Roy


I can’t believe that I’m here again about to write about the death of another Aussie cricketing icon. This time it’s Andrew Symonds, dead at 46 after a car accident.

He follows on from Dean Jones a couple of years ago, and Rod Marsh and Shane Warne within days of each other earlier this year. Every one of these players had notable careers on field, and were larger than life off it. They were big characters with a great presence. Each of them are sadly missed.

Andrew Symonds, or ‘Roy’ as he was known, is quite possibly the best fielder I’ve ever seen. It’s between him, Ponting and Viv Richards.

Symonds was a big man with amazing agility and athleticism. As an infielder he had an amazing reach and a great knack of hitting the stumps to run batters out. In the outfield he was quick with a great set of hands and a bullet arm.

That’s his great claim to fame, but he was a more than handy batsman who was devastating on his day and one of the biggest hitters you could hope to see. He was at his best in the limited overs fixtures which suited his all-round skills – he was also a very clever bowler. At his best, an absolute match winner. He played in Australia’s World Cup victories in 2003 and 2007.

Many commentators and just about all his teammates have said what a great bloke and team man he was. I think most of us in the outer could sense that. With his dreadlocks and zinc cream and the big smile he was a favourite of many. He was one of those guys you barrack for. You wanted him to do well.

In recent years, he’s become a commentator, notable for his dry wit and insight. He was such an Aussie – laid back, a straight shooter with a laconic sense of humour, and living the great dream of the outdoors. He was his own man, a gifted life that ended tragically and prematurely.

So sad that we’ve lost so many great names lately. It seems hardly conceivable, and you have to wonder why. I guess it’s just bad times – three of them died well before their turn.

2022 AFL season preview


The men’s AFL footy season starts tomorrow night, and I’ve been looking forward to it. So are others, and I’ve been reminded I’ve yet to post my annual pre-season preview. So, here goes.

Firstly, here’s my predicted ladder as at the end of the home and away season:

Melbourne
Brisbane Lions
Port Adelaide
Richmond
Western Bulldogs
Geelong
Essendon
Carlton

Swans
GWS
Fremantle
St Kilda
Collingwood
GCS
WCE
Adelaide
North Melbourne
Hawthorn

It can change an awful lot as the finals start and teams hit form and injuries cut. I will say that the Demons remain my favourite to go back-to-back premiership winners, as they must be.

I’m not going to say much about Melbourne otherwise. They hit a rich vein of form last year and I think the victory will galvanise them to a more consistent performance. They have a good list and confidence counts for a lot.

I have Brisbane coming second because I think they were stiff last year and they have a decent home ground advantage.

Port Adelaide are flat-track bullies. Unless they can overcome their yips, this is as good as it gets. Another strong home advantage and clean, front running form should see them high on the ladder. But I think they need another decent tall forward and to overcome their baggage if they want to go further.

It’s with some trepidation have Richmond coming fourth. They missed out altogether last year, but won the three premierships before that. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them miss again but, though theyreaging, they still have the cattle.

I’ve got last year’s runners-up coming next. Despite finishing second, I never really rated Footscray that highly. They got on a streak in the finals, aided by a bit of luck, but had been a good ordinary side to that point. Great midfield, but too weak at either end otherwise I think.

Geelong. Another team I could see falling out of the eight. Very professional, but very old, too. Nup.

I’ve got my team next. They surprised last year and have some great young talent and a deep midfield. They could miss the eight also, but I also think they’re capable of topping the ladder. They’re an exciting, mercurial team on the cusp. Hard to eat come 2024.

Carlton. What can I say, except I despise them? Okay, other than that, they’ve got the talent, but they’ve underperformed for years. It gets in your DNA. I’ve got them in the right, but if they fail again no-one will be surprised.

Last year the Swans played finals, to the surprise of most. They’re a good young team with a stellar coach. They’ll go close again this year, but reckon they just miss out. This will be a consolidation year for them. They’ll be up next year (not dissimilar toEssendon).

I’ve got GWS missing out because they have the cutting-edge, though they did well last year. Freo are developing, have recruited well, and have a fine coach, but are not there yet.

St Kilda are one of those frustrating teams who show a bit, then fall in a hole. Haven’t the depth or class. Speaking of holes, Collingwood fell into a deep one last year and lost their long-term coach in the process. I think they’ll have their moments this year, but will be inconsistent. They’ve lost good players in trading fiasco, but have picked upon of the best recruits in the draft last year.

The Gold Coast Suns have the talent, it’s the belief they’ve lacked. I think they’ll have some exciting wins, but still some way off it. The Eagles are almost the opposite of the GCS in mentality, being regular finalists. Not this year. They’ve had a miserable off-season and are crippled by injury, and are getting old. They might get a few wins at home, but that’ll be it.

I like Adelaide. They’ve got good young players and play a good style. And I think Nicks is a good coach for them. Too young still though, too inconsistent, but can see them riding up the ladder next year perhaps.

Second last I have North Melbourne, last year’s wooden spooners. I think they’re promising but undeveloped yet. They’ve recruited we’ll, including potentially the best player in last year’s draft, and are coached we’ll in all the important fundamentals. Might cause a few upsets.

Then there’s Hawthorn, who I’ve marked down to win this year’s wooden spoon. One may accuse me of bias as I dislike Hawthorn also, and this is a big comedown for the team that dominated through the middle of the last decade.

The big story for them is that they won’t be coached by the man rated as the best coach of the modern era: Alastair Clarkson. They lose about 3-4 goals a game just with him departing. Even in their decline they regularly over-performed because of Clarkson. Not this time.

In his place the Hawthorn have appointed club champion Sam Mitchell. He’s touted as having one of the best footy rains going around, but he’s also an out and out cunt. I don’t care how smart he is, the modern football player doesn’t respond to cold, sociopathic personalities like him. I think he’ll be a dud.

The turmoil at the end of last year won’t have helped either, and an aging list.

That’s my say. Let’s see how much I get right.

Legends gone


A couple of days ago came the news that legendary Australian wicketkeeper had passed away, failing to recover from a heart attack a couple of days before. It was sad news. He was 74.

For Australians of my age, he was the national wicketkeeper we grew up with in the seventies and eighties. He was an iconic character, tough as teak and larger than life. He was a big-hitting batsman and great – sometimes spectacular – behind the stumps. To look at he epitomised the term ‘burly’, stocky and powerful, and with one of those big moustaches so many Australian cricketers carried in the era. His was second only to Lillee’s in repute.

Of course, that was the great cricketing partnership time. Caught Marsh, bowled Lillee became almost a slogan, and no bowler-wicketkeeper combo has effected more dismissals in history.

I was there at the MCG when he scored a century against England in the centenary test. I can recall him hitting 26 off a Lance Cairns over in an ODI. He was a true legend, a really good bloke, and a great storyteller. He’s another of my youth gone, reminding me that I too, am getting older.

Marsh seemed indestructible, his death hit hard, but it wasn’t a great shock. I never expected the death of another cricketing legend just a couple of days later. That was truly shocking.

I woke up to the news this morning. I saw on my phone that tributes were rolling in for Shane Warne. What’s he done now? I wondered.

He had died on holiday in Thailand. He was 52.

Warne had led such a lifestyle that a premature death was always possible, yet he was such an immense character, on the field and off it, that it seemed hardly possible. Everyone knew him, many had an opinion of him, whether they liked cricket or not. I read in shock, and tears came to my eyes from the sheer immensity of it.

The term GOAT is much used and abused these days, but Shane is indisputably that. He may be the greatest cricketer of all time. He’s certainly the greatest leg-spinner of all time, and possibly best bowler full stop. Yet none of that does him justice.

He was a generation after Marsh, but another we all watched as his career took off. His story is amazing. Most of us watching him were enchanted and often amazed by his feats. We were so happy he was an Aussie! To the rest of the world he inspired awe and fear.

He took over 700 test wickets, so many of them dramatic and memorable. So many times worked batsmen over psychologically, bowling spin with the attitude of a quickie. He was a match-winner and match-turner. Never beaten, he would transform matches with his guile, talent and sheer determination. As every champion is, he was a winner.

He’s famous for the ‘ball of the century’, which is very Hollywood and entirely him. Of my memories, I’ll never forget how he bowled Australia to victory against England in Adelaide when we looked done. And likewise, the 1999 World Cup when he turned the semi-final against South Africa. And when he took his 700th wicket at the MCG.

Reciting his cricketing career hardly does him justice. He was an individual who transcended his sport. There has been no bigger character in international cricket. I can’t think of bigger character in Australian sport.

Controversial, opinionated, incorrigible, he was the ordinary bloke elevated to international stardom. There was something very Australian about him, the irreverent larrikin who lived life to the full. He loved his fast-food, his smokes, the footy – the Sainters, partying hard, and women. It got him in trouble plenty of times, but it made us feel we all knew him.

For all of his antics, he was a cricketing genius. Great as a cricketer, he was also very good as a commentator. His insights when on his game were always fascinating. It’s only weeks ago I listened to him.

He was a generous, big-hearted character, which didn’t stop him from being very annoying sometimes. I grew weary of some of his recent antics in the commentary box. He was prone to petty vendetta he wouldn’t let up about, and going off on trivial, self-indulgent tangents in commentary. Yet, that was part and parcel of his childlike charm. He let it all hang out. There were no filters. He embraced everything.

It seems hardly possible. No matter your opinion of him, the world is a lesser place with Warnie gone. To think we’ll never see or hear from the maestro again – how can such a man be silenced? How can such a great personality be muted?

I’ll remember him every year – he died on my birthday.

It’s been an awful week for Australian cricket.

A feel-good story


I remember a game I attended at Windy Hill in 1985 or 1986 when Essendon already had a hundred-point lead at halftime against North Melbourne. Such utter dominance is rare in any sport, but it happens (Essendon vs GCS, Geelong vs Richmond & Melbourne). Last night I reckon I witnessed the biggest capitulation of all time, in the AFL grand final of all games.

Halfway through the third quarter, the Bulldogs led Melbourne by 19 points and looked the more likely winner. About 45 minutes later, the final siren rang, signalling a thumping premiership win by the Demons to the tune of 74 points.

Once headed, the Bulldogs didn’t give a yelp. Melbourne scored 16 out of 17 goals from the midpoint of the third quarter, outscoring Footscray by 93 points. Melbourne was phenomenally good, but the Bulldogs seemed to give up. Pathetic.

Like much of Australia, I was hoping for a Dees win and expected it too. They’ve been the best team all year and play a brand of footy that’s tough and exciting. They blitzed the final series, and you’d have to think they’ll be a contender for years to come. They’re a young team.

Up until Melbourne took control, it had been a fierce and entertaining contest. The Dees jumped out, the Bulldogs reeled them in, then took the lead. Footscray was playing the more composed footy at that stage, and their champion, the Bont, was BOG.

At half time I commented to a friend that Melbourne had erred by not matching up on the Bont when he went forward and that Caleb Daniel had been allowed to do what he wanted. In the second half, Caleb went from 26 possessions and one of the best-on to an ineffective, occasionally poor player. And the Bont was swamped by his opponents, none more so than Petracca.

When I did my footy preview in the pre-season, I tipped the Bulldogs would play finals, and Melbourne was my dark horse. I’m happy for them to justify that belief. They’re well-coached and have a plethora of young, powerful, and very talented footballers. And, in Max Gawn, they have the best leader – as well as ruckman – in the comp.

I stayed up until 11.30 to watch the celebrations. That’s a recent world record for me. Not every grand final ends this way, but this time it was a feel-good story.

Next year, though, can’t wait to see it back at the G and on a Saturday afternoon. This season felt much less mickey mouse than last, but it’s not completely right until things are back to normal. Perth did a great job, but it’s not the same.

I have one, last parochial gripe. For the biggest match of the year, Channel 7 lockout other competitors, and we’re stuck with a telecast in SD, the same tired hacks as commentators, and, outside a few moments here and there, very little imagination or insight in the presentation.

What a great games!


Seems like I’m hearing a lot of people saying how good the Tokyo Olympics were. There are a few saying the best for many years. There’s a sense of wonder that comes with that. Going into the games you had to wonder if it was sensible to go ahead with Covid still ravaging Japan. Expectations beyond that were pretty dim.

Yet, here we are, glowing in the aftermath of an inspiring, friendly Olympics. For me, it’s the most I’ve enjoyed it since Sydney or Athens. It’s hard to credit given there were no crowds, but the competition was great and the vibe pulsed with something more human than more recent Olympics. This was the Olympics we needed, but we didn’t know it until it happened.

I’ll go away with some absolutely fantastic memories. The coverage is pretty partisan wherever you go, so most of my memories are related to my own country, Australia, though not all.

I’ve already written about Jess Fox and how inspiring she was. But then the 10,000-metre performance by Australian, Patrick Tiernan, roused the whole nation. He didn’t win. In fact, he finished down the rankings in the end after running a fine race. But that’s the thing. With only a few hundred metres to go, he collapsed on the track. He got up and went again, and collapsed again. Runners passed him as he got to his feet once more and slowly made his way to the finish line.

For me, that’s much more inspiring than any world record. The guts and determination he showed seemed to me what the Olympic spirit is all about: to strive to do your best.

On the women’s side, it was great to see Sifan Hassan, the Dutch runner, win a couple of gold medals and a bronze. In one heat she tripped and fell, then got up a long way behind to charge after the pack and beat them.

Then there was the staggering 400-metre hurdles race won by the Norwegian smashing his own world record.

Then there was the decathlon and a great moment. Ash Moloney was in the bronze medal position as long as he ran a good 1500 metres, one of his lesser events. To the rescue came his teammate, Cedric Dubler, who could be seen exhorting Moloney on. It worked. Moloney got his second win and won his bronze. A long way behind, the man who sacrificed himself for Moloney, could be seen with his arms raised in triumph knowing that Ash had made it. It was a beautiful, selfless act. Doing a Dubler, they’re calling it. As for Ash, we’re going to hearing a lot more about him.

Then there were the Boomers. This is just a lovely, epic tale a long time in the making. Finally, after many attempts and much sweat and toil by generations of Australian basketballers, we finally got the medal we’ve long deserved.

I don’t know if there’s a more admired Australian than Patty Mills. Nor a better Australian. He led the way, scoring 42 points in the game against Slovenia to take us to victory. The outpouring of emotion afterwards was unprecedented. To see so many great names in tears afterwards was enough to melt the hardest heart. I love these guys. They’re of great character and determination. They’ve created a culture I think, unparalleled, and very Australian.

I like us winning gold medals, but what I like more is being proud of the people who represent us. Skill, speed, endurance, and so on, are fine attributes, but finer still are good sportsmanship, spirit, teamwork, determination and selfless sacrifice. These are the gold medal values we should never forget.

Planning for Paris


Surprising how much I’m enjoying the Olympics this time around. They’re the most unusual and unlikely Olympics ever held, but I think that actually adds to the appeal.

Like so many, I was sceptical that they should even go ahead, but it feels now from my perspective that it’s exactly what the world needs.

There are no crowds of any note and most of the coverage is commentated by remote hosts in the studio. It’s very much in tune with the times. But what is different is that for once we have a global event that the whole world can engage with.

These last 18 months have been like no other. Everything has become smaller and local. Few of us are travelling anywhere – including interstate – and that means that the global events that periodically tie us together have either been absent, or much reduced. Even movies, the theatre, etc, have been heavily affected. We’re living through a strange time. Life redacted.

But then the Olympics come along, against all odds. And, against all odds, they somehow capture the imagination. The competition has been splendid, and that’s much of the reason, but I think as a collective this is what we have yearned for – a stage in which we are all represented, as once we took for granted.

One of my revised ambitions is to live in Paris for 6 months in a few years time. When I thought I might die all I wanted to do was live – and live in the true sense of the word. I love Paris. I love European culture. Go out on a limb, I told myself. Aim to live there, if only for a while.

The next Olympics are in Paris in three years. Now, isn’t that convenient? It seems to me the great opportunity – or excuse – to combine a visit to the Olympic games with a residence in Paris.

That’s my goal.

A worthy win


I’ve had the Olympics on non-stop this week as I’ve been unpacking my boxes.

I never got into the Rio Olympics. It was a time I was jaded with the Olympic movement – the corruption, the inflated egos, the ridiculous sports, and so on. I hardly recall watching any of it.

Given the state of the world and the continuing threat of Covid, it’s surprising that the Olympics are even going ahead – but then, that’s a testament to the pragmatism of the IOC. I didn’t imagine taking a great interest in it this time, but I’ve been enjoying it greatly.

It helps that Australia is doing well. And the first week is always my favourite – I love the swimming (then cycling and rowing).

There have been some iconic performances, most notably the victory of Titmus over Ledecky in the 400m freestyle. But what has moved me most is the victory of Jess Fox in the C1 final.

She’s acclaimed as the greatest of all time and won medals at London and Rio, though not a gold. She was favourite for the K1 and was the quickest down the course, but heartbreakingly lost it on penalties with her father commentating. Bronze.

Then the C1, the first time it’s been included in the Olympics for women. And she won it in a commanding performance.

So yes, it’s great that she won the gold and we were all thrilled for her. And to see her complete joy was a pleasure. She’s a great competitor.

What I want to commend her for is her beautiful nature. She seems one of those people that everyone is instinctively drawn to. She is luminous. Her eyes have a glow, and she’s forever smiling. She seems a genuinely lovely – good – person with an authentic spirit. And a great family behind her.

I find her inspiring. Such people move me – nit seems, this is what we should aspire to. It’s great to see someone like her triumph. I think we’ll see a lot more of her.

A day at the footy


For many years I would go to the footy almost every week, from when I was just a child with my dad, and later, by myself mostly, for a stretch of 25 years or so as an adult. I go less these days because I live further away and because other things have come into my life, but I still try to get to 4-5 games a year, and I rarely watching on the TV when I’m not there.

I went again yesterday. It was the first time I’d been to a game since 2019. Last year was a wash-out because of Covid, which is a pity because it broke the run of about 38 years in which I’d been to at least one game. But anyway, back again, and it was good to be there.

There’s a routine and ritual to these occasions. For about 10 years, I lived within walking distance of the MCG, which was our home ground at the time. If it was a Saturday arvo game, I’d often cook up a batch of soup in the morning and have a bowl with some crusty bread before heading out. I’d walk along the banks of the Yarra, listening to the footy preview through my earbuds to the radio. It was about a half-hour walk, and as I got close, I’d see the gathering crowd streaming toward the ground and cars with scarves hanging out the windowing that way.

I’d buy my footy Record and would think about stopping at one of the food caravans to pick up a bite to eat before entering the ground, though I’d that more often on the way out (there was a spicy chicken roll I was always partial too; otherwise there were always the jam donuts, piping hot). Inside the ground, I’d go to my reserved seat and say hello to the people I’d got to know from sitting in the same spot every fortnight.

It was different yesterday but recognisably related. I got on the local train with about another 20 footy supporters decked out in some recognisable club regalia – for some very odd reason, every one of them supported the same team as me, though they may not have known it. I wore my lucky jocks and a pair of red and black footy socks for anyone sufficiently keen-eyed to spot them,

The train filled as we drew neither until it was standing room only, and then disgorged 95% of the passengers at Richmond station. The exits were choked as hundreds of footy lovers got out at once. Once outside the station, the road was closed off, and the usual teenage kids were selling the footy Record. I always buy one and am one of those anal types who record every goal and mark down the score at every interval. I’ll reference the crowd number too and scribble the length of the quarters. I’ve been doing it since I was a boy, and you don’t unlearn that.

Remarkably, the Record is still $5, though you can’t buy it with cash anymore. I joined the crowd, fighting against it sometimes as I circled the ground to the members’ far side. Inside the ground, there was the accustomed hum of an expectant crowd. It’s the sort of thing you forget until you experience it again.

Because of Covid, we now have allocated seats, which is great in my view. I hate that the MCC is walk up and people save seats by draping scarves and clothing over, though they’re not supposed to. An allocated seat is fairer, and I hope it stays that way even when restrictions are eased.

I sat next to a Carlton family. Almost typically, they were of Italian stock. The mum sat next to me, an anxious type who would clutch at herself when things got tight or went wrong. The other side was a bunch of girls and a single guy, all about 20, half for each club. I was the killer in between, all by himself.

For most of the game, you probably wouldn’t have guessed which team I barracked for. I watch with grim concentration, rarely getting caught up in the emotion of it. At the start of most quarters, I might growl a guttural Carn the Bombers as the siren sounds, and occasionally I’ll abuse an umpire – Ray Chamberlain was on yesterday, so plenty of scope for that. Late in games, I might rise in my seat wielding a triumphant fist or add my voice to the condemnation ringing around the ground.

No one ever gives me any shit at the ground. I suspect I’m forbidding. I’m hard at it, but I’m reasonable, too. I got talking to the Carlton mother and helped her climb into her seat. Other times I’ll get into a routine of banter, which is one of the joys of attending games in person. I always stay to the end, regardless of the result, because I refuse to be cowed.

So I did yesterday, though we lost a close one. It was an entertaining match and, though we lost to a hated rival, I enjoyed the day immensely. It felt like old-fashioned footy, and we could easily have won it – and probably would have but for the mistakes we made, and Ray. But that’s footy. I’m very encouraged by the direction we’re heading in.

The mood is always different after the game. On the way in, everyone is expectant and focused on what might unfold. There’s a tension that keeps everyone to themselves. After the game, the tension releases. The game is done, the result known, and we’re either celebrating or licking our wounds. On the train, the mood is a lot looser. People laugh. Banter is exchanged, most of it good-natured. We settle back into life. There’s always next week.

Shorten the ground


I’m about to say something that would get me into trouble if I shouted it too loud: I find AFLW disappointing.

AFLW is the women’s AFL league, which has been going for a few years now. I’m all for the concept of it. I love footy generally and fair enough that women have their own league. And, I quite enjoy a lot of women’s sport – cricket is top-notch, as is soccer, and women’s basketball has been great for years.

The caveat with all that is that there isn’t the ballistic, powerful element that can make it so electrifying in comparison to male sport. That’s why skills-based sports like soccer and cricket translate better than, say, footy. There are some mighty skilled exponents in women’s sport. Rarely is it as explosive as men’s sport.

AFL footy is a game of skill, but there’s also a great physical component to it. Relative to other players, that still plays a part in women’s footy, but it suffers compared to the male equivalent (with the possible exception of someone like Erin Phillips). The reality is that women aren’t as fast or as powerful as men are, and it makes for a different game.

The AFLW grand final was over the weekend, and I watched the last quarter of it. As with most times I’ve watched women’s footy, I thought the skills were pretty ordinary and a lot of decision-making poor. There are some great moments and feats of individual skill, but they’re rare. I get infuriated watching men’s footy, but it’s compounded when I watch AFLW. The standard has definitely improved since the league began, but I also think you can see better park footy.

I know that sounds harsh, but I think the women are disadvantaged by how the game is played. At best, the women playing are semi-professional, and they’re never going to reach the heights until it becomes a full-time, professional sport. Proper training, diet and nutrition, specialised coaching, and so on would make for a much greater spectacle – properly fit competitors with decent skills would make for a much more fluent and high-scoring game.

Scoring is one of the big issues with AFLW. The winning team Saturday scored 6 goals over the course of the game. That’s a decent quarter score for a men’s team, though there was also an 8 goal quarter over the weekend. Better skills and fitness would make some difference, but the rest of it is physical.

The reality is that because women aren’t as strong as men, they can’t kick the ball as far but are playing on the same sized grounds. End to end, it would probably take a male team 3.5 kicks to cover the distance. For women, I reckon it’s about double that. The average bloke can kick it 45-50 metres, and some can hoof it much further. For women, it’s probably 25-35 metres.

These are physical constraints that aren’t going to change. It seems obvious to me that women should play on fields a good 30-40 metres shorter than the men, which probably means you reduce the onfield team to 16, down from 18.

I reckon you’d see scoring improve by about 40% if you did that, which would make for a much better spectacle, and it makes sense.

Women’s footy will improve on its own as it matures more, but I think it can be helped out. I’ll be happy to watch then.

The belated AFL preview


I got a message from a reader the other day asking why I hadn’t done my usual preview of the AFL season. Well, I forgot, that’s why. I don’t know if it still counts as a preview one round in, but here it is now.

For a start, let me just say that last season was the most disappointing season I’ve ever watched. I’m not pointing any fingers because there were plenty and obvious reasons for that. Let’s face it, it was a shit year all round.

The disruption to the season caused by Covid did a lot of things. Obviously, it broke the season into two parts. It impacted players fitness, and consequently, on the football quality, and the shortened quarters made it feel a bit Micky Mouse to this hardened follower’s eyes. On top of all that, coaches’ ongoing defensive mechanisms made it a drab and low-scoring spectacle.

I’ve been watching footy for a while, and I reckon that footy has dropped off quite a bit. Everyone raves about Richmond, but I think they’re winning in an era where there’s not a lot of quality competition. The game itself is less interesting to watch – dourer, less skilled. For my money, there was no more entertaining decade of footy than the 1990s, but no greater quality than the first decade of this century (Essendon, Brisbane, and Geelong much superior to any team coming since).

So, I’ve had my grizzle and rant; now I’m about to say something more positive. I know we’re only one round in, but I reckon I saw a few games on the weekend better than anything I saw last year.

The games are now back to regular minutes, making a big difference, but the real change has come to some heavily criticised rule changes that I’m all-in with.

After many years of talking about it, the rules committee has finally dropped interchange rotations from a maximum of 90 to 75. It may not sound a lot, but it means that players fatigue sooner, that structures break down, and the game becomes more open.

The other rule change had everyone complaining in the pre-season. I held off on my criticism to see how it played out in the season proper when players have adjusted to it. Judging by round one, it’s a real winner.

The big change is that once a defensive player has settled on the mark, he can’t shift from the spot until the umpire calls play on. This gives the player much greater freedom to play on, take ground, and generally generate speed in the game. It’s a change that encourages teams to be more daring and expansive in their play. It worked a treat.

Like last year, Richmond and Carlton played off in the first game of the season. The score deviated just one point from last year – but the game was a completely different spectacle. Last year it was boring and unadventurous – this year, it was a racy game of give and take. There was still plenty of pressure, but it was more individual than structural, and it seemed to me that the skills were better in their absence.

Even my team managed to kick 8 goals in a quarter.

So, to the actual preview. I have no hard or fast opinions this year. I’m not sure if last season is a great guide for several reasons. But I have to go on something.

If I was to tip a premier now, I’d go Port Adelaide. They went close last year, and they’ve improved their side since. I suppose I should put Richmond up there, but I still think they can be found out. I reckon St Kilda will surprise a few teams and challenge at some point but aren’t ready for top honours yet. I wonder if Geelong fired their last shot last year. They’ve loaded up on quality veterans in the off-season, but I reckon they’re too old. West Coast – I can’t get a bead on them, though I’m sure they’ll look mighty good at some point. Very dangerous on paper.

Brisbane is a team that looked good last season, and many pundits are tipping them this year. I’m not so sure. Certainly, they’ve lost their status as preferred finals team since they acquired JD, who I now despise. I’m not sure they have consistent quality across the field, though they’re well-coached, and Joe is dangerous. The Bulldogs are my smoky. They’re a funny side. Very strong in the midfield, much weaker in defence, and with a so-so attack. They rely on slick ball movement and their midfield cutting opposition to pieces. Not sure if it’s a combo that can sustain finals success, but it could be fun to watch.

I think Collingwood will slide after a horrific off-season. They’ve lost some quality and seem incapable of kicking goals. Personally, I think they might do better with a less dour coach. Speaking of coaching, can’t see GWS being anything until they get rid of Leon Cameron. He’s driven a team of stars into the ground.

Of the rest, I don’t think there’ll be any great surprises. Swans have recruited very well and had one of the best coaches in the caper. Won’t make finals, but expect a solid year. Hawthorn – no; North Melbourne – definitely no; Adelaide – no, but with some promise. If Freo gets a fit side on the park, then they’ll have some good wins. Hard to know which way the Suns will go, but they’re improving.

As for my team – Essendon – I’m not as pessimistic as I’ve been in recent times. I think the coaching changes are positive, and we’ve recruited very well. We lost some top-line players over the off-season, but I think we’ve got some up-and-coming young players too. We’ll have some good wins this season but finish down the ladder. We’re building for a challenge in a couple of years, and with more development and more high draft picks, I’m optimistic for 2023.

That leaves Melbourne (I’m not commenting on Carlton). Never really know what to make of them – I think most of their supporters feel the same. I picked them to go close to winning it a couple of years ago, and they tumbled down the ladder. This year? I think they might make a charge in the back half of the year and possibly sneak into the eight. They’ve got some quality players, but they’ve struggled on the outside and up forward. Think Brown will be a good get when he’s fit, and the outside is better.

So, my tips:

Port Adelaide (premier)

WCE

Richmond

Bulldogs

St Kilda

Brisbane

Geelong

Melbourne

Carlton

Freo

GWS

Collingwood

Swans

Essendon

Suns

Hawthorn

Adelaide

North Melbourne