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Testing the Crystal Ball: A Review of the 2014 AFL Season

Friday, 26 September, 2014

I made some bold statements at the start of the year. When I predicted that Richmond would finish fourth, I was roundly howled down by some friends (blame it on the classic over-optimism of a Richmond supporter). But after reviewing the post-finals ladder, I found that some of my predictions actually weren’t that far off. I got a few predictions almost right (namely Fremantle and Geelong), yet was woefully incorrect with others (my unreserved apologies to all six Port Adelaide supporters at Melbourne Uni).

And without further ado, here’s the season wrap-up.

Adelaide Crows
Predicted finish 15th, actual finish 10th
I seriously underestimated just how mediocre Adelaide could be. They surprised many by taking out some of the top teams (North Melbourne, Port Adelaide and Collingwood), but surprised again by losing to Melbourne at home. They left their biggest surprise for last though, completely shocking the football world by sacking coach Brenton Sanderson just nine months after extending his contract. I guess they didn’t want him outshining all the players with his fitness for a fourth consecutive pre-season.

Brisbane Lions
Predicted 11th, actual 15th
Brisbane actually played a lot better than 15th suggests; by the end of the season they had managed to turn their home matches into serious games, despite getting thumped whenever they travelled. In a shock to many, the Brisbane board managed to appoint a redheaded, premiership ex-Lions player as coach for the second consecutive time. Unfortunately, Jonathan Brown’s untimely mid-season retirement after one concussion too many left them with a, well, lion-sized hole in their forward line.

Carlton Blues
Predicted 12th, actual 13th
Carlton’s year was predictably ordinary. Coach Mick Malthouse’s one-man campaign to re-create Carlton in the image of his old team Collingwood hit a snag when former Magpie, then Blues’ CEO Greg Swann quit. Swann instead decided to take on a club in Brisbane, one with less players who get sacked for sending “unsolicited graphic photos via a social media platform” to 16-year-old girls (i.e. Josh Bootsma sending dick-pics on SnapChat to a teenage girl he met at training). When Chris Judd tore his hamstring literally five minutes into his comeback from an achilles injury, it looked like my prediction about this being his final year was actually going to come true. But a finish to the year that included two best-on-ground performances meant that once again, I was hopelessly wrong.

Collingwood Magpies
Predicted 7th, actual 11th
The Magpies crashed and burned this year after a horror run of soft-tissue injuries that rivalled Essendon’s end to 2012 (i.e. THE YEAR THEY ALLEGEDLY TOOK ALL THE DRUGS – I’m not implying anything). The Magpies started the year strong, looking to make a mockery of my pre-season prediction of 7th. But then as players dropped like flies (compounded in the Round 21 match where seven players got injured), the Magpies quickly slid down the ladder, still making a mockery of my pre-season prediction. Their season highlight was fringe player Tony Armstrong’s extraordinary effort of following up his best-on-ground game in the reserves with a full game in the seniors on the same day, which shows you how desperate things were getting.

Essendon Bombers
Predicted 3rd, actual 7th
Essendon started the year extremely well by knocking off the reigning premiers in Hawthorn, making me look like an absolute genius. However, much like in seasons past, the Bombers soon slowed down. Despite temporarily losing their top eight spot, though, their finals spot never looked in doubt. Essendon continued to be the butt of drug-cheat jokes, and the spectre of favourite son James Hird hung over the club, despite his one-year suspension (a paid study junket in France). 2015 could see a mass call-up of their reserves players if ASADA’s threat to suspend players turns into a reality.

Fremantle Dockers
Predicted 5th, actual 6th
While many predicted Fremantle to repeat or even surpass their successes of last year, I was correct in picking that they’d lose at the semi-final stage (although they did originally finish in the top four). The Dockers’ greatest controversy involved star player Nathan Fyfe, who was suspended for an accidental head clash, deeming him ineligible for the Brownlow at the end of the year. Whole pages of the Melbourne media was devoted to this issue, with people even calling for the rules to be changed so he could win the medal. All this fuss was rendered void when he finished second in the count. A lot of fuss for no result? Fremantle’s season in a nutshell.

Geelong Cats
Predicted 6th, actual 5th
Once again, I came so close to accurately picking Geelong’s final position. Geelong’s loss to North Melbourne in the semi-final meant that for once, coach Chris Scott lost bragging rights to his twin brother and North coach Brad. Geelong finally showed signs that the extensive spate of retirements of champion players had caught up to them, with the young players coming through not quite up to scratch. Lesson learnt from the year is that Joel Selwood will probably need extensive facial reconstructive surgery by the time his career is finished, such is the amount of knocks and cuts to the head he receives. However, the amount of free kicks he gets is probably enough compensation.

Gold Coast Suns
Predicted 10th, actual 12th
The Suns were one of five teams still in contention for the final top eight spot by the last round of the season, but could have sown up that spot for themselves weeks earlier. The Suns began the season well and had made their ’boutique stadium’ a virtual fortress. That was until an unfortunate tackle dislocated the shoulder of club champion Gary Ablett, and the whole season came crashing down. Their most important lesson from this year was ‘no Gary, no Gold Coast’.

Greater Western Sydney Giants
Predicted 18th, actual 16th
The Giants defeated the teams they were expected to beat this year (Melbourne, Bulldogs) as well as pulling off the surprise of the year in round one by defeating Sydney. That result got some commentators highly excited about the Giants’ prospects for 2014, but they never quite rose to those expectations again. Co-captain Phil Davis suffered a horror injury to his kidney during the season, but managed to make it back to the top level in one of the few good news stories for the Giants this year.

Hawthorn Hawks
Predicted 1st, actual 2nd/1st (depending on Grand Final result)
Despite finishing lower than Sydney on the home-and-away ladder, Hawthorn possibly had an even better year than Grand Final opponent Sydney . The Hawks suffered injuries to what seemed to be almost all of their best players, yet continued on their merry way. They also managed to cope pretty comfortably without star player Buddy Franklin, who switched to Sydney at the end of 2013. Even their coach Alastair Clarkson was struck down with a serious illness, but his replacement Brendan Bolton (i.e. the happiest coach of all time) was more than capable of filling his shoes.

Melbourne Demons
Predicted 16th, actual 17th
Contrary to my predictions, Melbourne managed to be even more dismal than GWS, a team with an average age of roughly 20. The addition of supercoach Paul Roos had an initial impact, but they had won their quota of four matches by round 13. Now we enter that time of the year when Jack Watts is once again unsuccessfully put up for trade, and a quarter of their list gets cut. But as always, it will come to no avail next year.

North Melbourne Kangaroos
Predicted 8th, actual 4th
North Melbourne actually got their act together this year and won most of the games they were expected to. They did slip into their old way of winning every second game throughout the middle of the year, until they decide to mess with tipsters all over the country and lose to Carlton and then Geelong in consecutive weeks. Their best player remains 36-year-old Brent Harvey, who managed to have a 22-week season that included 8 games of suspension (plus another in the finals) and 5 best on ground matches.

Port Adelaide Power
Predicted 9th, actual 3rd
My most inaccurate prediction of them all. Despite making finals last year, Port Adelaide still managed to surprise many in 2014 by making a preliminary final, and very nearly knocking off Hawthorn. Who knew that with the addition of Matt White (one of the fastest players in the league) to their already speedy list, Port Adelaide would run everyone off their feet? Obviously not me. Captain Travis Boak confirmed his place as a highly influential player. Meanwhile, coach Ken Hinkley—the man no other club wanted—suddenly became the man who got away for Richmond, Geelong and St Kilda, each of whom who knocked him back for their respective head coach jobs.

Richmond Tigers
Predicted 4th, actual 8th
I must admit some bias here. As a Richmond supporter I may have been a little too enthusiastic about their chances following their strong 2013. When the Tigers hit three wins and 10 losses and were 16th on the ladder midway through the season, my Carlton-barracking sister wasted no time in reminding me of my pre-season prediction. An incredible nine games and nine wins later, Richmond had snuck into the top eight. That was before promptly getting absolutely slaughtered in their elimination final by Port Adelaide. Aside from their ninth consecutive win in Round 23, their highlight of the season was when retiree Jake King’s sculled two beers in succession with the Richmond cheer squad. He wasn’t playing at the time, obviously.

St Kilda Saints
Predicted 17th, actual 18th
There was no real difference in my prediction and the actual result, but nobody talks about positions this low on the ladder except when it comes to draft picks. St Kilda started really strongly (and knocked off Essendon and Fremantle later in the season), but with such a young list, they tired quickly and had suffered some massive defeats. The months-long tribute to retiring club legend Lenny Hayes showed the importance of the player to the team, which will deepen the hole already created by last season’s loss of star players Ben McEvoy and Nick Dal Santo.

Sydney Swans
Predicted 2nd, actual 1st/2nd (depending on Grand Final result)
The Swans sent shockwaves through the competition all year—firstly losing to baby brother GWS in round one, then losing to Richmond in round 23 to give them a finals spot. Then they shocked us again last week with a brutal 71-point preliminary final win over North Melbourne. Buddy Franklin has been a huge (in all senses of the word) asset to the Swans. I think my exact words were “Sydney + Buddy = grand final potential”. I astound myself sometimes. (Although if I’m perfectly honest, I don’t think I was alone in this prediction).

West Coast Eagles
Predicted 13th, actual 9th
I didn’t quite see the progression the Eagles would make under new coach Adam Simpson this year. But I console myself with the fact that none of the actual media ‘experts’ predicted Eagle midfielder Matt Priddis to win the Brownlow, after selectors couldn’t find room for him in the All-Australian team. Before this, the biggest story to come out of West Coast this year was when Richmond player Tyrone Vickery punched club legend Dean Cox in the nose in the middle of a ruck battle, in the game immediately proceeding the announcement of his retirement.

Western Bulldogs
Predicted 14th, actual 14th
Thank God for the Doggies, my one correct prediction for 2014! The Bulldogs still managed to disappoint people with their fairly ordinary season. Rumours are circulating of a mass-player walkout with some senior players reportedly disillusioned with the direction the club is taking (i.e. staying completely stagnant), although star ruckman (and Melbourne Uni alumni) Will Minson has signalled he will stay. I read this week that Minson carried a back injury all season after studying 10 hours a day in preparation for an engineering exam last year. That’s dedication.

Predicted Actual
Hawthorn Sydney or Hawthorn
Sydney Sydney or Hawthorn
Essendon Port Adelaide
Richmond North Melbourne
Fremantle Geelong
Geelong Fremantle
Collingwood Essendon
North Melbourne Richmond
Port Adelaide West Coast
Gold Coast Adelaide
Brisbane Collingwood
Carlton Gold Coast
West Coast Carlton
Western Bulldogs Western Bulldogs
Adelaide Brisbane
Melbourne GWS Giants
St Kilda Melbourne
GWS Giants St Kilda