The Godfather: Peter Corris on the 2016 AFL season, so far …
At a touch over 50 games into the 2016 season (I am writing just before the bounce of the ball to begin round 7), the AFL competition this year bids fair to be more interesting than in recent times. For the last three years it has been pretty much a matter of which team would play Hawthorn in the Grand Final. This hard, strong team, coached by a man with football cred, a wide vocabulary and impeccable grammar (unusual in this context), has survived injuries, occasional reversals and won when it counted.
For much of the 2015 season the only other focus of interest was Fremantle, which amassed wins without, apparently, kicking the kinds of scores usually needed to win games, and was thought to have a chance of winning its first flag until revealing itself fragile in the finals.
This year rule changes, to do with the emphasis on keeping the ball in play, more space around a marking player taking his kick and a limit on the number of player rotations permitted, have opened the game up, causing less congestion at stoppages and allowing the game to flow. Crowd sizes indicate the public’s appreciation.
As a result there have been a number of impacts. North Melbourne, helped by the rejuvenation in his 30s of an often injured, often suspended, often criticised Jarred Waite, and the remarkable resilience of Brent ‘Boomer’ Harvey, allied to the ability of another articulate coach, Brad Scott, heads the ladder going into round 7. Waite, interviewed on Foxtel’s On the Couch, mentioned that the club had the best facilities for managing and treating injuries he’d ever seen. A crucial point that, as the season takes its toll.
Along with Hawthorn’s troubling (to its supporters) inability so far to win the ball in contests around the ground and thus control the game’s tempo and direction, has come the flowering of highly prized players allotted to Greater Western Sydney in its struggling infancy. Kilo for kilo and centimetre for centimetre the Giants measure up well against all the other teams and have advantages in terms of youth and other concessions bestowed (for the time being) by the AFL hierarchy.
One member of the On the Couch group (I forget which, but I think he was serious) went so far as to predict an all-Sydney Grand Final. But, as all who know the game and the club and the coach (Chris Scott, Brad’s twin) point out, Geelong is in the mix.
There are the usual sideline issues of injury and form – Gary Ablett’s shoulder; Luke Hodge’s knee; Nat Fyfe’s leg; can 200-game-plus forward Travis Cloke get back into the Pies’ senior team? Can Stevie J continue to prove his worth?
On a personal note, my devotion to Essendon is undiminished. Disgraceful as the behaviour of responsible club officers was, unfair as the penalty to the players was, I was delighted to see the cobbled-together team chalk up an unlikely win against a resurgent Melbourne. I will continue to tip them whenever I consider they have a fighting chance and hope to live to ‘See the Bombers fly up!’