THE CUMULATIVE toll of defying odds, fatigue, scandal, injuries, form and maybe even footy karma now seems insurmountable.

And while I am too-wedded to the mantra that Richmond remains alive in the 2021 premiership battle until mathematics proves it isn't, football logic says it is dead.

Richmond sits 12th after another loss, this time to Collingwood at the MCG on Sunday, and has Brisbane and Geelong in its next two assignments.

Since leading West Coast by four goals with half a quarter to play and then conceding those four goals to record a dismal loss, the Tigers have seemed shot. They then managed just two goals – again, absorb that slowly, the team which has won three of the past four flags scored only two goals in a match – against St Kilda in round 15, then lost to Gold Coast the following week.

Against the Pies at three-quarter time, they were 20 points clear, but managed one goal to seven thereafter.

06:26 Mins
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Highlights: Richmond v Collingwood

The Tigers and Magpies clash in round 17

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In the 2020 COVID-19 impacted season, Richmond drew extraordinary power from self-inflicted adversity, including behavioural breaches which deeply angered the AFL and rival clubs.

But mounting a premiership charge one more time now appears a task too great. Richmond just doesn't have the aura that played more with the minds than bodies of opponents.

Even making finals seems beyond the Tigers right now.

Exiled and excellent, Swans rise to the challenge

At the end of a week in which it became a genuine fear that they would not be able to return to their homes and families for the remainder of the AFL season, the Sydney Swans emerged as the most unlikely of premiership contenders.

With COVID-19 beginning to ravage their home city, and with Victoria officially shutting its border to their state, the Swans on Sunday evening added the Western Bulldogs to their 2021 hit list, which had already included the teams now placed third and fourth on the ladder, Geelong and Brisbane, and very nearly the top-placed Melbourne (a nine-point loss in round eight).

It was a performance which oozed finals quality, and came with their main forwards Lance Franklin and Tom Papley managing just one goal between them. Callum Mills continued his surge toward an All-Australian jacket, Jordan Dawson was brilliant with three goals and 26 disposals and Isaac Heeney was crucial in key moments. 

00:43 Mins
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Heeney helps himself to a sizzling snap

Isaac Heeney delivers a peach of a shot on his left after a clever handball from Luke Parker

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Two-time best-and-fairest winner Jake Lloyd may be the best "unknown" superstar in the AFL, and Tom Hickey without doubt the best recruit for 2021.

The Swans have been forced to reside in Melbourne for three weeks already. To this point of that unwanted exile, they have been able to not only absorb their unfortunate plight, but feed off the situation.

And while they won't look any further ahead than their next match – against crosstown rival GWS at a neutral venue – others will scan the fixture on their behalf and notice that they will start favourite in every single one of their remaining six matches.

Time to deliver, Joe

Joe Daniher has been good for Brisbane in 2021.

Following the season-ending knee injury to key Eric Hipwood, he now needs to be very, very good – maybe even great – if the Lions are to stay on track for the premiership.

Lions coach Chris Fagan has allowed Daniher to play further up the ground than the role he had mostly played in eight seasons at Essendon. It has been a brilliant move, and had the bonus effect of releasing pressure on Daniher.

Hipwood's unavailability from just before quarter-time of Saturday night's match against St Kilda dramatically impacted on the Brisbane system. The Saints were able to sufficiently quell the Lions' forward line, and while he was not on his own, Daniher failed to have any say in the outcome. He managed only seven kicks for the game and two shots at goal, for 1.1.

THINGS WE LEARNED Ken has a real problem on his hands

Fagan has built this Lions team without a standout reliance on any one individual. But now that he is faced with two key members of his forward line being out for the year – Cam Rayner blew his knee in the pre-season – it is obvious that roles and responsibilities are going to have to be re-set. Having Daniher play so far from goal may be a luxury the Lions can no longer afford, now that Hipwood is out.

Daniher possesses as much ability as any Lions player. Beginning next Friday at the MCG against Richmond, he is going to need to produce it on a weekly basis.

Brisbane's Joe Daniher celebrates a goal in his side's loss to St Kilda in round 17, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Saints' revival nothing short of a miracle

Many people and players attached to St Kilda deserve credit for the significant turnaround since the bye. Take your pick on the order, but for me, it goes something like this: Brett Ratten, Paddy Ryder, Rowan Marshall, Jack Steele, Luke Dunstan, Brad Crouch, Jimmy Webster, Jack Sinclair, Bradley Hill, Max King.

In the context of the hope with which St Kilda entered the 2021 season, a round 13 loss – after a six-goal lead – against lowly Adelaide was an embarrassing moment. Its scoreline at that point was 5-8, it had terribly handled the public element of the (correct) decision by Tim Membrey and Seb Ross to place family ahead of football for one weekend, and two of the three matches out of the bye were to come against premiership-contending teams.

In round 15, the Saints kept Richmond to just two goals, the following week they beat Collingwood and then on Saturday night they diligently worked their way to victory against the Lions.

The many tough conversations held by Saints people in the bye period have clearly had telling effect. From an abyss and out of nowhere, there is a semblance of season 2021 life for the Saints.

St Kilda players celebrate as they leave Metricon Stadium after their win over Brisbane in round 17, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Blues tread water again, but stats give Teague hope

Same old, same old Carlton on the field and in the post-match media conference in round 17, again incapable of getting near a quality team and again the coach talking about a bright future being oh-so-near.

Geelong was vulnerable – no Cameron or Selwood – and operated at less than 70 per cent capacity. But once it finally stirred after quarter-time, it never looked like losing.

Don’t fall for the narrative that the Blues were unlucky because of their inaccuracy (5.14). Bad teams are regularly inaccurate, and three of those five goals came in junk time, when there was no pressure to kick them.

00:31 Mins
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McKay breaks Blues' drought with long-range missile

Harry McKay has finally found the middle of the sticks for his Blues to end their goalless run

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Coach David Teague repeated his monotonous mantra of next year looking bright. There's seemingly always a sunny-looking future season for a Blues coach.

Teague has now effectively coached two full seasons of football – 44 matches (11 as caretaker in 2019, 17 in the COVID-19 ravaged 2020 season, and 16 to this point of 2021). He has 19 wins.

A quick comparison with some current coaches is favourable to Teague. Chris Fagan managed 10 wins from his first 44 games. Alastair Clarkson 14. Damien Hardwick 14. Brett Ratten 19.

But how Teague emerges from his club's recently commissioned independent review of Blues' football operations is anyone's guess.

Carlton coach David Teague after a loss to Geelong in round 17, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Giants shrinking with every week

Every time the Giants take a meaningful step, they stumble. And now that we've reached the round 17 stage of the 2021 season, it is obvious they are not deserving of a finals berth.

Wins against Melbourne, which was the ladder leader at the time, Sydney and West Coast had suggested a team which could mount a meaningful charge into September. But Sunday's one-point loss to the Suns was another jolt. As was round 15's loss to second last Hawthorn, round 13's draw with last-placed North Melbourne.

The loss of Lachie Whitfield at Ballarat against the Suns obviously didn’t help the Giants' cause, and again in 2021 the team has been badly affected by injuries to key players. But if they can't beat the Suns at a neutral venue a week after knocking off the ladder leaders, it is yet more evidence they’re not worthy.

03:15 Mins
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Last two mins: Giants blow late chances, Suns hold on

Enjoy the thrilling Last two minutes as GWS and the SUNS grind out a tough battle in the wind at MARS Stadium

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