Sunday 20 August 2017 / 04:42 AM

HANGERS & CLANGERS: AFL ROUND 11

In an abbreviated round, due to numerous teams enjoying a breather, there wasn’t as much action – although it proved a telling snapshot of several teams. West Coast are sinking into quicksand, while the Crows are no longer top-two certainties, meaning GWS – basking in being on top of the ladder for the first time ever – have become the overwhelming  flag favourites.

At the other end of the spectrum, middling teams Collingwood and Gold Coast enjoyed important victories to keep afloat their dreams finals. As we enter the winter months, it remains a highly interesting and unpredictable AFL season.

Here are the things I liked and disliked from round 11.

HANGERS

Amazing Ablett

If you believe all the scuttlebutt, it seems almost inevitable that Gary Ablett is headed home to Geelong at season’s end. Despite the reverberating innuendo, Ablett produced a best afield display in round 11 to spearhead Gold Coast to an upset three-point victory over a slumping West Coast to keep their finals hopes alive.

In a sloppy affair, Ablett’s class was evident collecting 36 possessions to compose a tentative Suns team that appeared set to blow a game they had controlled for the duration.

Maybe he has lost a step, unsurprising considering his advancing age, however Ablett still dictates a game like few others; he’s a like chess master controlling the board. Bigger picture, it is hard not to prognosticate and salivate over Ablett lining up for the Cats next season.

Amid a far stronger team, Ablett’s insertion could propel the Cats to premiership glory. It’s tempting to imagine a Cats’ midfield comprising the holy trinity of Ablett/Dangerfield/Selwood eviscerating the league but I dare say the then 34-year-old will spend large chunks as a dangerous roaming forward.

Until that likely realisation, we should enjoy Ablett’s final moments at Gold Coast. Who knows, maybe a surprise inaugural finals appearance for the Suns might just convince Ablett to reconsider his plans.

Gritty Magpies

Collingwood, particularly ever maligned coach Nathan Buckley, has copped plenty of criticism after starting the season 2-6. However, three straight victories has flipped the script; suddenly Buckley isn’t hanging by a noose and the Pies have a realistic chance of making finals at 5-6 and boasting a healthy percentage over 100.

Critics can scoff at their last three wins against middling teams but even the most ardent pessimist had to admire Collingwood’s gritty victory on the road against the Dockers on Sunday. The Pies were down veteran Daniel Wells and goal sneak Jamie Elliott but somehow managed to fend off the Dockers and savour a rare victory in Perth.

The Pies’ resolve was notable and indicates that Buckley hasn’t lost his charges. Clearly, the team are playing for their coach and maybe, just maybe, Collingwood are on track to salvage their season.

Geelong’s Home Dominance

Three weeks ago, after a trio of disappointing losses, the Cats appeared to be pretenders and had a daunting upcoming schedule set to shape their season. The Cats passed the tests with aplomb by accounting for the Bulldogs, Power and Crows in impressive fashion.

We probably shouldn’t have written off the Cats during this home stretch, considering their utter dominance at Kardinya Park. For so many years, the Cats were basically unbeatable at Kardinya Park and not much has changed on evidence of the last three weeks against formidable opponents.

In a season where the league has been flipped on its head, with powerhouses Sydney and Hawthorn struggling, the Cats remain unwavering and beating them at Kardinya Park is still the hardest task in footy.

CLANGERS

Nat Fyfe’s Form

Right now, Nat Fyfe is not going to be an All-Australian. Two years ago, Fyfe was amid the hottest streak seen in footy and headed for the Brownlow Medal. Undisputedly, the Dockers talisman was the AFL’s best payer blessed with unparalleled strength and athleticism through the midfield.

However, Fyfe has struggled to reach those heady heights during his comeback from a nasty leg injury sustained early last season. To be fair, Fyfe hasn’t been horrible – he’s actually still clearly an elite player as evidenced by having the fifth-most contested possessions this season. However, he’s also recorded the most clangers of any player in the competition and his redoubtable influence – like a trademark towering hanger or momentum shifting goal – has been stymied thus far.

Fyfe’s dubious form led to prominent commentator Garry Lyon to label the Fremantle captain as a “level below where he was”. The knives are out – particularly with Fyfe set to command a near record-breaking deal soon – but it’s probably unfair to critique him too harshly. It’s almost impossible to return instantly to your former pomp after major injury, as Fyfe is finding out.

Expect Fyfe to play better in the second half of the season and return to his imperious best next year. More worryingly, anxious Freo fans will be hoping Fyfe’s still in their colours next season.

West Coast’s Crisis

West Coast have reached their bye in tatters and appear headed for a crucial juncture in Adam Simpson’s coaching reign. The disappointing Eagles have lost three straight games to fall to 6-5 and appear a long way short of where many pegged them ahead of the season.

The Eagles are an ageing team and numerous senior players appeal to have seen better days. Worryingly that starts from the top with skipper Shannon Hurn struggling to assert much influence and Brownlow Medallist Matt Priddis showing signs of being well past his best. Veterans Mark Lecras, Josh Hill, Chris Masten, Will Schofield, Eric Mackenzie and Sam Butler should also be pensioned off.

Under Simpson, the Eagles have shown a lack of willingness to blood youth but it would be negligent to continue with that approach. The Eagles have to shake the delusion; they are not contenders and are headed for a period of irrelevancy if they don’t start rejuvenating the list.

Hard judgement calls on high-profile players – notably the ever disappointing Jack Darling – need to be made by Simpson, who is set to receive the blowtorch for the first time as his currency from a stellar 2015 fades from memory.

Which way Simpson hedges, whether to stick with his underperforming players or put a line in the sand, will be highly interesting,

Horrible Hawthorn

Regular Thursday night footy has been a nice added wrinkle into this riveting AFL season. However, last Thursday’s match was a total dud with Hawthorn being embarrassed in Adelaide against the Power, whose high-voltage game overpowers the hapless.

The feeble Hawks were held goalless in the first-half to trail by 59 points at the long break. There have been occasions this season where the Hawks have rewound the clock, as evidenced by somehow conjuring four wins, but far often they have been rudderless – as testament to an eyesore of a percentage languishing at 76.

Opponents, many of whom have long been whipping boys of the mighty Hawks, will be relishing a chance at payback while Hawthorn are down.

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About the author

Tristan Lavalette

Tristan is a freelance journalist based in Perth. He has written for The Guardian, ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Previously he was a newspaper journalist for almost a decade.

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