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Nine things we learned: Dons face another wasted season

The 10: round eight's best moments There were some brilliant highlights across the weekend
1. Essendon is a team without soul or substance

The Bombers are headed towards another wasted, middle-rung season, and that's where they deserve to sit in the pecking order. Essendon's 22, with its high-profile recruits and experience, should have beaten Sydney by 12 goals at the SCG, but the Swans gave them a lesson in leadership and club pride on Friday night. Sydney captains Luke Parker, Dane Rampe and Josh Kennedy made a stand in the massive moments and their young teammates stood with them. One group of players was desperate to climb off the bottom of the ladder and prepared to fight and scratch its way to a win at any cost to protect the hard-earned reputation of its club. The other lost the contested possession count to an opposition that had gone -96 in that statistic in two losses over the past fortnight. It's hard to decide which 2019 trip to the harbour city was worse for John Worsfold's men: their 72-point round-one drubbing at the hands of the Giants, or this week's single-figure defeat to the struggling Swans. Essendon fans will be hoping some of the Bloods' famed culture rubbed off on their players on Friday night. - Adam Curley

 
2. Kelly is among the top five players in the AFL right now

Tim Kelly is a rare example of a second-year player who has come straight into the AFL and quickly ascended to the top echelon of players in the competition. It's unusual because a player in their second year of football doesn't usually have the impact that Kelly is having. But with the performances that he keeps churning out every week, that logic is difficult to argue with. Kelly was the most influential player on the ground against North Melbourne on Sunday, racking up eye-popping numbers – 36 disposals, 11 clearances, eight inside 50s and two goals. The 24-year-old has some instinctive attributes that are difficult to teach, including his ability to hold the ball away from outstretched arms in packs and still maintain control of the footy, and then dob outrageous goals from the boundary without fuss, as he did against the Roos. Geelong will be desperate to retain his services beyond this season, but as Cats coach Chris Scott said after the game, he's just going to sit back and enjoy the show until those decisions need to be made. - Ben Guthrie

3. Tom Lynch isn't a liability, especially when Richmond's smalls are swarming

Expert pundits are paid big bucks to get cut through amid the 'noise' around footy media, and Matthew Lloyd's criticism that boom Richmond recruit Tom Lynch was a "liability" who turned like a 41-year-old and couldn't apply pressure certainly gained traction. Lloyd is entitled to his opinion and as a former champion it carries plenty of weight, but Damien Hardwick masterminded a drought-breaking flag built around an undersized forward line which relied on its tall targets bringing the ball to ground for fleet-footed smalls to swarm. Lynch was always going to do that against the Dockers, but from the early exchanges it was clear he was 'on' and keen to assert himself. After taking a strong mark on the wing to get into the game, he soon snuck through Richmond's second goal in the visitors' early blitzkrieg. He continued to provide a target throughout the match, and had the better of in-form Freo duo Alex Pearce and Joel Hamling, something few have done this year. Lynch's day could have been huge, but he still finished with 2.2 plus 15 disposals and eight marks – a massive six contested – in a huge road win for the Tigers, who are back roaring despite their injury woes. – Travis King

 
4. Melbourne is still a long way off the pace

After squeaking past Gold Coast, the Demons have won two games straight and restored a little confidence, but they're still a long, long, long way from the 2018 form that carried them to a preliminary final. Simon Goodwin is right in saying Melbourne's defence (74 and 60 points conceded in the past fortnight) and contested footy (+31 and +16 in the same matches) has improved, but that's really just part of the story. From 129 forward-50 entries in the two wins, the Dees have generated just 19 goals and it took a miraculous set of events to get them home against Gold Coast. Better teams than the unlucky Suns won't afford Melbourne the same luxury. A trip to the scene of last year's preliminary final disaster in Perth on Friday night will be a true marker of where the Demons sit. - Michael Whiting

 
5. Charlie Dixon can't return quickly enough for depleted Power

Port Adelaide's attacking structure is in disarray without having a big target who can take a contested mark or at least bring the ball to ground. The Power's woes were there for all to see in their 20-point loss to Adelaide in Showdown 46. Tall forwards Todd Marshall and Justin Westhoff didn't kick a goal, while ruckmen Paddy Ryder and Scott Lycett also didn't have an impact when they went forward. It took defender Dougal Howard to show them how it was done, kicking two goals when swung forward in the last quarter. When Dixon returns remains unclear, but he is gradually increasing his training loads with the hope he comes back soon after the club's mid-season bye. - Lee Gaskin

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6. There is life in the Hawks' young brigade

There's no hiding from the fact Hawthorn still relies heavily on its older and more experienced players. The Hawks fielded the round's third-oldest squad and there were six members aged 30 or older, even with Jarryd Roughead dropped and Isaac Smith (foot) a late withdrawal. However, when Hawthorn put a sizeable gap between it and Greater Western Sydney in the third quarter on Sunday, a couple of kids had a big say in it. James Cousins, back from suspension, picked up nine of his career-high 25 disposals in the term, including an expert goal on the run. Mitch Lewis, the major beneficiary of Roughead's absence, didn't have anywhere near as much of the Sherrin, but still stood up when his turn arrived. Jack Gunston found Lewis on a steaming lead and the 20-year-old did well just to drag in a mark. What came next was even better, with Lewis delivering a perfect set shot from barely inside the fence and 50m out to make his tough chance count. How many goals did the Hawks kick in the third term? Two. - Marc McGowan

 
7. Carlton's key forwards are starting to click

Brendon Bolton didn't want to spend any time of Saturday's post-game talking about the positives to come from the Blues' loss to Collingwood. But once the dust settles the coach would have to be pleased with the development of the Blues' key forwards now that the group has started to play together more regularly. In the Blues' tight loss to the Magpies, Charlie Curnow (two goals), Harry McKay (two) and recruit Mitch McGovern (three) were all multiple goalkickers and posed a constant threat. Each of the trio offer something different as goalkicking options, and will be the vital if the Blues are to turn these close defeats into wins. - Callum Twomey

 
8. The Eagles are coasting, but nothing more

Adam Simpson put it best speaking after the game, saying: "Winning's hard, it's bloody hard." Although his West Coast side made it look easy at times throughout its premiership campaign last year, his Eagles have made securing the four points a bit of a chore over the last month. Victories over Gold Coast and St Kilda over the last fortnight have steadied the ship after successive losses, but neither win has been overly convincing. Saturday night was a match to be endured, not enjoyed, for Eagles fans. The Saints held on until the very last seconds of the clash, with the visitors unable to kill off their plucky underdog opponents in large part due to their wastefulness in front of goal. Although it is early in the season, it was another indication that West Coast is yet to fully hit its straps in 2019. Simpson will take the wins as they come, but there's no doubt he'll be hoping for more consistency soon. - Riley Beveridge

9. The Brisbane Cubs would be a more appropriate moniker

That isn't a knock either. Brisbane is young. Immensely talented, but young. That's the reality, and it showed on Saturday afternoon. Going down to Ballarat to face the Western Bulldogs was a chance for the Lions to prove their legitimacy, because improving their record to 6-2 would have meant finals became a very likely outcome. The opportunity was crying out to be exploited. Chris Fagan's side was well on top for the first quarter and a half, but as the coach said afterwards, Brisbane should have been four goals in front at the main break instead of two points behind. A more professional outfit would have capitalised. Then in the third term, the Lions fell away in disappointing fashion. Coming off five wins last year, the improvement is real and needs to be acknowledged. That doesn't take the sting out of the loss though. - Dinny Navaratnam

 
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs