17 were the most prolific in terms of onfield appearances, with Aaron Mullett, Cam O’Shea, Levi Casboult and Nick Graham also hitting double digits.

A motley crew if ever there was one, and it’s no surprise that the Blues didn’t get much quality out of this group.

The Blues’ veterans, in particular, Ed Curnow and Kade Simpson, get a thumbs up. Players 29 and over brought in 57 of Carlton’s AFLCA votes, just a tick below the league average of 61.

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Marc Murphy is also a valuable player in this bracket, but missed a decent chunk of the year through injury.

In total, the Carlton list picked up 175 AFLCA votes for the year, and they can take some pride in the fact that although they may have finished below them, they recorded more total votes across the club than both the Gold Coast and St Kilda – due largely to the outstanding form of Patrick Cripps.

Underperformed or overperformed?

When it comes to the team they were putting on the field each week, Carlton’s team was about 24-and-a-half on average across the season, and boasted 1765.32 games of experience.

That’s about half a year younger than the leaguewide average of 25 (sixth youngest), and 270 games less experienced than the leaguewide average of 2035.68 (fifth least experienced).

There’s a clear correlation between the age and experience of the team you put on the field and winning in the AFL – roughly two-thirds of all games are won by older or more experienced teams, and winning teams tend to be nearly half a year older and 200 games more experienced on average than losing teams.

That being the case, it’s no surprise that Carlton lost this year – a lot. However to pick up only two wins and finish with a percentage of 59.3, the worst in the league in both respects, was still a well below par effort given the Blues weren’t that far below the average age and experience benchmarks compared to some others.

Verdict: Underperformed.

Contracts

Overall, the Blues are doing really well on the contracts front. Just about all of the crucial young players on their list – in particular Patrick Cripps and Charlie Curnow – have been signed up for the long term already, and convincing Marc Murphy to remain with the club mid-year was a final coup.

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

That being the case, their top priority right now should be to sign up Kade Simpson, Dale Thomas, Matthew Wright and Sam Rowe to one-year deals for 2019. Some of the four may be weighing up retirement, but the Blues simply cannot afford to let them go if they’re willing to stay.

Carlton will also have to consider the futures of Nick Graham, Sam Kerridge, Jed Lamb, Aaron Mullett, Cam O’Shea, Matt Shaw and Alex Silvagni.

None of the six appears likely to be a part of any future success, and they should only be kept around if they’re a good influence on the club’s developing young stars – I’d expect most if not all of them will be cut.

Jesse Glass McCasker has had three years on the rookie list without making his debut, Kym LeBois two years for the same result. One would have to assume both will be cut to make room for new rookies.

Looking ahead to 2019, the Blues’ top priority should be to sign up Harry McKay for the long term, as he’ll be out of contract at the end of next season.

2023
Charlie Curnow

2022
Paddy Dow

2021
Patrick Cripps
Zac Fisher
Tom De Koning
Lochie O’Brien
Sam Petrevski-Seton
Jacob Weitering

2020
Sam Docherty
Harrison Macreadie
Marc Murphy
Lachie Plowman
Cameron Polson
Tom Williamson

2019
Ciaran Byrne
Levi Casboult
David Cuningham
Ed Curnow
Jarrod Garlett
Liam Jones
Patrick Kerr
Matthew Kreuzer
Matthew Lobbe
Caleb Marchbank
Cillian McDaid
Harry McKay
Andrew Phillips
Angus Schumacher
Jack Silvagni

Out of contract
Jesse Glass-McCasker
Nick Graham
Sam Kerridge
Jed Lamb
Kym LeBois
Aaron Mullett
Cameron O’Shea
Sam Rowe
Matt Shaw
Alex Silvagni
Kade Simpson
Dale Thomas
Matthew Wright

Unconfirmed
Darcy Lang
Jarrod Pickett
Matthew Kennedy

(Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Free agency

The Blues are lacking mature bodies but aren’t going to want to give up valuable draft picks to get them, so free agency is the logical route to go down as it gives them the means to do exactly that.

The flaw of course in free agency is that players don’t generally want to move to a club at or near the bottom of the ladder if they’ve got any other option, which good players normally do.

This is clearly something those running the show at Carlton are a bit perturbed by. Both Stephen Silvagni and Brendon Bolton have had a public crack at free agency during the year.

That being the case, one can assume with confidence although they no doubt enquired at some point, Carlton will not be landing a player like Andrew Gaff or Tom J Lynch this offseason.

They do however seem to have landed one signature: it seems just about locked in that Alex Fasolo will be joining them on a three-year deal.

Fasolo probably fits into that category of players who will come because they don’t have much else to choose from – he’s fallen out of favour at Collingwood this year and the security of long-term deal at Carlton will appeal.

At his best Fasolo could grease the wheels of Carlton’s forward line and offer some pizzazz around goals. At his worst, he’s often been accused of going missing and failing to put in a good defensive effort.

(Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

The Blues haven’t been linked too strongly to any other free agents, but there’s a few I’d say they should have a crack at.

Mitch Wallis and Luke Dahlhaus from the Western Bulldogs would both be valuable pickups, fitting into the age bracket the Blues are targetting and would add some mature muscle to their midfield depth (not to mention Dahlhaus’ premiership experience).

Both have other suitors, but Carlton surely would have the salary cap room available to make them superior financial offers, which might be enough to sway them.

Although, as we’ve discussed, the Blues have some valuable veterans, it’s still a worthy idea for them to pursue an older player from another club, particularly if they can land one who has a lot of finals and premiership experience – ala Luke Hodge to Brisbane.

They’ve already ruled out any interest in Brendon Goddard, and seem committed to instead pursuing players in a younger age bracket, but they’d be foolish to overlook some of the possibilities here.

No.1 on the shopping list would have to be Jarrad McVeigh, who has said he wants to play on but might not get another contract offer at Sydney. Offering him a deal to play for another one or two years before becoming an assistant coach at the club would be a major coup.

I’d also consider offering a deal to Paul Puopolo – he’s yet to re-sign with the Hawks for 2019, and could teach Carlton’s young forwards a thing or two while also setting a good example at training and in delivering defensive pressure on field, before possibly also transitioning into coaching.

(Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

Trade period

The Blues have been one of the league’s most active sides during trade period over the past few years, and that looks likely to continue in 2018.

At the top of the wishlist is Dylan Shiel, a player whose name is cropping up more and more in trade discussions lately.

The deal with Shiel seems to be that he had an eye on returning to Victoria at the end of next year, but might wind up moving sooner.

Shiel is contracted until the end of next year when he would instead be a restricted free agent, but it’s reported that a salary cap squeeze could see the Giants be willing to cut their losses and trade him now.

Carlton are one of three clubs reported to be in the hunt, with Essendon and Hawthorn the others pursuing his signature.

The Blues do have a few good reasons to believe that they could land Shiel.

To start with, they almost certainly have the inside track in terms of contact – Shiel has a longstanding relationship with Stephen Silvagni, and I’d bet Carlton have been in touch with his management much earlier than anyone else.

Secondly, they’re bound to be able to make Shiel a sweeter financial offer than either Essendon or Carlton can manage.

And lastly, they’ve got more trade capital thanks to having pick 1 this year and likely a high pick again in 2019 – so if GWS have any kind of choice in the matter, they’ll probably be pushing Shiel in this direction.

Pick 1 in a swap for Shiel is the deal that’s been discussed. Personally, as much as Shiel is an excellent player, I wouldn’t be making that trade if I were the Blues.

Instead, I’d say the deal would probably be Carlton’s 2019 first rounder for Shiel. The Blues can back themselves in to improve a little in 2019 if they land Shiel and also have a fit Sam Docherty added to their side next year.

However, the overall problem when it comes to Shiel is this: it’s just not that likely. While the Blues do have some things going in their favour, I’d expect when he does move, this year or next, it’ll be to a club better positioned for success in the near future.

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Probably more realistic is the younger players the Blues have been linked to: Will Brodie and Jack Scrimshaw at the Gold Coast Suns, and Will Setterfield at the GWS Giants.

Both Brodie and Scrimshaw have had limited opportunities at Gold Coast this year despite the Suns’ struggles, and although they’re contracted until the end of 2020 there’s been significant speculation that they’ll look to request trades home to Victoria.

Carlton are probably the most likely destination if so, as they haven’t really been linked strongly to any other clubs, but have been brought up in connection to the Blues more than a few times.

Setterfield probably depends on what happens with Shiel. He too is contracted until the end of 2020, but is one that the Giants might be open to moving on in order to relieve salary cap pressure.

Essendon are known to be interested in him too, and probably have the inside track – they’ve been keen on him since his draft year and even considered bidding on him with pick 1 then.

If Shiel comes to the Dons then the Blues could woo Setterfield, of course, if that happens then GWS might no longer have a need to move him on to make salary cap room.

I’d say Brodie should be the top priority – he’s shown some serious talent at AFL level and would be a brilliant longterm midfield partner for Patrick Cripps. If they can also land Scrimshaw or Setterfield, bonus.

The difficult thing, of course, will be striking a deal for them at the trade table, as aside from pick 1 – which they presumably won’t want to give away – the Blues have relatively little trade currency this year.

Because they swapped their second rounder to the Crows in last year’s Bryce Gibbs deal, their next pick won’t come until number 24, which probably wouldn’t be enough to secure the likes of Brodie et al given they’re contracted for next year and beyond.

This is where the potential for the Blues to be awarded a priority pick (which we’ll discuss more later on) comes in – they’d likely get pick 19 at worst, which might give them a better chance at getting a deal done.

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

The Blues have also been linked to Aaron Hall and Dom Tyson during the year. Hall could be handy steak knives in a larger deal with the Suns but has been linked more strongly to North Melbourne, while Tyson is probably more likely to see out his contract with Melbourne.

Nic Newman at Sydney is the other player I’d be looking at. While he’s not necessarily a position they’re craving, he potentially represents good value, which is always a possibility worth exploring.

What’s also been talked about a lot for Carlton is the possibility of trading the No.1 pick – as it always is every year for the club with the first selection, only to so-rarely-ever come to pass.

It has been suggested that Adelaide could offer Carlton a draft bonanza as they’ve got a number of early picks this year. At this stage, they’ve got pick 7, 19, and Melbourne’s first-round pick all inside the top 20.

The Crows would love to move up to the top of the draft order and snag South Australian wunderkind Jack Lukosius, but even with all those picks I don’t think they’re going to have enough currency to make Carlton come to the table.

If I were Carlton I’d only consider trading pick 1 to a team that can offer a selection in the top six plus something very worthwhile to make up the gap – Adelaide’s pick 7 is just outside the range where this year’s best young talent will be found.

It’s probably not particularly realistic that a deal of that nature materialises, but if I’m the Blues I’d considering dangling the selection in front of Gold Coast or Fremantle, who both have good reason to want to move up – but we’ll talk more about that when we come to those teams.

Draft

Inside the first three rounds, Carlton have pick 1, courtesy of finishing on the bottom of the ladder, as well as picks 24 and 25, formerly belonging to the Western Bulldogs and Adelaide Crows and acquired through trade last year.

Their own original second and third round picks – what would be 19 and 37 – are both at West Lakes, courtesy of the complicated swap that saw Bryce Gibbs leave the club.

What has been talked about much already and will be talked about plenty more before rubber meets the road is the decision Carlton faces between Victorian midfielder Sam Walsh and South Australian key forward Jack Lukosius with the first pick of the draft – if they do, as expected, keep it.

Sam Walsh. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Walsh is the best midfielder in the draft, but also likely the best leader in the draft. He won the Larke Medal as the MVP of the U18 championships – despite playing in a Victorian Country side who lost every game – and by all reports has the charisma and character of a future AFL captain.

At 183cm and 74kg, Walsh is more of an outside midfielder at the moment, but will likely eventually develop into a prolific hybrid type who can both win the ball and deliver it.

Lukosius, on the other hand, is the top key forward prospect in the draft and, according to some, might be the best key forward prospect that the draft has seen in upwards of a decade.

Some pundits have gone a little gunshy on drafting key forwards early given the struggles of players like Tom Boyd and Paddy McCartin after being the No.1 pick, but Lukosius is a different breed.

Whereas Boyd and McCartin dominated the lower levels due to their immense physical size, 194cm 85kg Lukosius is more of a mobile athletic key forward in the mould of Nick Riewoldt, so probably more suited to the modern game.

Look, it’s a debate that could go on for a long time, and you can be sure we’ll discuss it in more detail when the draft gets a bit closer.

I’d take Lukosius personally – I know Carlton fans want a midfielder, but they’ll get plenty of future opportunities to draft good mids, and might not get a chance to draft a player like Lukosius again for years to come.

In the end though, don’t think of it as a choice with a right answer and a wrong answer – there are two right answers to the question of who to take at pick 1, and whichever way the Blues go they’ll be on a winner.

Jack Lukosius. (Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

The Blues are also in the mix to get a priority pick from the AFL, and at this stage it’s not clear where in the order that will fall.

While there’s been some talk of it coming at the start of the draft, I have extreme doubts that this will eventuate, as the league’s other clubs are likely to set fire to AFL house if it happens.

Instead I’d wager the most likely result is the Blues get a selection at the end of the first round, which would be pick 19, although there’s some chance it could be in the middle, at pick 11.

This probably isn’t the time and place to discuss the question of priority picks in depth, but suffice to say my stance is that Carlton shouldn’t get one, because no one should get one.

In my view, the provision to hand out priority picks should only exist for use in extremely catastrophic and unavoidable circumstances, the likes of which we’re yet to see in the league and hopefully never will.

Moreover, the fact the Blues publicly rejected the notion of asking for a priority pick during the year and are now set to approach the AFL cap in hand feels to me like a crushing blow to the morale of the club.

I suspect the Blues would have more to gain in the future from the pride which comes from building off the sweat of their own brow than they would from securing yet one earlyish more draft selection – but, enough on this subject.

There’s a good chance that the Blues could trade away whatever priority pick they get – the AFL may even attach that as a condition – or the picks they hold in the second round, for players like Brodie, Scrimshaw or Setterfield.

If they don’t, I’d say the priority with these selections should be to add depth to their midfield and find some medium or small goalkickers.

Riley Collier-Dawkins and Luke Valente are two I like for the Blues as midfielders. 193cm 88kg Collier-Dawkins is a big lad who’d make a great longterm partner for Patrick Cripps at the coalface, especially if they don’t bring in Will Brodie, while Valente captained South Australia to the trophy at the U18 championships and was voted the state’s MVP by his peers, a sure sign of good character.

Curtis Taylor or Ian Hill would both fit the bill for medium-small forwards, but will probably be outside..

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The future looked bleak for Hawthorn fans after four rounds in 2017 where they endured seeing their team receive back-to-back 86-point drubbings at the hands of the Geelong Cats and more surprisingly, the Gold Coast Suns.

They knew their premiership window would soon close but nobody expected it to be this quickly and in such a devastating manner.

Having endured three years of premiership success, perhaps they were vindicated in expecting some sort of decline, but not one to this effect. Regardless, it occurred and there were a number of reasons attributed to this, from the departures of their A graders in Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis to their remaining stars reaching the twilight of their careers.

Motivation would also have been a factor as how long could a team continue to maintain their hunger for success after years upon years of glory?

Fast forward to 2018 and Alastair Clarkson has managed to rebuild his brown and gold empire with another finals campaign arriving. Nobody could have predicted such a turnaround, but could anybody really be surprised given the pedigree of the man they have leading their club?

Another shot at glory now beckons for this great club, but their path to redemption began back in the trying campaign of 2017.

On Friday the 16th of September 2016, the heavily fancied Hawks were overrun by a quicker, hungrier and more manic Bulldogs team and by the time the final siren went, Clarkson knew full well the era of this once great team had ended.

(Image: AAP Image/Joe Castro)

Their game plan had been exposed, teams had figured out how to play them and they were relying on star players whose time has passed both in terms of their playing style and their physical decline.

The game had moved towards a larger emphasis on contested ball which was an area Clarkson identified his team were weak in. The game plan had to be changed and the Bulldogs had seemingly set the blueprint with their contested ball and quick handball game plan to pierce through opposition defences.

Hawthorn saw a steady increase in the hand ball numbers which saw them veer away from their usual precision kicking strategy. The issue was the Bulldogs’ plan had been exposed as well which resulted in the premiers missing out on finals altogether.

Little did Clarkson know the ideas he was trying to instil were already a thing of the past. With such reliance on hand balls and playing a brand of football that was foreign to the club, the team saw their goals output dry up as the ball would constantly be turned over before reaching their forward line.

This was demonstrated in the deteriorating influences of their forwards whose marking numbers declined significantly.

This season, Clarkson has rebuilt the game plan again to incorporate a brand of football which is a mixture of contested ball, to move towards the modern game, while also maintaining the strategy that brought the Hawks so much success by instilling an attacking game plan built on kicking the ball rather than handballing.

Tom Mitchell has seen his average handballs go down from 21.4 in 2017 to 19.4 in 2018 while his kicks have gone from 13.9 in 2017 to 16.4 in 2018. Partner in crime, Jaeger O’Meara’s handballing numbers have decreased in 12 months from 14.7 to 10.9 while his kicking average has boosted from 6.8 to 12.8. Finally, vice-captain Liam Shiels has also modified his game to increase his average kicks from 11.4 to 14.2 while decreasing his handballs from 10.3 to 8.8.

The numbers don’t lie and are no doubt are a huge factor in the rise of this great club.

With the ball travelling faster between defence and attack, this has also presented more opportunities to their forward line again whose marking numbers have also increased, highlighted by Luke Breust’s 3.3 to 4.2 and Paul Puopolo’s 1.8 to 2.1.

In the space of 12 months, Clarkson had set the tactics in place to return his team to premiership contention. His next move was to focus on the personnel to execute his vision.

During their era of domination, many would think of names such as Sam Mitchell, Jordan Lewis, Luke Hodge, Josh Gibson, Cyril Rioli, Brian Lake and Jarryd Roughead when speaking about the team, but just as important were the batch of middle-tier players the Hawks possessed in their squad who were willing to do the one-percenters such as to lay the smother or block to get the ball into the hands of their A graders.

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

At the time, these players were the likes of Paul Puopolo, Ben Stratton, Liam Shiels, Taylor Duryea and Matt Suckling who were willing to run into space, apply pressure and provide the ball or space for their better ball users to exploit.

During 2017, an issue that arose for the Hawks were replacing these type of players, the players who formed the “gut” of the team. The departures of Mitchell and Lewis possibly minimized the priority for the need for this issue to be addressed as most of these middle-tier players were either transitioning to become the key players for the Hawks or their form was waning.

The players who were depended on to do the small things for their team were some of the likes of Ty Vickery, Billy Hartung, Taylor Duryea, Daniel Howe and Tim O’Brien, with four of those players now no longer a regular in the team as Vickery and Hartung have departed while Duryea and O’Brien are regulars in the VFL side.

A year later and the Hawks are in a far better position as Clarkson has injected a new breed of middle tier players into his squad with the likes of James Worpel, Jarman Impey, Ricky Henderson, Blake Hardwick and Harry Morrison not only bringing youthful energy but also the intensity and desperation that was missing during 2017.

(Photo by Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Players who do the grunt work and things off the scene are required to be desperate and hard working all the time and there is no doubt having won three premierships would surely take its toll on a player’s inner drive.

Clarkson saw this and he ruthlessly made the adjustments. Moments by these players matter. Look at Worpel’s contested ball win against Joel Selwood in the narrow win over the Cats, Henderson’s pressure goal from range that kick-started the Hawks against the Bombers, Howe’s clutch shot from range against the Cats from range in round 2 and Morrison’s relentless pressure on the opposition in every game.

All these moments came in games that were decided by less than ten points.

These players won’t necessarily always light up the stat sheet, dominate a game or kick a bag but what they do is, they make plays in moments that matter or at least influence the moments that matter and in a game of inches that is AFL, these moments could prove the difference.

The upside to this transition period was the emergence of players that were willing to step up and fill the void left by the club’s previous leaders.

The next generation had arrived in players such as Tom Mitchell, James Sicily, Liam Shiels and Jaeger O’Meara.

Perhaps, one of the more underrated and important aspects of a rebuild is time and patience. Players don’t just become guns overnight, it takes countless training hours, experience in big games and perhaps inner realisation for this to occur. With all of these factors, the common theme is time. Time is both the friend and enemy of any sporting athlete.

At the end of their era, their stalwarts who had brought them so much success were approaching the twilight of their careers. Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis both moved on, Hodge’s body was beginning to fail him given the brutal nature in which he plays the game and it seemed age had caught up to Gibson. There was little doubt in Clarkson’s mind that the engine room had to be rebuilt.

Into the team came contested ball machine Tom Mitchell and midfield gun Jaeger O’Meara. With a new midfield came a new blueprint for the Hawks to win the ball, while they are still largely reliant on a zonal defence when their opponents had the ball, the instructions now are to be quicker to any 50-50 balls and to be first to the ball as soon as it hits the ground.

(Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

The tactics had changed as Hawthorn now possessed the contested ballplayers to do so in Morrison, Impey and Worpel who are willing to chase, hassle and close the space to try and win the ball back or put it into a scenario to be won back.

With this game plan and the players to execute, it has also seen an increase in the tackling numbers from the likes of O’Meara, who has risen his tackle average from 4 to 5.6 and Shiels who has edged up from 6.1 to 6.3 per game.

Hindsight can be a beautiful thing, and changes to the personnel and game plan like this would never have been made had the Hawks not been put through their trying times of 2017. As they say, you learn a lot more from failure.

Nobody would’ve ever thought, back at the start of 2017, the likes of Sicily would eventually become the general of the backline clunking contested marks or the likes of Hardwick and Burton, who were originally brought in as forwards to be regulars in the backline now responsible for the elite kicking that would enable their team to transition the ball from defence to attack. They’re only mistakes if you don’t learn from them and learn from them the Hawks have.

Regardless now of what happens for the remainder of the campaign, Hawks fans will surely feel a lot easier than they were 12 months ago. To go from missing the finals to not only qualifying but to qualify in the top four speaks volumes of Clarkson’s rebuilding process.

Of course, there would be many smaller factors that contributed to this including O’Meara having a full season under his belt to form one of the deadliest midfield partnerships with Mitchell to possibly needing one bad season to inject the hunger and desperation back into the side.

Having a consistently strong VFL side also aided the process in order to bring through the right players who have both the skill and drive to succeed.

After round 4 in 2017, Hawthorn were a club worryingly not only in decline but with no identity either.

Their list indicated that they still wanted to be contenders but their game day play indicated that they were in need of a rebuild.

Since then, Clarkson has moved swiftly to inject his team with the right balance of youth and experience to enable his team to challenge again and as tough as 2017 might have been, it has laid the foundation for the future of the brown and gold team.

Article link: How Alastair Clarkson rebuilt his Hawthorn empire. Written by Paul Dao, on The Roar - Your Sports Opinion.

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The season is done. The rollercoaster is over. Buckle up your seatbelts because the fun is just about to begin.

As seasons end and post-mortems begin, for eight teams, the road to glory starts now. As always, a big week of questions. Why is timing everything? Who is the coach of the year? Who is the latest Rising Star contender?

What is the first priority for some of the clubs that miss the eight? And what is the most important part of being alive in September?

1. Who are there no excuses for next year?
They missed out on finals by one game, yet they will end the season as one of the most dangerous sides in the competition leading into the new season.

This means of course there are no excuses for Essendon next year. They must make the finals but they should fully expect to win at least one or two considering the depth of talent they have.

Their recruits are key cogs in their line-up, with Devon Smith widely tipped to be best and fairest in his first season at the club and their young up and coming talent is starting to find their groove and place at AFL level.

Watch out for the likes of Kyle Langford and Aaron Francis, just a couple that look to take the competition by storm next season. As they plan for another aggressive offseason recruiting spree, there are not many excuses left for the Bombers if they don’t make it.

Devon Smith of the Bombers (Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

2. Why is timing everything?
About six weeks or so ago, the best player of last year was just about out of the reckoning for a number of the awards and titles he held last year. Six weeks later and Dustin Martin has put himself right back into All Australian lock territory as well as a big chance to finish very high up in the Brownlow medal count.

This is particularly after Saturday’s barnstorming display against the Western Bulldogs. Martin began prolifically, amassing ten disposals, three clearances and three inside 50s in the first term alone.

Compared to his extraordinary Brownlow medal-winning 2017 season, Martin has dropped off in average disposals, goals and tackles. However the Tigers onballer is still producing elite numbers: Score involvements (ranked first in the League), inside 50s (first) and clearances (second).

Martin was one of the Tigers’ best with a team-high 33 disposals and nine clearances to inspire the thrilling three-point victory.

3. Are you in or out?
Like nine other clubs, the end of season post-mortem begins for the Gold Coast Suns. It starts with their leadership in the front office and continues all the way down to the last rookie player on the list.

They have already had one captain in Tom Lynch walk out and exercise his right as a free agent. The biggest question this club will ask is to their other captain Steven May. A simple question too, are you in or out?

The answer has a lot riding on it and the fortunes of this football club. Can you imagine an AFL club losing three captains in two years?

4. Who is the coach of the year?
Plenty of options to choose from this year with pretty compelling cases too. There is Damien Hardwick who has taken Richmond to another level. There are the likes of Adam Simpson and Brad Scott who with their respective teams have defied expectations and taken their clubs from predicted bottom six finish to in the hunt for finals and a chance to go deep respectively.

John Longmire and Chris Scott are also constantly in the conversation due to the nature of the way their clubs operate and by them not missing finals for a long time.

There is also the master coach who is doing wonders with this new Hawthorn outfit. But my pick of the lot would have to be Nathan Buckley.

This time last year he was out the door. Given the circumstances that he has found himself having to deal with when it comes to player availability and off-field dramas, this Collingwood team have stood up and played some brilliant football and have had new habits coached into them, most of which were non-existent over the past three years.

There is a vibrancy around Collingwood that make you want to turn on and watch them – they are now an exceptionally coached, well-drilled team.

Collingwood Magpies coach Nathan Buckley (AAP Image/Alex Murray)

5. The first priority for Carlton is?
We might have mentioned it a couple of times on the way through, but now that the season is finally over for Carlton and its supporters, it is time to start getting busy.

It’s easy to make calls who should stay and who should go from the grandstand, and even easier to speculate about who might be available, who might come and what will it cost. But before any of that, this club needs to make sure it has all its ducks in a row.

Do they have the right people running the club? Do they have the right people at the executive level making smart decisions that will benefit the whole of club (including the fans)?

Do they have the right coaching group? Do they have the right strength and conditioning team? Do they have the right development coaches?

Before you even look at the playing list, all of this needs to be seen as a priority. On field – the ingredients are seemingly there but they are still taking time to bind together.

By getting the perfect mix and balance off field can only lead to better cohesion on the field.

6. Who is the freshest contender for the Rising Star?

If it has been a three-horse race up until this point in the season, there might just be another fast finishing contender coming up the outside.

We have seen the next generation of young Hawks come through this year and one who is leading is Harry Morrison.

Their first selection (pick 74) in the draft they effectively took themselves out of to land Jaeger O’Meara. His poise and football nous is why he is fast becoming one of Hawthorn’s best young talents and had a big say on the outcome of the thrilling game up in Sydney on the weekend. Just another big tick to the Hawks.

Jaeger O’Meara (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

7. Which dynamic duo are set to light up finals footy?
Such a key element to what the West Coast Eagles have been able to do this year have come from their latest dynamic duo up front.

Willie Rioli has certainly lived up to his family name and will continue to delight us for years to come, but their mature age recruit in Liam Ryan is the other piece to this forward pressure puzzle.

The WAFL freak and Rioli have combined for an average ten score involvements per game. Meaning that they weave their own magic and they allow their talent and flare to set up opportunities for their teammates and already potent forward line.

The Eagles will be hoping they stay fit as well as regain the likes of Josh Kennedy.

8. What ultimately determines how far the Giants go?
The Melbourne train keeps on rolling and who knows what fruits that will bear come the end of it. But the Giants are right up in the conversation as well.

Much like the last number of seasons, it is going to come down to how healthy the list is and who can they get back and quickly.

We saw in 2016 the Dogs brought five in for an Elimination Final and played all the way while the Tigers are still having their dream run with injury from about the middle last season. The Giants have the ability and the talent, but it will all hinge on who can come back and what level of fitness they have in them.

9. The byplay of the season goes too?
This was spectacular throughout the weekend. All week there was the conversation about who was going to rake out the Coleman Medal and as the weekend wore on, the calculators came out and challenges were set from one spearhead forward to another.

It’s always fun when there is something like this lingering on In the background. While the winning number will be significantly smaller than in recent years, it became an intriguing battle between some of the premier big men in the competition to see who would take the medal home.

Ben Brown, in the end, would be the most unlucky to not come away with the Medal, but you wouldn’t be able to say that Jack Riewoldt is an undeserving winner at all.

Article link: Nine questions ahead of the 2018 AFL finals. Written by Jono Baruch, on The Roar - Your Sports Opinion.

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Here’s what Week 1 of the AFL finals is set to look like.

THURSDAY, September 6

First Qualifying Final

Richmond v Hawthorn at the MCG, 7.20pm

Last clash: Tigers 15.12 (102) bt Hawks 13.11 (89), R3 at the MCG

First final

TAB Sportsbet: Tigers $1.40 Hawks $3.00

BetEasy: Tigers $1.42 Hawks $2.85

Remarkably, this will be the first time the Tigers and Hawks have met in a final. Richmond will go in favourites and they boast at 21-game winning streak at their MCG fortress. But the Hawks are in strong form, having won their past six games. The Hawks’ rich finals experience also means the 2013-15 premiers will not fear the September cauldron.

FRIDAY, September 7

First Elimination Final

Melbourne v Geelong at the MCG, 7.50pm

Last clash: Cats 16.4 (100) bt Demons 14.14 (98), R18 at GMHBA Stadium

Last final: Cats 18.8 (116) bt Demons 9.7 (61), 2005 elimination final at the MCG

TAB Sportsbet: Demons $1.75 Cats $2.10

BetEasy: Demons $1.70 Cats $2.15

The Demons are finals greenhorns, having made the top eight for the first time since 2006. By contrast, the Cats are battle-hardened and have missed the finals only once in the past 12 years. But Melbourne confirmed their finals return with big wins over West Coast and GWS, so they’re ready. The Cats have waltzed into September, walloping lowly Fremantle and Gold Coast at home by a combined margin of 235 points.

SATURDAY, September 8

Second Elimination Final

Sydney v GWS at the SCG, 4.20pm

Last clash: Swans 11.14 (80) bt Giants 8.12 (60), R22 at Spotless Stadium,

Last final: Giants 12.19 (91) bt Swans 7.13 (55), 2016 qualifying final at ANZ Stadium

TAB Sportsbet: Swans $1.70 Giants $2.15

BetEasy: Swans $1.67 Giants $2.20

The Swans should regain key players Lance Franklin and Luke Parker from groin injuries. They beat the Giants in round 22 and will rate their chances. The Giants have faltered with the losses to Sydney and Melbourne but coach Leon Cameron says the pre-finals bye will help them. Stars such as Zac Williams and Toby Greene are also pressing for recalls.

Second Qualifying Final

West Coast v Collingwood at Optus Stadium, 8.10pm

Last clash: Eagles 15.12 (102) bt Magpies 9.13 (67), R17 at the MCG

Last final: Eagles 10.13 (73) bt Magpies 9.6 (60), 2012 semi-final at the MCG

TAB Sportsbet: Eagles $1.65 Magpies $2.25

BetEasy: Eagles $1.60 Magpies $2.35

Eagles coach Adam Simpson says spearhead Josh Kennedy and Lewis Jetta will return from injury, giving their attack a major boost. Collingwood are in their first finals series since 2013 and have done remarkably well, given their horror run of injuries this season. All eyes will be on Magpies trio Jeremy Howe, Adam Treloar and Tyson Goldsack in the next few days as they try to prove their fitness.

Semi-final match-ups:

Loser Richmond-Hawthorn v winner Melbourne-Geelong

Loser West Coast-Collingwood v winner Sydney-GWS.

Article link: Week 1 AFL finals match preview. Written by AAP, on The Roar - Your Sports Opinion.

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GWS must strike the right balance between player changes and team cohesion as they try to put their faltering AFL season back on track.

Giants coach Leon Cameron gave a damning assessment of Sunday’s 45-point loss to Melbourne, saying his team stopped after half time.

Combined with their loss the previous weekend to Sydney, the Giants have lost momentum ahead of their September 8 elimination final against the Swans at the SCG.

Cameron said Zac Williams, Toby Greene, Sam Taylor, Aiden Corr and Matt De Boer would stake claims to return from injury for the Swans clash – but they cannot all return at once.

“I don’t think you can play five or six (of them) – that’s probably flirting with it a bit,” Cameron said.

“The Swans are a powerful team and they run hard to the end and you always have to go to the wire, but we’ll look at it and see what the best mix is to take them on.”

Along with the need to recall players, Cameron made it clear he will wield the axe in the wake of their poor fortnight.

“We had some disappointing players – some didn’t grab their opportunity,” Cameron said.

“Has the bye come at a really good time? It probably has and we have to make sure we lick our wounds, we acknowledge what we weren’t good at and we get ready for one big clash against the Swans.”

Ruckman Rory Lobb had back tightness in Sunday’s loss, but Cameron said he would play against Sydney.

After gaining the double chance in the last two seasons, this time GWS have finished seventh.

But Cameron remains bullish about the prospects of winning their first premiership.

“Anyone can win and we’re going to put ourselves in that basket,” he said.

“But we need to play our best footy and we haven’t in the last four or five quarters.

“I’m confident we can in 13 days time.”

Article link: GWS ready to tear it up in AFL finals. Written by AAP, on The Roar - Your Sports Opinion.

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Melbourne young gun Christian Petracca can’t wait for his first taste of AFL finals and says the Demons are delighting in riding the wave together.

The Demons will return to finals action for the first time since 2006 when they host Geelong in a sudden-death clash at the MCG on Friday September 7.

With only four players having previously played finals – Nathan Jones, Jordan Lewis, Michael Hibberd and Jake Melksham – it remains to be seen how the Dees will handle the September cauldron.

But while they lack experience, the Demons have looked in ominous form during wins over West Coast and GWS over the past fortnight.

The dynamic Petracca is ready to step up to the big stage, having booted three goals in a commanding performance against the Giants.

“It’ll be good fun. I can’t wait,” Petracca said.

“Who doesn’t want to play finals? It’s what we’re here for, to win premierships.

“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves but Melbourne hasn’t been in that position since (1964). It’s exciting and we can’t wait.”

At 22, Petracca is already one of the Demons’ biggest weapons along with fellow youngsters Clayton Oliver and Angus Brayshaw.

Brayshaw’s post-match celebration with Petracca last month in which the pair jokingly nuzzled each other went viral on social media, and Petracca said the energy of youth was helping to drive the obvious camaraderie within the club.

“It’s awesome. We’re 21 and 22-year-olds and we’re having the time of our lives,” he said.

“We’re playing the sport we’ve wanted to play since we were young kids, playing at the MCG.

“Obviously we’re all pretty inexperienced but we’re all going to ride the wave together and have fun.”

Article link: Demon Petracca excited for first finals appearance. Written by AAP, on The Roar - Your Sports Opinion.

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It was a mixed final round of the AFL season featuring a couple of disappointing blowouts that were difficult to watch.

Despite that, however, there were two cracking games on Saturday – one between the Tigers and the Bulldogs and the other one between the Dockers and the Magpies. The Bombers and Bulldogs in particular gave their fans something to look forward to in 2019 with good performances to finish off the season.

As for September, it should be interesting to see how the week off impacts the top eight teams. Maybe we could see a surprise premiership team, like Richmond in 2017 or the Western Bulldogs the year before.

Top five coaches of Round 23

  1. Luke Beveridge (Western Bulldogs)
  2. Simon Goodwin (Melbourne Demons)
  3. Chris Scott (Geelong Cats)
  4. Don Pyke (Adelaide Crows)
  5. Adam Simpson (West Coast Eagles)
Round 23 key points

Port Adelaide Power vs Essendon Bombers
This match was a contrast of performances. Port Adelaide showed little for their fans, while Essendon’s display gave their supporters plenty to cheer about. The Bombers victory will give them a lot to look forward to as far as the level that they are capable of playing at. This will give the, confidence into the offseason, and it appears as if the future looks bright for them, whereas it looks gloomy for the Power.
Power team lifter: Justin Westhoff
Bombers team lifter: Devon Smith

(Daniel Carson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Geelong Cats vs Gold Coast Suns
The Cats won a one-sided game for the second week in a row. Geelong performed at a high level for the second game in succession, but it’s difficult to decipher whether they were that good or it was the Suns that were poor. The Cats have finals to look forward to, whereas there is a great deal of work that needs to be done by the Gold Coast in the upcoming preseason.
Cats team lifter: Patrick Dangerfield
Suns team lifter: Michael Barlow

Richmond Tigers vs Western Bulldogs
The Dogs were gallant in defeat. The Bulldogs were outstanding despite losing to the Tigers, and even Damien Hardwick admitted that the Bulldogs deserved to win the game. It was the game of the round. Jack Riewoldt sealed the Coleman Medal with five goals.
Tigers team lifters: Jack Riewoldt and Dustin Martin
Bulldogs team lifter: Jack Macrae

Fremantle Dockers vs Collingwood Magpies
The Magpies sealed a top-four spot in a close contest against the Dockers. The fact it was such a tight game is proof that a week is a long time in football. The Dockers followed up a shellacking at the hands of the Cats with an extremely competitive display.
Dockers team lifters: Joel Hamling, Lachie Neale, Bradley Hill and Ed Langdon
Magpies team lifters: Brodie Grundy, Steele Sidebottom

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Carlton Blues vs Adelaide Crows
This match was a boring blowout. The Crows dominated the game from start to finish. Patrick Cripps was once again a shining light for the Blues. It’s a case of what could have been for the Crows in terms of missing out on featuring in finals in 2018.
Blues team lifter: Patrick Cripps
Crows team lifters: Rory Laird, Matt Crouch and Josh Jenkins

Sydney Swans vs Hawthorn Hawks
Hawthorn sewed up a top-four spot with their sixth victory in a row. They finished in the top four despite being in a fairly precarious position six weeks ago.
Swans team lifters: Jake Lloyd and Heath Grundy
Hawks team lifter: Tom Mitchell

Brisbane Lions vs West Coast Eagles
The West Coast Eagles sealed a home final by cementing their place in the top two. They had an important morale-lifting victory interstate against the Lions. The Lions made the margin reasonably respectable by winning the last quarter and therefore prevented the margin blowing out into a shellacking. It will be interesting to see how the Eagles go in the finals without key midfielder Andrew Gaff.
Lions team lifter: Tom Cutler
Eagles team lifter: Jamie Cripps

Melbourne Demons vs Greater Western Sydney Giants
The Demons recorded a comfortable victory over the Giants by controlling the game. Melbourne should be a force to be reckoned with in September and are now a contender for the premiership.
Demons team lifter: James Harmes
Giants team lifter: Stephen Coniglio

St Kilda Saints vs North Melbourne Kangaroos
The Kangaroos finished their season on a high. Jack Ziebell, Ben Brown and Jarrad Waite kicked nine goals between them. It was a bittersweet end to the season for North Melbourne, who missed out on the top eight, and for Waite, who managed to kick three goals in the final game of his career.
Saints team lifter: Jack Steven
Kangaroos team lifter: Trent Dumont

Article link: What happened? AFL Round 23, 2018. Written by Doran Smith, on The Roar - Your Sports Opinion.

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North Melbourne coach Brad Scott’s only lament after his team’s promising AFL season ended with a 23-point win over St Kilda was that Ben Brown couldn’t snatch the Coleman Medal.

Largely dismissed as a contender before the season, the Kangaroos finished just outside the eight with a 12-10 record following a 17.15 (117) to 14.10 (94) win on Sunday.

With both sides out of finals contention, Brown’s bid to overtake Richmond’s Jack Riewoldt in the race to claim the AFL’s goalkicking award was the main point of interest at Etihad Stadium.

Needing seven goals to draw level, Brown kicked three in the first half but couldn’t manage another to finish with a total of 61, four short of Riewoldt, who claimed his third Coleman Medal.

That minor disappointment aside, Scott was delighted with the inroads the Roos have made in an encouraging campaign.

“At the start of the year you’d say that you’re going to play finals with that sort of record,” Scott said.

“You can look back at all the ‘what-ifs’ but what we’ve got to do is build a better, deeper midfield.

“Most of that, to be honest, will come from organic growth.”

North were 10th and the Saints 16th heading into the final round of the home-and-away season, with those ladder positions reflected in a poor crowd of 19,866 fans at the St Kilda home game.

The Roos improved to ninth with the result but Alan Richardson’s side remained in 16th spot and finish a season where finals were hoped for, if not expected, with just four wins, a draw and 17 losses.

At least the Saints didn’t turn their toes up when North threatened to run away with the contest.

Scott’s men appeared comfortable enough up by 22 points at quarter-time then 35 at the main break.

St Kilda looked wobbly when the margin blew out to a game-high 42 points early in the third term but a four-goal rally made it a 23-point game at the last change.

“It was a bit like our year,” Richardson said.

“There were some parts of our game that were good, there some parts that were disappointing.

We just couldn’t defend them early but we were able to regroup and respond, which was certainly better.”

Trent Dumont was outstanding for the Roos, with a career-high 38 possessions and a goal.

Ben Cunnington (29 disposals) and Shaun Higgins (29) were also influential.

Retiring forward Jarrad Waite signed off with three goals in his 244th and final match, and the former Blue was mobbed by his teammates after he hit the post with a set shot following the final siren.

Jack Steven (34 and two) and Steele (35 possessions and two goals) led the way for the Saints.

Article link: Brown falls short of Coleman, but North win. Written by Jason Phelan, on The Roar - Your Sports Opinion.

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