WHAT WE LEARNED: Carlton throw away their year and (maybe) a coach as Freo win big...
How do you solve a problem like Carlton?
It seems as though the writing is on the wall now for Brett Ratten, who looked every bit a coach nearing the end as he picked through the ashes of Carlton's season. Ratts is the logical target to placate membership-buying supporters but there are deeper issues at Visy Park that will need to be addressed by whoever takes his place. Their forward line is dysfunctional and needs to be reworked around Levi Casboult and/or Travis Cloke, there are too many unaccountable players on the list and, quite simply, they're not tough enough mentally. How often do Carlton go to water as soon as expectations are placed on them? They lost the battle in their heads before they lost it on the field on Saturday night. Sacking the coach might only be the first step in a long, painful process for the Blues.
Fremantle have turned the corner
History has a habit of repeating itself. Just as St Kilda suffered growing pains in their first season under Ross Lyon, so too have the Dockers. However, Freo look to have come to grips with Lyon's methods quicker that the Saints did in 2007. Their effort to flog North Melbourne by 53 points at Etihad Stadium in the absence of Matthew Pavlich cannot be undersold. They are quick, strong and tough, while the return of Aaron Sandilands and the good form of David Mundy makes their midfield suddenly formidable. Meanwhile, the Roos have serious issues. Their gap between their best and worst is too great, illustrated by Todd Goldstein's complete inability to compete against Sandilands. North can still cause problems in September but they're about half as frightening as they were last week.
The news ain't all bad, Collingwood
The Pies fell to back-to-back losses for the first time since rounds nine and 10, 2010 on Saturday, but there is a silver lining to their form lapse. Thanks to Hawthorn's win over Sydney, the Pies are now in the gun to face the Hawks in week one. That's the bad news. The good news: if Nathan Buckley's men lose that one it seems likely they'll meet either West Coast or Fremantle in the semi-finals. The Eagles won't find the going so easy on the MCG turf and Fremantle will be happy just to make it that far. Assuming Collingwood win, and Sydney beat Adelaide, the Pies will face the Swans in a preliminary final at ANZ Stadium, their happy hunting ground. Not a bad result for the Magpies, although admittedly they will still need some semblance of a forward line if they are to fire a shot in September.
West Coast will get dudded by the draw
Eagles fans will be spitting chips at the real possibility that their club will face Fremantle in week one of the finals. A Western derby in September will not only rob West Coast of their home advantage (Fremantle will effectively finish eighth and earn a home final) but also of their home crowd – according to AFL rules, members from both clubs will split tickets down the middle. In fact, Fremantle get an added advantage in that they face Melbourne at home in round 23, while West Coast must travel to Melbourne to face Hawthorn. That's not to mention that the Dockers picked the Eagles apart when they last met in round 19 and will fancy their chances of doing it again. Fremantle fans are, of course, elated by this turn of events.
Shaun Burgoyne is still a big-game player
For a brief period about five years ago, S. Burgoyne was comfortably among the top 10 players in the league. Since moving to Hawthorn - and in truth, during the final years of Mark Williams' tenure at Port Adelaide - he has been a role player. A silky skilled role player, but not the star to whom we became accustomed. The Hawks' decision to recruit Burgoyne, who was recovering from a knee op at the time, paid off on Saturday night against the Swans. In a tight contest, Junior Burger's class was the difference. His return of three goals and 26 touches under immense pressure stood out and could well be the performance that sets Hawthorn on their way to the flag.
- Collingwood are averaging 72 points a game in their last month of football. The Hawks are averaging nearly 125. Their possible qualifying final meeting could get ugly.
- At the end of round 23, eight points could separate first from seventh on the ladder.
- Watching Chris Dawes battle to overcome his confidence issues is excruciating.
- Taylor Walker and Kurt Tippett are a fearsome duo when in form, but James Frawley looks a shadow of the young defender who won an All Australian jumper in 2010.
- Yet another year of 'if only' for the Tigers, who could so easily have been playing finals with a bit more luck earlier in the year, and a bit more application against Gold Coast.
- It's not clear who wants the season to be over more: Carlton, Essendon or Melbourne. We vote for the Bombers because they looked like contenders for the longest of that trio.
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