A big year: Selwood’s fairytale, Buddy’s 1000th, a betting scandal and racism to the fore

WORD OF THE YEAR

Racism: In between Heritier Lumumba’s feud with Collingwood, the fall-out from Adelaide’s infamous camp to the bombshell reports over Hawthorn in grand final week, the issue of racism was never far away.

Lumumba’s public stoush with the Magpies is over – but there was no happy ending. In fact, the 2010 premiership defender went out with a bang. Not only did he cut ties with the club dissatisfied with their handling of the Do Better report into historical racism at Collingwood, he made allegations an assistant coach had used a pornographic image during a team meeting. He even released to social media audio of private conversations he had with former coach Nathan Buckley.

Later in the year, Eddie Betts’ startling revelations in his autobiography The Boy from Boomerang Crescent of Adelaide’s “cult-like” camp in 2018 shocked the football world, and raised pressure on Crows director Mark Ricciuto and former coach Don Pyke. The Crows and the AFL belatedly apologised.

The season finished with the explosive allegations of mistreatment of First Nations players at Hawthorn by Alastair Clarkson and Chris Fagan, who have both denied wrongdoing.

There were claims made in an external Hawks review, and published by the ABC in grand final week, that Indigenous players were told to live away from their families, and one player and his partner were told to abort a pregnancy.

Clarkson, Fagan – the North Melbourne and Brisbane coaches respectively – and several past players and families have agreed to take part in the AFL’s independent inquiry into incidents at Hawthorn between 2008-16.

The issue is likely to drag well into the 2023 season.

Joel Selwood and Chris Scott celebrate the Cats’ premiership success.Credit:Scott Barbour

THE WINNERS

Chris Scott and Geelong: Already a premiership coach, Chris Scott had a remarkably high number of critics for a man who went into the season with a near 72 per cent winning record. The knockers are silent now after Scott led a Cats side that was supposedly too old and too slow to a dominant grand final victory. Armed with a more attacking game plan, the Cats peeled off 16 wins in a row – the 10th highest winning sequence of all time – by an average margin of nearly seven goals. An honourable mention for Collingwood coach Craig McRae for taking his thriller kings Magpies to within a whisker of a grand final in his first season in charge.

Lance Franklin.Credit:AFL Photos

Lance Franklin: The man they call Buddy delivered arguably the most memorable moment of the year, creating history by becoming only the sixth player in VFL/AFL history to kick 1000 goals. There was bedlam at the SCG on March 25 as thousands of fans stormed the arena to mark the landmark moment – one which may never be repeated.

Adelaide, Melbourne: The Crows stamped themselves as the early powerhouse of the women’s league with their third grand final win in six seasons, coming in what would turn out to be Erin Phillips’ final game for the club. The Dees recovered from their loss to go one better in season seven, defeating Brisbane to give Daisy Pearce what had been an elusive flag.

The fans: For the first time since the pandemic, unrestricted crowds were allowed back to the footy. And though punters were more astute with the games they attended, the players delivered with one of the best seasons of the modern era.

THE LOSERS

Coaches: It was not a good year for senior coaches, with four – Leon Cameron, David Noble, Ben Rutten and Brett Ratten – losing their jobs. Greater Western Sydney cut ties the classy way, giving long-time coach Cameron a dignified exit in front of their home fans, but Noble, Rutten and Ratten departed in ignominy. Noble’s position became untenable after 10 defeats by 50 points or more in 15 games and fears of a mass player exodus if he stayed. Rutten’s fate was effectively sealed by a soulless 84-point loss to Port Adelaide though it was not until a week later that he was humiliatingly punted after an unsuccessful, and public, courtship of Clarkson. The most brutal axing came after trade week when Ratten was sensationally sacked, the victim of a football department review after a poor finish to the season.

West Coast: The self-anointed kings of the big game bombed spectacularly, narrowly avoiding the wooden spoon in their race to the bottom with North Melbourne. Whether the Eagles see it as the continuation of a downward trend or an aberration brought on by COVID will determine how long they take to climb up the ladder.

CONTROVERSY CORNER

The game’s most prestigious individual honour, the Brownlow Medal, became the subject of a betting scandal after a Victoria Police investigation detected suspicious round-by-round betting activity in the 2022 count. Umpire Michael Pell was one of four men arrested last month after irregularities appeared in 10 of the games he officiated in.

The crackdown on dissent caused a storm early but petered out by season’s end. There was the usual bad behaviour off the field, headlined by Jordan De Goey, Bailey Smith and Steven May all falling foul of authorities.

North Melbourne were rocked by Jason Horne-Francis’ defection to Port Adelaide after just one, albeit unhappy, season at Arden Street. Speculation over the No.1 draft pick’s future started after a heavy loss in round three, but the expectation was he would at least see out his contract.

MAN OF THE YEAR

There are few fairytale finishes in football, but Joel Selwood enjoyed close to the perfect farewell. In his 355th and last appearance in the hoops, the Cats champion lifted the premiership cup on the dais after a one-sided grand final in which he starred. Only a Norm Smith Medal would have topped his day off.

Daisy Pearce celebrates after Melbourne’s grand final triumph.Credit:Getty Images

WOMAN OF THE YEAR

Daisy Pearce’s long wait for an AFLW premiership is over. The face of the women’s competition, 34-year-old Pearce tasted the ultimate with her beloved Demons, having come so close earlier in the year. A long career in the commentary or coaches box awaits but Pearce is undecided on her playing future.

QUOTE OF THE YEAR

“I said to the players, I feel we are eight rounds in and it’s eight dates into a relationship, if you like. [Richmond] are more like married with three kids.” – first-season Collingwood coach Craig McRae after a 27-point loss to Richmond in round eight. McRae and his players did not take things slowly from here.

CRYSTAL BALL

The Cats will start 2023 as the flag favourites but there’s no shortage of challengers lining up. Melbourne remain in the premiership window, so too Brisbane, who have possibly four ready-made players to walk into their preliminary final team. Beyond that, Richmond have strengthened their midfield, Sydney’s young list should only improve and Carlton appear the team most likely from outside the eight to contend. Off the field, AFL chief Gillon McLachlan is expected to finally step aside in April though the delay may indicate the league has no successor in mind. With an in principle agreement in place, an announcement should come on Tasmania’s bid to be the 19th club.

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