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AFL year in review: when Eagles soared and Gold Coast floundered

Few expected West Coast to be a serious challenger this season but the Eagles quickly established themselves as the team most likely to topple 2017 premiers Richmond. They won 10 of their first 11 games then overcame a mid-season lull when they were hit by injuries to strike form when it mattered. Given a decent run with injury, they will be hard to beat again in 2019. Gun midfielder Tom Mitchell joined the elite by claiming the Brownlow Medal in his second season at Hawthorn. The ball magnet claimed 50 possessions or more in two games.

The Losers: Suns fail to shine again

Bleak: the Suns are still yet to play finals football after eight seasons in the AFL.

Bleak: the Suns are still yet to play finals football after eight seasons in the AFL.Credit:AAP

It was another horror year for start-up club Gold Coast, who are back to square one after eight seasons and zero finals appearances. After losing Gary Ablett last year, the Suns had leaders Tom Lynch and Steve May head out the door at the end of the season. It followed another poor campaign on the field, where they won only three games and finished second last – their sixth bottom-four finish since entering the competition in 2011. Adelaide also had a shocker, failing to reach September after being beaten as favourites in the 2017 grand final. Their season was marred by a nightmare training camp which they belatedly accepted as a “fail”.

The Controversy: Gaff blows it.

Moment of madness: Andrew Brayshaw, right, was left with a broken jaw after a sickening hit from Andrew Gaff.

Moment of madness: Andrew Brayshaw, right, was left with a broken jaw after a sickening hit from Andrew Gaff.

In a moment of madness, Andrew Gaff threw away what could be his one chance at winning a premiership. The star West Coast midfielder had been known as a cleanskin until he lashed out at West Coast’s Andrew Brayshaw, breaking the youngster’s jaw. Gaff was banned for eight weeks for the sickening blow, which ended his season.  The full cost of Gaff’s violent act became apparent on grand final day when the Eagles claimed their fourth flag. Gaff was in tears as his teammates celebrated.

Match of the year:

Classic: West Coast's grand final win over Collingwood was one to remember.

Classic: West Coast’s grand final win over Collingwood was one to remember.Credit:Justin McManus

As far as grand finals go, this year’s decider was arguably the best since the VFL expanded from 12 teams in 1987. The quality of football was befitting of such an important game and the match was still up for grabs until the final siren. All seemed lost for West Coast after Collingwood booted the first five goals of the grand final but the Eagles gradually ate away at the deficit. Still, it took a memorable goal from Dom Sheed on the boundary line with just under two minutes remaining to get them over the line.

Quote of the Year:

“Firstly, my heart’s pumping a thousand minutes per second so if I screw it up, don’t hate on me.” Richmond cult hero Jack Higgins as he accepted the Goal of the Year Award in his first season.

Crystal ball:

The AFL to introduce a team in Tasmania, bring back Fitzroy and pigs to fly.

Andrew Wu writes on cricket and AFL for The Sydney Morning Herald

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