What happened and what’s coming in the AFL

Roger Vaughan
(Australian Associated Press)

 

IF IT’S NOT A DYNASTY YET, IT SOON WILL BE

When Alex Rance’s season ended with a knee reconstruction after round one, the popular thinking was that eventually it would cost Richmond. Instead, the Tigers regrouped and built a formidable head of steam. They made the most of seven-straight MCG games before the finals and mauled GWS by 89 points for the premiership. Mid-year recruit Marlion Pickett, a former prison inmate, was the story of the grand final with his AFL debut. The Tigers now have won two flags in three years and will be the team to beat next season.

SEVENTH HEAVEN

Stephen Coniglio gave GWS a massive pre-finals boost when he shunned free agency and signed a bumper seven-year deal. Then, in December, his teammate Lachie Whitfield followed by signing his own seven-year contract with the Giants. Collingwood ruckman Brodie Grundy could soon do the same. Weren’t long-term deals consigned to history because they’re too risky?

FIVE CLUBS CHANGE COACHES

No-one said there was any job security in senior coaching. Brad Scott left North Melbourne, Carlton sacked Brendon Bolton, Alan Richardson’s tenure at St Kilda ended and Fremantle punted Ross Lyon. Then Adelaide’s ongoing crisis claimed Don Pyke. In order, Rhyce Shaw, David Teague, Brett Ratten, Justin Longmuir and Matthew Nicks have taken their places. Only Ratten has previous senior coaching experience.

CLARKO’S LEGEND KEEPS GROWING

Of those five new coaches, Ratten is also the only one to work under Alastair Clarkson at Hawthorn. That is a little surprising, given every premiership since 2013 has either featured Clarkson or one of his proteges as the senior coach.

CROWS HOPE THE WORST IS OVER

Has any club paid a higher price for 40 minutes of bad football in a grand final? Two years after they came so close to their third flag, Adelaide have undergone a wide-ranging review. Assistant coach Scott Camporeale and football manager Brett Burton have joined Pyke out the door, Taylor Walker has given up the captaincy while Eddie Betts, Sam Jacobs and Josh Jenkins are among a player exodus. Now it’s time to rebuild at West Lakes.

ESSENDON: WATCH THIS SPACE

A brilliant and brutal Twitter account torments Essendon about their 15-year drought without a finals win – the longest in the AFL. The Bombers have locked in Ben Rutten for their coaching succession plan, but something is not right at Tullarmarine. Joe Daniher’s failed bid to join Sydney was the story of trade week and good luck keeping him in a year’s time when he qualifies for free agency.

AS ONE RISES, ANOTHER FALLS

Every year, there’s a bolter and another that drops down the ladder like a stone. While Brisbane were on the rise, no-one thought they’d make the top four. And as Melbourne Garry Lyon lamented, the aberration for the Demons wasn’t this year’s disaster – it was last year’s preliminary final.

WHEN WILL IT END?

That was the hashtag as the AFL and clubs rallied around West Coast forward Liam Ryan, the latest indigenous player to call out online racism. Earlier this year, the AFL issued an unreserved apology after two documentaries looked at two-time Brownlow Medallist Adam Goodes and the tumultuous end to his playing career. Goodes also said this year he left the game in 2015 as an emotional wreck.

A “LIL MISTAKE” WITH MASSIVE REPERCUSSIONS

Not a great end to the season for Willie Rioli and West Coast. The day before the Eagles lost their semi-final to Geelong, Rioli was charged with trying to manipulate an ASADA urine test. Rioli apologised and called it a ‘lil’ mistake. A few days later ASADA also announced he had tested positive to cannabis.

McGUIRE PUTS HIS FOOT IN IT

Like most things about Eddie McGuire, when he makes a gaffe it’s massive. The media star said he was physically ill after chiding Cynthia Bantham for her pre-game coin toss in March. Bantham, a long-time Sydney fan, is a double amputee.

THE ARC RUNS AGROUND

Amid ongoing controversy, the league brought in the AFL Review Centre (ARC) for the finals. The botched video review of Josh Thomas’ goal in the Collingwood-GWS preliminary final showed there is plenty of work still to be done.

AFL PUTS A BRAKE ON RULE CHANGES

The league introduced nine changes this season, aiming to make the game more open. While scoring dropped again, the season was noticeably closer and more volatile. There will be no more changes, for next season at least.

AFLW GROWING PAINS

First came the trolling of the now-iconic Tayla Harris photo. Then a dissident group of players took on the AFLPA over the pay agreement. There are four new teams. And Adelaide premiership co-captain Erin Phillips remains sidelined with her post-grand final knee reconstruction. Three years in, the AFLW seems to keep taking two steps forward, one step back.

HEAD COUNT

Danny Frawley’s tragic death rocked the game as mental health and concussion continue to be massive issues. Tom Boyd and Liam Picken have retired prematurely and Paddy McCartin is taking a year out.

NOT SO SUNNY ON THE COAST

Gold Coast say they’ve done a lot of hard yards. After a suite of concessions from the AFL, including an extra pick at the top of the draft, this time the expansion club must make progress.

MEANWHILE, DOWN SOUTH …

Tasmanian football continues to clamour for an AFL licence.

TRIBUNAL TROUBLE

After a couple of close shaves, Geelong star Gary Ablett was suspended for the first time in his storied career. Dustin Martin’s horror day out against GWS cost him Brownlow eligibility and Giants star Toby Greene was referred to the tribunal in successive weeks during the finals.

FLYING FYFE

The most open count in a decade ended with Nat Fyfe’s second Brownlow Medal. The Fremantle captain was a popular winner and his acceptance speech was epic.

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