Our AFL experts tackle some of the burning questions following preliminary final weekend.
If you were grading Geelong's season from A-F, what would you give them?
Rohan Connolly: It's a C from me. Depends how you judge it, of course. I think you have to give the Cats reasonable marks for getting there again, at least in third spot with a 16-6 record. But if you consider a decade now spent trying and failing to go higher, you could even mark them more harshly given the talent at their disposal. It was a super disappointing end to the season, winning only two of their last six games and beaten badly in two of three finals. Once again their game style was exposed when it mattered.
Jake Michaels: It has to be an F, doesn't it? The Cats might have been unable to win last year's flag, despite dominating the first half of the Grand Final against Richmond, but when they brought in their trio of stars -- Jeremy Cameron, Isaac Smith and Shaun Higgins -- many felt the 2021 premiership was theirs to lose. Well, they didn't reach the big dance and were utterly humiliated in a preliminary final. You can only top up with talent for so long until your core passes its prime and a full blown rebuild is required. I think they've missed their window...
Matt Walsh: Two years in a row I've backed the Cats to win the flag, and two years in a row they've let me down. I think I agree with Jake, it's an F. We thought they were done after the 2020 Grand Final, but they loaded up for one last assault with an ageing list and the shock addition of one of the competition's premier key position players in Cameron - and still fell short. It's like they're running on a treadmill with the premiership cup just inches out of their reach - they're getting tired and the cup isn't getting any closer. Can they reload once more? Well, for me, it's fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice, shame on you. I think they're done.
Jarryd Barca: I'm giving them a D-. There isn't an easy way to put it; what an appalling result for a club that went chips all in for the 2021 flag. Ill-timed injuries and a preliminary final-week virus sweeping through the playing group didn't help their cause, but it's no excuse, and there's no ignoring the glaring common denominator of a fourth prelim loss in six years. You can't top up your squad with the likes of Cameron, Higgins and Smith and not strike. With their premiership window shutting rapidly, the Cats need an overhaul, whether that be through the draft or Chris Scott's orderly but tiresome game plan, which has proven not to stack up in September.
What does Port Adelaide need to do to take the next step?
RC: The No.1 priority for me is bolstering that midfield depth, then finding at least one more key forward and defender. The reliance upon Ollie Wines and Travis Boak was shown up badly by the Dogs' midfield group. The Power get plenty on the outside from Karl Amon, but they need more inside from the likes of Dan Houston, and while Willem Drew was a big improver, and Zak Butters and Xavier Duursma both missed half-a-season, they and Connor Rozee need to start racking up the sorts of tallies (and consistency) Wines and Boak produced this season. Port still have a few too many "flanker" types who might flit through the midfield occasionally for my liking.
JM: I think Port is a key forward away from really challenging for a flag. We all know Charlie Dixon is hot and cold, but he doesn't have an awful lot of big man support in the forward line. Mitch Georgiades is a talent, but at 19, he's going to need a few more preseasons before he's a consistently damaging player and Todd Marshall just isn't up to AFL standard. Ken Hinkley and his coaching support crew should be eyeing an offsider for Dixon. They are hard to find, but it could be the difference between being a regular finalist and going all the way.
MW: They've got healthy if unremarkable midfield depth, they've get solid key backs, rebounders, and interceptors, and they've got a more than handy forward line. What does this add up to? Probably exactly what we've seen from Port Adelaide this season. Very good against the poorer teams, but probably outclassed against the better sides. They need a dynamic A-Grader or two to take the next step. One in the forward line and perhaps one in the midfield. They seem to lack a bit of 'pizzazz' for want of a better word - someone like Bontempelli, Petracca, or Martin who can impact in the guts and further up the field would be just what Port need.
JB: Bolster that midfield group. The Bulldogs' relentless running power and stoppage mastery left the Power stunned in their second-successive home preliminary final suffering. Sure, they've got Brownlow Medal fancy Wines and a quality veteran in Boak, but it's too much left to too few. Drew improved in leaps and bounds this season but he's not going to be your bona fide match-winner through the middle. Whether it means they rely on electrifying trio Rozee, Duursma and Butters taking the next step in the guts or they do it through trade acquisitions, Port Adelaide will not win the 2022 premiership unless they address their shortage in the midfield.
Who wins the 2021 Brownlow Medal?
RC: I'm going with Marcus Bontempelli. His side has been near the top nearly all year, he's behind only Wines in current betting, and he's more eye-catching than the Port midfielder (and Melbourne's Clayton Oliver, for that matter). Champion Data has him likely to poll votes in at least 13 games. Unlike that other pair, he also hits the scoreboard hard, with 26 goals at better than a goal per game, compared to Wines and Oliver's nine goals each in the regular season. No disrespect to the Port and Melbourne stars, but the "Bont" is more likely to have made an impact on the vote-givers, I think.
JM: It's out of Wines and Oliver but I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't say Wines, who topped my Brownlow Medal predictor on 32 votes, one vote ahead of Oliver! It's definitely going to be a tight count, with Wines, Oliver, Steele and Bontempelli all very realistic chances of winning on Sunday evening. What gives Wines the edge, in my eyes, is that he could potentially poll votes in a staggering 19 games. What an incredible season he's had.
MW: I'm not going to go against what Jake says to be frank - the Brownlow is not my sort of award, event or thing! If he says it's Wines, then I trust him!
JB: I'll follow your lead, Matt. Jake seems pretty adamant it's Wines' Brownlow to lose and I'm willing to back him in! One thing's for certain, it'll be a worthy winner taking home 'Charlie' this year. Can't wait for what is promising to be a tight-to-the-end count.
Who should Carlton appoint as their next senior coach?
RC: That depends on whether they are serious about contemporary football thinking or want to go on searching for "big names" to perform magic. The fact is, the last 10 AFL premierships, and 16 of the last 17 have been won by coaches in their first AFL senior role. Two coaches who have shared five flags (Mark Thompson and Damien Hardwick) almost lost their jobs first and almost certainly would have at Carlton. If the Blues are fair dinkum about it this time, they'll back their process and get the NEXT great coach. And that means an Adam Kingsley, Blake Caracella, Daniel Giansiracusa or a Jaymie Graham, not someone who's already been through the wash.
JM: While I mostly agree with RoCo's comments, it should be noted that Carlton's last two coaches -- Brendon Bolton and David Teague -- were in their first senior coaching roles (yep, I'm not counting Bolton's five-game stint when he stepped in for Clarko at the Hawks) and look how they both turned out! I think the Blues need someone who knows what to expect and has experienced the pressure of coaching in the AFL, not someone who was given years and years to prove themself, and failed. I'd be getting on the phone to Michael Voss.
MW: Call me a dog with a bone, but until Alastair Clarkson is physically on a plane bound for Europe to 'learn things', then Carlton president Luke Sayers needs to be doing everything in his power -- even if it means escorting Clarkson to the airport with one last pitch -- to secure that signature. In terms of known quality out there, there's Clarkson, and then a massive gap, and then the rest, like Voss.
JB: It's clear they're after an experienced figure, and after president Sayers insisted the club expects to feature in finals next season, it all but rules out a first-timer (of which there could have been plenty worthy and in the running). They'll leave no stone unturned trying to beg Clarkson to change his mind, but I think they could do a lot worse than direct their attention towards Scott, if he doesn't take up the AFL's new footy operations boss job vacancy. This is a guy who took a mediocre Roos side to two prelims during his Arden Street tenure, and if he gets his hands on what I think is an extremely talented Carlton list, I have no doubt he can turn their fortunes around. Nathan Buckley, Don Pyke and Voss should also be high on their wish list.