WELCOME to September.

Any by that, I do hope you enjoy the Legends game tomorrow evening, and the AFLW State of Origin Saturday, because the Crows-Giants Qualifying Final is still seven days away sadly.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, we find ourselves in the pre-finals bye, the chasm of over-self-consciousness, a space in your year where time slows down, it doesn’t’ feel right nor feels comfortable.

The end to a rather exciting year was even more exciting, the fact Melbourne was out of the eight, in the eight and then ultimately out of the eight, all in during time on in the very last quarter of the very final game of the season was mesmerising.

But now, yep, we’ve got a bit of mickey mouse filler really until this time next week.

Talk amongst yourselves…

1.     Ten teams have gone by the wayside, so who’s who in the Finals Zoo? Always easier from the top four as history teaches us but gee, the 2017 Sydney are probably a better team than the 2016 Bulldogs, and the Swans finish in sixth, with a home final, the Dogs were seventh and had a trip to Perth in Week One. From there, the Dogs had to go via the cape last year and to their eternal credit did it with aplomb, taking out all the key players. This year, three of the top four are either untrustworthy, grossly overrated or properly unproven. Sydney, these finals are on your terms gentlemen.

2.     Here’s the theory I can’t believe this column has ended up with after all the thousands of words dedicated to these two teams – the winner of Geelong vs. Richmond will be incredibly hard to stop hoisting the cup. Here’s why. If Geelong wins, it hosts a prelim final, probably against the GWS, down at Simmonds, and if the Cats can overcome the Tigers juggernaut up the highway next Friday, whose to stop them getting through the Giants on their own turf. Then, as a Victorian side at the MCG on the last Saturday in September, two finals wins under their belt, their skipper back, good luck stopping them.

3.     On the other hand, and here’s the one that gets the hair on the back of your neck standing up – imagine, bloody imagine would you, that Friday next week, about 10:30pm, Richmond is in front when the final siren goes. First finals win in forever. Not just a finals win, but it’s a qualifying final win, which earns them a home preliminary final. The monkey is off the back, they will be the darling of Melbourne come a fortnight’s time, the utter momentum this city would generate for them alone will be almost impossible to stop. For those under 40 really, watch what happens when Richmond is top of the tree, it’s incredible. It’ll almost win them the cup almost in itself.

4.     Adelaide and the GWS are the other fancies, get the double chance and damn, one was minor premier, the other has the best team on paper, so plenty of credentials between them. For the Crows, get the first win out of the way, prepare well to take care of whoever they confront in the Prelim, take their chances and back their form in come Grand Final Day. Super plausible. For the Giants, if they don’t win Thursday, they need to take out Geelong or Richmond in Victoria at some point, and not beyond them, but their form line doesn’t arouse enough to make you feel confident. Maybe 2018?

5.     How about those bloody Demons hey? On one hand, they were bloody stiff. Had a great record against top eight sides, finished with 12 wins and a percentage over 105, most years that gets you in comfortably. But when the finals spot was on their racquet, and they chose to double fault big time against the Pies, especially in that first quarter when by the time they had racked up their sixth tackle, they were six goals down, it’s all on them. Really super list, but no pressure on them making the finals next year is there?…

6.     West Coast, how lucky? They are an average side at best (watch them do well now I’ve chucked the jinx on). Look, the actual player roster is fine and it’s why I scoff at suggestions they were staring down some serious list management decisions at years’ end because I don’t fault the on-field capabilities at their disposal. Sure, their best player was out all year with a knee, but with him they should be top four minimum. So they’ll bundle out, avoid too much heat, and Adam Simpson can feel a bit better next year should they not start so well, than otherwise we suppose.

7.     Essendon, now there’s a good news story. Shame they end up facing the best team in the comp first week otherwise we’d actually back them to sneak a finals win way ahead of schedule. Sure, they flirted with danger letting Freo get far too close last weekend but say what you like about their crime and their time, this is a footy side that can do some things in the years to come. Thoroughly deserving of a finals spot and will disgrace no-one no matter how they go against the Swans.

8.     And can we point out, further to the success story of the Bombers, that to have Paddy Ryder for Port in the finals after the year out too, that’s a great news story in itself. Traded out because of the drugs saga, sitting out the 2016 season at his new club and then to do so well this year, earning AA honours to boot, awesome result for the Western Australian ruckman.

9.     Onto the All-Australian team, not too bad a year for the selectors other than missing Clayton Oliver. The only other real note is an extension of the previous thought, that for Ryder but also Michael Hurley and Michael Hibberd, to miss all of last year and then to come back and earn a spot in the AA team is such a magnificent achievement, cop that to WADA et. al.

10.  We must at this point offer an apology. This column found excellent value in Josh Kennedy for the Coleman, and then at worst suggested the hedge bet on Joe Daniher late was excellent logic. We didn’t allow, sadly, for the ten-goal Buddy Franklin show to come in over the top. What is it they always say – the house always wins?

11.  Alright, alright, let’s address it. Nathan Buckley. Three things here clearly. One, they did in fact look around at who was gettable, poachable, and must have gotten donuts. Two, if there’s no-one out there who they think would be that ‘ significant upgrade’ over what’s already waiting at home, then they’ve chosen to stay faithful. Three, Eddie McGuire, even though he say he would have if he had to, is really glad he didn’t have to sack his great mate, immensely glad.

12.  So now Collingwood is all in on the Damien Hardwick precedent. We will see assistant coaches turned over, and Scott Burns, Anthony Rocca are two already to move on, we will see further changes in the football department, the fitness guy has already gone, the list management team will reshuffle big time too. We will see who comes in, if it can make any sort of difference, the jury remains unconvinced.

13.  Last one on the Pies – they are hard to read. Overall, and rightly so, a disappointing year, no question. Technically though this is the first season for Buckley to perform better than previous, yes, the ladder position is lower, but the points tally is higher. Collingwood were the only side to not lose by more than 40 points, they were largely one of the unluckier sides in close games, and had a harder draw than Richmond or Essendon. They get the soft draw next year the Pies which helps –  they played the bottom 8 teams 8 times in 2017, Richmond and Essendon 12 times, Geelong 11.

14.  Just some numbers on those close games, for matches decided by three goals or less, St Kilda won four of five, yet North Melbourne won four of ten. Yes the Saints missed the finals, just, but we don’t really see these two teams together, but the Kangaroos left plenty of wins out on the park, inexperience, a bit of bad luck, either way there’s some optimism for the North fans next year. Further, games a goal or under, Giants 1 loss from 6, North 1 win from 6, Geelong unbeaten from 5, Dogs 3 wins from 4, Pies one win from 4.

15.  So apparently Dusty will make a decision soon. He might end up staying after all that, but can we make a case for North? Yes, it’s about a million dollars extra after tax to move to Arden Street, but if we flesh out the previous thought a bit more, they had three close losses by Easter. Win all those, they are 5-2 after Round Seven and the season looks way different. They played like a 10, 11 win team this year, and with Dusty on board, with further games into their kids, they are not far off top four. It’s a stretch, but the comp is so even you can’t rule anything out these days.

16.  The Crouch brothers have become a column favourite and we will continue to push their cause, and this week particularly Matt’s. The second youngest named on Wednesday night (Zach Merrett is only five months younger). But whilst the Bomber winger is heralded as one of the very best young players in the game, and someone who had a huge 2017, he ranked 4th for disposals per game yet Crouch was ranked 2nd. Crouch too was 7th in the league for effective disposals per game and 9th for score involvements. He was as instrumental to Adelaide taking home the minor premiership as any Crow and whilst most outlets have awarded their player of the year to a Dangerfield or a Martin, The Age actually had Matt Crouch on top. He is only 22, that’s all, but a megastar in the making.

17.  As this will be the last column for the footy season, let’s finish off with some predictions of the weeks to come. Firstly the Brownlow, and well, theory has it the ineligible Patrick Dangerfield, who wins the count, hangs the medal over the second place getter in Dustin Martin. Oh, what theatre! But we think one of two things will happen – either Martin smashes it in anyway on his own merit, well over 30 votes, well ahead of Dangerfield. Or, someone pops up from nowhere and goes super close to winning it. Watch out for Tom Mitchell, Josh Kennedy or even my man Crouch. Matt Priddis won his Brownlow as a $41 chance, for what it’s worth that’s Marcus Bontempelli’s odds this year.

18.  Then we have the Grand Final. I tell you, I am beyond compelled by the winner of this Geelong-Richmond game. The path that opens up for the winner is so advantageous and as the Dogs proved last year, getting on a roll is beyond powerful. I have massive respect for the Crows’ season, I think Sydney is the best team in the competition and its shattering they missed top four, but right now, I am tipping the Tigers to win next Friday, and I don’t know who beats them after if they do.

19.  We have the free agency/trade period next month and we expect a bit to happen. We wonder if someone pays the price to get Tom Lynch down from Gold Coast a year early (Collingwood or Carlton), we wonder if Jake Lever does indeed up a Demon and too whether Gary Ablett plays on but down at Geelong. It appears Josh Kelly will stay or become a Saint, that North Melbourne despite all their cash may fail to land a big fish, and that it will be the pursuit of Jacob Hopper, Devon Smith and Steven Motlop that may cause the biggest news. We do expect that Bryce Gibbs does get home this year though, write that one down.

20.  And we sign off the year with another retirement during the week, although if we’re honest we knew a little earlier but kept it in camera – Leigh Montagna finishes up after 287 games with St. Kilda. A terribly underrated midfielder, a key component of the more successful periods for the Saints in the early part of last decade and then again in those Grand Final years. He played 21 games or more ten of the last 12 years, so he was incredibly durable and reliable yet a hamstring on its last legs went at the SCG and that was that. He will end up in the media, a proper talent in front of the camera or equally behind the mic, and deserves all the success he has upcoming. A terrific competitor, a highly-skilled midfielder turned backman and an even better bloke. Well done to him.


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