So close, yet so far away for long-suffering Melbourne Demons' fans
It is 56 years since Melbourne last tasted premiership success and if you believe coach Simon Goodwin, the Demons are not far away from that elusive flag.
This year the Demons took their long-suffering supporters on another roller-coaster ride that ultimately stopped short of their desired destination.
Until late on Sunday, a hopeful Melbourne was clinging desperately to a return to the finals before the Western Bulldogs sealed their place in the eight with a gritty win over Fremantle. The Demons finished a game behind the Bulldogs with nine wins, but of those victories only two were against top-eight teams.
Two years ago Melbourne's future seemed bright as the club reached the preliminary final, only to be thrashed by eventual premier West Coast.
Last season was a disaster as the Demons slipped to 17th. With 13 players having major operations at the end of 2018, they started badly and never recovered.
With new highly-credentialed performance manager Darren Burgess in charge, the Demons' fitness has improved and there have been other positives. Steven May is a likely All-Australian and fellow key defender Jake Lever has justified Melbourne's faith and patience after tearing the ACL in his left knee in his first season in 2018. Christian Petracca has become a match-winner, who is likely to win his first best and fairest award. But there are gaping holes, particularly in attack where Tom McDonald is out of favour and Sam Weideman's progress has stalled.
In reality, the Demons are back to where they started in Goodwin's first season at the helm in 2017 - in ninth place.
Giant step back
When the AFL gave its 18th licence to Greater Western Sydney and provided the new club with primary access in the draft to the country's elite young footballers, there were fears among rival clubs that the league had created a monster that would dominate the competition for the next decade.
But in its ninth season, the much-vaunted Giants remain without silverware to show for their efforts, despite having achieved much more than the league's other expansion club the Gold Coast. While the Giants showed unshakeable faith in coach Leon Cameron's methods by re-signing him earlier this month for another two seasons, serious questions linger about their game style, work-rate and structure.
Brett Deledio, who played his final three seasons with GWS before retiring last year, questioned recently if the Giants have a team-first mentality and commitment required to take them to a flag, saying: "it is a bunch of 22 individuals against a collective team".
After their 2020 campaign ended meekly at the hands of a resurgent St Kilda last week, a frustrated Cameron battled for an answer in the post-match media conference when asked about the effects of their capitulation to Richmond in last year's grand final.
Injuries late in the season to experienced duo Callan Ward and Phil Davis hurt their campaign this season, but missing out on playing in a fifth consecutive finals series represents a major disappointment.
Since their formation, the Giants have struggled to hold on to all of their elite talent and this trend appears set to continue. Last year's Coleman medallist Jeremy Cameron remains out of contract and dashing half-back Zac Williams has been linked to several Victorian-based clubs.
Their best chance of snaring a premiership was in 2016, earning a home preliminary final but ultimately blowing a golden opportunity against a hardworking Western Bulldogs outfit that went on to win a drought-breaking premiership the following week. That seems an eternity away as they seek to recover lost ground in 2021.
Allow fans to farewell stars
The final home and away round marked the farewells of several outstanding players and their exit from the game was handled with plenty of dignity and respect.
Carlton warrior Kade Simpson, Blues ruckman Matthew Kreuzer, Hawthorn skipper Ben Stratton, fellow Hawks' triple premiership player Paul Puopolo, Essendon ruckman Tom Bellchambers and his senior coach John Worsfold were sent off with guards of honour last weekend.
Retiring players go around in a motorcade at the grand final, but as their farewell games were not in Melbourne and the premiership decider will not be at the MCG this season, clubs should allow their fans to pay tribute to them at their respective first home games next year.
Question of the week
Peter Robinson, of Sandy Bay, Tasmania, asks: Who should be Australia's next Test captain when Tim Paine retires?
I'm not sure anyone at Cricket Australia knows the answer to that question. Paine, who turns 36 in December, has done an excellent job since taking over in difficult circumstances from Steve Smith, but there does not appear to be a clear successor. Aaron Finch leads Australia in the shortened form of the game but is not in the Test team. Pat Cummins, 27, is a vice-captain to Paine and considered an option, but his leadership credentials are untested - he does not even captain his state NSW. It is a lot to ask of a fast bowler, or any bowler for that matter, to be a Test captain.
- Supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.