We’re going to do it. When it was all about 153 games to kick the season off, then when returning about completing 144 more, we’re now ‘this’ close. The season’s a week from done and a finals series, albeit unlike what we are accustomed to, is on our doorstep.

1.       Lot of chatter around should players be allowed to stay in Queensland post-season and holiday? I suspect there’ll be an agreement this week that allows that, but call me the Grinch but I say no. Put it this way, you reckon Freo players are worrying about this? Or Sydney? It’s only because Melbourne sucks right now and you’d want to avoid it. So hate to say it, you wouldn’t be allowed a permit to go up there on holiday, so give them a deadline to come home, like a week tops, and that’s it. So what it if sucks down here. There are only four reasons to leave home they say, well work’s work, fair enough, but I don’t hear Dan Andrews talking about maintaining social distancing whilst on end of season footy trips. Sucks but too bad.

2.       Speaking of staying up there, how many muppets are actually up there? I mean there was a drone showing people around the pool inside the hub, half of those spotted were media people or someone’s golf coach. Its absurd. I don’t mind so much for the look, hey, the AFL and Queensland Government ticked it off, its their error. But whose paying for these people’s grandparents, babysitters, etc.? The AFL. So when there’s talk about cost-cutting the next few years to pay back the debt, its because someone’s dog trainer, personal psychic and third cousin all got an all-expenses trip to Brisbane because of who knows why? When so and so wins the flag, how important was it to have their personal grape-peeler come up and spend time with them? Ludicrous.

Drone footage from last week. None of these are players or coaching staff, mind you.

3.       And then on the cost-cutting thing, I keep hearing about how the footy department spends will come down coz of the soft cap slashes. Having to let coaches go and what not. Have we not forgotten it’s a ‘soft cap’? I know, there are strong financial incentives to avoid going over, but you’re able to. So if the AFL says next year is $6.2m, but when it comes down to it, a club is looking at it thinking, feasibly, bringing down costs to $6.5m is the lowest they could manage, then do it. It’s a soft cap, not a hard cap. If it was meant to be adhered to like a hard cap, like with the players’ salaries, then it would be.

4.       Lot of job cuts at City Hall, good AFL people being let go. But its also an organisation that could be run a lot leaner than it is. Sure, it’s a huge organisation, but there’s an excess of people working there. Even take AFL Media, should that have as much editorial talent as it does? Do we need to fully fund an “independent” media organisation? St Kilda will have to let some good coaches go, but its ok, we’ll have seventeen journos employed by the AFL to cover it.

5.       This column often calls West Coast out, not because of a grudge but more so the media overrating their performances. But last week was nothing short of really impressive, really gutsy. A lot of good soldiers down, be it pre-game or during, and even though St Kilda would not be fond of their performance looking back, the Eagles were mighty. Won’t make the top four now, haven’t been as impressive as many preach they have, but if they can play like last Thursday a bit more, with good names back, they’ll do damage.

6.       North. Bloody hell. An inept team with a really inexperienced coach. And their young core concerns me. Last year, no first round pick, the pick they originally had will end up being the Rising Star this year, Caleb Serong, who played against them last weekend. Year before, got Tarryn Thomas in the first round as an academy pick, who hasn’t shown lights-out potential just yet. 2017 they got Luke Davies-Uniacke at pick 4 who has flop written all over him. Jy Simpkin was the year before that, at pick 12, nice value, but even so he’ll be 23 before Round 1 next year. They need to trade aggressively this offseason or this has Gold Coast three years ago written all over it.

Rhyce Shaw looking perplexed on the weekend just gone with the Roos losing again, this time to Freo.

7.       Mind you, draft pick selections aside, why are we excusing the North younger players for running out of steam towards the back of end of the season, lacking effort in a lost year, when hello, Adelaide, who will win the spoon, has won three on the trot and if you’re a Bloods fan you’d be really encouraged by everything you’ve seen since the Derby win against GWS in Perth. Rules for some, rules for others?

8.       After last Thursday its Richmond’s to lose now. I sense there’ll be a wrinkle, they’re not my flag tip, moreover I haven’t got one just yet because its 2020, who saw any of THIS coming? There’s a twist or two left and what this column can tip is to ‘expect the unexpected’. But a first week final against Brisbane, up there, notch that down as a Lions loss and once again the Tigers host a prelim for the fourth year in a row.

9.       If we had to have a swig, well I expect there to be a Geelong-Richmond prelim. Is that because the Cats win week one and the Tigers lose, or vice versa. Dunno. But I suspect three of the top four plays off the penultimate week and the narrative will be can one of Port or Brisbane upstage the more fancied? I say three of the top four because someone will be harpooned by a West Coast or St Kilda week two. Haven’t jumped off the Saints entirely, they could win a final if they really want to still.

10.   Port’s season is interesting; no-one really fancies them. Sure, they’ve lowered colours to some of the teams around them, but their hardest game will be week one (which was what we said of Richmond in 2017). Let’s say its Geelong. Why can’t the Power, in a home final, undo what Geelong did to them a few weeks back in Queensland? We’ve seen Port look powerful as shit at home, remember that Round 11 game Tiger fans? Win week one and it’s a home prelim against maybe Brisbane, maybe Richmond, with all kinds of momentum. Before you know it, they’re in a Granny and go on, tip against them with certainty. To me, using another but separate 2017 analogy, Geelong and Richmond in 2020 feel like Adelaide in 2017, but Port feels a bit like Richmond did. Never really considered until the second quarter of the GF, and then post-game the whole thing was obvious in hindsight.

Xavier Duursma kicking a goal in the Power’s impressive win over Richmond a couple months back.

11.   On Steele Sidebottom, it’s a tricky one. Usual new father circumstances as an AFL footballer, you miss a couple hours with your newborn if playing at home, or 24 hours or so if playing interstate. Steele here would have to quickly enough leave home for 14 days quarantine, not in a hub but isolated in a normal hotel, before maybe playing the first final. Gut feel says that’s a stretch, especially if there’s not a tonne of family support for his fiancé down here right now. However, its certainly plausible to suggest that given his misdemeanour earlier in the year, he’d look to ‘get back to work’ when he can. The timing? If we assume a first final against West Coast, that’s fourteen days from Wednesday. So he’d need to be not only making a decision soon, he’d need to be on a plane within 48 hours to be out of quarantine to face the Eagles.

12.   If you could make a bet who wins a final first, Essendon or Freo, who would you take? At best it’s a lot closer than you think, at worst you might have to go those blokes in purple. Sure, they’re 4-3 the last seven but three of those wins were against Hawthorn, Sydney and North, but results aside you see plenty of green shoots. This is far from a finished product but as rebuilds go, Freo’s looks right on-track. Bombers? Well. Yeah, good luck.

13.   You know what Essendon’s like right now, John Worsfold’s wearing the gloves, Ben Rutten is at first slip. And the big nick heading their way is the 2020 season. But they’ve both gone “yours” at the same time and watched it split them and race to the boundary at fine third-man for four. They seemingly had the cordon in place to transition this season, but one of them now has to go and run and pick the ball up from the fence, and that’ll be Truck.

14.   How about the Giants? Well, I think Brett Deledio who spent three years at GWS, his comments back in July have never rang truer given their last month:

when things start to go bad, they all try to use their own ability to win the game, versus trying to do it together and that is where they ultimately fall down because it is a bunch of 22 individuals versus a collective team

So true. This team on talent, every week, is a top four team. But they’re so disjointed they’re going to miss the finals. Take last week, dropped their captain for goodness sake, plus left out another gazillion first-round picks, yet brought in a whole bunch of talent such is the embarrassment of riches. Too much ego, not enough hardwork.

15.   Main culprit, and I’ve liked him a lot, is Josh Kelly. Remember when he was offered $9m over nine years by North, and whilst it was a big story no-one blinked at the value? Now I’ve poured over the stats…. for six minutes and I got bored so gave up, but to the eye he wouldn’t be worth shit right now. Not because he isn’t talented, no, I’d say he is worthy of a top-10 status as far as mids go. But let me put it this way, he plays like the fill-in on your mid-week basketball team, he plays like he isn’t invested in the outcome so might not run hard enough the other way, won’t take the team option, he’ll just drift until its over. Kelly will rack up 30 but he isn’t hurting anyone. He’ll have moments of brilliance but for the stuff that matters, nup, where is he. He has Brownlow potential but has become the most forgettable superstar in our game.

Josh Kelly in a game this year, having little influence as per his new norm.

16.   Bryce Gibbs. Fair career, and some thought it was awkward being carried off by two of his long-serving teammates, but opponents on the day. But with a club he played over 200 games for, it was fitting. And shit, the two blokes that carried him off, were both groomsmen in his wedding. So for those who found it too weird for their own taste, I pity them.

Retiring Bryce Gibbs chaired off by two of his best mates and long-standing ex-teammates.

17.   NFL back last weekend, how good? But, and again, I declare, I’m a white male so I should stay in my lane, but where the NBA could not have been stronger in their social statements, from their jerseys and slogans and then ‘the boycott’, the NFL on their opening weekend, for mine, came up short. The Chiefs-Texans opened the season and their symbolism was hardly that symbolic, and even for anthems, some kneel, many didn’t, it’s almost like they’ve moved on already. If the NBA and NFL were mates, I reckon the former would be a bit peeved.

Dallas Cowboys this morning pre-game, kudos to defensive tackle Dontari Poe (#95) but holistically, what was the approach ?

18.   Ricciardo had a podium, he had it, Renault has never podiumed since it returned as a works team back in 2016, and our boy had it. And then the guy who replaced him at his old team, Red Bull, overtook him and he came fourth. This column sticks fat that Danny is a gun behind the wheel, but ideally he finds a way to steal a podium at Mugello and come away with a really impressive drive. Sadly no dice. Let’s put it this way, next year, in a clearly better car, in fact the Maccas probably are the heir apparent to the big three right now, he has to do better. I expect he will, but no excuses.

19.   Quick check of the title odds on the EPL, just kicked off a new season, 20 teams all vying for glory. Yeah nah. Man City are the favourites, under even money, Liverpool to go back to back at 2/1 right behind them, Chelsea at 10/1, Man Utd at 17/1 and even Arsenal after a 3-0 start on Saturday are at 30/1. After that? Leeds at 90/1. The sixth best chance for EPL glory is essentially ‘name your own price’. I don’t know if its salary cap or who knows what, but surely having half the teams with odds of 500/1, whilst ‘traditional’, has a breaking point at some stage.

20. Right, so maybe this column was wrong, which is rare lets be honest. We had underplayed the significance of the Channel Seven/Cricket Australia spat because we’d seen it before, the NRL and Channel Nine fell out at the peak of covid, really ugly stuff, and a couple weeks later you walk in and its clothes off, baby oil out and you see things you can’t unsee. But where Nine was properly posturing and stroking its ego a bit, Seven’s a bit more desperate so their action is actually legitimate. Big free-to-air broadcasters don’t make money out of live sport but they still offer good investment. That value is dwindling but its still worthwhile. However, in this instance, even with an Ashes coming in 14 months, Seven can’t justify the expense no matter the return or deffered value. They need out. So, with an Indian test series coming, a Big Bash, we may find Cricket without any free-to-air partners on the front-door of summer. Crazy. Madness.

Prediction? Cricket Australia withers to a settled arrangement where Seven keeps the cricket but at a heavily reduced fee. Seven doesn’t really win, per se, but Cricket loses.

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