AFL Round-Up: Demons and Power thrive on fine margins, Eagles left to ponder what's next (2023)

Round eight proves the season will be defined by a series of thrillers, while West Coast's road back to relevance looks like being a long one.

Welcome to the AFL Round-Up, where we digest the week that was.

The fine margins

Two games were decided by five points this week. For both the winners and losers, that one straight kick either way could prove so pivotal in the wash.

Saturday evening on the Gold Coast was absolutely electric. Two teams who pride themselves on tough, physical midfield play went at it like two angry stags as the Demons' superstars were matched and often beaten by the Suns' group.

AFL Round-Up: Demons and Power thrive on fine margins, Eagles left to ponder what's next (1)

It can not be emphasised enough how good Noah Anderson was for Gold Coast in this game. It was a midfield performance that deserved a win, but yet wasn't enough as a missed shot here and a poor decision there proved costly.

It's a familiar story for the Suns, whose promising 2022 was felled by near misses. 2023 is shaping up much the same way — had they finished the job against Freo and found a way to win this one, the Suns would be in the eight and one of the stories of the year.

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It was a similar situation for Essendon, beaten by five points by Port Adelaide in an admittedly less captivating and overall even game. The Bombers were lucky to be as close as they were, and yet still had a shot to tie the scores in the final minute.

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Will the Bombers get to September, look at this game and the Anzac Day fade out and wonder 'what if'?

Meanwhile Port are surviving on these tight ones. Add the Bombers to a list that already contains Sydney and St Kilda, and you've got a very fine line between just outside the top four and scrambling to make the finals.

AFL Round-Up: Demons and Power thrive on fine margins, Eagles left to ponder what's next (3)

The ladder is taking shape, and while plenty will tell you that things don't change much from this point in the season, many of those outside the eight should be encouraged by how close they have beento making a much bigger splash, and those on the inside should be looking cautiously over their shoulder.

What to do with West Coast?

For the second successive season, the West Coast Eagles are broken. Barely able to field a team, they are playing games out of obligation right now with very little hope of meaningful development given the circumstances.

At home and over east, fingers are now being pointed. Who is to blame for the hole in which the wealthiest club in the competition now finds itself? Is it bad management, bad coaching or simply bad luck?

The issue for the Eagles is that taken in isolation, they haven't done a whole lot wrong this season. They drafted well last year, have tried to bring young players in and Adam Simpson and his coaches have made visible switches to the way the team plays.

But while there is certainly a element of obscene bad luck — nobody can be blamed for players breaking legs and arms and spleens and throats (those last two are not jokes, those are real West Coast injuries) due to normal footy contact — the Eagles are really paying for mistakes made years ago.

The most parroted line is that the Eagles "sold the farm" for Tim Kelly in 2019 and then "sooked it up" in the very first COVID hub in Brisbane in 2020. Both are largely irrelevant to their current problems.

AFL Round-Up: Demons and Power thrive on fine margins, Eagles left to ponder what's next (5)

What the Eagles can be blamed for is failing to recognise the changing trends of the game quickly enough, for failing to maximise a weak draft hand, for letting overall fitness standards dip in the wake of the 2018 premiership and for placing too much faith in the bodies of battle-weary veterans.

Most of their players with genuine AFL quality are past their prime and increasinglyunreliable. The middle tier that should be stepping up and taking over are not up to the standard and are not equipped to play in the manner of the best teams in 2023. The new draftees have been thrown into the worst possiblesituation for a rookie, and most of them are now injured too.

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All of which is to say there isn't really anything the Eagles or Simpson can do it about it right now. They are still a year or two off reaching Hawthorn's current developmental level, and that's presuming they cut hard at the end of this season.

The die is cast, the poor decisions and mistakes already long since made. All that's left to do is ride it out.

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Around the grounds

Friday night felt significant for Carlton. They are a poorer side in 2023 than they were in 2022, and the fans are clearly finding that hard to swallow. The fixture is about to get nasty for a month, and that spell will define their season.

AFL Round-Up: Demons and Power thrive on fine margins, Eagles left to ponder what's next (6)

The Swans gave Collingwood their very best, but the missing personnel in the back line is proving an obstacle too big for them to clear. Especially when so many chances are not taken at the other end.

This famous Giants-Bulldogs rivalry hasn't exactly delivered on the promise a whole lot of late, and only an inspired late effort from Tom Green made this one at all interesting. Only an Adam Treloar injury could sour another solid win for the Bulldogs.

The Cats are back. We know this because the Crows were fantastic and fierce at Kardinia Park, but the reigning champs had the gumption to withstand them. A couple of near misses shouldn't undercut the immense improvement Adelaide have made this year.

AFL Round-Up: Demons and Power thrive on fine margins, Eagles left to ponder what's next (7)

Freo got a glimpse of the promise as Luke Jackson ran riot in concert with Andy Brayshaw on Saturday night. All the tools are there, and when it comes together in that 2022-esque manner the Dockers remain so dangerous.

Nobody was expecting a classic, but that first half between North Melbourne and St Kilda was confrontingly bad. The game improved after the break, as did the Saints who continue to keep pace at the top.

In the clubhouse

Here we take stock of who is leading the race for the season's individual awards.

As we start to approach the halfway point of the season, we have three breakaway leaders for the Rising Star (and a pretty hefty collection of very impressive players not far behind).

At this very moment, I can't split Will Ashcroft, Harry Sheezel and Mitch Owens. They are three very different players, but all impacting games in ways that belie their age and experience.

It's going to come down to staying power over the second half of the season. Which of the three can best keep their electric form up?

Speaking of rising stars, young Matteas Phillipou took the mark of the week for round eight.

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A cracker, but not threatening Harry Himmelberg's lead.

And goal of the week goes to this ridiculous overhead volley from Brody Mihocek. It's giving Ashcroft's effort from last week a run for its money, but we still have the young Lion in front.

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