In a normal AFL season, excitement would be reaching fever pitch, we would just be entering grand final week and tonight the league’s best and fairest player would be bestowed with the time-honoured Brownlow Medal.
This morning I watched the closing stages of the US Open golf, a tournament typically played in June, and while the footy is also in the final round, many shots are still to be taken.
To continue the golfing analogy — apologies, I haven’t been able to play for a while — Brisbane has finished the 18 and holds the clubhouse lead.
The Lions are on top of the ladder and within touching distance of their first McCelland Trophy.
In the final group is Port Adelaide, a club needing four at the last to pinch the honour as the table-topping side at the completion of the regular season, as irregular as it has been.
It’s an oddity that Brisbane won three consecutive premierships from 2001 to 2003 without ever finishing atop the AFL ladder, and while the McClelland Trophy is a poor cousin to the premiership cup, every Lion will be roaring for Collingwood when the Pies face the Power tonight.
As much as a piece of club history carries significant weight, the chance to avoid the reigning premier Richmond in the opening week of the finals will likely be far more important for Brisbane and its prospects.
The Tigers have won their past 15 games against the Lions and also boast an imposing record at the qualifying final venue, the Gabba, with 11 consecutive wins there.
Last season, Brisbane finished second and entered the finals full of confidence only to be dismantled by the Tigers on its home ground in week one.
A week later, a season of promise ended in despair with a nail-biting loss to the Giants.
Brisbane will be better for the experience but would still benefit from avoiding the Tigers first up.
If Collingwood can upset Port Adelaide tonight, the Lions will instead play the Cats, who were underwhelming and only scraped past 16th-placed Sydney on Sunday. The Cats have also had the Lions’ measure in recent years but not to the same extent.
Brett Ratten’s cheeks could quite feasibly still be aching. The Saints coach had every reason to smile after a 52-point thrashing of Greater Western Sydney secured St Kilda a return to finals football for the first time since 2011.
The post-match scenes were wonderful. Ratten, full of pride and passion and grinning from pointy ear to ear, must have bearhugged just about every player. If all of St Kilda’s record 47,000 members could have been accommodated in the team song they would have been.
Ratten’s influence on St Kilda has been pronounced, and the connection formed with his players is obvious. There is a mutual respect and a deep affection.
As much as this was a powerful moment for St Kilda, I was also struck by the significance of the achievement for a coach that has overcome serious hardship both in his career and in life.
He would later coach the club with a considerable degree of success before being unceremoniously dumped when a more highly credentialled option in Mick Malthouse became available.
In 2015, Ratten suffered unspeakable tragedy when his son Cooper was killed in a car crash.
It was moving to see the joy on his face and the immense sense of satisfaction after Friday night’s win.
« The support I’ve had from the AFL community and the fans has been unbelievable, » Ratten told The Lead on ABC Grandstand.
« I wanted to get the chance to coach again and to get the chance at the Saints, I’m very fortunate.
« Not too many people get a second chance after they’ve been sacked and the Saints showed faith in me, and to give me this — it’s something I want to take with both hands and hopefully we can get that success but we’ve only scratched the surface as a football club. »
More than a few Carlton fans would be looking at the success of Ratten at St Kilda and wondering what might have been.
After 13 rounds, the Blues had looked a genuine finals chance but they capitulated, losing four of their last five matches.
First-year coach David Teague probably just gets a pass mark for a seven-win and nine-loss season, but he openly spoke about the side’s belief it could play finals and the Blues fell well short, finishing 12th on the ladder.
Teague inherited a list that had been completely overhauled, with a lot of the heavy lifting done and salary cap space to lure talented players like Jack Martin.
Carlton will again be an active participant in trade discussions this off-season, and with Charlie Curnow set to return, nothing short of finals in 2021 will be deemed as acceptable.
The Roos won their first two games but only one of their remaining 15, narrowly avoiding the indignity of claiming the wooden spoon.
When Rhyce Shaw took over as coach midway through last season, North Melbourne produced some encouraging results, with full forward Ben Brown a potent force with 64 goals for the year.
As 2020 rolled on, the Kangaroos became non-competitive. A staggering 11 players — including Majak Daw, Jasper Pittard and Jamie Macmillan — were axed from the squad on Friday and I’m reliably informed Brown has been told to look for opportunities elsewhere.
It’s another example of the hard-nosed approach Shaw and his head of football Brady Rawlings are employing in a bid to make their mark on a team once defined by its uncompromising approach.
Despite having three years to run on his contract, I’d be surprised if Jared Polec, who was dropped for multiple games in 2020, remained at the club next season even if it means the Kangaroos have to pay part of his salary.
Polec was guilty of playing without a team-first approach, which has long been a cardinal sin at North Melbourne.
Tough decisions already made, it’s likely there are more to come, and a tough road undoubtedly lies ahead.
But in establishing a proud history, nothing has ever come easily at Arden Street and the Kangas probably would not have it any other way.
This service may include material from Agence France-Presse (AFP), APTN, Reuters, AAP, CNN and the BBC World Service which is copyright and cannot be reproduced.
AEST = Australian Eastern Standard Time which is 10 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)
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