From premiership DVDs to new feet for Fyfe: Here’s what your team wants Santa to bring this Christmas
Christmas is here!
But unless you barrack for Collingwood, you’ll undoubtedly be hoping that Santa brings that last piece of the puzzle your team needs to shoot back into premiership contention.
Here are The Roar’s tips on what your team wants for Christmas this year.
Kicking lessons for Ben Keays
Still angry about being robbed of a finals berth by an incorrect goal umpire decision, Crows fans?
Well, maybe you wouldn’t have to worry about it if Ben Keays had snapped it right through the middle rather than up against the post.
*cancels Adelaide holiday plans*
A pair of supersonic ears
In a similar vein, the Lions might have pulled off the great escape in the grand final after Lachie Neale won a free kick at half-forward in the dying minutes… only for Zac Bailey, having failed to heard the umpire’s whistle amid the deafening crowd noise at the MCG, played on to disadvantage.
All that can be avoided in 2023 if Bailey finds a pair of high-tech supersonic hearing aids in his Christmas stocking, enabling him to not only easily detect every umpire’s whistle at a moment’s notice, but also pick up every mean thing Dayne Zorko says about the opposition behind the play.
Some cotton wool for Sam Walsh
On a more serious note, the last two off-seasons haven’t been kind to the Blues’ superstar.
In both 2022 and 2023, Walsh’s start to the year has been derailed, with an ankle injury seeing him miss Round 1 in the opener and a severe back problem putting him on ice for the first month of the latter.
As a result, the 23-year old hasn’t again hit the heights of his superb 2021 season, when he won All-Australian selection and finished fourth in the Brownlow Medal. That that was the last time he had a fully uninterrupted lead-in to a year is surely no coincidence.
Let’s be honest, Pies fans… your Christmas gift came three months early.
No doubt you’ve spent the time since that glorious day at the MCG rewatching it over and over again – give yourself a treat at Christmas and break out the replay after lunch.
For the first time in approximately 57 years, Essendon didn’t win the trade period – but still, no supporter base (or club hierarchy) in the league is better at getting ahead of itself than at the Hangar.
So Bombers fans, the best gift Brad Scott and your team can receive is one that you can actually provide yourselves: keep your hopes for 2024 balanced, measured and within reach.
That way, if the Dons do defy expectations and climb into premiership contention, it’ll be a different sort of surprise to the usual one your mob suffers when the real stuff rolls around.
New feet for Nat
After years of injury after injury, it was Nat Fyfe’s feet letting him down in 2023, a late-season fracture adding to the bout of plantar fasciitis that saw him manage just nine games.
At 32 years young, the veteran is unlikely to have the healing powers of a young man to get himself back to full fitness – but with the advancements of modern medical science, surely there’s a willing Freo fan out there willing to donate a pair of flippers to your club’s greatest ever player?
With Jonathon Ceglar, Sam Menegola and Isaac Smith joining the parade of Cats’ tricenarians steadily flowing out the door in recent years, Geelong have plummeted from having the oldest list in the AFL in 2023 all the way down to… the second-oldest going into 2024.
Hopefully the Cats are prepared to deal with the overwhelming numbers of young bucks swarming into the club with their rap music and backwards hats, young lads with so little experience that 14 of the 44 on the list don’t even have their own Wikipedia page yet.
You suspect external help will be required – hopefully the greater Geelong area has enough babysitters, wet nurses and Wiggles cover bands to cope with the increased demand.
Gold Coast Suns
A winning culture
You don’t become a triple-premiership coach without having a fair idea about this whole ‘winning games of footy’ thing.
Damien Hardwick is, on paper, exactly who the Suns need in charge: a proven winner who can teach a fundamentally talented but too often underwhelming group of players how to follow in the footsteps of a Richmond team with arguably less pure skill that nevertheless won three flags in four years.
Can he bottle it and shove it in a Christmas stocking or 40?
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Spicy hot take time: the Giants copped the rough end of the stick in the 2023 preliminary final, especially once the umpires put the whistle away in the final ten minutes and started officiating the game like the lawless ball of chaos Americans think footy is.
But maybe the Giants could have avoided all that if they’d simply Cody Weightmaned their way into gaining the umps’ attention. Start with Toby Greene: surely he could have stood to throw his head back and flail with his arms after being taken high by Nick Daicos, before writhing in agony on the ground for 15 minutes after the whistle was blown?
To know what Cyril meant
It has been more than five years since the great Cyril Rioli departed Hawthorn, under what we now know to be somewhat acrimonious terms.
But it didn’t take much to pique the interest of Hawks fans on Instagram on Christmas eve.
Is Cyril – still only 34 – primed to make a Tony Lockett-esque comeback to the brown and gold? Or if not as a player, then as a coach or assistant, burying the hatchet with the club he – as well as a number of other former Hawks – accused of systemic racism just 15 months ago?
Wouldn’t we all love to know.
A quiet pre-season
No team has made more headlines this off-season thus far than the Demons – most of them surrounding Clayton Oliver.
So for everyone associated with Melbourne, no Christmas gift would be more welcome than to see absolutely nothing of their team in the media for the next three months.
That would mean no player mutinies at pre-season camps, no restaurant punch-ups, no more accusations against Simon Goodwin from disgruntled ex-presidents… and most importantly of all, no more issues for Clayton Oliver after a turbulent end to 2023.
As Simon and Garfunkel proved, there’s no sound sweeter than the sound of silence. *strums guitar*
A fit key defender
It’s been a rough off-season so far for the Kangaroos ahead of Alastair Clarkson’s second year at the helm, with Aidan Corr suffering a serious ankle injury to derail his preparations for 2024.
With Griffin Logue set to miss much of the year with a ruptured ACL, Ben McKay out the door and Aiden Bonar delisted, the Roos are effectively down to mature-aged recruit Toby Pink when it comes to fit key defenders at the club. How they’ll pray he can follow in the footsteps of another South Australian late-blooming tall back in Callum Wilkie at St Kilda.
11 (Ollie) Lords-a-leaping
It wouldn’t be a festive article without a 12 Days of Christmas reference – and the Power could certainly use a few more of the talented tall forward on the books.
With Charlie Dixon missing 11 games in 2023 through a series of niggling injuries and Mitch Georgiades still on the comeback trail from a knee injury, Lord and Todd Marshall are the immediate future of Port’s attack, and after the 21-year old broke out spectacularly with four goals in an otherwise humbling qualifying final loss to Brisbane, he enters his second season of top-flight footy with high expectations on him.
Tom Lynch’s fitness
No single player’s absence in 2023 was more keenly felt than Lynch’s at Richmond: without their spearhead for much of the season after a severe foot injury, the Tigers slumped from seventh in 2022 to 13th last year.
While navicular issues are famously tricky to navigate, and potentially career-ending, all the talk out of the Tigers’ camp has been positive concerning Lynch’s recovery as he builds towards a Round 1 return. If he can be back to his best right away, Adem Yze’s new team might just surprise a few pundits in 2024.
A stress-free pre-season for Max King
2023 was by and large a write-off for the talented tall, and it all stemmed back to wrecking his shoulder during an innocuous training session in December 2022.
That wasn’t the only time King has had a delayed start to a season, missing Round 1 in 2021 due to, of all things, a concussion sustained after being hit in the head by a golf ball.
All things considered, there’s nothing the Saints would like more than for their star spearhead to have a regular, by the numbers, boring pre-season with no disastrous bouts of misfortune. That’s not too much to ask for… right?
A time machine for Brodie Grundy
It has been a long time since the Swans had a ruckman on the books with the pedigree and star power of Grundy – little wonder they jumped at the chance to initiate a trade with Melbourne for the former Dee and Pie, who should instantly slot into the number one ruck role vacated by the retiring Tom Hickey.
The question, though, is whether Grundy can return to the form he displayed in his back-to-back All-Australian seasons of 2018 and 2019; while his stats remained excellent in 2020 and 2021 at the Magpies, his influence, especially around the ground, waned noticeably.
The Swans’ system is heavily dependent on a ruck that can compete at ground level and at stoppages as well as have an aerial impact around the ground: if he can be even two-thirds of the player he was at his peak, Grundy will go close to being the recruit of the year.
West Coast Eagles
At times in 2023, the Eagles were the AFL’s version of Sisyphus: doomed to spend eternity pushing a boulder uphill with no hope of any reward for their labour.
Barring the odd bright spot, the last two years have been about as grim as it gets for a club which for 35 years had been the embodiment of consistent success: for a while now, this has felt like a broken club.
Off-field change has occurred, and with Luke Shuey and Shannon Hurn bowing out, the team is officially at ground zero of a rebuild. It’s up to Adam Simpson, with whom the club has kept faith despite having had every reason to part ways, to find a way to instill belief in his remaining troops and, for lack of a better phrase, make West Coast great again.
Some new ideas
Over the past few years, the Bulldogs have a tried and tested way they like to win games: and when the opposition finds a way to counter it, even in mid-game, the bottom can fall out spectacularly.
This is a team as talented as many in the AFL, yet one which lost to West Coast, gave up a six-goal second half lead to GWS, and threw away nearly as dominant positions against Sydney, Collingwood, Gold Coast and Hawthorn during the year. Win even one of those games, and they’d have played finals.
With some fresh faces in the assistant coaching crop, one can only hope the likes of Daniel Pratt, Matthew Egan and Jarryn Geary have some fresh tactics to bring to the table, because Luke Beveridge probably can’t afford another season like 2023.