The AFL – 2015 and what lies ahead

The death of Adelaide coach Phil Walsh overshadowed everything in the 2015 AFL season.

As the likes of Nat Fyfe starred, the fallout from Essendon’s supplements saga continued and the game wrestled with issues of race, money and fan interest.

THE RICH GETTING RICHER, THE POOR GET THE PICTURE

In August, the AFL signed the biggest broadcast rights deal in Australian sport history – a whopping $2.5 billion worth. Just three months later, there’s talk that the league will lose $20 million next year. The major issue is the growing gap between powerhouses such as Collingwood (total profit this year of $3.5 million) and smaller clubs with less resources. Even traditional giants Essendon and Carlton have reported big financial losses.

IN THE VALLEY

For all the great things that happened, the AFL in 2015 will be remembered most for the tragic death of Adelaide coach Phil Walsh. The league also rallied around the family of Carlton great Brett Ratten when his teenage son Cooper died in a car crash. The common refrain was how all football’s routine dramas were put into perspective.

FROM LITTLE THINGS, BIG THINGS GROW (OR DO THEY?)

The AFL has long prided itself on leading the way with indigenous issues. The toxic debate surrounding the booing of Sydney legend Adam Goodes showed how far we still have to go. Few came out of this with their reputations enhanced – certainly not the AFL, which handled this hottest of potatoes clumsily. And it was no way for a two-time Brownlow Medallist to end his storied career.

POWER AND THE PASSION

The supplements saga is a tumultuous, disastrous blight on Essendon’s great history. The only winners in this debacle have been lawyers. It’s cost James Hird the Essendon coaching job and shone a very harsh light on the AFL’s back-room machinations. While the anti-doping process will soon end, no-one can say for sure if the long-term health of the players involved has been compromised. The legal ramifications will also last for years. And who knows when Essendon will recover.

NEVER TEAR US APART

Port Adelaide’s campaign with their fans has been a spectacular success. The AFL and the other clubs have also tried various ways to make games more appealing – cheaper pies, pre-game entertainment. And for good reason. In 2010, before expansion, the AFL attracted an average crowd of more than 38,000 per game and a season total of more than 7.1 million. Five years late, the average is down to 33,000 and the total has dropped to 6.9 million.

KING OF THE MOUNTAIN

Despite the late-season leg fracture, Brownlow Medallist Nat Fyfe enjoyed a stellar year. While he is at the peak of his game, can Gold Coast captain Gary Ablett return to his best after two seasons marred by injuries? And is Lance Franklin, the game’s most expensive player, still capable of terrorising opposition backlines as he continues his very public battle with a mental health issue?

WHO CAN STAND IN THE WAY?

Surely with three premierships in a row and four in this era, Hawthorn will come off the boil next season. With key players such as Luke Hodge and Sam Mitchell now in their 30s, logic says they are vulnerable. But the scary thing is, there’s every chance they will find a way to make it four straight flags.

MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT

North Melbourne have extended Brad Scott’s contract and Richmond are on the verge of doing the same for Damien Hardwick. There’s speculation Collingwood will do the same for Nathan Buckley. But after two preliminary final losses, are North genuine premiership contenders? Can Richmond win a final? This is a huge season for Buckley and the Magpies following a concerted rebuild. Ross Lyon’s Fremantle is also hovering near the precipice after three seasons of premiership contention.

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