Patrick Dangerfield wrote a column last week suggesting that no one man could turn an AFL team into a premiership contender, an attempt at self-deprecation. Then in three hours on Monday at the MCG he shredded his own argument.
Geelong are about to be a contender, make no mistake about it. So are West Coast, the runners-up from 2015, who have a white-hot Nic Naitanui for opposition teams to counter and the addition of Eric Mackenzie as a virtual recruit. And so are the Western Bulldogs, who made quite a statement in Round 1, smashing Fremantle.
Hawthorn's march toward an historic fourth straight flag has already hit the first hurdle and there will undoubtedly be more. Round 1 was a cracker, and here are some random observations:
1. The game has been saved, or so it seems. I know that it is a small sample, but scoring is up 12 percent on last year's pathetic 86 points per game, per team, the lowest number since the 1970s. In Round 1, the teams averaged 97 points, and there is one main reason why that is the case. It's the interchange cap, which the AFL fiddled over for far too long. In 2013, the Laws of the Game panel recommended to the AFL Commission that a cap of 80 interchanges be introduced for the first time as a means of reducing congestion. The coaches said that it would kill the game, and the players threatened a sit-down strike; or at least Essendon skipper Jobe Watson did.
As is so often the case in footy, the emotion kicked in and the commission went down like a deck of cards, and the only good thing that can be said about that is the commissioners at least realised their mistake. Three years after it should have happened, we have a cap of 90, players are too tired to run en masse to both ends of the ground, and we have the game back.
Kevin Bartlett was right. He says some daft things, KB, in the name of entertainment, but drill down and he does know the game. He quit the Laws panel because he thought the commission disrespected his view. I wonder whether any of them have contacted him this week, because the more open game that league CEO Gil McLachlan craved is back. Chris Scott, the Geelong coach, said on Monday: "The prevailing view across the competition is 'if you can't score, you're in trouble'.'' We don't need 1970s-style shootouts, but it had become too hard to score in the AFL, and the numbers don't lie. There were too many people around the football, making it impossible for the artists like Scott Pendlebury to paint their frescoes. I have no doubt the defensive mindset will kick in later, because that is the nature of the game; but, for now at least, the tide has turned.
2. As my ESPN colleague Jude Bolton said; superstars make the game. The sight of Lance 'Buddy' Franklin booming long goals at the SCG on Saturday night was wonderful, albeit causing a week-long headache for Collingwood supporters. So was Gary Ablett's dynamic performance for Gold Coast against Essendon, after virtually a year on the sidelines. Along with the interminable Essendon scandal, the absence of those two in particular hurt the game badly in 2015. Then there was Dangerfield, the Mayor-elect of Geelong, and his 43-disposal debut in the hoops. I can't ever recall a better debut at a new club.
3. There will be very few easy games for anyone this season. Take the performances of Melbourne, who stole a win from Greater Western Sydney with a big final quarter; of St Kilda, who competed for three quarters in Adelaide; and Carlton, who proved a thorn in the side of Richmond, as examples. Those three teams were meant to be the tick-off wins for opposition teams.
I would throw in Adelaide, who could easily have beaten North Melbourne in what might well have been the best game of Round 1. Without Dangerfield, the Crows have been written off, but they are a seriously decent team.
Overall, the footy was sensational. After three years of slogging in the quicksand of the Essendon scandal, the game is free again.