The night before the AFL season commences. A spirtual moment. The greatest sporting arena in the world will be roaring with 90,000 fans tomorrow night when my beloved Blues tackle Richo and his gang, just as they did one year ago. As I often say, if there’s any sport in the world greater than pro basketball it’s Aussie Rules Football. I guess there’s a bit of Aussie bias there, probably has something to do with the fact I was kicking an oval shaped ball years before I bounced a round ball. So on the eve of this very special occasion, an occasion that signals the beginning of a three month overlap between my favorites sports in the world, it’s time to talk about what’s on my mind as footy season 2009 approaches.
- The fate of Carlton. Last year making finals would have been a surprise, this year it feels like an inevitability. But I see one of two things happening this year for my boys in navy: 1) Under the pressure of heightened expectation we sink dismally, we get exposed for our very Fevola-centric forward line, we expect to be a finals side without working for it, and everyone remembers we have possibly the worst backline in the league – we bomb to 10th on the ladder. Or 2) Everything clicks, our second and third forward options stand up (I honestly cannot tell you who they will be yet), our backline matures unexpectedly, and everyone realises we have the best midfield in the competition – we finish top 4. Call me crazy, but I just have a feeling it’s going to go one of those two ways. Probably option 2.
- Hawthorn and Geelong playing the game of patience, holding their cards close to their chest, realizing September is the final few steps of a very long journey. Despite the Cats probably wanting to murder everyone right now, I expect them to adjust to this philosophy easily – they are more experienced, they have been there before, and they know the #1 ladder finish means nothing. For the Hawks I’m not so confident, but I suspect their hobbled start to the season will actually work in their favor. Alastair Clarkson may not have to play the Phil Jackson-like mind games of motivation and preservation – his team may not be at their best for a couple of months yet. Who’s the better side? It’s undoubtedly Geelong. Who will win the premiership? I’ll say Geelong again, but I don’t say it with as much confidence as I did last year.
- Richmond will finish 9th. I’m not saying this as part of some cruel joke. It’s probably going to happen. Last year they finished 9th and in my mind overachieved. It was the result of an inspired Matthew Richardson (as much as I love Richo, I don’t see him playing another season like that), a couple of close games that could have gone either way (the Bowden rushed-behind saga against the Bombers comes to mind) as well as a couple of genuinely stunning wins (Hawthorn one comes to mind) that seemed a little out-of-the-ordinary. Everyone thinks they finished last season in super form, but lets not forget their last two games were against Melbourne and Freo. And no Evs, I’m not bitter cos I lost a bet and now have to buy a slab from Safeway wearing only my underpants. The point is, the Tigers will again impress at times this season, but I don’t seem them being consistent enough to contend with the best teams. Cousins makes them better in theory, but this should just counteract the natrual decline in Richo and the “fluke” rule. Good enough for 9th.
- What will happen to Fremantle? I tipped them to finish last in one of my preseason ladder comps, but I honestly would not be surprised to see them finish top 8. In fact, nothing Freo could do would surprise me, for two reasons: 1) They finished 3rd in 2006 and 3rd-last in 2008, and 2) I generally just don’t give a shit about Freo. You name me one great player on their list? Correct, Pavlich. Well done. Name another one… Peter Bell? Nope, retired. Tony Modra? Retired too. Aaron Sandipants? Nope, he’s just a tall dude. Tarrant? He’s just a dick. This is why Freo received so little Brownlow votes last season. Not because they struggled to win games and have an impact, but because the umpires knew none of their freaken players!
- Lastly to the one interstate team I actually care about. Brisbane. Again, a bit of an enigma. In the preseason ladder tipping comp I did, people selected Brisbane to finish as low as 15th (what you smokin Wibo?) and as high as 4th. I don’t think they’ll be anywhere near 15th, but I do think top 6 isn’t out of the question. With Jonathan Brown anything is possible. And now that the Lions have secured Daniel Merrett from the lure of joining the circus for reasons known to only a select few, their backline should be solid enough to support the rest of their reasonably impressive spine. Also, any team that lets Travis Johnston play football is either incredibly deranged or made of pure genius, and I like to think Lethal Lee’s decisions are more of the latter.
- I lied it wasn’t last. The only thing I want to say is that I hope I get to see Malcolm Blight back on the air again. If this happens, it will set a record as being the most senile sports commentator to ever be broadcast live AND actually commentate games. Wait, he doesn’t even commentate, he’s adds special comments. Do you know how ridiculous this is? Malcolm Blight’s comments aren’t just silly, like the kind of things your dad or grandpa would say while watching a game. They’re the kind of comments that make you genuinely disturbed, almost make you feel sorry, like a homeless guy busking who clearly has no musical talent. At least the homeless guy is giving it a shot and knows he needs the money. Malcolm Blight has no idea where he is or what he’s doing. You watch, you listen. Next time you see Blighty on TV he’ll say something amazing. It might be an accidental outburst of “FUCK!”, or an inappropriate homosexual joke, or a sentence with no verbs, or he’ll just start laughing when Johncock picks up the ball. Whatever it is, it will be amazing. And I want to be there when it happens.