They’re cliches that coaches and players have routinely and repeatedly wheeled out throughout recent years, keen to banish the faintest whiff of complacency.
But they’re now starting to mostly ring true, at least in the context of the modern era, and the league has every right to feel delighted with their recent equalisation measures.
Some 16 premiership points (four wins) and percentage is all that separates ladder-leading Adelaide and 17th-placed Hawthorn after nine rounds.
Not since 1994, when last-placed Brisbane Bears had two wins to their name and first-placed West Coast had six, has there been such a logjam after nine rounds.
To put those 23 years in context, the Bears and Fitzroy have since merged while Fremantle, Port Adelaide, Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney have all joined the league.
“Everyone’s loving this season, aren’t they? It’s a credit to our clubs and our players that it’s a season like no other since I’ve been in football,” AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan told reporters.
“Across the weekend there were upsets again, teams coming from 30-odd points down.
“Seventeenth I think is two games out of eighth, the football is incredible … basically everyone can beat everyone.”
The one exception is arguably Brisbane, who are now incredibly short-priced favourites to collect the wooden spoon after recent lopsided losses.
“Brisbane clearly are having a tougher time than others and they’re a little off the pace but they’re rebuilding – a new coach, new head of football,” McLachlan said.
“They’re going to take a couple of years.”
Sydney coach John Longmire noted it wasn’t just the ladder that showed how tight things have been this year.
“You look at the momentum swings in the course of games, and from week to week, they can be huge,” Longmire said ahead of his club’s clash with Hawthorn at the SCG on Friday night.
“This would have to be the most equal and closest season we’ve had for a long time.”
A series of upsets in round nine have created a serious ladder logjam.
The gap between the Crows and 10th-placed Essendon is two wins and percentage. Not since 2007 have the top 10 teams been so close on the table after nine rounds.
It is part of the reason that many believe the Swans can surge into the finals despite a woeful 0-6 start to the year. No club in VFL/AFL history has ever reached the finals from an 0-5 start, let alone 0-6.
“You don’t look too far ahead, it’s just not relevant to us at the moment. It’s more relevant for us to be playing good football this week against Hawthorn,” Longmire said.
“I’ve always looked at what is immediately in front of us.”
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