Your AFL club’s Christmas wish list
It's Christmas and it's not just the naughty and nice kids making a list and checking it twice.
It doesn't matter where your team finished on the ladder this year or which players your side brought in via the draft, free agency or trade windows, fans of the 18 AFL clubs are already looking to 2019 with a nervous mix of anticipation and anxiety.
So what's the wishlist agenda for your club for next season, and importantly, how realistic are those wishes? GLENN MCFARLANE plays Santa for your club
■ GIFT: Another miserable Carlton season.
It was the draft swap that had everyone talking, and will have Crows fans following the Blues almost as much as their own team in 2019. Carlton gave up their first-round pick for 2019 in return for the Crows' pick 19 this year and their first-round selection next year. It used pick 19 on Sandringham's Liam Stocker, whom the club has great faith in. But if the Blues finish last next year, the deal could hand Adelaide access to best young player in the land. Any wonder they won't be wishing the Blues well.
■ GIFT: The long-awaited final green light on a new state-of-the-art training base.
This has been a project almost a decade in the making, and has involved many different venues and plenty of stalled opportunities. Now, the Lions have settled on a new base at Springfield in the city's west, with a $70 million proposal for a training and administrative base, as well as stadium for potential AFLW games. It ain't locked away just yet, as the Lions are still seeking some last-minute funding requirements, but it needs to happen soon rather than later for the sake of the players - and the club.
■ GIFT: Liam Stocker makes an immediate impact in his debut season and Sam Walsh becomes the star Patrick Dangerfield predicts he will be.
It seems crazy to put too much pressure on two teenagers, but it would be a good thing for the Blues if No.1 pick Walsh and No.19 pick Stocker can have solid seasons next year. It won't surprise if Walsh does that. But the external scrutiny on Stocker will be intense, given what the Blues potentially gave up for him. If he can show some early promise, it might also show the faithful why the Blues were prepared to trade away their 2019 first-rounder for the talented young midfielder. We wish him well.
■ GIFT: The Mason Cox we saw in the preliminary final turns out to be the Mason Cox of 2019.
The Collingwood big man produced one of the best individual performances of the season, and was almost unstoppable against the Tigers in the preliminary final. He set a benchmark from which football fans will forever judge him. His states of eight contested marks and three goals that night don't do his dominance justice. If he can keep that momentum up, and he showed signs of that in the second half of the Grand Final, Cox could be one of Collingwood's most important - and potent - weapons.
■ GIFT: Joe Daniher makes a strong return from groin issues - and his left foot finds its true range.
When the star Bomber forward succumbed to a nagging groin injury after Round 7, and with his team already flagging, it looked as if Essendon's season was about to go from bad to even worse. Against the odds, the Bombers fought back - sans Daniher - in the second half of the season. But image if John Worsfold can get Daniher fit and firing again, and he can finally find his range with his goalkicking. That might be the difference between Essendon being a finals hope and a legitimate flag contender.
■ GIFT: We get to see the best of Jesse Hogan.
So many things have gone wrong for Jesse Hogan on and off the field in recent seasons that it seems unfair to judge what he has brought to the table, which admittedly has still been more than solid. He's kicked more than 40 goals in three of his four AFL seasons. But with a move back home closer to his family in Perth, and with Fremantle desperate for a forward capable of hitting the scoreboard, this might be the career awakening that sees Hogan go from very good player to superstar.
■ GIFT: We finally start to feel a pulse.
The Gold Coast rebuild is on, and this one might be the one that makes or breaks this football club. With their two 2018 captains gone, and with Stuart Dew looking to the draft as a panacea for the future, the Suns need to stick fat through what is certain to be a challenging season with likely very few wins, given the amount of players they have lost in recent years. With Tasmania desperate to keep chasing a stand-alone side, the pressure will be on Gold Coast to start showing some viability - and soon.
■ GIFT: To show us time isn't running out.
Patrick Dangerfield is nothing if not one of the most honest of media performers. He showed it again when he conceded that time was running out for him to achieve the dream of playing in a premiership. He's 28, and the Cats keep coming up short in September. It's a question that could be answered next year, with fans desperate to see the club's younger players and lesser lights take the next step. If they do, a tilt at another flag remains feasible, and Danger's dream lives on.
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY
■ GIFT: Secure Josh Kelly's signature by Round 1.
North Melbourne is coming, so the longer that star midfielder Josh Kelly remains unsigned for 2020, the greater the speculation that he is movable when he comes out of contract. The Kangaroos have long courted Kelly - whose dad played with the club - and he narrowly chose to knock back their lucrative offer in late 2017. So the Giants have to convince him - as well as Stephen Coniglio - that the club's salary cap squeezing out of star players has to stop. GWS need Kelly to sign on the dotted line.
■ GIFT: Tom Scully has a miracle recovery.
If that happens, the Hawks might have scored one of the all-time trade bargains. The Giants were prepared to trade Scully, who was keen to come home to Victoria, because their medical assessment was that he would struggle to make an impact, given his career-threatening ankle injury. The trade for a future fourth round pick seemed unfathomable given his playing record. It was an educated gamble by the Hawks, who won't lose out much if Scully's ankle fails him. But if he and the Hawks medical staff can work out the issues, the Giants will have gifted up a very good player for peanuts.
■ GIFT: Grasps its 'carpe diem' moment whenever it presents itself.
Simon Goodwin's team did so much right last year, yet some people still question how they crashed out of the finals in the worst possible manner to eventual premier West Coast in the preliminary final. Given the Demons have recruited well - most notably with Steven May - and given their list profiles like a premiership side, you can expect them to be contenders again. But we might have to wait until the penultimate weekend - or even Grand Final weekend - to see if they can actually 'seize the day'.
■ GIFT: Ben Jacobs has a full season next year.
It might surprise some people - but no one from Arden Street - that hardworking and popular tagger Ben Jacobs is considered the Kangaroos' barometer. After foot injuries cruelled his 2016-17 seasons, Jacobs gave a timely reminder of his importance in the opening 12 games of this year. In the process, he shut out stars such as Dustin Martin, Tom Mitchell and Patrick Cripps. But the after-effects of a concussion meant he managed only one further game in 2018. His issues though were later revealed to be serious sinus condition which has been rectified with surgery. If he can get back to his best, Jacobs will be crucial for the improving Roos next year.
■ GIFT: The Kochie and Kenny show stays on track.
It's not quite Kennett and Clarko, but it runs a close second in the most intriguing of chairman and coach AFL relationships. The David Koch-Ken Hinkley union was tested when the Power's season shutdown in spectacular fashion, though the chairman said late in the year he was "extremely comfortable" with the coach. But if Port Adelaide continues to tease us as a team and falls short of the finals again, it might add further strain, even though Hinkley's deal runs through until the 2021 season.
■ GIFT: Tom Lynch slots into the forward line and doesn't upset the apple cart.
The Tigers have every right to think that the premiership the fans thought may have been theirs this year might have just been delayed a season. After all, they have just picked up a player considered to be one of the best power forwards in the game. Tom Lynch promises to be a star, if his knee issues don't cause any further concern. If he can slot into the Tigers' attack without causing too many structural issues, albeit with some minor tinkering, Richmond will be the team to beat in 2019.
■ GIFT: Win the Round 1 clash with Gold Coast.
It's fair to say the Saints' opening round clash with the Suns at Marvel Stadium is the club's most important game since … well, the last time they played Gold Coast. On that occasion, back in Round 13 at Metricon, only a Jade Gresham snapped goal inside the final minute stood between a two-point victory and the blow torch being turned on the club and coach Alan Richardson. The pressure this time around will be even worse. Lose to the under-resourced Suns in Round 1, and all hell could break loose for the Saints.
■ GIFT: Buddy lifts the regenerating Swans to another finals series.
Sydney just plays finals. With a few exceptions, that's been a given for the club throughout this century. It has to change at some stage, and the Swans are attempting to reshape their list next year with an emphasis on youth. Buddy Franklin is coming off an interrupted preseason, after undergoing groin surgery, and won't be back into full training until January. Still, he has kicked 45 goals or more in his past 12 seasons. If he can do that again, the Swans might make it through to another finals series.
■ GIFT: Tom Hickey can provide the ruck stopgap option until Nic Naitanui returns.
First, the good news. Nic Naitanui is progressing well in his comeback from his knee reconstruction. He expects to be back in the senior side by Round 15. Now, the vexed question. Can the Eagles' new recruit, former Saint Tom Hickey, raise his game to a new level and help lead the Eagles' ruck stocks alongside Nathan Vardy, given Scott Lycett left for Port Adelaide. It's a big challenge for him. And it might be crucial for the reigning premiers in the first half of the year.
■ GIFT: The Bont re-establishes himself as one of the AFL's top five players.
Marcus Bontempelli is a star - no one doubts that. But it's not being blasphemous to suggest he wasn't as dominant in 2018 as he has been. Yes, he still finished third in the club best and fairest, but his impact was a little dulled by issues with his "banged up" body - plus an appendix removal - which he refuses to cite as an excuse. He's only 23, and eager to reassert himself. Given an even run with injuries, he will hit back hard in 2019, and he might be the spark the Bulldogs need in 2019.