IT HASN'T been an easy year to support a team sitting in the AFL's bottom four.

With the condensed fixture, the losses all start rolling into one big ball of frustration and it can be hard to pick out the promising signs.

ROUNDS 17-18 Check out the full fixture

But cheer up, Kangaroos, Swans, Hawks or Crows fans – there are still plenty of positives to take out of a disappointing season.

TRADE
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Trade Q&A: Why a contracted Docker must leave, Saad watch, do Pies target a Sun?

Mitch Cleary and Cal Twomey with all the latest trade news

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Mature-age Crow the prototype forward

The highlight reel is already there with the massive marks, but casual observers may look at Adelaide's Shane McAdam's age and disposal tally and dismiss the excitement. 

Yes, McAdam is only three years younger than Hugh Greenwood – a player Crows board member Mark Ricciuto deemed to be too old to be in Adelaide's next premiership side.

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Speccy McAdam: Crow launches for a big grab

Shane McAdam hauls in a huge speccy

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But the 11-gamer does absolutely everything you want a medium forward to do in the modern game.

StatsPro rates him as elite for contested marks, marks inside 50 and tackles inside 50.

He doesn't rack up a lot of the possessions, but he's got a healthy mix of contested work in there when he does win the footy.

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The Crows received McAdam alongside the pick that landed them Ned McHenry as part of the three-way trade with Carlton and Sydney that sent Mitch McGovern to the Blues.

Ironically, McAdam has McGovern covered for goals, score involvements, pressure acts and even contested marks this season.

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McAdam gets 'up and Adam'

Shane McAdam gives the Adelaide faithful something to cheer about early after a super speccy in the forward line

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Taylor the ace in Kangaroos' pack

Coming into 2020, North Melbourne's football boss Brady Rawlings would have known the club needed to fill a few different holes. 

Luke Davies-Uniacke and Jy Simpkin have answered the question as to who will carry the midfield in the next era.

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Huge goal-saving tackle from LDU

Promising North Melbourne onballer Luke Davies-Uniacke chases down Jarrod Berry to stop the Lions from extending their lead

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Ben McKay is finally stringing some good footy together in the backline, but there are still some question marks around who takes the spots around him.

One of the hardest things to do is finding a medium forward who can fly for contested marks and apply plenty of pressure.

Curtis Taylor showed he can do both those things at an above average level, with his NAB AFL Rising Star nomination early in the year backing that up.

His year might have been cut short, but he looks like a more than capable foil for Nick Larkey and Cameron Zurhaar in the future. Signing him up until the end of 2022 was a no-brainer.

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Young Roo hops over the top for pearler

Curtis Taylor reels in a delightful mark and drills the resulting set shot

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Light shines on Hawks' new Day

Talented half-backs Lachie Ash and Hayden Young were off the board by the time Graham Wright made his first selection at No.13 in the 2019 NAB AFL Draft.

PHANTOM FORM GUIDE Cal Twomey's latest rankings

The Hawks desperately needed to add some skill and poise back into an ageing backline and Will Day has filled that role perfectly.

Day mightn't have had fanfare that the other two did around draft day, but some opposition recruiters had him ranked closer to the top five.

You don't have to sit there and watch vision of him for hours and wait to see why he's good – it's glaringly obvious from the way he moves.

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Inventive Hawk creates Day-light for special first goal

Will Day takes the game on and is rewarded with a career milestone

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The stats probably don't quite marry up to the eye test at the moment, but the framework is there.

Via StatsPro, he's rated as below average in kicking efficiency despite that being his biggest weapon, but he's already rated as elite in intercept marking.

He's finding enough of the footy to make a real impact already. All he needs to do is clean up that efficiency a little bit and he'll become even more of a crucial cog in that Hawthorn backline.

Swans find their next bullocking mid

James Rowbottom had some moments in 2019 and if you only gave his stats from this season a quick once-over, you probably wouldn't find anything too eye-popping.

His goal tally and disposal average remain pretty similar, as do his tackle numbers.

But if you take a closer look, you'll see the signs of a player turning himself into Sydney's next contested-ball beast.

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Clever Rowbottom rolls it home

Skilful Swan hands it to James Rowbottom who kicks the opener

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With greater opportunity, Rowbottom has more than doubled his clearance tally from last year.

His contested possession rate hovered around the 42 per cent range in season one, a number you'd compare with the outside link-up players like Lachie Weller. 

He's now running at an elite 53 per cent contested possession rate via StatsPro, which puts him right among some of the league's toughest midfielders like Jack Viney and Tom Liberatore.