With this 12 months’s AFL grand remaining anticipated to return to the MCG – the religious dwelling of the Demons – it is going to be exhausting to cease Melbourne from clinching back-to-back premierships, writes Ronny Lerner.
AFTER TWO seasons closely impacted by COVID, the Australian Football League (AFL) is lastly readying itself for a return to normality in season 2022.
With the worst of the pandemic seemingly – and hopefully – effectively and really within the rear-view mirror, it seems as if each membership will play 11 true home-and-away matches and, most significantly, the grand remaining will return to the MCG for the primary time since 2019.
So fingers crossed we don’t see fixtures equivalent to Sydney v West Coast being performed at Kardinia Park in Geelong anymore.
Significantly, after being starved of footy for the previous two seasons because of being the toughest hit metropolis in Australia by COVID, Melbourne footy followers will be capable of recurrently attend matches this 12 months.
Numerous video games had been both performed behind closed doorways within the Victorian capital or relocated to different states, over the last two seasons. But with Melbourne set to play host to 89 of the 198 home-and-away matches (46 on the MCG and 43 at Marvel Stadium) in 2022 – and no caps on crowds at some stage in the 12 months (hopefully) – town’s footy-mad inhabitants shall be handled to an overdue AFL extravaganza.
Despite that, the league is taking no possibilities, with every membership afforded a COVID top-up listing of 20 gamers in case of an emergency and a return to the dangerous previous days of 2020-21.
And as if the final two years didn’t serve up sufficient surprises, the cherry on the cake noticed Melbourne take the footy world unexpectedly and cost in direction of the newest in an extended line of drought-breaking premierships.
Footy followers of this author’s classic by no means thought they’d ever see Melbourne, Richmond or the Western Bulldogs win a premiership. And but, prior to now six seasons, all beforehand success-starved golf equipment have carried out precisely that — smashing a mixed 156 years’ value of premiership drought within the course of.
In the Demons’ case, it signalled the top of the league’s longest-active barren run (57 years), with that doubtful title now belonging to St Kilda (56 years).
And Melbourne goes to be exhausting to cease from clinching back-to-back premierships in 2022.
In a merciless accident, the Demons weren’t capable of smash their well-known drought in entrance of their heartland followers on the MCG. Instead, they needed to be content material with doing the job within the unfamiliar surrounds of Perth’s Optus Stadium.
It’s for that cause alone that the Demons are motivated to repeat the dose this 12 months – solely this time at their religious dwelling on the MCG – and provides their followers a “two-for-one” deal of kinds.
Demons captain Max Gawn stated as a lot in a TV interview within the victorious changerooms not lengthy after his workforce obliterated the Western Bulldogs within the grand remaining. As euphoric because the achievement was for him and his males, there was one thing bittersweet about capturing the premiership cup on the opposite facet of the nation.
And barring any vital damage considerations, or unexpected starvation points, the Demons would be the workforce to beat once more this 12 months.
When you have a look at their finest 18, there’s hardly a weak hyperlink. Their midfield, that includes the likes of Gawn, Christian Petracca, Clayton Oliver, Jack Viney, Angus Brayshaw and Gawn’s apprentice Luke Jackson, is the envy of the competitors, particularly after what they did to the Bulldogs’ vaunted on-ball brigade within the remaining 40 minutes of final 12 months’s grand remaining.
Up ahead, key targets Bayley Fritsch (59), Ben Brown (25) and Tom McDonald (33) mixed for 117 objectives in 2021, they usually had been complemented beautifully by the manic ahead strain supplied by Kysaiah Pickett (40), Charlie Spargo and Alex Neal-Bullen. And in fact, Jackson and Gawn can drift into assault once in a while.
And down again, they’ve the very best key defenders within the AFL collectively in All-Australian duo Jake Lever and Steven May who’ve a reasonably spectacular assist forged to select from, in Christian Salem, Jake Bowey, Harrison Petty, Michael Hibberd, Trent Rivers, Adam Tomlinson, Jayden Hunt and Joel Smith.
But a second consecutive flag gained’t simply be handed to Melbourne who has a ravenous chasing pack nipping at their heels, fuelled by loads of latest finals heartache.
Look no additional than the workforce they embarrassed by 74 factors in final 12 months’s grand remaining — the Bulldogs. They proved persistently all through 2021 that they’re one of many league’s high canines (excuse the pun) and don’t neglect they discovered themselves 19 factors up within the third quarter in that grand remaining.
Brisbane Lions have a large level to show after crashing out of the finals in straight units for the second time in three years, taking their finals document to 1-5 in that interval, together with 4 losses at their dwelling the Gabba, which flies within the face of their home-and-away document on the floor for the reason that begin of 2019 (28-2).
And Port Adelaide are in an identical boat, turning into the primary non-Victorian workforce in VFL/AFL historical past to blow back-to-back dwelling preliminary finals after having fun with a “rails run” on the competitors as a facet largely unaffected by the pandemic.
You’ve additionally acquired the likes of Sydney and GWS Giants who rejuvenated themselves impressively final 12 months — and who can neglect about Richmond? The Tigers had a nightmarish 2021, however with a clear run at it in 2022 from an damage perspective, they’ll be quietly bullish about pinching a fourth flag in six years.
Can Geelong return to the effectively but once more after an astonishing 12 preliminary finals in 18 seasons? It’s uncertain. It will get stated so much lately, however the ageing Cats will discover it exhausting to keep away from a slide down the ladder this season as their ever-elusive tenth premiership continues to evade them.
Aside from Richmond, can a “bolter” from outdoors the highest eight problem for the flag? Probably not, though the time has most likely come for Fremantle to no less than return to the finals.
And as spectacular as Essendon had been in defying the consensus bottom-four predictions final 12 months by ending within the high eight, this author thinks 2022 may function a minor step backwards on what guarantees to be an upward pattern of progress and improvement over the following three to 4 years for them.
But the sweetness about footy is that, actually, something can occur, as we’ve seen on many events prior to now six years. The competitors is as even because it’s ever been, guaranteeing fertile floor for one more workforce to shock the world in six months’ time.
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