Monday, 11 March 2019

Bring spare undies - 2019 season preview

I don't want to cause a commotion but at the conclusion of the 2018 AFL premiership season, the fourth best team in the land was the Melbourne Football Club (yes, that one). After flipping the Bradbury Plan on its head and qualifying off our own bat we delivered two of the most memorable wins of my life then flew too close to the sun and died at the second last hurdle.

No prizes for fourth though, and we enter the season with legitimate expectation of a title challenge for the first time since 2007 - the year that launched the titular Great Deepression. Best to ignore the winless pre-season and just carry on like nothing's happened since we exploded in a shower of sparks on Saturday 20 September. Because as far as competitive matches go it hasn't.

Every campaign since 2016 has ended in full scale capitulation, but they've been arriving later each time. This probably means we're going to lose a Grand Final in heartbreaking fashion before capturing the not-at-all-inevitable flag. I can't picture how ultimate success would look, but what a time to be alive that we can even worry about suffering a St Kilda style stitch up where we spend years missing by narrow margins. You might have known where you stood during the AD (after dignity) years, but it wasn't nearly as much fun as being a competent and profitable sporting organisation.

Buy, hold, sell

Likely an accident, but last year my fearless predictions were reasonably good last year. Other than suggesting Balic would be a better recruit than Viv Michie and suggesting vandenBerg was finished (how was I supposed to know they'd play him to his strengths again?) I got a few right. Strap yourself in for more accurate indications of how our list will go:


Toby Bedford - A contender for the always contentious small forward position, and I'm willing to fall right into the trap of a draft profile that lists his strengths as "getting in front of contests and being clean and dangerous around goals".

Angus Brayshaw - Many who loaded up on him early in his career did their dough panic selling when he started to suffer novelty head injuries every five seconds, but those who remained calm are now cashing in. The surprise Brownlow bronze has elevated his value to record prices, but we think he can go higher. In a week where fellow concussion fanatic Patrick McCartin has gone down with his eighth head injury and one bump could end it all it's a risky investment but the returns could be spectacular.

Bayley Fritsch - In years to come football scholars will study how we managed to turn a state league goalsneak into a league standard wingman/runner midway through his first season. Mr. Total Football will continue to unexpectedly pop up in various parts of the field like a Whack-A-Mole game, and should get through a full season instead of being mysteriously dropped for the last match of the year.

Max Gawn - Having an understudy for the first time in years may reduce Maximum's overall impact, while also adding years to his career, but I like to think Preuss will give him a much needed rest and provide the opportunity for cameo forward appearances that will drive fear through backmen up and down the country.

Marty Hore - Has to bide his time waiting for one of the other defenders to topple over, but will absolutely play at some point. Hasn't been anything other than a solid player in the practice matches, without showing anything spectacular, but with Lever out until god knows when there's a spot for a defender.

Neville Jetta - I don't know if he's going to improve any further, but my love for Nev is so strong that I will buy into him no matter the result.

Steven May - I've waited years for this and I'm not going to contemplate it being anything other than magic. Did something a bit silly in a practice match and might be rubbed out for Round 1, but what did you expect?

Tom McDonald - Minor AFLX dodging surgery notwithstanding, should be our full forward from Round 1 and will be aiming for at least another 50 goal season. Massive piss on at Demonblog Towers when his goal average crosses 1.00 per game. Didn't excel in either of the JLT games but still managed to blag three goals, which is a reasonable haul when not in peak forward form.

Jake Melksham - Pivotal to our occasionally non-existent half forward line. Got through one pre-season reserves game unscathed and will walk into the Round 1 team.

Clayton Oliver - Continues to do things that suggest like Sam Blease he is actually from another planet, only this time sent to amaze rather than amuse. Stock yet to peak, mortgage your house and invest heavily in his sixth sense ball-getting abilities.

Braydon Preuss - Despite his appearance suggesting otherwise, the only supremacy he'll be delivering this season will be in the ruck. I was sceptical about how he was going to fit alongside Gawn, but based on one practice match where the video didn't work for a quarter of the game he's my new idol. The less said about the second game where he played without Gawn the better. As long as Maximum remains upright he should be ok, but I've started to realise why he may not have been keen to wait for Goldstein to retire so he can become #1 at North.

Christian Salem - A fascinating character, rarely flashy but usually playing his role effectively. Now more than 12 months without dropping bricks on his own head. New contract, high importance for rebounding if we're going to cop an excessive number of inside 50s every week.

Joel Smith - Started the year unlikely to play in Round 1, and ended practice match season looking like the medium sized forward of your dreams. Is gearing up to attempt a speccy that will rival his dad's Mark of the Century for either the actual grab, or the carnage when he crashes to earth.

Sam Weideman - Hardly dominant in the pre-season, but still backing him to go on with the form shown in the last few weeks of 2018. I don't want to run down Hogan just because he's left but say yes to forwards who are interested in taking overhead marks instead of ones who just want it roosted over the head. However, be wary when the discovery of the marking forwards means everyone just hoofs the ball to the square and hopes for the best.


Oskar Baker - Footy's foremost Danny Bonaduce impersonator was on the verge of a token appearance towards the end of the season before injured, and though we value industrial grunt far more than pace down the wing I'd like to think we'll give him a go at some point. Alternatively, will be one of those players who'd have walked a game in our darkest days but never gets to play in a good side due to lack of opportunity. Not on the injury lists but still couldn't crack it for a start in the pre-season, which can't be a good sign.

Austin Bradtke and Guy Walker - May as well be the same person for all I know. Both could do with the year of seasoning in the VFL but unless there's an injury crisis how are they going to fit into the Casey side? Always thought they should have kept the VFL Reserves and merged it with the TAC Cup so you could give the kids experience playing against older players.

Kade Chandler - Another small pressure forward, this one a rookie so only holding a one year contract. Clearly the build is on to the post-Garlett era of crumb, and Chandler will be given time to develop in the VFL before he's required at higher levels. You have to really stuff up as a rookie to get the Tijuana after one season, so presumably plenty of time for him to get into the swing of things.

Mitch Hannan - A mystery January surgery has knocked him out for the first half of the season. Hopefully we're not in the toilet by the time he returns and he'll have to force his way back into the side. If nothing else we'll always have that sealer against Geelong.

James Harmes - Before he blew his finger up against the Lions there was nothing to suggest he was going to go backwards, but beware the overnight sensation the following season when everyone's had a chance to plan for him.

Michael Hibberd - Definitely not as effective in his second season as 2017, but still a vital cog in the machine. I sense the turn is on, but we should get through this year ok.

Jayden Hunt - Was well down last season, and while off-field issues contributed I'm scared that his brief free-running, owl energy inspired peak has been rumbled by opposition coaches. Will get a chance to recover at some stage. Did some charming things as a forward against Brisbane, before being sent back into defence later in the game. Feels like he should be deployed in attack only for surprise value, not for four quarters.

Jay Kennedy-Harris - The great survivor, coming out of an ACL destroying landing at Casey to emerge with nothing more than bone bruising. Gone for all money halfway through last year but showed enough to get another contract. Won't be a first choice but strikes me as the sort of unspectacular but handy enough player the club will want to keep around just in case there's an injury crisis. The requirement to chop three players minimum might trip him up.

Kade Kolojdashnij - Crazy name, crazy guy. Is a few weeks away, but if fit he promises to add a bit of dash to the midfield/half-back line. Likely to be competing for the same spot as Hunt. Has concussion issues so is probably going to do a triple head clack with Brayshaw and Jetta and retire all three at once.

Jake Lever - In a classic Melbourne twist he was just coming very good before injured, and with May down there should be allowed to play his natural game. Let the intercepts begin (eventually). Would have been a buy if his injury return date wasn't blowing out by the minute.

Oscar McDonald - Much maligned like his brother was when playing a similar role, and unlikely to be swung forward any time soon. The arrival of May should help remove some of the pressure on him but there was much nervous adjustment of collar during his shifty early minutes against the Lions. Again, best to pretend that game didn't happen and move on. Apparently we were playing with 22 and they had 26, which doesn't explain why we were shithouse in the first quarter.

Alex Neal-Bullen - Up and down like a whore's drawers in the first half of the season before coming permanently good towards the end. More of that please.

Aaron Nietschke - The first season ending injury of the year, and with no disrespect to him a far cry from when it used to be top draft picks who'd have their knee pop in an innocuous training session.

Christian Petracca - Likely to do plenty of things that make you go weak at the knees, but also to disappear for large parts of games. His set shots have gone horrible - awesome - horrible, so at least on the MFC 1997-2003 rollercoaster scale we're set to see him dob them from everywhere again. Tempted to upgrade him to a buy based on the pre-season games, but after years of Watts promising the world early then going missing I'm not counting him a success until at least Round 4.

Harrison Petty - I refuse to participate in calling him Harry. Hard to see where he gets a game unless somebody falls over, but was far better against Richmond than during his wobbly debut.

Charlie Spargo - Came from the clouds to show promise last year, peaking with the best game of his young career in the Hawthorn final. If he learns to string quarters together instead of coming and going the small forward role is his, but if he's inconsistent the door is flung open for the others to have a go.

Tom Sparrow - Nothing wrong with picking another hard at it inside midfielder, but don't expect him to play seniors this year. What a luxurious scenario that we can finally give a midfielder time to develop. Anything beyond playing at Casey would be a bonus.

Aaron vandenBerg - Midfield vandenBerg is ace, back to ripping people in two with tackles instead of playing an ineffectual defensive forward role. Also prone to doing stupid things like hitting players as they run past, but the good outweighs the bad. Sell the moment you see him lining up around half forward.

Jack Viney - Love the man, have a distinct lack of trust in his extremities.

The Wagner Brothers - Sound like a mid-80s professional wrestling tag team. Will probably both get the chop in a couple of years but add depth in the meantime.


Sam Frost - Battled hard in the absence of Lever last season, and it would be unfair to remember his dismantling in the Prelim over his escaped giraffe style runs out of defence in previous weeks or telling Joel Selwood to pull his f'ing head in. However, now May has arrived and there's pressure everywhere in the tall defender ranks. Lever's absence may prolong his time in the side, but I predict a winter of discontent, kicking his namesake off the grass at Casey in sub-zero temperatures. Will do a serviceable job if called upon to return to the seniors.

Jeff Garlett - Unless he forces his way into the side quickly hard to see how he survives into 2020, and hasn't been helped by the Shepparton shoulder explosion. Has avoided surgery so won't be held too far into the season, but will begin it behind Charleston Spargo in the pecking order. Point for point I'd prefer Jeff (never, ever Jeffy), but with an eye to the future we should be getting games into Spargo now rather than squeezing the last drops out of that ransack trade with Carlton.

Nathan Jones - Hold thy rotten fruit and tomatoes, he is still very much required but with the emergence of Brayshaw, Harmes et al is not as crucial as days of old. Showed some signs of decline last year, but best days gone or not he's still got a couple of years left in him. Kicked a career high 15 goals last year so there might be something in that.

Declan Keilty - Obviously isn't going to get a fourth year on the list without playing a senior game, so after watching Lever and May both brought in since he was drafted this is his last opportunity to impress. Made surprise ruck appearances in the pre-season but didn't show enough around the ground to justify a senior start.

Jordan Lewis - Like Vince last year the end is nigh but thanks for contributing in the interim.

Corey Maynard - I was very bullish about him at this time last year before he dropped out of the side after Round 1 then missed the rest of the year with injury. Hasn't had a fair go at the top grade but is rapidly sliding down the pecking order. Hoping he gets his chance to impress but now that we're half decent and have to search for players to delist he runs the risk of going at the end of the year if he can't string together some senior games.

Tim Smith - Like the guy and would love him to play more, but not at the expense of any of our other talls. Unless Weid goes back into obscurity there's not going to be much call for the Bull in the seniors, and at 28-years-old I don't know how much longer he's got unless he finds a permanent spot. Might live to fight another day thanks to having a mature body, but would want to do better than his existing record four goals in six games.

Billy Stretch - Cruelly cut down with injury right after playing his best game in forever, and as much as I think he's got something to offer to the squad he might have missed his chance now.

Projected ladder
Emboldened by correctly picking us to make the eight last year I nearly went for gold this year and had us in the top four. After the last two weeks I'm dialling it down a bit as a self-defence mechanism, but still expect us to make the eight. Hopefully more comfortably than last year, but after Richmond at the top I'm delivering the widest bracket in pre-season preview history. After a bunch of teams went 12-10 and missed the eight I predict the greatest battle royal for finals spots ever.

The full top 15 should be competitive, so here's to taking our opportunities to beat the piss out of the bottom two and avenging that 2018 fiasco against St Kilda.

1 - Richmond
2 - West Coast
3 - GWS
4 - Sydney
5 - Melbourne
6 - Collingwood
7 - Adelaide
8 - Essendon
9 - Geelong
10 - North Melbourne
11 - Hawthorn
12 - Brisbane
13 - Port Adelaide
14 - Western Bulldogs
15 - Fremantle
16 - St Kilda
17 - Carlton
18 - Gold Coast

Demonblog's chosen 22
Every year assigning players to exact position becomes even more of an anachronism, but this is how I was raised and by christ it's how I will die. Swap around the forward and defender positions as you like.

B: Frost. May, Jetta
HB: Hibberd, O. McDonald, Salem
C: Fritsch, Oliver, Viney
HF: Neal-Bullen, Weideman, Melksham
F: Spargo, T. McDonald, J. Smith
Foll: Gawn, Brayshaw, Harmes
Int: Petracca, Jones, vandenBerg, Lewis

Lever and Hannan are injured, and I'm going to try and start with Gawn on his own to create that spot for Smith. My bench is pretty stacked, so whether the first player to fall over is a forward, midfield or back there should be a spot for Preuss to come in.

First draft betting markets

Allen Jakovich Medal for Best Overall Player
Defending champion retains the advantage, but with a field full of chasers. Any of the top 10 a red hot chance to win.

$3 - Clayton Oliver
$5.50 - Angus Brayshaw
$7 - James Harmes
$9 - Max Gawn, Jack Viney
$10 - Tom McDonald
$12 - Christian Salem
$15 - Neville Jetta, Jake Melksham, Christian Petracca
$18 - Nathan Jones
$22 - Alex Neal-Bullen
$25 - Bayley Fritsch, Michael Hibberd, Steven May
$27 - Aaron vandenBerg
$40 - Sam Weideman
$45 - Jordan Lewis
$50 - Jayden Hunt, Jake Lever, Braydon Preuss
$70 - Jeff Garlett, Oscar McDonald, Joel Smith, Charlie Spargo
$80 - Mitch Hannan, Kade Kolojdashnij
$90 - Sam Frost
$100 - Jay Kennedy-Harris, Billy Stretch, Josh Wagner
$150 - Marty Hore, Corey Maynard, Tim Smith
$250 - Corey Wagner,
$300 - Declan Keilty
$350 - Harrison Petty, Tom Sparrow
$500 - Oskar Baker, Toby Bedford
$750 - Kade Chandler
$3000 - Austin Bradtke, Guy Walker
$5000 - Aaron Nietschke

Marcus Seecamp Medal for Defender of the Year
Factor in traditional biases to running defenders and players coming back from injury. Fritsch and T. McDonald likely to be declared ineligible during season.

$4.75 - Christian Salem
$6 - Neville Jetta
$10 - Michael Hibberd, Steven May
$15 - Jordan Lewis
$17 - Jake Lever
$18 - Bayley Fritsch, Jayden Hunt
$20 - Oscar McDonald
$30 - Sam Frost, Tom McDonald
$60 - Marty Hore
$70 - Josh Wagner
$100 - Declan Keilty, Harrison Petty
$200 - Corey Wagner, Joel Smith

Jeff Hilton Rising Star Medal
No players carry over eligibility from 2018. Mid-season draftees will be eligible if they have not previously played AFL football. Less reliance on new players means a higher likelihood of the first zero votes for rookies season since 2005.

NB: Market amended to include Jay Lockhart

$8 - Marty Hore
$12 - Toby Bedford, Oskar Baker, Tom Sparrow
$25 - Declan Keilty
$50 - James Jordon, Jay Lockhart
$100 - Kade Chandler
$1000 - Austin Bradtke
$3000 - Aaron Nietschke, Guy Walker

Jim Stynes Medal for Ruckman of the Year
Finally some competition for Maximum, but he retains heavy favouritism. Preuss the only other man even remotely likely to hit the 10 hit out per game qualifying mark.

$1.50 - Max Gawn
$12 - Braydon Preuss
$100 - Sam Frost, Tom McDonald
$200 - Declan Keilty, Sam Weideman
$1000 - Austin Bradtke

Will it be worth it?
With a tough first few weeks let's try and resist the temptation to launch sacking campaigns if it doesn't start well. Problem being that we've got a woofer of a run home as well, so early victories are a must if we're not going to be dragged into a finals race requiring spreadsheets, blind faith and punting other teams on to losses for our benefit.

If we can make the eight - and especially the four - the thing that's most in our favour is that it's an open season. Richmond should be the standout squad again, but they've now got Preliminary Final demons to overcome, and other than that as long as we avoid having to go to Perth again it's a wide open field, ripe for the ultimate Bradbury through the pack and to a flag. Or we'll finish 11th. As kids say ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Final thoughts
It seems like yesterday, probably because I can't help but reference it in every post, but this will be the sixth year since our rock bottom nadir of 2013. It's time to shine. But even if we find some obscure way to stuff up our challenge this season - or are cleaned by injuries - the group is young enough for several more dips at gold over the coming years. But a meteor might have blown the earth to buggery by then so I haven't got time to wait, let's win it all now.

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