AFL 2021: 18 Clubs, 18 Wishes For The New Year
The world’s about to shut the gate and throw away the key where 2020 is concerned, hoping to usher in a healthier, not so dastardly 2021.
Down here, the AFL will be one of the many institutions happy to see the back of this pandemic-dominated year which indeed got its hooks into the league and shook it to the core.
While season 2021 will still have Covid peeking over its shoulder, the prospect of relative normalcy will be embraced like a goalscorer on debut. Never have twenty-minute quarters and a 23-round season seemed like such a tantalising prospect, to say nothing of the return of actual crowds in Victoria.
From a micro perspective, each club will be counting in the new year with plenty of gusto, and might even set aside a quiet moment to make a wish for their 2021 campaign. And even if they don’t, well too bad, because we’re doing it for them.
Without further ado, here’s 18 wishes for the league’s 18 clubs, while in the interests of turning a new page, why don’t we do this thing in reverse alphabetical order. Take that Covid!
The Eagle’s new year's wish, whispered quietly into the Perth night, is that season 2021 will see the club spread its wings far away from home. While West Coast have put together 6-straight seasons of Finals football, and even nabbed a flag in that period, their success has largely been built off the back of their efforts locally. They missed out on a double-chance for a second straight season in 2020, as their form away from home was largely mediocre. In fact, since winning the 2018 flag, the Eagles are 16-3 at home, yet just 11-9 when they’ve had to cross state borders. If you don’t think being able to travel successfully matters, it’s worth remembering Richmond are 13-4outside of Victoria over the last couple of years.
This Bulldogs wish might seem a little crazy, but it pertains to Tim English slapping on a dozen kilos of brute muscle over the holiday period while also discovering a voracious, insatiable thirst for the contest. At just 23-year old, the footy world knows how seriously talented English is, while also being equally aware of his shortcomings when it comes to physical intensity. Speaking of insane talent, you likely noticed that the Bulldogs added in Adam Treloar to their already sparkling midfield while also retaining the services of John Dunkley. If the Dogs can perform better than 18th for hit-out differential and 14th for centre clearances, two areas a super-charged English can have a massive impact on, then the Doggies can make a serious splash in 2021.
Ever since the Swans have been in the Harbour City they’ve always had glittering star power. Think Warwick Capper, Paul Kelly, Tony Lockett, Adam Goodes and Lance Franklinto name just a handful. For Sydney, that star power has generated plenty of interest while contributing to some serious success, yet with Franklin in the twilight of his remarkable career, the good times haven’t been so regular. In 2020, the Swans missed the Finals in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the mid-90s while it remains unclear just where that next superstar is lurking. Is there somebody already in place, ready to make the leap and elevate his game to that kind of standing? Perhaps Isaac Heeney or Dylan Stephens can make the grade, or did the Blood’s next superstar come gift-wrapped in December’s draft where the club enjoyed two top-five picks snapping up Perth’s Logan McDonald, as well as local product Braeden Campbell.
The Saint’s 2021 wish is all about Max King adding another floor upon his budding mansion of talent. Last year, King’s first proper season at senior AFL level was a raging success, leading the club for marks inside-50 (30) as well as scoring shots (42), while the former #4 pick played in every game bar one. St Kilda have worked manically putting together a squad that’s now on the cusp of genuine contention, while if King can find another few levels, there’s really no limit on how far this club can go in 2021 and beyond.
The Tigers are obviously fully consumed by contending for a 4th flag in 5 seasons along with assuming an unimpeachable place in footy history. Yet that wish is a little too broad, so let’s narrow it down a little. A seperate wish for Richmond is that another midfielder elevates himself to super-star status as there’s sure to come a day when the likes of Dustin Martin, Trent Cotchin and Dion Prestia can no longer do all the heavy lifting and Brownlow-vote binging. Perhaps Liam Baker can be that man? The pint-sized, un-drafted midfielder from Perth is already a two-time premiership winner, burst his way into the ’22 under-22 team’ this season while capping off his remarkable progression by fishing 6th in the highly competitive Tiger Best and Fairest.
Port’s wish is for Charlie Dixon to fully grab the mantle as the game’s premier key forward. According to the Stats Insider’s Player Ratings, it’s a position he’s presently ranked #3 in, yet it’s obvious he has all the tools and age profile to become the definitive best. What Dixon’s lacking at the moment in staying power, with his 2020 mirroring Port’s insofar as its blistering start and rather mellow finish. Dixon booted 27 goals in his first 13 games, averaging more than 4 marks, yet managed just 7 over his last 5. To make matters worse, his Finals campaign consisted of just a couple of majors while averaging just 2 marks.
Port possesses some serious ambition with Orazio Fantasia and Aliir Aliir added to a squad that enjoys a potent mix of emerging and established brilliance. If Dixon can sustain his own excellence through the entire season, then Port will be in the thick of things where 2021 premiership calculations are concerned.
It’s difficult to know what to expect from the Roos in 2021 as the club seems to have been tipped on its head in recent times. A disastrous 2020 took its toll on Rhyce Shaw while the club also waved goodbye to a couple of its absolute stars in Ben Brown and Shaun Higgins. While Finals, or even an improvement on their lowly 3-win tally from last season might be a stretch, what’s absolutely attainable is a better showing each week when Rising Star nominations are revealed. For a struggling club whose focus ought to been on youth, North haven’t exactly set the world on fire in that departure and will be hoping to unearth a handful of selections throughout 2021.
Melbourne made their 2021 wish the moment their trade for Ben Brown was consummated. Simply put, the Demons are hoping they can return to September football which isn’t an unreasonable request, particularly if Brown can return to the kind of form which almost netted him the 2019 Coleman medal. This Demons list is a peculiar one in that it contains a cluster of absolute guns in Max Gawn, Christian Petracca, Clayton Oliver and Steven May, but which has been weighed down by an overly shallow underbelly that's prevented them from breaking through. Not only is Brown the kind of talent who can help them graduate to Finals, but he’s the type of player who can help the club make some sweet music once there.
In the blink of an eye, the holiday period has become a lonely affair for this truly great club which has slipped rapidly from genuine premiership contention in recent years. A collective wish for the Hawks is that Jaeger O’Meara can put together a phenomenal 2021, the likes of which he plays each and every game and caps it off with an All-Australian jacket. The Hawks moved heaven and earth to get the former Sun in brown and gold, and while he hasn’t been a complete flop, he also hasn’t come close to fulfilling Hawthorn’s deepest desires for him. If he can get going, he’s capable of lifting this proud club up on his very broad shoulders and getting them in position to compete for a 14th flag.
There’s really no explaining away the sheer magnitude of Jeremy Cameron’s departure to Geelong. The new Cat functioned as the entirety of the Giants forward line during his 9-years with the club booting 427 goals and being at the epicentre of everything the club achieved. His absence will have all of the club’s wishes centred around replacing his production with the likes of Harry Himmelberg taking on more responsibility on the field, and with Jesse Hogan getting on top of the demons which have plagued him off it. Clearly, the Giants talent pipeline is bursting, yet if goals don’t also spring fourth, then future campaigns might mirror 2020’s which was mostly spent on the outside looking in.
Gold Coast Suns
Matt Rowell doesn’t believe in wishes. He believes in hard work and only getting out what you put in. And as this has rapidly become his club, we’re inclined to listen to what this brilliant young footballer wants. With that said, we reckon Rowell could do with someone like Izak Rankine getting a wriggle on, getting healthy and consistently showcasing the kind of talent which saw him taken with pick #3 in the 2018 draft. Just 12 games and 12 goals at senior AFL level isn’t enough for this prestigious talent. The AFL world needs more, and so too does Mr Rowell.
New Year’s Eve in Geelong inevitably boils down to reflecting on the awkward reality that the club just blew a 15-point half-time lead in the Grand Final. Chris Scott doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who needs to be coaxed into action, so our wish for Geelong is that you guys keep being you. Keep trying like mad, keep innovating, keep thrusting yourself into contention and maybe, just maybe you won’t keep running into the Tigers.
The Dockers 2021 wish is all about incremental gains. When Ross Lyon left, the Dockers were a withering mess, lacking star power and any discernible playing identity. Under first-year coach Justin Longmuir, the club made some genuine gains, the likes of which should have their fans looking forward to season 2021. While their 7 wins constituted the club’s worst return since 2016, their percentage was actually their best since 2015, speaking to a club which was far more accountable across the board. While the Dockers had the 3rd worst attack in the league, their defence was stellar, ranking 5th overall and capped by Luke Ryan being named All-Australian while also taking out his club's Best and Fairest award.
Most Bomber fans will be hoping for some kind of return to prominence, repeating the same wish they’ve been making for the last two decades now. A more specific wish is for the club to have its hat-trick of top-ten picks develop quickly enough so as to provide their downtrodden fans with hope that they’ll not only break through to Finals, but perhaps make some waves once there. In Nik Cox, Archie Perkins and Zach Reid, the Bombers hope they’ve not only picked three future stars, but three players who can get on the park immediately and start cleansing the place of so much negativity.
Collingwood is the definition of a club who’ll be collectively celebrating the end of a season which conjured various ways to throw mud in its face. 2021 will be the last season of Eddie McGuire’s omnipresent reign and it’ll be on the heels of a wobbly off-season which saw the club shed talent owing to salary-cap mismanagement. What the pies will be most hoping for is that a couple of players they’ve invested most heavily in, namely Brodie Grundy and Jordan De Goey, begin recapturing the kind of form which earned them such enormous contracts in the first place. For Grundy, it’ll be about improving his Stats Insider Player Ranking which started out the season in first place, but parked the car in 62nd. As for De Goey, this talented magpie looked nothing like the 2018 version which loomed as an almost-Grand Final hero that booted 48 goals and made the 40-man All-Australian squad. The 2020 version of De Goey slumped to just 14 majors and laid a grand total of 12 tackles. If these two can rediscover their brilliance, then perhaps Collingwood’s immediate future needn’t be so gloomy.
The Blues have worked diligently to put together a list which finally looks like it might be on the cusp of Finals. To really break through however they’ll need Charlie Curnow to be blessed with the kind of physical durability which has so far alluded the young star. Carlton seem well resourced in every area off the park, yet what they’re lacking is the kind of x-factor element Curnow provides them, and which has been limited to just 11 games over the last two seasons. There’s precious few players in this league capable of a 17-disposal, 7-goal game which is one of the lasting memories Curnow left us with before his degenerative knee injuries set in. If he can conquer them, both the Blues and the league will benefit greatly.
Brisbane had a relatively quiet 2020 off-season in comparison to their fellow premiership aspirants, adding in a couple of low-cost, potentially high-reward recruits in Joe Daniher and Nakia Cockatoo. If one, or ideally both, of these players can get healthy and consistently deliver on the enormous talent they’re blessed with, then the Lions could be on the cusp of premiership favouritism.
The reward for the club’s inaugural wooden spoon was a handful of top-40 draft selections in December’s draft, with the Crows hoping that one or two can develop into future megastars. While Riley Thilthorpe remains the obvious hope, Adelaide, like North Melbourne, will have their fingers crossed for serious Rising Star representation throughout 2021. For a club who struggled so desperately on the field, it wasn’t as though they were cheered up by glorious youth stocks. In fact, they had to wait until the competition's final round for Lachlan Scholl to receive the club’s only nomination, and just their second since round ten, 2017. Clearly, Crows fans need something to get excited about, which is why their highly-touted draft crop will be under immense pressure to deliver some early yields.
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