After Round 4
THE THINGS TO PONDER FROM ROUND FOUR
1. Hawthorn – What a disappointment! When Hawthorn went within two kicks of reaching the 2001 grand final, Hawks’ fans would have been entitled to start thinking the glory days of the 1970’s and 1980’s would soon return. The club had reached the last four of that season in only Peter Schwab’s second year as coach and the future looked bright. But since then it would be fair to say the Hawks, along with Richmond (see below) would have to rank as the most disappointing team in the AFL. The following year the club slumped to 10th with just 11 wins and when the Hawks won just three of their first ten games last year, it appeared Schwab’s tenure as coach was over. But after a fantastic second half of the year in which the Hawks won nine of the last 12 to just miss the finals, Schwab was deservedly given a new contract and Hawks fans would have been entitled to thinking their team had emerged from their post-2001 slump. And when Schwab declared pre-season that the Hawks were aiming for the flag in 2004, fans may have been surprised at the coach’s boldness but at the same time considered it to be a realistic aim. But after a month of 2004 the Hawks have just one win and have just lost to a Western Bulldogs’ team that had won only three of its past 25 matches. And even Hawthorn fans, so spoiled in seeing their team win eight flags in 21 years between 1971-91, are entitled to be running out of patience with a team over-reliant on Shane Crawford and Sam Mitchell in the midfield and with only Nathan Thompson left to carry a floundering forward line.
2. A new low. When Richmond fans, who have seen their team struggle for more than two decades now, describe Saturday night’s first quarter performance against Geelong as the worst they have ever seen then you know the Tigers have hit a new low. Richmond coach Danny Frawley promised his team would revert to a long and direct game-plan against the Cats on Saturday night, as the Tigers faced a major test of character following two successive defeats since their first round win over Collingwood. But against a side that had not won a single game for the season, there was no evidence of that. The Tigers were simply steamrolled as the Cats kicked the first seven goals of the game with only a Nathan Brown goal on the quarter-time siren preventing a goalless first term from Richmond when the club had so much at stake. By game’s end some Richmond fans were even waving Frawley goodbye and after just 11 wins in the past 40 matches, the fifth-year coach is surely running out of time to turn around the dismal fortunes of this once great club. However with his best defender Darren Gaspar looking a shadow of his former self since coming back from knee surgery and his best forward Matthew Richardson out with injury, it’s hard to know what more Frawley could have done to solve the Tigers’ key position woes at both ends of the ground, while he can hardly be blamed for the constant skill errors made by his players.
3. Injuries can stop even the best team. There is a saying in horse racing that ‘weight can stop a train’ meaning even the very best racehorse can come back to the field if its forced to continually carry more and more weight. Well the equivalent in the AFL is injuries, with the West Coast-Brisbane game showing yet again that the loss of key players can stop even the best of teams. While the Eagles were magnificent in winning a tough, low-scoring game by three points, the Lions were missing the rested Alastair Lynch, then lost Daniel Bradshaw to a back injury during the pre-match warm-up before Justin Leppitsch and Blake Caracella also went down hurt. As a result the Lions suffered their first loss of the season. It was a similar story at the MCG earlier in the day as one of the AFL’s few other legitimate top teams in Port Adelaide also crashed to a shock loss while fielding one of its weakest teams for some time. The Power fronted up to face a much-improved Melbourne side without Matthew Primus, Josh Francou, Byron Pickett, Stuart Dew, Roger James, Chad Cornes and Damien Hardwick and Mark Williams’ second-stringers were no match for the Demons, losing by nine goals. And on Sunday the trend continued as Collingwood looked a shadow of the team which has made the past two grand finals - without Chris Tarrant and Nathan Buckley - as it succumbed to Fremantle by 34 points, as yet again footy fans were given a reminder that even the best teams will become vulnerable if they lose key players to injury.
4. Spare a thought for Eagles’ fans. Here’s hoping there are no fans of the West Coast Eagles who are suffering from heart complaints. Has any club endured a more exciting, nerve-wracking, nail-chewing start to an AFL season than John Worsfold’s side? In the first round the Eagles came from six goals down to beat the Western Bulldogs in Melbourne by seven points with only a goal from Ashley Sampi in the last minute sealing victory. The following week, in their first home game of the season, the Eagles went down by three points to Port. In round three, Worsfold’s side returned to Telstra Dome and conceded the first eight goals of the game to Essendon before fighting back to such an extent that only a goal from Essendon skipper James Hird in the final minute was able to separate the sides. And then this weekend the Eagles hung on to beat reigning premiers Brisbane by three points at Subiaco with the game coming down to a shot at goal by Nigel Lappin in the last minute, which narrowly missed. So after four rounds the Eagles have two wins and two losses and to show just how exciting all four of those games have been, their total points score so far this season is 469 points while they have conceded 468 points. But regardless of whether the sequence of close games continues, Eagles’ fans have arguably had a whole season’s worth of entertainment in the space of the first month of the season.
5. A deserved win for the Bulldogs. After losing their first three games by a total of 26 points, the Bulldogs fully deserved to break the ice in round four against Hawthorn. The win will prove a huge boost not only to coach Peter Rohde, who has led the team to just five wins from 27 games since taking over, but also to everyone involved with one of the AFL’s true battling clubs. And now hopefully having broken through for a confidence-boosting win, the Bulldogs can use the triumph over the Hawks as a springboard for many more victories in 2004 as last year’s wooden spooners begin the climb back to AFL respectability both on and off the field.