Is it a hangover or a symptom of a chronic illness? Either way the Western Bulldogs' 2017 season has been underwhelming to say the least. When they were sitting inside the top four heading into the bye they had been unconvincing but the general school of thought was that they just needed to stay in the eight to be a premiership threat. In hindsight, that position flattered them.
Following the bye they lost four out of five games, three of them by more than seven goals, and won one game by a point. Ever since then the Dogs have been playing catchup. They've been in the top eight for only one week since round 13 and need a minor miracle in the final round to play finals this year.
Footscray fans need not despair though. While premiership hangovers are rare, they are not unheard of and there are a couple of examples that suggest a period of success is not far off.
Since the rebranding of the AFL in 1990 there have been four clubs that have missed the finals the year after a premiership; Collingwood in 1991, Essendon in 1994, Adelaide in 1999 and Hawthorn in 2009.
Of those four, Collingwood and Adelaide had a long wait for a return to premiership glory. It was 20 years later that Collingwood won their next flag and IF Adelaide win this year it will have been a 19 year wait for them, otherwise their wait will be at least 20 years as well. Hawthorn and Essendon, on the other hand, had to wait only a few more years before being a consistent premiership threat. Obviously Hawthorn between 2011 and 2015 were one of the best teams of modern times, but Essendon from 1999-2001 were pretty handy too and the 2016 Dogs bear some resemblance to the 1993 "Baby Bombers."
Footscray's team on Grand Final day last year had played an average of 82 games and had an average age of 24 year and 145 days. In 1993 the Essendon premiership team had an average age of 24 and 104 days and had played an average of 86 games. Both teams had three players over 170 games: Matthew Boyd, Dale Morris and Liam Picken for the Dogs, Tim Watson, Paul Salmon and Mark Thompson for the Dons. Both teams had a core of players between 60 and 120 games with names like Long, Wanganeen, Wallis, Stringer, Bontempelli and Johannisen among them. The one area Essendon's team were ahead of the '16 Dogs is that they had players with less than 30 games by the names of Dustin Fletcher, James Hird, Mark Mercuri and Joe Misiti, all of whom went on to play over 200 games and play in another premiership in 2000.
It's all academic, though. No one really knows what the future holds for the Dogs but what is for certain, despite what Jon Ralph would have you believe, is that they have enough talent on their list to play finals for the next few years. Footscray supporters will have to be satisfied with living in the afterglow of the 2016 flag during this year's finals series, though.
One team standing in the way of the Bulldogs' extremely unlikely finals bid is Fremantle. The Dogs essentially need the three other teams on 11 wins, St. Kilda, West Coast and Essendon, to lose so they can leapfrog them into eight spot. Richmond beating the Saints and Adelaide beating the Eagles are distinct possibilities, even likely occurrences.
For Essendon to lose to Fremantle, though, would take an almighty bout of gastro going through Tullamarine and wiping out the whole team. That, or a decision to ban a team from the finals for some reason.
To cut a long story short, Fremantle are horrible. Abysmal. Diabolical.
Sunday's loss to Richmond was their second 100 point loss in two weeks. It was also their third 100 point loss this season. Aside from Gold Coast in their first season and GWS in their first couple, only Richmond's 2006 season has featured such an unenviable achievement in the last 20 years. This club's fall from grace has been as dramatic as it has been sudden and surprising.
Two years ago the footy world was debating the merits of resting players ahead of a finals series. The Dockers were a game and a half clear on top of the ladder and rested half their team. They accordingly won their first final and went straight into the preliminary. Since then Freo have won 13 out of 46 games. They've had what could be considered a Minor Premiership hangover of monstrous proportions.
Even that measure flatters them. Six of those 13 wins came in a seven week stretch in the first half of this year. Amazingly, the Dockers were out of the top four on percentage after round 9. Then in round 10 they lost to Adelaide by 100 points and have been the worst team in the competition by some distance ever since.
Between round 10 and now they've won two games. Less wins than three of the teams that will finish in the bottom four, and significantly less percentage than one of them. Over that time they've scored only 66 points per game on average. That's 10 points less than Carlton over the same time, the team derided by all and sundry for not being able to kick a decent score.
Freo have also conceded over 100 points per game in their last 12 matches, a sure sign of a team in trouble. No other club in the league can lay claim to that feat in their last dozen games.
It's hard to make sense of it all. A team with the class of Nat Fyfe, Lachie Neale, David Mundy, Stephen Hill and Bradley Hill should at least be competitive, if not successful. Those players have had decent seasons too.
Danged if the team can kick a score though, especially with Michael Walters out of the team for the last four weeks. Unfortunately for Freo, Shane Kersten and Cam McCarthy have barely contributed a goal a game.
Kersten and McCarthy are both fairly young and inexperienced, and for different reasons have had interruptions during their careers, but you'd like to get more input than that from your key forwards.
Freo's whole team from the game against Richmond is also fairly young and inexperienced but, as pointed out regarding the Dogs, that's not necessarily an excuse for poor performances. Brisbane's round 22 team was considerably younger than the Dockers and they had the Dees on the ropes until late in the last quarter.
Youth and inexperience most certainly won't be an excuse for Fremantle next year when players like McCarthy, Kersten, Matt Taberner, Lachie Weller and Hayden Crozier have another preseason under their belt.
2018 will be a telling year for both the Dogs and the Dockers. The Dogs will be looking to get back into the eight and premiership contention. The Dockers will be looking to be halfway competitive and stay out of the bottom four.