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Cracking the Crystal Ball

Cracking the Crystal Ball
May
29
2 0

Written by AFL Online on 29th May 2007

I have been on the receiving end of a deserved amount of criticism following the publishing of my Crystal Ball series. I have little to draw upon to form any sort of defense considering how wrong I have been with my predictions for certain teams in the AFL for season 2007. However, I thought to myself that I must have been correct about at least some of them, well a few of them, well maybe one or two. So it’s grading time, over a third of the way through the season, time to assess whether or not I am currently passing the stringent exam, have I scrambled in for at least half giving me a 50% pass grade? In this Crystal Ball review I assign a pleasing tick or disappointing cross to each of my sixteen foretellings.

It needs to be known that the original Crystal Ball series was written and published way back in February, so I ask you to think about how many teams you yourself had gauged completely incorrect at that stage of 2007? In order to help justify some of the things I had to say, I have plucked out some highlights and lowlights from the original articles. Mainly illustrating where I got things pretty spot on, and where I was way off the mark. How many media persons ever go over (and highlight) their mistakes?!

Team: West Coast Eagles
Current Ladder Position: 1st
Crystal Ball Position: 2nd
Grade: Tick

Highlight:
Watch for Shannon Hurn in 2007, a powerful and strong midfielder that would probably have won a NAB Rising Star nomination in 2006 if he was at any other club, but at West Coast he will struggle for on-field time a little longer, keep an eye out for the once under 18s captain of South Australia, he is great to watch.

Lowlight:
I would not be surprised if promising youngster Jaymie Graham progresses deeper into the senior squad with a customised floating role up forward or possibly even wrestling the number two ruckman job from Mark Seaby.

Team: Geelong Cats
Current Ladder Position: 2nd
Crystal Ball Position: 14th
Grade: Cross

Highlight:
The team needs some consistency and some targets up forward. They have addressed the recent need for speed in the AFL and they remain one of my favourite teams to watch, when they are at their best. Nathan Ablett will grow into that key forward while learning to cope with opposition’s number one defenders, this will be a learning process that cannot be rushed. Corey Enright is well and truly back and could evolve into a very strong AFL performer, after continued injury interruptions his full-pelt pre-season could spell trouble for other unsuspecting teams.

Lowlight:
I honestly believe that in today’s modern world of AFL, there is considerable outside, off-field, added pressure applied by expectant and paid-up members, club boards, player’s associations, and more than ever, an unrelenting, watchful 24/7 media hound. The 2007 Cats will struggle because of all this.

Team: Adelaide Crows
Current Ladder Position: 3rd
Crystal Ball Position: 7th
Grade: Tick

Highlight:
The thing with Adelaide is that it is very arduous to single-out why they are so successful, effective, productive. Similar to Vegemite it is difficult to explain why they’re so good, they just are. This time a year ago, heading into last season, not many would have perceived the consistently high ladder position that the Crows held for 22 weeks. When analysing the Crows a good place to start would be their backline, they have a defensive unit that combines incredibly well as a team, anchored by Rutten and Bassett and Andrew McLeod looks ready to rock once again. Also 2007 should see the further emergence of young talents like John Hinge, Bernie Vince, Richard Douglas and Jason Porplyzia.

Lowlight:
Also keep an eye on the tenacious Matthew Bode who last year looked like a player that will, from now on, attack every season as though it is his last.

Team: Hawthorn Hawks
Current Ladder Position: 4th
Crystal Ball Position: 9th
Grade: Tick

Highlight:
When they are firing, the Hawks are fast, flashy and exciting, capable of defeating any other AFL team. Four games in Tasmania will be important in the context of their season, they should win at least two, probably three of them. In 2007 watch for Brad Sewell to continue his exceptional development and improvement. Campbell Brown will once again take bold steps towards proving to the rest of the league how important and inspirational courage can still be in the modern game and we should all be looking forward to another season from the silky smooth Buddy Franklin.

Lowlight:
I appreciate the hype, optimism and potential competitiveness of the current Hawthorn squad, but in my opinion it will not come quite as soon as 2007.

Team: Collingwood Magpies
Current Ladder Position: 5th
Crystal Ball Position: 11th
Grade: Cross

Highlight:
Rhyce and Heath Shaw, if they can spend the majority of the season playing together, will be a very productive combination for Collingwood fans to relish. Dale Thomas could go one of two ways in 2007, either he will be found out by opposition strategists and accounted for, OR he will continue to develop, making the rigours of senior AFL footy look easy. I think it will be the latter.

Lowlight:
The team I see falling from finals football grace. Although Sean Rusling should emerge to provide a boost in forward line enthusiasm, efficiency and endeavour particularly in the absence of Tarrant, I still question the overall abilities of Collingwood over 22 weeks. Scott Burns might fall away, just a tad as he approaches 33 years of age.

Team: Kangaroos
Current Ladder Position: 6th
Crystal Ball Position: 16th
Grade: Cross

Highlight:
I certainly appreciate the excitement that rightfully surrounds youngsters like Wells, Swallow, Hansen and Smith. Two tough trips to Subiaco, last four matches at Telstra Dome could be handy if they’re still in the Finals hunt.

Lowlight:
I apologise to my sister’s boyfriend, my mate Quigs, to my high school buddy Jess Sinclair and to one of my all time favourite VFL/AFL players Glenn Archer, but the Roos are in short-term turmoil.

Team: Port Power
Current Ladder Position: 7th
Crystal Ball Position: 13th
Grade: Cross

Highlight:
It is very difficult to write off a team boasting two Cornes and two Burgoyne players. Port could revisit the benefits of a full season from Tredrea to compliment the aforementioned pairings, and should enjoy st
rong service from Josh Mahoney and Damon White. Of all the teams I have selected to finish outside of the eight, I fear Port are most likely to make me look the most foolish! Brett Ebert will electrify a dwindling Port Power performance on more than one home-and-away occasion, he is small in stature but huge on impact. And twenty-three year old David Rodan will rejuvenate his juvenile AFL career and send a huge “told ya so” back towards Punt Road.

Lowlight:
Youngster Troy Chaplin should feature more prominently and more accountably in Port’s questioned defense.

Team: Sydney Swans
Current Ladder Position: 8th
Crystal Ball Position: 2nd
Grade: Cross

Highlight:
Sydney has experienced success due to a core group of genuine leaders, a proven, intelligent, conducive, effective, efficient forward line, a reliable, hard working, running, accountable, revolutionary back line and true stars of the game. None of this has changed as we head into another AFL season. I cannot see them losing at the SCG very often, if at all, in 2007. The Grand Final replay in Round 1 at Telstra Stadium should be fantastic. I think Peter Everitt will shine away from the damaging Melbourne-based AFL media spotlight.

Lowlight:
On the surface Paul Roos has his troops expelling the persona of a finely tuned, well oiled, militant like footballing machine with perfection the goal and professionalism the key.

Team: Essendon Bombers
Current Ladder Position: 9th
Crystal Ball Position: 12th
Grade: Tick

Highlight:
Beware of a very determined Sheedy, who would not have enjoyed his rare stint fumbling around in the cellar. Adam McPhee (only 24) has been relegated to a somewhat forgotten Bomber in recent times after some rectified injury woes, he will enjoy his new liberation across half-back as he did in 2004. The Bombers meet West Coast, Fremantle, Western Bulldogs, Adelaide and Collingwood all twice which makes for ten very tough games.

Lowlight:
Another one-hundred goals from Lloyd, again, if he can stay healthy, which would help any team push for a finals birth.

Team: Western Bulldogs
Current Ladder Position: 10th
Crystal Ball Position: 5th
Grade: Tick

Highlight:
The Doggies played out of their skins last year in the undeniable face of injury-riddled adversity. They were hot, playing electrifying, quality footy for most weeks of the season. Some say they got the absolute best out of their playing group, which is imperative for modern football success. Yet, they only finished eighth. This is something worth considering before you make loud-mouthed and intoxicated wagers with your mates that they will finish top two. The Eagles highlighted the broad gap by defeating them in September action by an embarrassing 74 points. Shaun Higgins is up to it, he will make an impression at AFL senior level in 2007 if he can stay healthy and therefore available, he is another quality, young prospect that Eade has at his disposal.

Lowlight:
In 2007 watch for Jason Akermanis to strut around the locker room wearing his Brownlow Medal with pride just to get under the skin of a deprived Scotty West!

Team: Fremantle Dockers
Current Ladder Position: 11th
Crystal Ball Position: 6th
Grade: Tick

Highlight:
Most others would have them higher on the list, yet I believe that without the “under the radar” factor that they might have enjoyed in recent times, oppositions will now be building for strong performances against them. Fremantle are now recognised as a top team in this league and as it so happens in sport, I think that Freo in 2007 will be a victim of their own previous success. I might also add that if David Mundy played in Melbourne then Victorians would know as much about him as they do Griffen and Deledio. If you get a chance to see him this season then you will enjoy yourself.

Lowlight:
It is now time for Freo to start working towards winning their first ever Grand Final, now that most other obstacles have been overcome, culminating with their first ever Finals victory last September over the Demons.

Team: Brisbane Lions
Current Ladder Position: 12th
Crystal Ball Position: 10th
Grade: Tick

Highlight:
If you are unable to appreciate just how good Brown is when he is healthy then you’re “too blind to see what you’re missing”. He is the main reason why I do not predict the Lions finishing lower on my proposed ladder. He is awesome. If he plays 22 games then just award him the Brownlow in front of the Brisbane fans at their last home game against the Cats. There are a pride of lion cubs looking to continue their impressive progression, youngsters such as Rischitelli, Brennan, Adcock, Harding, Sherman, Leuenberger and Daniel Merrett. Luke Power will remain one of my favourite AFL players, he is uncompromisingly excellent. Nigel Lappin is back, forming a still-strong midfield combination with 27 year-old Brownlow medalist Simon Black.

Lowlight:
First round draft pick Matthew Leuenberger will provide valued support for Beau McDonald throughout the post-Keating era.

Team: St Kilda Saints
Current Ladder Position: 13th
Crystal Ball Position: 4th
Grade: Cross

Highlight:
Injuries are the primary variable in the resultant fortunes of every team’s 2007 season campaign, that has been proven beyond doubt in recent times. The Saints have struggled to have their best players available for most of this new millennium. Unfortunately their injury list already looks ominous. Koschitzke’s quadricep, Riewoldt’s hamstring and Gardiner’s groin are all going to be without a full pre-season preparation, add to this the rehabilitating summers of Raph Clarke, Lenny Hayes, Matt Maguire and Fergus Watts and it is clear to see that the Saints’ grooming towards Round 1 has not been ideal. Two more key injury clouds hover above the returning uncertainties associated with Hamill’s knee and Hudghton’s groin.

Lowlight:
Andrew McQualter looks capable of making his mark at the AFL level in 2007 thanks to some silky skills and enviable endurance.

Team: Carlton Blues
Current Ladder Position: 14th
Crystal Ball Position: 15th
Grade: Tick

Highlight:
Not quite now. Soon, but not yet. Inevitably forming one of the most formidable midfields of future AFL seasons, the Blues will remain below par for much of 2007. Walker, Murphy, Gibbs and Carrazo are the envy of many
other AFL teams right now, however, they are still a few years and full pre-seasons away from being able to carry the majority of the midfield load for an entire season. Apart from all of the obvious focus on the number one draft picks and reigning Coleman Medalist, be sure to appreciate the play of young Adam Bentick who regularly brings a tough and valuable style of rugged football to a team that is crying out for extra efforts.

Lowlight:
It’s fair to say that their first three matches could be soft enough to help the young Blues gain some confidence early on, which could prove to be key to their 2007 campaign.

Team: Melbourne Demons
Current Ladder Position: 15th
Crystal Ball Position: 1st
Grade: (Huge) Cross

Highlight:
Daniel Bell finished 2006 in a very strong fashion and I understand that has continued on into the preseason, expect him to maintain his stellar showings in the seniors.

Lowlight:
Melbourne added a hefty bullbar a few years back, a single player who entirely changed the football club’s ability to beat all challengers, an accessory that resulted in an evapouration of fear for what might lay ahead, one special guy that brought with him contagious physical distinctiveness. Byron Pickett strengthened the Melbourne Football Club into the contender that it has become. Thanks largely to the presence of such a dominant Premiership player, the impressionable Demons now know what it means to be intimidating, forcible and committed to every contest. Without Pickett I would never have placed my faith in them being capable of winning it all for the first time since 1964.

Team: Richmond Tigers
Current Ladder Position: 16th
Crystal Ball Position: 8th
Grade: Cross

Highlight:
Keep an eye on Jarrod Oakleigh-Nicholls who should show something special this season, earlier rather than later. Furthermore, there will be plenty of eyes on Jack Riewoldt, hopefully Plough gives him productive opportunities during this, his first, AFL campaign.

Lowlight:
Any side with proven performers like Matthew Richardson, Nathan Brown, Darren Gaspar, the Bowden boys and Kane Johnson should be making finals, regularly. We all know the jokes about the Tigers’ accepted (almost traditional) mediocrity. Being without the services of Coughlan and Simmonds are huge setbacks for a Richmond team that needs to take the next step for the sake of the sanity of their supporters. It seems like a lifetime ago that Coughlan was in his career-best Jack Dyer Medal winning form, it was in fact back in 2003. Richmond will miss his hardness around stoppages as much as an elderly billionaire will miss his own hardness around Anna Nicole Smith.

Final Grade 7/16 = 43.75% = FAIL

So there we go, at this stage of the season I am failing, quite considerably. Although I underestimated and thoroughly misinterpreted the abilities of teams like the Kangaroos, Geelong and Collingwood, and largely overestimated Melbourne and Richmond I would like to take this opportunity to remind you all that it seems as though I was right about the Bulldogs and Dockers not quite being top four (or top two) teams yet, and that interstate powerhouses like Adelaide, Brisbane and Port should not be written off. Plus I didn’t buy into all that Carlton hype. Oh let’s face it, what do I know? Hopefully more that 44% come season’s end!

Article written by Mark Franklin from oneweekatatime.com.au