DALE Morris's return to football on Sunday was a story of many layers. 

It had chapters on mindpower, medical defiance and one of potential sporting fairytale as the 36-year-old, one of the top shelf AFL good guys, found himself back at the highest level after damaging an ACL in the pre-season.

But the storyline with which it ended on Sunday at Marvel Stadium against Fremantle was a career-ending one for Morris as well as a cautionary one – for Richmond's Alex Rance who, like Morris, has spent the past four months immersed in the most unlikely of comebacks from a torn ACL. 

Rance broke down in round one this year, but immediately set himself the Morris-type impossible 2019 season return.

The stakes are actually higher for Rance, the All Australian full-back for the past five seasons. Rance is seven years younger than Morris. Breaking down with an ACL twice in the same season would be even more catastrophic for him. 

The fairytale musings of Richmond's champion defender bursting back into the team for a preliminary final and then Grand Final have never married up with the reality. Morris is proof. 

On a lesser, yet still very problematic, injury note, Richmond captain Trent Cotchin surely won't be seen again until the first week of finals. Having already missed eight games this season because of that condition, Cotchin broke down early on Friday night against Collingwood. 

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While Richmond has been able to manage an at-times horrendous injury list (Rance, Cotchin, Toby Nankervis, Jack Riewoldt) in 2019, Collingwood hasn't.

And because of player unavailability, the Pies are now on the brink of losing touch with a second consecutive Grand Final appearance.

Jordan De Goey is the latest to succumb to a soft tissue injury, a hamstring complaint suffered Friday night against Richmond sidelining him possibly until the first week of finals. 

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Darcy Moore, Dayne Beams, Taylor Adams, Tom Langdon, Ben Reid, Daniel Wells and Levi Greenwood are the biggest Pies names out with injury. Then there's Jaidyn Stephenson's sidelining for wagering on matches.

The Pies' next two games are against the last and second-last teams on the ladder. Then follows Adelaide and Essendon. 

As far as match-ups go this season, it is as "easy" a final four games as any prospective finalist will face. It's just that coach Nathan Buckley may not have many more than 25 players on his list from which to choose a team. 

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Then there's Sam Murray...

As Swimming Australia spent Sunday dealing with an international public relations disaster, largely of its own doing in failing to properly publicly address a drugs issue involving one of its athletes, the day itself wouldn't have been lost on Collingwood officials.

July 28 was a year to the day that its player, Sam Murray, tested positive to a banned substance at the MCG.

Public transparency is never in play with sports organisations and ASADA matters. Never. Incredibly, the results of Murray's B sample have not been revealed publicly. Clearly, though, the B sample is the same as the A sample, for Murray has now effectively served one year of what could be a maximum four-year ban. 

His legal team has been trying to mitigate the length of his ban back to two years.

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Trust the process... or not

Two of the three clubs which have exited senior coaches this season had no initial intention of considering the men they employed in interim capacity for the permanent roles.

Carlton and North Melbourne appointed David Teague and Rhyce Shaw, respectively, as caretakers. Both are now well positioned to be given the major contracts. 

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Teague has miraculously taken the Blues to five wins from seven matches, the latest win a commanding one against finals contender Adelaide, and the two losses by a combined eight points. 

He has been able to elevate the effectiveness of virtually every player, and has had a career-changing effect on Jack Silvagni, Ed Curnow, Matthew Kennedy, Levi Casboult and even Marc Murphy.

From the outset, Carlton committed to a thorough process to find a new coach. While it is 100-1 in the eyes of most outsiders, it still feels it is a chance to wrench Alastair Clarkson out of Hawthorn. 

From the outset, North had only one plan – get rid of Brad Scott and then throw a heap of money it probably doesn't have at Clarkson, Adam Simpson and John Longmire. All three have said no. North now thinks it likes what it sees in Shaw despite not yet investing in proper psychological testing, and to this point can't convince a lot of the main candidates to properly engage in talks. 

North caretaker coach Rhyce Shaw stretches out at training. Picture: AFL Photos

Can't blame those candidates. The Roos' chief executive officer was out of the country in the weeks after Shaw was installed as caretaker, and the "process" North is telling those candidates it is undertaking is not appealing in any way.

Shaw is now 4-4, and has lost his past three, Saturday's defeat by West Coast the heaviest of his tenure.

At St Kilda, if Brett Ratten can conjure a third consecutive win next Saturday night against Adelaide at Adelaide Oval, after victories against Western Bulldogs in round 18 and last Saturday night against Melbourne, he too will be favourite to become permanent.

They're top three for a reason 

Geelong has had problems since the bye, West Coast has had issues with injury.

But as good teams do, the Cats and Eagles have weathered their issues to be beautifully placed after round 19. 

Geelong was challenged by Sydney at the SCG on Sunday, but won with calm authority. If it wins three of its final four games, it can't lose top place, and given its great percentage, might even have the luxury of only needing to go 2-2 to keep pole position.

West Coast started 3-3, but has gone 10-2 since. It is in a fascinating battle with Brisbane for the crucial second spot on the ladder.

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The Lions have won six in a row, their win against Hawthorn in Launceston on Saturday as impressive as any of this six, because it forced them to find a way against the odds. 

They've now beaten good teams at away venues in three of the past four weekends (GWS, Port Adelaide, Hawks). They are legitimate premiership contenders right now, and we'll know for sure after rounds 22 and 23, where Geelong and Richmond are the opponents. 

Twitter: @barrettdamian