The 2005 season is only four weeks old, but the artificial mechanisms
of drafting, player trading and salary capping, are combining to work
their magic as the 2004 deadbeats pick up the pace and the old guard battle
their own demons.

The AFL’s form of socialism, now finely honed but still evolving, is
showing in 2005 all the characteristics desired by its masters. Teams in the cellar don’t dwell there for long – unless they’re
incompetently run – and the league, unlike many around the world, is
not dominated by dynastic champions year in and year out.

The Brisbane Lions are an absolute exception to the rule, but perhaps
Collingwood’s president Eddie McGuire was right all along and that
extra $600,000 salary cap top up really was the difference between it
and the rest of the competition for three premierships — but then don’t
tell Sydney who also got the same financial “incentive”.

There is no doubt AFL clubs like Hawthorn and Adelaide (who
were both tipped as potential wooden spoon material) and a revitalised
Richmond are showing more than enough in the early season to give
their supporters that most precious of commodities – hope!

In the Crows case that hope is more than just the illusion of a mad
bolt from the starting gates that is likely to see at least Richmond
come back to the field by round 22. But it’s the Hawks, most
commonly tipped as going nowhere pre-season, who handed out a
belting to Brisbane at the MCG on Saturday and showed just how well the
artificial competitive balance operates to give failing clubs a leg up
again.

And then you have traditional heavyweight Essendon on the bottom after
four rounds proving how tough it is for top
teams to remain always competitive without spending some time closer to
the bottom than the top as they try to rebuild.

With the Kangaroos, West Coast and Adelaide helping to energise the top
of the ladder, the tardy start to the season of premiership favourites
St Kilda, Port Adelaide and the wounded Brisbane, is just what the
competition needs to provide fans of the other clubs with the novelty
of uncertainty. Just as St Kilda
rebuilt from the bottom, Hawthorn is showing the benefits of cellar
dwelling failure, but already it looks to be well advanced on any previous
prediction as to its competitiveness with an impressive roll out of new
young stars, and a coach who is shaping as the find of the season.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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