Footy Prediction: 1997 revisited?

 

by Sam Steele

 

 

It was all set to be the year when one of the AFL’s Cinderellas finally went to the ball.  That was until the heartless, tradition-less Adelaide Crows crashed the party, three times in three weeks.  Is history about to repeat?

 

In the extraordinary 1997 season, St Kilda, Geelong and the Western Bulldogs occupied the top three spots on the AFL ladder.  Despite a collective premiership drought of 108 years, these teams entered September with the apparent assurance that they at least had the ’97 flag between the three of them.

 

But in one of the great modern-day sporting heists, the Crows wore down the Cats in a semi-final, capitalized on a Greg Norman-like performance from the Bulldogs to steal the Preliminary Final and destroyed the Saints on Grand Final day, led by Macleod, Jarman and the unlikely hero, Shane Ellen.  For Victorian footy traditionalists, it was a gut-wrenching finals series.

 

As the 2009 finals approach, the ladder is taking on an eerie similarity to 1997.  The Saints, by virtue of Sunday’s dramatic win, are clear on top from Geelong, with the Bulldogs in third spot.  The Crows currently lie fifth but could move to fourth this weekend.  On current form they’ll be hard to shift from there.

 

So could they do it again and destroy the hopes of the three Victorian battlers-made- good? 

 

Objectively, you’d say almost certainly not.  In 1997, there were no real standout teams. The Saints topped the ladder with 15 wins and the Crows finished fourth with 13.  It didn’t take much of a form surge to narrow that gap, especially when the Saints lost two key ruckmen – Everett and Vidovic – and an important running defender, Joel Smith, in the weeks leading up to the Grand Final.  Geelong was a solid defensive team but had little in attack, following the recent retirements of Ablett and Brownless.  And the Dogs – all bluff and feistiness under new coach Terry Wallace – were defensively suspect and ultimately shown to be riddled with self-doubt.  The Crows, their conditioning timed to perfection (courtesy of one Neil Craig), played a flawless, nerveless finals campaign.

 

By contrast, in 2009, the Cats have well and truly shaken off the Cinderella tag, with the 2007 Flag breaking their long run of near misses and their record of 55 wins from their last 59 games one of the most sustained periods of excellence in the competition’s history.  The Saints, at 14-0 and having beaten Geelong in one of the best games of all time, are clearly stronger in all facets of the game than their 1997 counterparts.  Likewise the Bulldogs are now a genuinely classy team that appears to be moving to a new level of brilliance and robustness at just the right time.  With such outstanding levels of performance, it’s almost impossible to contemplate that the Premiership might not be won by one of these teams.

 

And what of the 2009 Crows?  It was only a couple of months ago that they were being pilloried by all and sundry as a dour, boring side, with their ageing stars in decline and none of the younger players ready to take their places.  Their recent form has caused a few hasty reassessments, but even now, the risk, as in 1997, is that we may still be under-estimating their capabilities.  Hawthorn proved only last year how quickly a talented, hungry young team, laced with a handful of experienced and rejuvenated stars, can peak.

 

The wildcard that may cause this scenario to come true is the pressure of expectation.  No matter that the modern AFL is thoroughly professional and players and coaches alike will profess only to focussing on the task in hand, I believe the history and culture of footy clubs are still crucial factors.  The Saints and Bulldogs will find the burden of their respective Premiership droughts particularly oppressive during the finals, whilst the Cats may yet encounter their own millstone in the form of reminders of last year’s “certain” flag that got away. 

 

The Crows, as in 1997, will feel none of this.  Their tradition, such as it is, is one of consistent high performance.  Having started 2009 with an unusually low level of expectation, if they finish fourth, they will enter the finals with the freedom of knowing that they have already silenced their doubters and that anything more will be a bonus.  Moreover, they will know that, notwithstanding the imminent retirements of Macleod, Goodwin and Edwards, their list is very much on the rise.  If they don’t repeat 1997 in 2009, they’ll be very confident about the years ahead.  It’s a good position to be in.

About Sam Steele

Stainless (aka Sam Steele) started following Richmond in 1970 when he was 6. This occurred when his mother, under instructions to buy him a Melbourne jumper, found they were out of stock and purchased a Richmond one instead. Despite the decades of heartache and turmoil this fateful decision has brought on Stainless, he is grateful to his mum as he has at least seen his side win a couple of Premierships.

Comments

  1. You hit the nail on the head there, I would not be surprised at all if it was an Adelaide Crows V Collingwood final. Geelong seem to be on the way out, all the hype and pressure on the Saints maybe too much and the Bullies can’t really cut finals either. Should be a very interesting and hard to predict finals series in 2009 :)

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