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Get ready for a terrible six months, Carlton fans, and toxic Zorko can’t stay on as Lions captain


Just wow.

Surely not even the most optimistic of neutral supporters hoping for a thrilling end to the 2022 home-and-away season could have imagined it ending quite like that.

A one-point win from Collingwood – in the most sensational fashion – saw them jump into the top four and continue their unbelievable first season under Craig McRae; while for Carlton, having finished in the eight in every round this season but the one that mattered most, it’s devastation.

Even Sydney’s clash with St Kilda went down to the wire, as if we hadn’t been spoiled enough: going in thinking about the percentage gap to Melbourne, Swans fans by the end were just relieved to get away with a win to set up a mouth-watering qualifying final against the Dees at the MCG.

I’ve certainly saved the best one of these columns for last!

I’ll still be writing plenty on The Roar throughout the finals series, but this will be the last Six Points of season 2022.

It’s been incredibly fun unpacking all the action on and off the field on a Sunday night this year, and fulfilling one of those boyhood dreams and getting paid for writing about footy.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed – or at least somewhat tolerated – my ramblings these past 23 weeks. You’ve probably not agreed with everything I’ve written (remember when I said Nick Daicos was overhyped?) but hopefully it’s offered a perspective different from the usual stuff everyone else in the industry does.

It’s been a hell of a lot of fun, and I’d strongly encourage anyone with a passion for writing to reach out to us at The Roar for opportunities moving forward.

We’re on the lookout for new writers, editors, producers and everything in between, so feel free to get in touch at [email protected] if you’re keen to get involved.

In any case, on with the points for one last ride!

1. The wheel will turn, Blues fans

I’m not going to lie to you, Carlton fans – the next few months are going to be ROUGH.

I’ll spare the patronising, half-hearted consolations that I’ve seen floating around and tell it to you straight with this too – the Blues missing the finals, having spent 22 of 23 rounds inside the eight, and an eternity out of September, with a one-point loss to their most hated rivals, is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in all my years watching.

Granted, I had a stake in proceedings – my heart rate may never come down – but it would also be silly to think that there will be no Blues memes forthcoming in the next few days.

I would honestly place it second on my comedy tier list – and please note that James Hird getting the coaching job back at Essendon would blow that list to kingdom come – but still comfortably behind Richmond making the finals in 2013 after a 12-year absence and losing said final to a team that finished ninth.

That that team was the Blues underlines my point, though, and is the only consolation I can give to Blues fans at the moment: the wheel turns fast in footy.

It’s your turn on the bottom now, your turn to cop it from every other supporter base in the league. It’s going to be a tough slog. One of the enduring great things about footy, though, is taking the heat with good grace when it’s your team’s turn to be down, and gleefully piling back on when it’s someone else’s turn down there.

But reassure yourselves with this: you’ve got a young side on the rise, with all the talent in the world (I had a point written at three quarter time that Adam Cerra had earned every cent at the MCG today) and have had the sort of losses in the last fortnight that burn in the belly for a long time to come.

With yet more injuries – Sam Walsh a late withdrawal alongside the absences of George Hewett and Matt Kennedy in the midfield alone – it was an incredible performance to have that match all but sewn up, and that eight-goal third quarter was utterly breathtaking to behold.

Carlton’s return hasn’t come this year, but you better believe that the Blues’ time is fast approaching.

Remember this feeling, remember every rival who kicks you while you’re down, and prepare to have the ultimate schadenfreude whenever that worm turns.

Zac Williams and Adam Saad of the Blues look dejected as Jordan De Goey and Nick Daicos of the Magpies celebrate.

Zac Williams and Adam Saad of the Blues look dejected as Jordan De Goey and Nick Daicos of the Magpies celebrate. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

2. Dayne Zorko’s time as Brisbane captain is over

It doesn’t even matter what Dayne Zorko said to Harrison Petty that left the Melbourne defender in distress on Friday night, should the details ever be publicly revealed.

The cold, hard truth for Zorko is that his style of leadership, which had made him one of the AFL’s more broadly disliked players even before events at the Gabba, no longer suits the Brisbane team he captains.

Zorko’s performance in the Lions’ disastrous loss was an embarrassment. Issuing cheap shots all night, the most obvious putting Ed Langdon in a headlock after the winger mowed him down in a tackle, his Petty confrontation has distracted from an all-round horrifically misguided crusade to try and intimidate the Demons from the first bounce.

The antics did get the occasional rise out of the Demons – Jack Viney unnecessarily giving away a free kick by throwing Lachie Neale over the boundary line in the first term, for instance – but with the Lions regularly more intent to play the man rather than the ball, the tactics were doomed to failure.

That rests on Zorko, and whatever other leaders at the Lions thought that was the way to approach it. Not since that night in 2019 when Ken Hinkley gave his Port Adelaide players free reign to ‘terrorise’ Lachie Neale at the beginning of a humiliating loss has a ploy to act tough instead made a team look so much like gooses.

The skipper acted the same way during last week’s win over St Kilda, that was far closer-run than it ever should have been.

The result is that Zorko, a five-time best and fairest winner who took over as captain in tumultuous circumstances during 2018, and deserves to be remembered as a Lions and AFL great, has had his standing in the game permanently tarnished.

His aggressive, prickly on-field demeanour was well suited to a young side near the bottom, defending a crop of young players ripe to be knocked about and showing them that they couldn’t just sit back and be walked over. Hawthorn people still give Richie Vandenberg, a similar type of captain, plenty of credit for fostering the Hawks’ culture in the early days under Alastair Clarkson, that culminated in four premierships.

Now, though, Zorko’s ‘leadership’ is holding the Lions back. A team with all the talent in the world trying to follow in his stead and act like faux macho dickheads is beneath them. Maybe it took an embarrassment like against the Demons to get them to realise it.

It’s time for him to step back from the official role, becoming just another player in the Lions’ set-up, and hand the leadership over to Harris Andrews, Hugh McCluggage, and the rest of the team’s stars now in their prime.

It’s their team, not Zorko’s, anymore.

Dayne Zorko and his Lions team mates look dejected after losing

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

3. Speaking of skippers… time for Hawks to find one

Ben McEvoy’s retirement leaves Hawthorn, for the fourth time in six years since Luke Hodge stepped down, on the lookout for a new captain.

Two-year appointments were the order of the day at the Hawks in the latter years of Alastair Clarkson; first Jarryd Roughead in 2017-18, then Ben Stratton from 2019-20, and McEvoy since.

All were on the wrong side of 30 when they started out, and all went through injuries and long periods of unavailability while in charge – McEvoy this year had his long stint on the sidelines with a brutal neck injury.

The positive for that is it has given James Sicily, among a group of other younger Hawks, the chance to step up and take on a leadership role in 2022. And it’s to them where the Hawks should turn now.

I’m not sure whether Clarkson’s thinking behind his captaincy appointments was to reward a string of his three-time premiership heroes at the back end of their careers, but I can’t help thinking they missed a trick to invest in a long-term captain to take the club on a new path forward.

With McEvoy retired and Liam Shiels now only a fringe selection, the list of premiership players still on the Hawks’ list has now thinned even further. This is a different team, and warrants a different leader.

Sicily has been a captain in waiting for a while now. Say what you will about his antics – his hot head has noticeably cooled in recent years – but he’s an on-field general from defence, is probably the Hawks’ best player, and at 27, is both experienced enough to take on the job and young enough to have a solid half-decade in charge at least.

With an incredible 33 disposals and 17 marks against the Western Bulldogs – 23 and 13 in the first half alone – Sicily was magnificent against the Western Bulldogs, almost single-handedly keeping the Hawks in the game despite a gigantic 71-39 inside 50s differential

He’s matured exceptionally from the divisive figure he was in his youth, and is now ready in waiting to be an AFL captain.

If there is any sort of lure to give the job to Jack Gunston or Luke Breust, it ought to be resisted. It’s Sicily’s time to be the man.

James Sicily of the Hawks runs with the ball

(Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

4. The Saints’ recruiting drive was absolutely worth it

It’s never a good idea to disagree with Nick Riewoldt about his beloved St Kilda – but I’m not sure his urging of St Kilda to ‘cut and cut hard’ this off-season is the right move.

The Saints’ bold recruiting drive across 2018 and 2019 was always going to bring intense scrutiny, whether it succeeded or failed. Having missed finals in consecutive years, and entrenched in the mid-table mediocrity that ended up ruining Alan Richardson, it would be easy to paint the ploy as a failure.

In those two years, the Saints acquired, along with a bunch of fringe backup options like Dean Kent and Tom Campbell: Dan Hannebery, Paddy Ryder, Dougal Howard, Dan Butler, Zak Jones and Jack Higgins.

Most have been varying degrees of disappointing, with Hannebery’s move one of the most derided in AFL list management history the most egregious.

But Butler was good enough in 2020, the Saints’ first full year under Brett Ratten, to be on the cusp of All-Australian selection. Dougal Howard is the number one key defender the Saints had been crying out for since (hear me out) Zac Dawson. Paddy Ryder’s influence on this team in his three years at Moorabbin speaks for itself.

Trading in players en masse from other clubs has worked pretty well for Geelong, who have the advantage over the Saints of having been a destination club for a decade, bringing with it the clout to recruit the Patrick Dangerfields and Jeremy Camerons of the AFL rather than having to quasi-Moneyball through lesser-quality options.

Remember as well that the Saints, under Richardson, went for a full rebuild starting in 2014, got as high as the cusp of the finals in 2016 and 2017… and then the bottom fell out.

That’s the strategy Riewoldt is recommending – invest in youth, stockpile draft picks, trade out experienced players, and start from the ground up. It’s a play that didn’t work for the Saints when they tried it before – or Melbourne, or Carlton, or North Melbourne, or numerous other clubs that have gone down the ‘play the kids’ road.

Ryder and Hannebery are gone, and Butler may never again be the player he was in 2020; but Howard should be there for years to come, Higgins was in All-Australian contention up to about Round 7 this year, and Jones’ best is undoubtedly an asset moving forward.

Put simply, it’s no time for the Saints to panic. Their best was good enough to beat Geelong, Richmond, Fremantle in Perth and Carlton this year. Not much needs to go differently in 2023 for this side to be at least a finals contender.

And at the same time, all tearing the joint up in the off-season will guarantee is the need to start from ground zero next year.

The footy industry can be overly focussed on results rather than anything deeper: in many cases, if a team does something against conventional wisdom and it doesn’t bring major success, it was a disaster.

But just because the long line of trades hasn’t produced the spectacular results the Saints would have been hoping for, doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth a crack at the time, and worth sticking with moving forward.

Zak Jones of the Saints celebrates a goal.

Zak Jones of the Saints celebrates a goal.

5. Greater nuance needed from all on coach head-hunting

I don’t think there was any party out of Essendon’s last-minute push to sign Alastair Clarkson – the club or the media reporting on it – that came out of this week looking good.

The haste with which some sections of the media raced to the conclusion that weeks of negotiation from North Melbourne could be superseded by a rushed last-minute push by a ‘big’ Victorian club that had a powerful board member talking smack about it on Adelaide radio, and the confidence with which they falsely claimed that talks had been ongoing for weeks, was bewildering at times.

But for now, let’s focus on the Bombers’ role in all of this, and specifically how they treated Rutten.

“If the best coach in the past 20 years is out there, I would be derelict in my duty to not go and talk to him,” president David Barham said in a car-crash press conference on Friday.

“If I don’t go and see him, what do you think the members would think of me?”

The Bombers completely stuffed up their pursuit of Clarkson – they left it far too late, made themselves look a rabble off-field by ousting president Paul Brasher to try and get the ball rolling, and left Ben Rutten (who, by the way, could not have come out of this week from hell with more dignity) in the lurch.

But would things have been any better for Rutten had the Bombers been making moves behind his back for weeks and months in negotiations with Clarkson, as Fremantle had done with Ross Lyon a decade ago?

Probably not – the Dockers were widely panned for backstabbing Mark Harvey in that coaching coup, Lyon blasted for reneging on St Kilda, and it took a couple of years for everyone to realise that the brutal move was the best one Freo ever made.

And that was without the story coming public until Lyon was officially Dockers-bound. Imagine how the media would have reacted to a story that Essendon, with Rutten still contracted until the end of 2023, was courting Alastair Clarkson mid-season.

I have no doubt that the desire to avoid said intense scrutiny played a part in the Bombers not making a serious move for Clarkson until it was far too late. There was clearly a desire from figures at the club to go after him – it just took the panic generated by an 84-point loss to Port Adelaide to break the camel’s back.

It’s here where we, from fans to the media to clubs, need to decide where we stand on ruthless coaching moves, professionally or shambolically handled.

Can we blast the way the Bombers conducted themselves over the past week, while also acknowledging that, fundamentally, wanting a four-time premiership coach at the helm of your club is a perfectly reasonable thing to want?

Maybe, if we were able to have greater nuance and maturity about these things, the Bombers would have gone harder at Clarkson earlier. At the very least, we wouldn’t have had a situation where Rutten was blindsided by his own club, and thrust into the middle of situation where the only possible ending was his ousting as coach.

We see the same sort of attitude in player movement. Unlike in, say, the NRL, where players represent their clubs with full public knowledge that they’ve been contracted to another team for the next season, in the AFL everybody puts off announcing a move until after the season has concluded, knowing that to do so would mean an instant ‘don’t come Monday’.

The Bombers completely botched their Clarkson gambit, in every imaginable way. But in a brutal business, it might be time to re-evaluate where we all stand on clubs making that sort of move in the first place.

(Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

6. Clarko has a hell of a job ahead of him

Kane Cornes’ negativity can get in the bin – North Melbourne people and fans had every right to celebrate when Alastair Clarkson chose them to continue his coaching career.

How often does a club at arguably its lowest ebb have not just one of the most successful men in VFL/AFL history give you the ultimate vote of confidence, all the while sinking the boot into your biggest rival?

That being said, the Roos were dismal against Gold Coast on Saturday. Maybe my expectations were too high, but clearly the boost Clarko’s arrival gave fans didn’t extend to the playing group.

North have enough bare bones for Clarkson to get stuck into: Nick Larkey and Cameron Zurhaar form the heart of the forward line, Jy Simpkin and Luke Davies-Uniacke are a dynamic midfield pairing, and Ben McKay could be the equal of his brother at the other end of the ground.

The issues are everywhere else: system, team defence, disposal, stoppage set-ups, the list goes on. No wonder Clarkson came prepared with a hit list of support staff he wants to bring to the club.

Hopefully North are smart enough, and the rest of the footy world intelligent enough, to realise that while getting Clarkson is a dream result, this is still a long-term rebuild. He’ll need every minute of the next five years to get this club back into finals contention – and that’s most likely a best-case scenario.

So celebrate now, Roos fans and Sonja Hood – but when pre-season starts in a few weeks’ time, get ready. Because it’s going to be your most important summer in quite some time.

Alastair Clarkson poses for a photo.

Alastair Clarkson poses for a photo after being announced as North Melbourne coach. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Random thoughts

– I don’t think I’ve ever seen a performance from a key defender better than Sam Taylor’s on Sunday. He simply must be the All-Australian centre-half back.

– RIP the North Melbourne long-sleeve jumper (1925-2022).

– Congratulations to Luke Darcy for having the dumbest footy take I have ever heard.

– Can only assume Patrick Dangerfield is FURIOUS at being overlooked as a NAB Mini Legend again.

– Genuinely never felt older than watching Michael Hurley chaired off the ground, with full memory of the game he kicked four against Hawthorn to get the Bombers into finals. 13 years went by in a flash.

– The best recruit of the year is a no contest now, right?

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