Australia

Giants-Swans COVID drama reminds us how precarious AFL’s season is

There are 54 games to go, mark them off one by one, cross your fingers and toes. Who would have predicted that after the unprecedented chaos of the 2020 AFL season, the game would again be dealing with mass uncertainty, having only just scraped through round 18?

The AFL’s chief fixture manoeuvrers, Travis Auld and Marcus King, have surely had moments over the past season and three quarters when the challenges have seemed insurmountable. But somehow, the game has gone on.

The 11th-hour COVID-related withdrawal of players and staff from the finals-shaping match between the Giants and Swans on Sunday was a stark reminder of just how precarious the landscape is. Football has never been more minute by minute, quarter by quarter, week by week.

While that’s all a bit deflating, pleasingly, there’s also a large degree of uncertainty around who will make the finals. A month ago, I was convinced the eight was set. While I’m still prepared to lock away the top six, recent results have made for a fascinating fight for seventh and eighth on the ladder. There are six teams realistically in contention:

  • West Coast: seventh after 18 rounds (nine wins 98 per cent)
  • Essendon: eighth (eight wins 104.5 per cent)
  • Richmond: ninth (eight wins (100.8 per cent)
  • Fremantle: 10th (eight wins 92.5 per cent)
  • St. Kilda: 11th (eight wins 86.6 per cent)
  • GWS: 12th (seven wins, one draw 95.5 per cent)

Richmond spent less than 48 hours back in the eight before being dislodged by West Coast and Essendon. The Eagles kicked 10 goals to four after half-time to defeat the Crows at the Adelaide Oval by 42 points, while Essendon looked lethargic during the early part of the clash with North Melbourne before a Jake Stringer-inspired last quarter surge to victory.

Even despite the season-ending injury to Dustin Martin, I’m still of the view Richmond will make the finals. Shane Edwards is expected to be available for this week’s clash with Geelong and other key players should filter back in the coming weeks.

The Tigers have got their intensity back, and Jack Riewoldt has kicked six, but one win over the Lions doesn’t change the task ahead of Richmond. (

AAP: Jason O’Brien

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Critically, Richmond played with greater intensity against the Lions. Like his sizeable frame, the return of ruckman Toby Nankervis was enormous as Richmond found a hunger noticeably absent in recent weeks. As for winning another premiership, without the sprinkling of Martin dust, that looks like a very tough ask.

AFL clubs have been told their remaining five match-ups will still be against the teams they were originally scheduled to play, but where and when is still to be determined. The loss of home ground advantage could be a telling factor, although Richmond’s win over Brisbane, hastily moved from the MCG to Melbourne, is a counterpoint.

As it stands, here is the run home for the six teams I believe are vying for the bottom two spots in the eight:

  • West Coast: St Kilda (Perth Stadium) Collingwood (MCG), Melbourne (Perth Stadium), Fremantle (Perth Stadium) and Brisbane (Gabba)
  • Essendon: GWS (Docklands), Sydney (Docklands), Western Bulldogs (Docklands), Gold Coast (Carrara) and Collingwood (MCG)
  • Richmond: Geelong (MCG), Fremantle (Perth Stadium), North Melbourne (MCG), GWS (Giants Stadium) and Hawthorn (MCG)
  • Fremantle: Sydney (Kardinia Park), Richmond (Perth Stadium), Brisbane (Perth Stadium), West Coast (Perth Stadium) and St Kilda (Docklands)
  • St Kilda: West Coast (Perth Stadium), Carlton (Docklands), Sydney (Docklands), Geelong (Kardinia Park) and Fremantle (Docklands)
  • GWS: Essendon (Docklands), Port Adelaide (Giants Stadium), Geelong (Kardinia Park), Richmond (Giants Stadium) and Carlton (Docklands)

While Carlton won’t figure in this year’s finals, Sunday’s win over Collingwood was a beautiful tribute to the patriarch of football’s famed Silvagni family, who passed away on Thursday morning.

Sergio Silvagni was a dual premiership player with the Blues, a footballing hero credited with helping a wave of post-war immigrants connect with a key part of Australian culture. 

His son Stephen also won two premierships with Carlton and joins him in the club’s team of the century.

Serge’s grandson Jack, the son of Steve, is now carrying the family name and famous number one long-sleeved jumper with ever-increasing distinction. Of course, the socks are always down too.

Jack’s goal and finger point to the heavens, spectacular last-quarter mark and raw post-match emotion were poignant on a day when Carlton came from behind to beat its arch-rival by 29 points.

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In the absence of Patrick Cripps, Sam Walsh put the team on his young shoulders, producing a footballing masterclass. In just his third season, Walsh has already emerged as one of the game’s true elites and the MCG was his playground against the Magpies.

The 21-year-old possesses the perfect combination of aerobic fitness, elite skills, relentless intent and an abundance of football smarts.

Listening to Walsh being interviewed in the aftermath, it was obvious he’ll be the next Carlton captain. An emerging version of the NRL’s Cameron Smith, he’s the complete football package.

The Blues will be hoping Walsh’s legacy is just as significant.


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