At last, a delicious AFL season to make us salivate
You turn up at the ground, or turn on the tube, and here’s what you want to see. You want to see a football game where either of the two teams can win.
Hooray, we won. Now for some singling lessons
It’s not much to ask, but in the past few seasons, the AFL hasn’t delivered. From April onwards last year, you just knew Geelong and Collingwood would fight out the grand final, barring the kind of mass mishappery which befell Mr Burns’ baseball team in the memorable Simpsons episode Homer at the Bat.
This year is different. This year is more even. Purely by chance, the top nine AFL teams played the bottom nine this weekend, and the cellar dwellers won four of those games. OK, so the Suns, Giants, Demons, Lions, Bulldogs, Power, Kangaroos, Dockers and Tigers won’t challenge for this year’s flag. But as things stand now, the other nine teams have at least some chance of jogging a victory lap in September.
You got the feeling this year might be different when Geelong and Collingwood weren’t favourites in early betting markets. The Pies were beset by injury and Premiers Geelong were seemingly on the wane, a perception which has so far proved accurate.
Hawthorn were the early bookies favourites, an assessment predicated on the belief that another 2008 is just around the corner. That theory has been kicking around for a few years now, and is probably as wrong as ever this year, though Buddy Franklin’s 13 goals on the weekend made things interesting again.
Carlton actually firmed into favouritism four weeks ago. Yes, Carlton. Three losses in four games have kyboshed that little fantasy and premiership favouritism is now more or less shared between Collingwood, West Coast and Hawthorn, who are all between 4-1 and 5-1. In other words, the bookies have no idea.
That’s a good thing for all of us. Presumably it’s a good thing for TV ratings too. I, for one, am watching games all the way through instead of switching off at half time. For the first time in years, people are using the phrase “the glorious uncertainty of sport” in the same sentence as the word “AFL”. The question is why?
The talent drain to the new clubs as a result of big bucks and top draft picks is a small part of the equation. That said, the expansion clubs are still a long way off being consistently competitive, and the players they’ve pinched haven’t significantly weakened their old clubs yet. Geelong won a premiership last year without Gary Ablett, after all.
More likely, we’re probably just seeing a statistical evening out. To use a cycling analogy, the 2012 stage of the Tour de AFL is a peloton with no major breakaways.
The Herald Sun’s online footy guru Finn Bradshaw agrees that the injuries at Collingwood and the loss of Ling, Ottens Milburn and others at Geelong have made a huge difference.
But Bradshaw’s really interesting point is that the teams who’ve surprised everyone this year have a playing group aged mostly between 23 and 28. Essendon is right in that zone and so are the Sydney Swans. Surprise packets Adelaide are a little on the young side, but their list is probably just mature enough to add a more significant cup to their 2012 NAB Cup.
One thing I learned working on racecourses is that, in races with two or three or four equal favourites, none of the favourites usually end up winning. The winner is usually somewhere between 8-1 and 16-1.
On that score, you probably shouldn’t write off Geelong, who are currently listed at 10-1. They had excuses for being sluggish in the first half against GWS this weekend, and they have a core of players who know how to win big matches.
All the same, and this is probably just the romantic in me, it’d be great to see someone we haven’t seen in a while up on the premiership podium. I don’t bet on sport, but if I did, I’d throw a tenner on the Swans, Bombers or Crows.
The Bombers in particular must be rueing their six point loss to the Demons this weekend. They’d be on top today if they’d won. The AFL, however, must be loving the upsets as much as we fans and those bastard bookies.
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