The new year is here. Which means test cricket is wrapping up, hot cross buns are on the shelves and it’s time to start talking about footy.
A new footy season is always an exciting time. There are new players, freshened lists and optimism about how one’s team is going to perform.
Here are five things we will be looking out for during the 2018 AFL season.
1. Another Dee-saster?
Demon fans have had to put up with a lot over the last fifty years. But Round 23 last year really took the cake. With a finals spot on the line the Demons trundled out an insipid performance against an undermanned Collingwood to narrowly miss the finals by .1 of a percent (after the Crows more or less “tanked it” against the West Coast). Embarrassingly the club still sent fans a Finals Ticket Guide in the mail to add extra salt to the wound.
At the moment the Demons are 7th favourite for the 2018 Premiership. So clearly punters are expecting the red and blue to step it up in 2018. Can they do it? Of course they can.
If the Demons bring their A-game they are top 4 material. If they don’t bring their A-game they can be absolute rubbish. Remember they somehow managed to lose to North Melbourne twice in 2017.
Despite the optimism there are some small concerns. Firstly the Demons will play two of their
home games in the Northern Territory. Not only do they surrender their home game advantage in both these games but they also put their matches the following weeks (both against the Bulldogs) at risk.
Backing up after a match in the NT is tough. The hot and humid conditions are completely different to those in Melbourne and this can make preparing for the follow up match quite difficult. I understand that the Demons make plenty of money out of this arrangement but they are ultimately making their road to the finals more difficult by doing so.
Demons fans deserve to see some finals action. Whilst many experts are expecting them to get there, they are by no means a shoe-in.
The Cats supporters I know just will not shut up about “Dangerablettwood” or “Woodydangerablett” (sounds like a Toy Story character) or whatever you want to call it. There is no doubt that having all three of these superstars lining up together is an exciting prospect for Cats fans.
But there are still plenty of question-marks. Is Gazza cooked? Well according to cats fans no. Plenty of fans have even suggested he was “faking his injuries” during his last season at the Gold Coast. I am not sure that was the case but Ablett did show last year that he can still play footy. Despite playing only fourteen games, he still managed to win the B and F, and showed that he is still a match winner.
The main problem with the Cats though is their goal kicking. It is no good having the best midfield in the comp if you don’t have anybody who can kick the ball between the big sticks. In their first final against the Tigers they managed only five goals. Against the Crows it was just ten. This is simply not good enough for a side that is looking to win a Premiership. The pickup of Crameri is a smart one but his injury issues mean he is not the only answer the Cats will need. Will Gazza be moved into he fifty to provide that extra avenue? We’ll have to wait and see.
3. The new Dons
There is a lot of hype surrounding the new look Essendon list. A lot. Full credit to Essendon with their recruiting in the off-season. They went hard and I think it will pay dividends.
The reason the Dons did so well is they gained plenty but lost very little. The Package Jake Stringer will have a point to prove and by all reports he has put in a big pre-season on the training track.
But Adam Saad could be the real big steal of the trade period. Saad really knows how to play and his run and drive will be huge for Essendon. If Joe Daniher can continue to improve his kicking for goal, look out!
4. Tiger hangover?
The good old Premiership hangover. The Doggies did it in 2017 and now there are plenty of people waiting for the Tigers to do the same this year.
With the benefit of hindsight we now know that the Dogs had a lot going on behind the scenes in 2017. Boyd and Cloke both had to take time out from the game with mental health struggles. And then there was the whole Jake Stringer situation which certainly wouldn’t have done them any favours.
I don’t think the Tigers will suffer the same fate. Whilst the Doggies came from seemingly nowhere to win the flag in 2016, the Tigers did so from 3rd on the ladder. They clearly “deserved” their place in the Top Four and then went on to play some brilliant finals footy, belting the Cats and the Crows. It was only GWS who gave them any kind of headaches.
I am expecting Dimma to make sure the Tigers are still every bit as hungry in the 2018 AFL season as they were in 2017.
5. Crows’ vengeance
The Crows were brilliant in 2017. Except in the one match that really mattered.
We were lucky enough to meet the members of the Crows cheer squad in 2017 and I really felt for them when I watched the Grand Final.
It really was a hugely disappointing effort. They were completely outplayed and barely gave a yelp after half time.
There were reports that players were heard bickering amongst themselves as they headed to the sheds at half time. The nasty way the Jake Lever trade panned out suggests that there could have been some tension behind the scenes in the lead-up to the Grand Final which is far from ideal.
Cameron and Lever are big losses but Gibbs is a huge get. And I think the Crows still have what it takes to win the flag in 2018. The Grand Final loss would have hurt and you’d expect it to give the likes of Walker and Betts, who both had poor games, plenty of extra motivation to make amends for last year’s letdown during this 2018 AFL season.