The AFL did their best to mess up Round 1, 2014, tinkering with something that already works as only they can. A split round, Thursday night football, and not having the traditional Richmond v Carlton clash as the opening game of the year were all questionable decisions. Fortunately, their meddling didn’t succeed in detracting from the long-awaited return of footy, with the round producing not only some major upsets in the first legs, but some memorable highlights in both weeks.
Looking at the second part of the round, it’s the Bombers who head the highlight reel, but before looking at their dominant display over the Kangaroos last Friday night, it’s impossible to ignore the latest instalment in the seemingly never-ending Hird saga, which once again became headline news.
This time it was James Hird’s wife, Tania, who did the talking for him. For the average footy fan (and reportedly an increasing number of Bombers supporters) this must be close to the last straw in terms of having to put up with someone who clearly considers himself bigger than his club and the game. To launch this distraction on the eve of the Bombers’ first game for the season was disrespectful and arrogant.
To most people, if Hird’s position was untenable before, it is doubly the case now. But will he be sacked? Unlikely. The Essendon Board has had numerous reasons and opportunities to do so in the past, and hasn’t acted. The golden boy is almost a sure thing to coach the club next year.
As has been the case since the saga began, the long-suffering Bombers players didn’t let the off-field shenanigans distract them from the job at hand. In this case, the job was destroying North Melbourne. Paul Chapman justified his position as my number one offseason trade, booting four goals for his old mentor, interim Essendon and former Geelong coach Mark Thompson, and setting up a number of others.
The Kangaroos’ performance would have to be one of the disappointments of Round 1. We won’t mention the performance of my number two offseason trade, Nick Dal Santo, other than to say it was average, but the Kangaroos were smashed around the ground and had virtually no winning positions on the night.
The Kangas will be looking to bounce back next week against one of the other teams to get annihilated, the Western Bulldogs. Their loss to the West Coast Eagles was ominous, from the perspective of both teams. For the Bulldogs, it undoes some of the good vibes they had from the second half of last season, including a win over the Eagles. For the Eagles, their win on the weekend combined with their pre-season form has their underperforming 2013 looking more and more like an aberration brought on by a combination of injuries to top players, and a head coach in John Worsfold who was over it and shouldn’t have been there.
The Eagles look reinvigorated, with a healthy list, a new coach and the easiest draw in the competition to start the season. After travelling to the MCG next week to beat Melbourne, they’ll start the season 3-0 by beating St Kilda the following week. It will only be when they meet Geelong in Round 4 that they’ll be properly tested for the first time.
St Kilda’s performance on the weekend in beating Melbourne was encouraging, and it was interesting that the Demons started the game as favourites. By interesting I mean just plain wrong, and solely down to the Paul Roos factor. With Mitch Clark and Chris Dawes not playing, the Demons have virtually no forward line, and are always going to struggle to kick goals.
Their performance on the weekend, combined with the Giant’s win the week before, has moved the Demons back to equal wooden favourites with the Saints. When you look at who was missing from the Saints line-up over the weekend, you get the feeling they won’t be quite as bad as many pundits will have you believe. It won’t be too long until they leave Melbourne sitting all alone in the race for the spoon.
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