End of the ‘bye’ rounds – the mid-season wasteland in the AFL schedule when the football feels very cold, blank, and June-ish. Except the vacant match slots haven’t seemed to have felt as pronounced as previous years. Perhaps it is because of the relatively even nature of the season, with only two wins (OK, effectively three wins given percentage) separating fourth (Port) from fifteenth (Carlton) on the ladder. Teams down the bottom of the ladder have about a one-in-five chance of making the finals – enough to keep the optimistic hopes of fans alight, rather than have them virtually extinguished.
One club which has usually had its hopes already extinguished in recent years is Melbourne, who is now enjoying its highest-ever rankings spot (sixth). Stretches of years at the bottom are meant to yield high draft picks and the best young players to help get a team back up the ladder again. But Melbourne’s stint at the bottom from 2007 to 2010 yielded few long-term players – let alone long-term stars – with Morton (‘07), Grimes (‘07), Scully (‘09), Trengove (‘09), Gysberts (‘09), and Cook (‘10), all gone or virtually gone from the club for one reason or another. At this point the Demons look to be getting good production out of their next generation of high picks (in particular Clayton Oliver), complemented by solid pick-ups from other clubs. More proof that, in the modern AFL system, a team won’t stay down the bottom for years on end.
Meanwhile, the Demons’ victims on the weekend – the Western Bulldogs – seem to be reverting back to the level they were at before that magical run in the 2016 finals series. As predicted on this blog as early as Round 1 this year (I only highlight the predictions that come true), comments have come about the Bulldogs being ‘off the boil’, even though they are playing at around the same level as they did for most of last year. It’s true that they have dropped off a bit more in the past couple of weeks, but the Bulldogs not being among the top clubs to date in 2017 was not the hardest thing to predict this season.