AFL Front and Centre: Bryce Gibbs eyes return to Adelaide

Star Blue open to move home

Contracted Carlton star Bryce Gibbs wants to return home to Adelaide.

But in a strange twist, the 27-year-old is content remaining a Blue if a deal can't be struck.

Bryce's management, TLA Worldwide, has held discussions with the Crows about a possible return for the 27-year-old to his home state.

The richly talented Gibbs, who has three years remaining on his contract, would provide a much-needed boost to the Crows' midfield.

ESPN understands Gibbs' team is desperate to keep his trade ambitions under wraps, as to not disrupt relationships at Carlton headquarters, Ikon Park.

TLA Worldwide says Gibbs is a required player at Carlton.

Gibbs was linked to South Australian clubs in 2013 before he re-signed for a further five years at Carlton, in a deal worth about $600,000 per year.

During those negotiations, Gibbs controversially designed his own wishlist regarding the club's future success and operations.

But since signing on, the Blues have finished a dismal 13th, 18th and 14th.

It's believed the opportunity to win a premiership, coupled with a potential return home, are powerful factors that have tempted Gibbs to make the move.

The Crows have been linked to a number of big-name players in the past month, most recently Richmond ball magnet Dustin Martin and Brisbane captain Tom Rockliff.

Meanwhile, uncontracted utility Jarryd Lyons is seriously considering rival offers, as the Crows continue to play hard ball.

Lyons has been offered a two-year deal at approximately $180,000 per year - well below the 24-year-old's expectations.

Lyons is fighting for three years for added security.

Melbourne offered the young gun a deal when Lyons was last out of contract at the Crows.

The Demons remain interested in the 55-game player.

Liberatore denies rift with Libba Jnr.

Brownlow medallist and Bulldogs legend Tony Liberatore has denied he ever had a rift with son Tom following the young Dog's humiliating drunken night out when police found an ecstasy tablet in the his pocket four years ago.

Tom, then 20, was found heavily intoxicated on the infamous Melbourne nightclub strip, King Street, at 3.30am in August, 2012.

Police came to a disorientated Tom's aid and discovered he was carrying a prohibited substance.

The Western Bulldogs swiftly banished Tom from the club for the rest of the season, forcing him to take up work at a construction site.

After the Dogs' emotional win over GWS on Saturday, Tom told The Age the incident in 2012 had affected his relationship with his father - even though the pair could be seen sharing a teary embrace in the rooms.

"It's good that he's finally accepted me in the family after 24 years," Tom said, jokingly.

"My relationship with my dad has been up and down, growing up and stuff. Just from more a parental point of view, because of what happened [in 2012]."

Describing the hug with his dad, Tom said: "It was more of an occasion that was momentous, regardless of if it was footy or if I worked somewhere else. It was good to see that we were both just so proud and happy to share a moment that we have strived so long for."

Liberatore Snr says his relationship with Tom is now as strong as it's ever been.

"It really didn't affect us at all," Liberatore told ESPN. "I think he was just a bit more embarrassed than anything else.

"That happened four years ago. Young players sometimes they can do the wrong thing. It's just part of growing up."

Liberatore, 50, says this year's Bulldogs side represents the club's best chance of breaking its 62-year premiership drought.

He rates the current team in higher regard than his 1997 side that relinquished a 31-point half-time lead over Adelaide in the preliminary final to lose by two points.

That match is considered one of the great finals heists in AFL history.

"They're much better. I think they bat really deep, have a lot of talent and there's number of really good players that are underrated," Liberatore told ESPN.

"Thus far it would have to be (our best premiership chance). We're in it now and we have a chance to win it."

Malthouse back in the coaches' box?

Legendary coach Mick Malthouse is being persuaded to come out of retirement to lead amateur suburban club, Beaumaris.

Malthouse, who coached a record 718 matches at Footscray, West Coast, Collingwood and Carlton for three premierships, has been asked to coach the Sharks after they graduated to the Victorian Amateur Football Association's premier division.

Malthouse spent last season out of the game after he was sacked from his fourth club, Carlton, halfway into his third season.

The 63-year-old is undecided about making a return to coaching ranks, following a year guiding aspiring AFL players in this season's The Recruit competition.

The Sharks' senior and reserves sides won this year's seniors and reserve B-grade premierships.

They are the only suburban representative in the VAFA's top tier competition, which is predominantly made up of old schoolboy clubs and university-supported teams.

Malthouse was this week inducted as a coaching legend at the AFL Coaches' Association awards.

VFL alignment key to Bulldogs' rise

One take-out from the Bulldogs' success this season - at least for Melbourne-based clubs such as North Melbourne - is the importance of having your own VFL team.

There have been other lessons from the Dogs' fairytale - such as having a talented and deep midfield, and the ability to flick the ball quickly to outside runners via lightning-quick handball (and former Scragger stars producing lots of sons) - but the decision to field their own VFL side is being seen now as crucial to their on-field development.

Footscray, Collingwood, Essendon and Geelong run their own VFL teams, so the VFL coaches are in complete alignment with the AFL coaching group, the players are given much the same playing instructions in both squads and there is an integrated approach to training and player development.

When reserves players are promoted to the seniors, the transition is often seamless.

So for clubs such as North Melbourne, which have had associations with North Ballarat and Werribee in the VFL in recent years, the move to having their own Kangaroos' VFL team has become a key agenda item for 2018.

"The Footscray VFL side plays exactly the same way as the Bulldogs' AFL side; similarly the Casey Scorpions' VFL side plays exactly like Melbourne's AFL team," one North insider told ESPN. "It's clearly the best way to develop players."

On the player trade front, it is believed rumours that North would consider trading champion ruckman Todd Goldstein are way off the mark; and speculation that Nick Dal Santo is being offered a two-year deal to continue his career at Collingwood is equally ill-informed.

The Kangas are looking at making an offer to wantaway Carlton defender Zach Tuohy, 26, but otherwise will embark on a serious rebuild of its list, from the ground up. This is why there is now no interest in Port Adelaide's Hamish Hartlett.

For the record ...

It seems like it took the AFL a couple of goes to get the title right for Saturday's Grand Final.

When the retail edition of the AFL Record hit the shops earlier this week, the front cover listed the game as "Western Bulldogs v Sydney Swans".

Apparently the protocol has always been that the winner of what is called the first preliminary final is always listed first and that was the Doggies, even though it was the second of the preliminary finals to be played last weekend.

ESPN understands this rule was changed this year, but only after the Record went to print late on Saturday night, just a few hours after the Bulldogs won through.

The AFL decided the team that finished higher on the ladder, and in this instance, on top of the ladder, should be listed first.

So the correct assignation for Saturday's game is 'Sydney Swans v Western Bulldogs', which is how it will be appear on the match-day edition of the Record, which will be sold at the MCG on Saturday.

So those who have already bought their retail editions are holding on to true collectors' items in more ways than one.

Apparently, the retail edition has a silver cover, while the MCG edition has a gold cover.

One Giant party

There was widespread jubilation and excitement at Spotless Stadium on Saturday night in the Bulldogs rooms as they celebrated their first grand final appearance in 55 years.

The celebrations were loud, but quick as the Dogs switfly made their way to the airport and back to Melbourne.

But as they made their way back home, another party was starting in the foyer of one of the hotels near Spotless Stadium.

The Giants were understandably shattered by their narrow defeat, but within a couple of hours, the entire club - players, coaches and officials, were saluting their season at an event that had a bit of a buzz to it.

And who can blame them? After five years of existence, they finished a kick away from a Grand Final. As coach Leon Cameron said after, GWS is on the march and the feeling you got as the club came together on Saturday night is that the loss to the Bulldogs will come to be regarded as a small stumble on the inevitable path to the flag.

Can the Doggies make the 'leap'?

The Western Bulldogs may buckle under the pressure of breaking the AFL's longest premiership drought, says Sydney's former Grand Final hero, Leo Barry.

Barry played an integral part in Sydney's 2005 premiership victory over West Coast - the club's first in 72 years, an AFL record.

'Leaping Leo', who took a game-saving pack mark seconds before the final siren, says the young Bulldogs side would be acutely aware that the power to erase the club's tortured history rests in their hands.

"I suppose they would be feeling some level of pressure," Barry told ESPN. "They've come from seventh, they've beaten some really good teams, but they probably thought they weren't going to make it.

"They should see the game as another good challenge and shouldn't allow themselves to feel that extra weight of pressure.

"They've had a great year and probably never really been touted as a grand final contender, but to their credit their form's been sensational."

Barry says his Swans' teammates in 2005 didn't allow themselves to be consumed by the club's long absence from the premiership dais.

"All the Swans players were fully aware of the history of the club and how long it had been since we won a premiership," he said.

"The main thing is not to get too wound up too early. You can get a lot of nervous energy and play the game in your mind before you run out ... 72 years is a long time to wait between premierships. That's what really made us appreciate it a lot more talking to a lot of supporters."

Barry believes the Swans's forward firepower will prove the difference in Saturday's decider.

RANDOM FACTS AND FIGURES FROM THE WEEK:

72 - The number of inside-50 entries Geelong had against Sydney in their preliminary final. How the Cats will rue their inefficiency up forward, their eight goals being a miserly reward for so much effort - and so poor it was almost an AFL record.

Fewest goals scored after 72+ inside-50s:
7 - Port Adelaide: Rd 21, 2014
8 - Geelong: PF, 2016
11 - Essendon: Rd 11, 2012
11 - Adelaide: Rd 19, 2015

Who said the bye wouldn't make a difference to how the finals panned out? Here is a list of the teams in the past 10 years to win a qualifying final and miss the grand final. It could be just a coincidence that two of the three teams happened to play in 2016, but we're not convinced.

2007 -
2008 -
2009 -
2010 -
2011 -
2012 -
2013 -
2014 -
2015 Fremantle
2016 Geelong / GWS

Patrick Dangerfield's runaway Brownlow Medal win on Monday night obscured the vote-getting talents of his sidekick at Geelong, Joel Selwood. Each season, the Cats' skipper just keeps racking them up.

Here are the players with most Brownlow Medal votes after their first 10 seasons:
185 - Chris Judd (WC/Carl)
168 - Joel Selwood (Geel)
144 - Keith Greig (NM)
142 - Nathan Buckley (Bris/Coll)
139 - Leigh Matthews (Haw)