AFL returned to Perth and Adelaide this week but home is the Sunshine State. Hawthorn and the GWS looked bleh, a kid called Izak took no-one who reads this by surprise, and remember Leeds United?

1.       State of the game. Too many pundits to list here have crowed and shrieked too loud and too often the last two weeks that the game is in dire straits, the rules need changing, the coaches need to be blamed for prioritising defence over aesthetics – it was dire. Yet, this weekend, has there been a bad game, more over how many games weren’t great viewing? Very few to the latter most critically. So where are those naysayers this week? Stage Three restrictions are in play but they don’t prevent honest backtracking on knee jerk idiocy. Masks don’t muffle “sorry, I was off the mark, I took Monday medication on a Thursday, I was wrong”. Speak up now, please.

Fremantle vs West Coast last Sunday in front of a half-full Optus Stadium

2.       So what, we get the fixture today for the “33 games in 19 days” bonanza. It’s one full round, plus three rounds of eight games as six clubs get a bye. It kicks off Wednesday the 29th, and wraps up Sunday the 16th of August. What I suspect is we get footy each day, Fridays have double-headers, Saturdays and Sundays have three each.

In theory if you played the first game of each ‘round’, you’d play Wednesday the 29th, then play on Sunday the 2nd of August, then the following Saturday the 8th, then finish the following Thursday the 13th. Not that bad really. Or, worst case, play Sunday the 2nd, Saturday the 8th, Wednesday the 12th and Sunday the 16th.

3.       That means, beyond this “33 games in 19 days”, that if we want to have the last round, a normal nine-game, normal timeslots, at that September 19 weekend, there’d be 49 games to play over 5 weekends, or within 35 days. Weeks of Thursday through Monday, with double headers on Fridays, would be required to get us there. Hope you like your footy, it’s coming thick and fast the next eight weeks.

4.       Little Gaz. Firstly kudos to those in the media who did a good job acknowledging that footy doesn’t matter here, instead of jumping immediately into a “can the Cats win it without Ablett” convo. Secondly, can we just skip that footy conversation altogether, like whenever? The champ’s played 350 games; he has two Brownlows, two Premierships. If he never played again, what really matters? He won’t play another game in Victoria. Chances are little Levi ain’t leaving the state this year. So why should Gary? Many people every day worthy of our thoughts, but dead set, Levi, thinking of the little fella.

5.       Izak Rankine. You’re welcome. Plenty have jumped on now but don’t forget who was beating the drum loudest on the West Adelaide product. When we said he is more talented than Rowell, it was a big call, but an easy call, and you can see why. Not to doubt Rowell, that ginger’s gonna be a midfield gun for a decade-plus, but Rankine is something very special.

6.       Fair play to Carlton, when the siren went they were in front of the team rolling away with top spot. Yes, they lost, I know. But to bury the overwhelming positive of Carlton’s form is unfair. Lost to the Dees by a point and then lost to Robbie Gray after the siren. Since the resumption, they’ve been very good. And have not played any of the bottom four yet so finals is a very real chance still for the Baggers.

7.       Then again, David King, had a boystrous Sunday night on the telly, with both barrels aimed squarely at the Carlton coaching box against Port:

In a three-point margin, they’ve allowed the most dominant forward on the ground to be dominant all day… They’ll go back and say ‘no, there were a whole host of things that we could have corrected to get the result’, but in my eyes the glaring problem all day was never resolved.

When you’re in the coach’s seat and when you’ve got that panel of people around you, your job is to give your team the best opportunity of winning.

Carlton were in front when the siren went, David. And Robbie Gray kicked it not just from an acute angle, but out his arse, like legitimately deep bowel sorta stuff. I’m a Pies man, and happy to canon the Blues eight days a week, but to say Teague cost them the game, I argue it was Teague and whatever he is doing that it took ‘that kick’ to be Port’s only chance. Deep breath Kingy, the nurse will be round in a bit.

8.       Grand Final, firstly, we won’t know who is playing and where come late August for another two weeks, so the location for the Granny two months beyond that needn’t be locked in so soon. However, I think it should go to Queensland for two reasons if I had to make the call now. Firstly, Queensland has saved footy. Not in getting the season started, but off the back of Victoria’s second wave and needing to get all Melbourne teams out, especially with the looming threat of a second Sydney wave, we were ‘this’ close to going back into hibernation without the Palaszczuk Government been so accommodating and willing at short notice.

9.       Secondly, Brisbane is Rugby League Heartland, but it only has one NRL team. In a year when the Broncos are especially ratshit, the opportunity for the game to capitalise on a major growth market is significant. I get it, Perth, Adelaide, traditional bases, but to get our biggest game to a city that bleeds Maroon, would be massive. It’s the growth of the game that saw Perth get Optus and Adelaide footy return to the Oval. Let’s not take for granted how those things are possible, and making big inroads into Brisbane is hugely influential in said growth. Or, now, a fiscal recovery. Remember, five years ago Queensland footy stunk like off milk and people were contemplating exiting the state completely, now it presents as the extra dollop for the AFL and that needs to be taken advantage of.

10.   The Gabba is a piece of shit compared to Optus, Adelaide Oval, true, but with a 2032 Olympics bid looming, hosting a Grand Final presents as significant wind in the sails of their city’s hosting credentials. A brand new Olympic Stadium that afterwards becomes the home of the Lions would be massive for the AFL.

11.   Onfield, where are the Hawks? There’s the theory that Clarko’s got this, if they’d won yesterday then they’d be in the eight and still going ok. I get that, but if you prepared to call the Giants at the crossroads, which I think is legitimate, then calling out the Hawks for being in the shit is extremely fair. “But what if they’d won, they’d be in the eight” What if? What if Ted Bundy kept to himself?  And, too, they lost to a Melbourne team who’d looked very average to this point. That all said, we recall the Hawthorn-Richmond game, and that is, at a stretch, an example for optimism, but at the moment, the form they’re in, I say Clarko’s got a lot of work to do. Finals? At this point, not even close.

Alastair Clarkson heading out to the huddle in the team’s eventual loss to Melbourne last Sunday

12.   And the Giants. I reckon they got to where they’ve been 2016-2019 on raw talent. Whitfield and Kelly and Cameron and Greene and the list keeps going, you get the ball in the hands of some properly talented bastards, it just works. It’s almost like how much coaching do you do if you’re in charge of the Victorian state Under-12s, they’re gonna bash up everyone. But I think Leon Cameron, in trying to ‘coach’ the team one better than last year has overcooked it. He has tried to coach those talented Under-12s a system that detracts from what their one-wood is, if we can mix metaphors, which is just competing on a talent vs talent basis. I reckon they’re still good things for finals, and probably winning at least two, but its mucky at the moment.

13.   Then again, Brisbane keep presenting. Still don’t think they win the flag, even if every single final they play is at their training ground. But if Cam Rayner can start to produce a bit more midfield ball, then there’s another gear the Lions can go to. Rayner last year did not have one game over 16 touches, he averaged 9 a game. So far this year, on a pro-rata 20-minute quarter basis, he would have had three games over 15 in the last month and be averaging 14 a game. Six goals in the least three weeks too. Looks good.

14.   Christian Petracca just starting to show what this column thought possible. Has had a hot, hot fortnight, is getting to the ball more and therefore having such a more profound influence. Take Sunday, he had 29 touches, 16 contested possessions and kicked a sausage. But, of the 21 times Melbourne scored on the weekend, which in a shortened game is hefty, Trac was involved 14 times. That’s out of this world good.

15.   Jordan De Goey, out for ‘six to ten weeks’. Let’s just call that the season. Because weeks does not necessarily equate to games remember, so we reckon that best case, he is ready a week or two before the finals start, worst case he would be a chance for a Prelim should the Pies make it. Huge loss, in a team that’s getting Sidebottom back in a couple weeks, the Pies have a midfield that doesn’t need him, so it would allow him to be the focal point and kick bags.

16.   One positive for the Pies, they are one of three teams who have not yet played any of Freo, North, Sydney or Adelaide. Port and Brisbane have played two of those teams each, Gold Coast, West Coast, Essendon and St Kilda have already played three of four. So Collingwood does get the slight appeal of a nicer draw on the run home than otherwise.

17.   Firstly, how good is this mark? Like, that’s insane, I don’t think you could argue there’s ever been a better one, AFL, state leagues, whatever. It was taken by Elijah Reardon, playing for the Kingborough Tigers down in the Tassie State League. Secondly though, Zak Simmonds, photographer for The Mercury in Hobart, great trigger work there mate, legendary shot.

18.   Leeds United, back in the Premier League, after 16 long years. All those heroes who swore allegiance back when Viduka and Kewell were running amuck at Elland Road all those years ago, let’s see how many come back to the fore now, most of them moved to Chelsea or Man City I’d tip.

19.   Gotta be consistent, the A-League has plunged new depths this week. First week back, but did anyone notice? Only on Foxtel, so their numbers are already up against it, but the tv ratings are in and I don’t think you could do worse. 12,000 tuned in for their first night back, then only 9,000 for their Saturday night game. Not only is it staggering to see live sport achieve only a four-figure television result, but it was one-fifth the numbers of Super Rugby, which has been perennially a sport in big trouble itself. It was almost 10% of the people who stayed up to watch F1 qualifying. Honestly, teleporting back to the NSL would be a surer business model right now, its yuck.

20. Man City, copped the massive punishment from UEFA for allegedly non-complying with the governing body’s rules and regulations around spending and equalisation. It was deemed a big victory for the sport in the ongoing battle with gross capitalism widening the gap between the poor and very, very rich. However, Man City appealed that decision and in a landmark moment for the sport that appeal two weeks ago was successful.

What does it mean? For City, and its very rich mates, they just got another one up on UEFA. It belittles the attempts to try and curtail the spending habits of the big clubs and regulate against it. It also means the power well and truly resides with them too, so instead of breaking away (ala Super League), why not stay where you are and get the changes you want, because right now UEFA is as vulnerable as ever and they’ve already poked the bear once, and lost badly. Watch this space.

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