Before the AFL 2017 season had even started, those in “know” speculated on not only which teams would be placed where at the end of the season, but which coaches “necks” were on the line. While for the most part, I do agree with the opinions regarding some of the coaches. But I don’t agree with decisions made about where teams will be placed based on the performance of teams in the JLT series, or even in the first round.
The coaches “necks” on the line are without a doubt, Ross Lyon (Fremantle), Nathan Buckley (Collingwood), Damian Hardwick (Richmond), Rodney Eade (Gold Coast Suns) and Ken Hinkley (Port Adelaide). Two of these teams have major star players whose contracts end this year and if the coaches and teams don’t improve, they will be gone, no matter what the teams throw at them.
Ross Lyon had Fremantle in the Grand Final, then the following year, they won the wooden spoon. Blame was laid at the number of injuries at the club including star player, Nat Fyfe. Round 1, Nat Fyfe is fit and ready and yet the team lost miserably. If Lyon cannot push the club further up the ladder, then Fyfe will not wait around. He will seek to move to Victoria to a club that is on the rise where his abilities will be put to much better use. It does not matter that he is the captain of the club. If he doesn’t some semblance of success, he will leave.
Ross Lyon’s neck is firmly on the chopping block. From taking a team to the top then crashing and burning the next season, he is wise to feel just a little nervous. His career as a coach is on the line and if cannot make any significant inroads for Fremantle’s success, then he is gone.
The same scenario is in place at Richmond, irrespective of their win in the first round. Damian Hardwick during his coaching tenure has put the Tigers in a position where they played finals, but knocked out in the Elimination Rounds. Then for a few years, at the mirth of supporters everywhere, the tune of “they finished ninth again” rang around the footy world. If he cannot get the Tigers further up the ladder and playing finals and wining those matches, then he is gone. Richmond cannot keep a coach who is an “almost there” coach.
For his star player, who played a great game in the first round, Dustin Martin will not stay at the club if he cannot smell success. But the most important factor for Martin is not his ability as a player, but his maturity. If he can stay out of trouble for the year, teams will put out the welcome mat and offer him an open door to their respective clubs. If he does become troublesome, no matter how good he is as a player, the welcome mats will be taken away and doors slammed in his face. The footy ball is firmly in his court and only he can determine his future not only at Richmond, but at any other club.
Both Rodney Eade, Ken Hinkley and Nathan Buckley are borderline on whether they stay or not and with each, it not only depends on their success rate during the season, but how their respective Boards view them personally. We all know that Buckley and Collingwood President Eddie McGuire are “best buddies”. But even a president who had much love for his coach will soon get impatient for success, especially McGuire who will see Collingwood’s failure as a personal affront to his being.
For Carlton, those who have put Brendon Bolton’s time on the line this year are wearing not only blinkers, but are just staying that to fill up space. No coach will perform a rebuild of a club in just a few years. The club knows this, the Board knows this, the team knows this, supporters know this. He ain’t going nowhere!
Carlton’s unrestricted free agents are Dennis Armfield, Matthew Kreuzer, Kade Simpson and Simon White. Then of course there’s out of contract player Dale Thomas. Out of all of those players, my view is that both Kreuz and Simmo will be at the club next year. For Armfield and White, it is all dependant on how they play for the rest of the season. Out of those two, it is Armfield that I am hoping doesn’t go. I love his passion on the field and how he can fire up the team when needed. His performance in the first round should not be a determination on his performance over the season. This is a wait and see.
For both White and Thomas it is vital for them to perform exceptionally well this season if they are to remain at Carlton.
No-one can judge how a team will be situated at the end of the season based on the first round of matches, but for some, they need to produce the results if they are to keep their relevant coaches. This could be a season of major shake-ups both off the field and on. Round one showed upsets and surprises and it’s looking to be a killer of a season!