The AFL is at its best when the league is unbelievably competitive, 18 teams all vying for the one chance at premiership glory. Unfortunately that’s not always the case and so far in 2014 the calibre of competition has been incredibly average. The gap between contenders and pretenders has continued to widen, with the clubs’ ability to recruit ready-made players becoming so important.
Eleven of the first 45 games this year have had margins over ten goals, a clear example of the sub-par football. Close football is the ultimate thrill ride, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats and showing the true athleticism and glory of the sport. The lack of nail biters (four games decided under 10 points) takes the drama out of football and without drama, everything just feels flat. Fortunately, for AFL tragics throughout the country, two superb teams can still whet our appetite for a brilliant game. Those teams are Hawthorn and Geelong, by far the two best sides this year and as of round 5, the only possible premiership contenders.
The Hawthorn-Geelong rivalry has been a perfect display of A-Grade football for over seven years now and it still continues to deliver, despite the generational turnover in playing squads. The champions of the past like Scarlett, Dew, Ling and Crawford have left. In their absence, though, the Issac Smiths, the Jack Gunstons and the Harry Taylors have taken over the mantle. The fact that these two teams played off in the 2008 grand final and six years later are still at the top of their game is unbelievable. In the Easter Monday clash, the football world finally received what they had been waiting for all season—a highly skilled and ruthless classic.
There were eleven lead changes, the margin never exceeded three goals for the entire match and the skills, athleticism and pressure on display were at the level of a grand final. All over the ground you had some of the best players in the league, tussling for supremacy. Both teams were led from the front by two of the most determined captains in the league. The stage was perfectly set for a thriller. Hawthorn ranked number one for attack and Geelong, the ying to their yang, were the number one team for defence.
Neither side ever took full control of the match and despite Geelong leading for the majority, you knew that Hawthorn would charge home strong. Statistically, the game was so evenly matched that the biggest disparity was Geelong’s ten extra contested possessions. The stars of both teams were on song. Stevie J racked up 34 possessions and kicked three goals in a magnificent display. Down the other end, young forward Jack Gunston was Hawthorn’s primary target, kicking three and taking nine marks. The most influential player in the game, though, was the behemoth wearing 26 (and later 34). Tom Hawkins absolutely dominated every opponent that Alastair Clarkson threw at him. He amassed 10 marks (the majority were contested), and booted five goals to send a message to the league’s defenders. The man who battled chronic back injuries in 2013 left his mark on an incredibly gruelling match, and willed his team to a famous victory.
The quality of the Geelong and Hawthorn game made it even more obvious how below par the standards have been early in 2014. Hopefully other teams will see the display of these two powerhouses and will strive to reach that next level. No one wants it to be a two-horse race; competition is good for the game. If there’s a number of clubs who could win the premiership it adds that sense of unpredictability and excitement. Let’s hope that the next few rounds are filled with games that make you jump around the house and shout at the top of your lungs. It’s what makes this sport so great.
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