Positives aplenty from the first half of the most unique season yet

So many AFL fans are grumbling at the moment.

Some are angry that players, partners and support staff can’t seem to abide by strict hub protocols, others are frustrated at the novel and largely incongruous holding the ball interpretation.

Any and all misgivings are magnified by the fact that we can’t vent our pent-up AFL energy in the stands each week.

That said, thankfully we have a game (and the state of it) to moan about at all.

The amended and re-invigorated AFL season has reached its mid-point. Nine rounds have provided so much positivity and engagement for many at a time when it seems – for those in Victoria especially – little else can.

Sprinkled with feel-good stories on both an individual and club level, that the season has gone ahead at all is cause for celebration and recognition.

Gillon McLachlan and his merry (or maybe not so merry any more) crew of AFL commissioners have and continue to put in a power of work to ensure the season can continue.

Designing a fair and balanced fixture at the best of times is enough to make the eyes water – let alone in 2020.

Quick and deft decision making has not been limited to those on the field this season, so for their flexibility, adaptability and creativity, the AFL commission deserves significant praise.

Gillon McLachlan

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

On the other side of the white line, the first half of the season has seen a number of teams improve on their 2019 campaigns, as some perennial cellar dwellers are starting to see the fruits of their labour.

Most notable among these is St Kilda, whose fruitful off-season recruiting period has seen them nab two players in Zak Jones and Dan Butler who both hold valid claims to be in any rolling All Australian side.

Moreover, the Saints’ young talent like Max King, Hunter Clark and Rowan Marshall are looking at their former ‘deer in the headlights’ selves in the rear-view mirror as they are all becoming consistent contributors at senior level.

Sitting pretty in third position, St Kilda play an exciting brand of AFL, and it seems nigh-on inevitable that 2020 will see them make their first finals appearance since 2011, breaking the longest finals appearance drought in the competition – except for the Suns, who have yet to appear in September.

Along with St Kilda, the Suns have also shot up the ladder, and they are making the most of having the rest of the competition come and face them in the sunshine state.

Having already eclipsed their winning record from 2019, the Suns are starting to strike a balance with the wealth of young talent they possess, and seasoned campaigners are finding a new lease on life in the red, blue and gold.

It started with Matt Rowell, the number one pick whose arrival on the scene was such that he earned the ten coaches’ votes in Rounds 2, 3 and 4, and a word of praise from Joel Selwood. The 300-gamer saw a bit of himself in the young Sun. When his season was cruelly ended through injury, the Suns rolled out Izak Rankine, who has impressed and excited in equal doses.

Izak Rankine celebrates

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

The most heart-warming story of the season, however, took place on Saturday when Majak Daw made his highly anticipated return to senior AFL. Daw’s story of courage, persistence and gratitude is one to which AFL fans, and the community more broadly can look to for inspiration.

As Peter Ryan wrote in The Age on Sunday, Daw’s recovery – both mentally and physically – “benefited from having a football-filled light at the end of the tunnel.”

So when he not only returned to the field on the weekend but kicked a goal, elation and vivacious energy naturally spilled over from both he and his teammates – and all those with a keen eye on the game.

So perhaps we should reconsider drawing a line through the year just yet, as the AFL and indeed sport around the world continues to provide a beacon for many.

Even if your team is struggling on any given weekend, we needn’t look far to find something to put a smile on our faces – even if that smile is hidden behind a mask.

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