IT'S THE season for regrets. Time for what-ifs and if-onlys.
Amid all the navel-gazing, AFL.com.au reporters nominate the three things your club will regret most from the 2018 home and away season.
Collective Mind's disastrous pre-season camp
The Crows were expected to challenge for the flag when they went to the Gold Coast at the end of January for a pre-season camp. The public will never fully know what went on, but it was bad enough to be labelled a failure by coach Don Pyke. The Crows parted ways with mind-training company Collective Mind midway through the season.
Bringing Taylor Walker back early from injury
Crows skipper Taylor Walker had three weeks off from rounds nine to 11 for a conditioning block after a pre-season foot injury, but was rushed back in round 12. He was finally sent for foot surgery in August when he was suspended for the last two games of the season. Walker's 1.9 goals per game was his lowest return since 2010.
Alice Springs annihilation setting up a critical losing streak
The Crows won six of their first nine games before their 91-point flogging at the hands of Melbourne in the Red Centre in round 10. It was the first of four straight losses, followed by defeats to Greater Western Sydney (16 points), Fremantle (three points) and Hawthorn (56 points). That left the Crows at 6-7 and put a terminal dent in their finals chances. - Lee Gaskin
Losing round one against St Kilda
The Saints were expected to push for finals, but even at the time this was a bad loss. The Lions butchered the ball so badly under the Etihad Stadium roof and gifted the opposition countless goals from the goalsquare. It was a game that got away. It was the start of an eight-match losing streak to start the season.
Dayne Zorko's behaviour towards Touk Miller – twice
Vice-captain at the time, Dayne Zorko's dismissal of a Touk Miller handshake moments after losing the round five QClash was bad sportsmanship. Just as poor was Zorko's – now captain – reaction after a round 22 win against the same opponent. The heat of the battle does funny things but even the 2017 All Australian said he was "embarrassed" by his own behaviour.
Losing five games by seven points or less was a big "what if" on the Lions' season. Allen Christensen had a snap in the dying seconds against Port Adelaide that would have won Brisbane the game but was marked on the goal-line. Cam Rayner missed a running shot from 50m on the siren to draw with Gold Coast and most notably missed a late set shot to win against North Melbourne. Not harm done in the big picture, but moments the Lions would rather have back. - Michael Whiting
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Not stopping the clock 11 minutes into the season
Carlton leads the reigning premiers 30-1. Barely anyone can believe what they're seeing. How the Blues might have liked to have stopped the year right there. In hindsight, would they have done things differently from that moment? Perhaps they could have changed things structurally and ensured more control in a game being played at a frenzied pace. Instead, the game slipped from their grasp, enabling Richmond back into a contest it ultimately won by 26 points. Had the Blues held that advantage, how different this season might have looked.
The public stance on priority picks
Carlton was 1-9 in May when CEO Cain Liddle emphatically quashed speculation that the club would ask for a priority pick at season's end. Liddle said the Blues hoped to "knock it (the talk of a priority pick) on the head". However, while he obviously wasn't to know the club would win only one more game for the year, that public stance ultimately ensured more speculation. Brendon Bolton was asked about whether the club had changed its view on priority picks almost every week for the remainder of the year, with the Blues now set to backflip and request one ahead of this year's NAB AFL Draft.
Rushing back the captain
Carlton skipper Marc Murphy was a late withdrawal for the side's round four clash with North Melbourne due to a foot issue. It would keep him out of action for nine of the next 10 matches. He might have been fit sooner had he not returned to the field midway through that spell on the sidelines for a round nine clash with Melbourne. He re-injured himself in the first quarter of that match but played out the game – clearly in pain. It cost him another six weeks on the sidelines. And the Blues lost that match by 109 points. - Riley Beveridge
The coach's Lynch confession
With Collingwood, Richmond and Hawthorn leading the race for the signature of Gold Coast's star forward Tom Lynch, Pies coach Nathan Buckley was too honest for his own good on Channel Nine's Footy Classified in July when he admitted he had met Lynch "a while back". A reportedly angry Lynch was subsequently stripped of the Suns' captaincy and banished by the club. The Pies will pray it hasn't hurt their chances of landing the spearhead.
Harbour City horror
The Magpies missed second spot – and a subsequent home final – by just one game, so they will rue their two-point loss to a then staggering Sydney at the SCG in round 20. The Pies hit the front late, before Swan Tom McCartin produced a freakish match-winning goal – from an accidental drop-kick while lying on his side, if you don't mind.
Even fully fit, the Pies' backline was giving away centimetres, so they have been hurt by a raft of injuries to the likes of Lynden Dunn, Darcy Moore, Matt Scharenberg, swingmen Tyson Goldsack and Ben Reid, and lately Jeremy Howe. In their absence, Tom Langdon has been superb as a makeshift key defender, while first-year rookie and former basketballer Jack Madgen has also been a revelation. - Ben Collins
Losing to Carlton in round eight
It was the Blues' first win of the season – and one of only two they managed for the whole year – and it came back to bite the Bombers. Losing to the wooden-spooners for the second year running (they were also beaten by Brisbane in 2017), could well have cost Essendon a spot in the eight as it missed the finals by one win. At least the club used the shocking defeat as a chance to reset and thereafter its form was strong.
Lack of footy from Joe Daniher and Orazio Fantasia
Daniher's season was essentially a write-off, with last year's best and fairest winner and All Australian forward playing just seven games and booting eight goals before being sidelined with osteitis pubis for the rest of the season. Niggling concerns limited Fantasia to just 13 games and 20 goals, meaning between Essendon's two most exciting forwards the club got just 28 goals (well down from their tally of 104 in 2017).
A wasted chance
The season itself should sit as a regret for the Bombers. They made the finals last year, recruited to challenge for a top-four spot and targeted their first finals win since 2004. They didn't even make the top eight. Essendon can measure its season on how well the group finally came together in the second half of the year, and the progress of a smattering of younger players. The reality is the Bombers could have done some damage in September had they got there, but they failed to do so. - Callum Twomey
Orazio Fantasia was a shining light for the Bombers before injury struck. Picture: AFL Photos
The round 22 horror show in Geelong
Only the most optimistic Freo fans would have believed the Dockers could knock over Geelong at the Cattery, but the shambolic performance after they led at quarter-time was gob-smacking. Fremantle conceded 23 unanswered goals on the way to a club-record 133-point hammering which ramped up pressure on coach Ross Lyon and triggered a torrent of criticism about where the rebuild was heading.
A savage injury toll
Some injuries were preventable and others just bad luck but Stephen Hill, Nat Fyfe, Aaron Sandilands, Bradley Hill, Sean Darcy and Connor Blakely were among those who missed chunks of the season, while Harley Bennell, Lee Spurr and Griffin Logue didn't play a game between them. Soft-tissue setbacks were frustrating to say the least. Matt Taberner going down with a fractured foot in round five couldn't be helped but was awful timing after he looked ready to become the spearhead Freo has been crying out for since Matthew Pavlich hung up the boots.
Avoiding off-field controversy
It was a torrid start to 2018 for the Dockers away from the football field, with Harley Bennell in hot water after a scuffle with a nightclub bouncer in January which led to a two-month club-imposed suspension. Then Freo was under siege in April and May when coach Ross Lyon was named in an ugly workplace harassment storm, and pressure was amplified by Bradley Hill's brush with the law which saw him dumped from the leadership group. It was drama Freo could have done without. – Travis King
Sending the Little Master to Perth off a six-day break
Fresh off a pre-season hamstring and back-to-back matches as the midfielder with most time on ground in the competition, Gary Ablett re-injured himself against the Eagles in round three. It forced him to miss the next four matches and into a delayed return to his best, where he finally finds himself on the eve of finals.
Not stopping JPK in round six
Leading by 22 points at the final break against Sydney at GMHBA Stadium, Swans captain Josh Kennedy turned into superman. He was able to do as he pleased, collecting 13 disposals and six clearances in the final term as the Cats had no answer. The Swans' dominance in Geelong continued, ending any chance of the Cats earning a double chance in the latter rounds.
Halting Daniel Menzel's sizzling season
After 15 goals in five matches, Daniel Menzel didn't play for the next 12 weeks after he underwent a groin injection. Initially sent for a rest for round six, the forward had a reaction to the procedure which looked threaten to derail his season. Finally returning in round 17, Menzel has only just reached full fitness ahead of September. - Mitch Cleary
Handling Tom Lynch's exit
Although their hand was partially forced by Nathan Buckley admitting to meeting Lynch, the whole saga was an ugly affair. Despite his departure, Lynch should be hailed by the club as a draftee it helped mould into an All Australian, a man whose work-rate and attitude led a young team through rough times. Instead, his exit feels a little sour and not a great advertisement for attracting players to come to the Suns.
Bringing Pearce Hanley back against Fremantle
Hanley suffered a dislocated shoulder in the JLT Community Series against Brisbane after sliding into a fence. Although the club ticked him off to return inside four weeks, the classy Irishman didn't last a half before dislocating the same shoulder against Fremantle and requiring surgery. That meant another four months on the sideline for the prized recruit.
The round 11 performance against Geelong
After 10 weeks and nine matches on the road to start their season there was so much excitement for Gold Coast as they headed home to host Geelong at Metricon Stadium in round 11. It was the first time their fans had watched them in nearly 10 months and the first time Stuart Dew had coached at the venue. What happened? The Suns laid an egg and got belted by 85 points. There was never quite the same excitement for the rest of the season. - Michael Whiting
Rushing Toby Greene back for the season opener
The star forward missed most of the summer with a broken toe but was picked to play the Western Bulldogs in round one. He dominated the game but missed the next two matches with a hamstring issue and was then struck down with a hotspot in his foot in round five. Greene played just seven games for the regular season, and showing his importance to GWS, the team won six and drew the other.
Poor finishing in round 16 loss to West Coast
The Giants' terrible conversion cost them dearly against the Eagles, who were without Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling. GWS kicked 1.6 in the second term and 8.13 after quarter-time to lose by 11 points at Optus Stadium. That four points would have seen them finish fifth, secure a home final, and avoid Richmond's side of the finals draw.
Sending Jeremy Finlayson to Lance Franklin in round 22
When co-captain Phil Davis went down it was a strange decision to go with Finlayson, instead of Adam Tomlinson or Lachie Keeffe. The young defender was a revelation early in the season but was no match for the superstar Swan physically, and Franklin's five goals helped sink the Giants. Finlayson looked like a player with his confidence shot in last week's loss to Melbourne. - Adam Curley
What the Ronke happened there?
Hawthorn's back half, by and large, has delivered in spades this season. But something went awry the week of the round 8 clash with Sydney and not enough respect was paid to Swans youngster Ben Ronke, who finished with seven goals. Admittedly, he kicked some of them out of his backside, but he won the game off his own boot that night and had the Hawks won they might have finished the season in second place.
Daniel Howe's brain fade
Not so much a regret for the Hawks, because they’ve won their last five games without him, but his ill-discipline against Carlton (of all teams) in round 18 cost him a pair of suspensions that ruled him out for the rest of the home and away season. James Worpel has slotted into the midfield nicely and Howe is now a 50-50 proposition for the rest of the season.
Losing to Brisbane … twice
The Hawks were probably on a hiding to nothing when they traveled to the Gabba to play the Lions in round nine. The winless Lions were overdue for a win and had Luke Hodge directing traffic on field. But the loss in Launceston later in the year was the worst effort of the year. Still, it did spark the introspection that led to six straight wins and a top-four finish. Every cloud has a silver lining. - Ashley Browne
The handling of the cancelled pre-season camp
Melbourne was branded "soft" and "mentally weak" after a select group of players decided to raise their concerns about the safety of the SAS-style army boot camp. Those worries stemmed from the injuries suffered by Dom Tyson (dislocated kneecap) and Christian Salem (concussion) a year prior. The backlash was intense, especially after the Demons failed to make finals last year.
Making finals the hard way
Melbourne lost three games on the trot between rounds 12 and 15 – including to lowly St Kilda – a loss that saw them almost tumble out of the eight. Narrow losses in winnable games to Geelong and Sydney late in the year put the pressure back on the club to defeat either West Coast or Greater Western Sydney in the final two rounds. Unlike last season, the Demons steadied and booked their first finals appearance in 12 years.
Stubborn early-season selection
The Demons' coaching staff were keen to reward strong pre-season form and decided to go with the inexperienced Corey Maynard over Angus Brayshaw and Dom Tyson in the club's round one loss to Geelong. Maynard had 15 disposals and spent time trying to curb Gary Ablett's influence as a tagger. It could also be argued that Brayshaw produced his best football after his month-long stint in the VFL. – Ben Guthrie
The 'horror' quarter against the Bulldogs
The ninth-placed Roos finished one game and significant percentage outside the top eight. But what might have been had they not gone to sleep in the third term against the Western Bulldogs in round 21? North boasted a 28-point half-time buffer, but conceded eight goals to two in the third quarter and went on to lose by seven points. Coach Brad Scott later referred to that effort as a "horror 30 minutes".
Brown's late-season slump in front of the sticks
The Kangaroos' straight-kicking spearhead Ben Brown has booted 60-plus goals in consecutive seasons, but he probably should have a Coleman Medal to show for it. The affable forward publicly stated he didn't care much for the goalkicking award, but the fans certainly did. Brown had a 10-goal buffer over Sydney's Lance Franklin and the field through 18 rounds, only to kick eight majors between rounds 18 and 22 and be overtaken by Jack Riewoldt.
Not getting a senior game into McKay
Strong-marking Ben McKay looms as a key pillar in North's defence for years to come, based on his impressive VFL form. But he didn't play a senior match in 2018, with Robbie Tarrant and Scott Thompson missing only one game between them and Majak Daw thriving in his new defensive role. McKay, a first-round pick in 2015, will enter next season with just one senior appearance under his belt in three years. It remains to be seen whether that will delay his development. – Marc McGowan
The failure of experienced recruits
Tom Rockliff, Steven Motlop and Jack Watts didn't produce enough after joining the Power during last year's trade period. Rockliff was hampered by calf and shoulder injuries. Motlop was hot and cold, but did kick the match-winning goal in Showdown 44 in round eight. Watts struggled to have an impact and had a stint in the SANFL, as did Rockliff.
Jack Watts and Steven Motlop didn't perform as expected for their new team. Picture: AFL Photos
The Power were challenging for the top two at 11-4 after 15 games. But the wheels fell off in a big way, losing six of their last seven games to finish 10th and miss the finals. Losses to Adelaide (by three points) and West Coast (thanks to Jeremy McGovern's match-winner after the siren), along with a nine-point loss to lowly Fremantle in Perth, proved costly.
Not playing ruckman Billy Frampton sooner
It took until the last game of the season for 21-year-old ruckman Billy Frampton to get his chance in the senior side. Frampton was solid in the ruck in the round 23 loss to Essendon, but was also handy as a tall option in attack. First-choice ruckman Paddy Ryder missed six games with Achilles and hip flexor injuries, and was clearly hampered at the end of the season. - Lee Gaskin
Dropping four matches interstate
Firstly, it's not easy to nit-pick the season of the team that won 18 games and finished on top of the ladder. But looking back at the first four of their five interstate trips, they'd probably wish they'd won a couple more to remove any traces of an "away from home hoodoo" ahead of finals. A loss to Hawthorn next week and a West Coast win over Collingwood will see the Tigers head to Perth for a preliminary final should they win their semi. All of a sudden, losing four games outside of Victoria – including one to the Eagles at Optus Stadium – could mean something above the shoulders when it matters most.
The mid-season management of Bachar Houli
Houli injured his groin in round 10 against St Kilda and didn't play at AFL level again until round 17. His return was short-lived when he aggravated the injury against Greater Western Sydney, which forced him into a kind of mini pre-season with the club unsure of just how it would respond as he ramped up training. The 30-year-old's summer training was interrupted, which may have contributed to his inability to shake the lingering issue. He returned to the side in round 21 and appears to be through the worst of it now, but if they had their time again, perhaps they'd treat the initial injury differently.
Alex Rance's comments on Tom Lynch
It's refreshing to see a club encouraging its players to have an opinion, but Rance's comments about the "big tuna" potentially "upsetting the apple cart" could make for an awkward introduction if the rumours are true and Lynch is bound for Punt Road. Rance was talking about the ripples an arrival like Lynch could make after years of considered list management, and also pondered out loud what the Tigers' structure would look with the big forward up front. – Jennifer Phelan
Rance's comments could make it an awkward first meeting if Lynch joins the Tigers. Picture: AFL Photos
Woeful foot skills
Too often this year, St Kilda's ball use was not at AFL standard. That was the case in all facets of play, whether it be dismal turnovers from defence, long bombs into attack despite the side lacking star marking targets, or most dishearteningly of all, regular misses in front of goal. Of some solace is that last problem improved somewhat as the season progressed, but plenty more work needs to be done.
Puzzling selection decisions
On one hand, doing what was best for the team was the reasoning behind not giving injury-cursed midfielder Nathan Freeman a go as he finally strung VFL games together. However, non-performing players such as Jack Newnes, Mav Weller and Jack Billings were continuously given chances despite poor form at different stages. It's somewhat harsh to single out those three, because others also struggled, but the point is the club didn't have a consistent selection philosophy.
Letting Leigh Montagna go
Two greats departed at the end of last season: Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna. Riewoldt was banged up but Montagna could have gone on. He still averaged 25 disposals through 16 games, but more importantly, he would have provided leadership and experience to a team that was too young in 2018, considering it wanted to make finals. - Dinny Navaratnam
Leaving Aliir Aliir in exile for too long
The athletic defender made a serious error last year and rightly served the rest of the season in the NEAFL. He was given one game in round four this season playing as a forward before being axed again. When he returned to the senior side in round 13 he reminded the footy world of his talents as a rebounding defender and he's played 10 straight matches.
Not securing the signature of Jake Lloyd
The ball magnet was this week named in the All Australian squad, the only Swan picked alongside Lance Franklin, and has again been a star off half-back. He tied with Franklin for second in last year's best and fairest and he'll be right up there again in 2018, but he remains unsigned beyond this year and a host of clubs will be offering him a new home.
Letting Callum Mills watch ESPN
The gun youngster broke his foot when he fell awkwardly while throwing a gridiron ball with teammates ahead of round 10, ruling him out for the season. After Dane Rampe's chain incident last season, you can only imagine the reaction of coach John Longmire when he was told his courageous half back was headed for surgery. - Adam Curley
The Swans lost Callum Mills to a freak injury. Picture: AFL Photos
Nic Naitanui's knee
The Eagles should have been celebrating an outstanding MCG win over Collingwood in round 17 but you could see the heartbreak written all over Adam Simpson's face at the realisation the talismanic ruckman had ruptured the ACL in his 'good' right knee. It was a devastating blow after such an inspirational comeback from his first reconstruction and the Eagles could miss him dearly in finals. The drama at Perth Airport upon West Coast's return that night when integrity officer Peter Staples pushed cameramen could and should have been avoided too.
Andrew Gaff's brain fade
The uncharacteristic nature of Gaff's hit to Freo young gun Andy Brayshaw's mouth added to the sense of shock and disbelief in the aftermath of a wild round 20 Western Derby. Brayshaw's injuries were horrific and Gaff was distraught. He will miss out on the Eagles' push for a premiership after an eight-game suspension. Relations between the WA clubs plummeted and peace talks will now be held at season's end.
Tom Cole and Josh Kennedy's training collision
The Eagles still managed to secure a top-two spot and hope Kennedy will return for the qualifying final but losing their star spearhead for the last five games of the season was far from ideal. Kennedy won't have played for seven weeks by the time West Coast hosts the Pies next Saturday night and is bound to be at least a little rusty. – Travis King
Round nine against Adelaide at Adelaide Oval
On the back of three consecutive wins, the Western Bulldogs' round nine performance against the Crows – where it kicked 2.14 (26) for the game – was nothing short of humiliating. The Dogs dominated the disposal count for the first half but failed to convert any opportunities. It was the most inaccurate score of the season and equal-third lowest. The Dogs lost six out of their next seven games, ultimately dismantling any chance of a finals campaign.
The Bulldogs endured a horror run with injuries as more than 10 of their best 22 – including Easton Wood, Tom Liberatore, Marcus Adams, Dale Morris and Liam Picken – occupied the injury list for most of the season. While it handed youngsters Ed Richards, Aaron Naughton and Billy Gowers an opportunity to develop, the Bulldogs were forced to field one of the League's most inexperienced sides leaving them vastly exposed.
Handling of contracts
The Bulldogs began the season with 16 players due to be out of contract at the end of 2018, including Luke Dahlhaus, Tom Liberatore, Mitch Wallis and Jordan Roughead. All four are restricted free agents and none are yet to recommit to the club. Dahlhaus looks set to join Geelong this off-season and as uncertainty mounts with time, if the Dogs lost another in their best 22 via free agency, it will inhibit their chance to, as coach Luke Beveridge said last Friday, "climb quickly" back into contention. – Adrian Johnson