Eight of the nine games were in the balance mid-way through the last quarter. Three coaches on debut at their clubs all won. Kids starred. Two players kicked five goals each on debut, ameliorating defeat for their teams.
Jack Hayes came from outside the system to be St Kilda’s best player on debut, incidentally giving the lie to the belief that the talent pool is too shallow to sustain another club. Even for the losers, there was something on which to hang a hat.
And (cue boos) umpires generally were discreet and sensible in their policing of new interpretations of holding the ball and dissent when they might easily have gone overboard on each.
But it was the style of play that was most eye-catching. It’s the game in evolution. “There are always trends,” said Lyon. “Richmond have been the dominant team who were willing to go forward, irrespective of what it looks like. Just go forward and work it out when you get there.
“Melbourne have been a go-forward team, a scoring team. At this early stage, I reckon the competition, from what I saw, is less about mucking around sideways and backwards and more about `let’s get it in and have a look at what happens once we’re in there’.
“If you’ve got pace on the ball, the opposition have less time to get set. The other thing was that there were more one-on-ones inside the forward 50. That’s a preference for teams as well.
“I like the look of it, but coaches have a history and tendency to not really fancy shoot-outs. Not that they were shootouts, but they will make their adjustments. That’s why the centre bounce clearance game is so important, because there’s not much they can do about it in the rules.”
This Geelong demonstrated in the only blowout game of the round. This made for its own spectacle. “From a commentary point of view,” said Hudson, “watching someone like Dangerfield burst into space, we all love that – as long as you’re not the opposition team.”
Lyon said goals scored directly from centre bounces worked to punctuate the game. “It always helps the spectacle because you get a goal and the ball comes back to the centre and you get a re-set, and you go again,” he said. “There’s not some of the bogged-down stuff we’ve seen in the past.”
New coaches arrive with implicit and sometimes explicit promises of a new way of playing. Craig McRae at Collingwood is one. Former Essendon champion Matthew Lloyd saw in the Magpies’ game a synthesis of McRae’s major coaching influences, Alastair Clarkson and Damian Hardwick.
“I saw the zone defence grid that Clarkson would have taught him,” said Lloyd on afl.com.au, “and I saw them getting the ball forward all the time like Richmond. I saw both at work.”
The Magpies kicked 100 points only once last season. This year, they kicked 100 in round one.
That’s not to say the Pies are going to win the premiership or even play finals. But it is to dare to hope and project that for the competition overall, the only way up is forward.
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