AFL: Tigers triumph amid trolls and tragedy
Terry Mallinder looks back at 2019 in the AFL
10. TRADE LIMBO
THE AFL trade period has almost become bigger than the season itself.
It's when the fans of the 17 clubs that haven't enjoyed premiership success are given optimism their side can suddenly challenge by way of some savvy recruiting.
For the players at the centre of discussions, the meat market can be an anxious time.
This year, some got their wish granted, such as Tim Kelly, who joined an ominous West Coast midfield after Geelong begrudgingly gave up the late bloomer two years after plucking him from the WAFL.
Others weren't so lucky, namely Joe Daniher and Tom Papley. One wanted to get to Sydney, the other wanted out of Sydney.
Daniher sought a change of scenery after two wasted years at Essendon battling groin injuries, while an "unhappy" Papley was desperate to return to Melbourne to be close to family and join the Blues.
The two players were intrinsically linked, but the Swans were far too stubborn to set any deals in motion.
9. BUSTED BAD BOYS
DON'T expect West Coast forward Willi Rioli to be getting a contract with Gatorade any time soon.
The 24-year-old premiership player is facing a four-year ban for allegedly tampering with an ASADA drug test - by apparently supplying the energy drink in his sample, though the club's line was "something other than urine".
Rioli panicked when ASADA officials rocked up to Eagles training, believing he had illicit drugs in his system.
Ironically, ASADA was only testing for performance enhancing drugs, not illicit.
Then we come to a couple of Magpies, firstly star forward Jaidyn Stephenson. He plonked $36 on some multi-bets - and turned it into a $20,000 fine and 10-game ban.
Among the bets was "Stephenson to kick multiple goals". The bets were successful, until he confessed to club officials.
Teammate Brayden Sier, meanwhile, despite being sidelined with a calf injury, decided to turn out with mates in a club basketball match under the name "Phill Inn". He was subsequently fined $5000.
8. MENTOR MOVES
TALK about right place at the right time - not one, not two, but three caretaker coaches won the head coaching gigs after their predecessors walked out or were sacked mid-season.
That said, rookies Rhyce Shaw (North Melbourne) and David Teague (Carlton) and one-time Carlton coach Brett Ratten (St Kilda) earned their appointments, breathing new life into the floundering clubs.
Shaw stepped in for Brad Scott, who had announced he'd had enough after almost 10 seasons at the Kangaroos.
The side won four of their next five games.
Teague won over fans after his Blues won six from 11 games. They had claimed just one win from their previous 11 under Brendon Bolton.
Unceremoniously dumped as Blues coach to make way for Mick Malthouse in 2012, Ratten was given a second chance after the removal of Alan Richardson. Coming out to front the playing group after his appointment, the much-loved "Ratts" leapt into the air like he was on an old Toyota ad.
Oh what a feeling.
7. SPOON-FED SUNS
THE wins did not come for the Suns - apart from the three they had in the first four rounds.
But there were plenty of victories off the field in 2019, providing optimism there might finally be some light at the end of the tunnel for the floundering Gold Coast club. While frustrated factions of the AFL simply demanded the cellar-dwelling club relocate to Tasmania, the AFL reaffirmed its commitment to the franchise - and Queensland footy.
Stewie Dew's Suns were dismal on the field, losing their last 18 games straight. But there were beacons of hope with their three top-10 picks from 2018 - the in-demand Jack Lukosius, Izak Rankine and Ben King - all re-signing.
Another plus was the draft concessions handed to the Suns by the AFL, most notably the second selection in this year's draft to go with the No.1 pick they got for finishing last.
With those picks they gained the services of coveted Victorian best mates Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson.
OUTGOING coach Don Pyke was right when he said Adelaide needed "clean air", because the Crows stunk it up in 2019.
The once powerhouse club failed to make finals after seemingly imploding.
Most of the damage was caused by a botched boot camp following their 2017 grand final loss, but it all came to a head in 2019 when a scathing review was delivered at a time when players such as fan favourites Eddie Betts (Carlton) and Josh Jenkins (Geelong) were demanding trades out of the club.
Pyke would fall on his sword with two years left to run on his contract. Sydney premiership player Matthew Nicks was later appointed to the job.
Among the exodus was Cam Ellis-Yolman, who had a parting shot at the club - in particular the infamous camp that "hurt the boys" - as he headed for Brisbane: "I just needed to get out of there."
5. LIONS WAKE
WE ALWAYS knew the Brisbane Lions were on the rise, but to jump from a finish of 15th on the ladder in 2018 to second - and just percentage away from claiming the minor premiership - was epic.
They knocked off reigning premier West Coast and never let up - going on a nine-match winning streak after the bye to seal their first finals appearance in 10 years.
Playing with vigour under coach of the year Chris Fagan, the Lions were the season's feel-good story, suddenly vying for a flag two years after 'winning' the wooden spoon.
Three Lions - Lachie Neale, Harris Andrews and Charlie Cameron - made the All-Australian team.
Neale took his game to another level after arriving from Fremantle, Cameron claimed the mantle of the game's best small forward, and Harris Andrews rose to become the best fullback in the competition.
The only blemishes came in their two home finals - losses to eventual grand finalists Richmond and GWS Giants, by 47 and three points respectively.
"The General" Luke Hodge said goodbye, but left a lasting legacy with these Lions.
4. GIANT STRIDES
IT WAS a momentous season for the newest franchise, on and off the field.
The GWS Giants have fielded better teams in past seasons - on paper anyway - but this was the year they would finally come of age and contest their first grand final.
It would end in an 89-point drubbing at the hands of Richmond - and provide an anticlimax to the season - but let's stick with the positives.
They lost Dylan Shiel at the end of 2018, co-captain Cal Ward (knee) played one game for the season and Stephen Coniglio (knee) missed the last two months. The Giants battled on, however, and showed true grit during the finals, outmuscling the Bulldogs, Brisbane and a shell-shocked Collingwood to reach the premiership decider.
Their late-season surge was aided by the re-signing of Coniglio, who committed to seven years when many thought he would be enticed to Melbourne. The club returned the favour by making him captain.
Another expected to depart, running half-back Lachie Whitfield, also inked a whopping seven-year deal.
3. TROLLS BOOTED
SOCIAL media can be anything but, as AFLW star Tayla Harris discovered in February when Channel 7 ran a photo of her and her unique high-kicking style.
Snapped by Michael Wilson, it would become an iconic image, but only after the Twitter post was attacked by trolls and subsequently taken down by the network due to the "inappropriate and offensive comments".
That move prompted its own backlash, leading Channel 7 to re-post it and admit that removing it had "sent the wrong message".
Harris called the trolls "animals", and was backed by a groundswell of support. Her own tweet of the image has attracted 62,100 likes - the most-liked tweet in Australia in 2019.
The kick will also be etched in bronze. While the final, 3.3m-high statue will be completed next year, a prototype sat in Federation Square throughout September.
Harris's Carlton teammate Darcy Vescio said: "Online trolling occurs every day to a variety of people, but this was the moment people said 'no'".
2. MENTAL DEMONS
IN 2019, the light was shone on mental health in the AFL like never before.
There was the tragedy of St Kilda great, media personality and mental health advocate Danny Frawley, who died in a car crash in September a day after his 56th birthday.
His wife, Anita, revealed that Frawley, who battled depression, had stopped taking prescribed medication eight months prior because he "felt he had beaten the disease", but his "mental health had deteriorated in recent weeks".
Star midfielders Dayne Beams (Collingwood) and Jack Steven (St Kilda) battled their own mental health issues.
Beams, who has taken up painting as a form of therapy, is on an indefinate break, while Steven has returned home to Geelong to be close to family.
1. TIGER TIME, AGAIN
THE Tigers were undisputed kings of the AFL jungle once more - and while it was another team effort, Dustin Martin was again the catalyst as the ultimate big-game player.
Nat Fyfe may have won his second Brownlow Medal, but "Dusty" won his second premiership medallion, second Norm Smith Medal as the best player in the grand final and second Gary Ayres Medal as the best player of the finals.
Martin celebrated for months, and all the while his car was still in the underground carpark at the MCG.
Marlion Pickett may have just been the support act on grand final day for the Tigers, but his story is undoubtedly the greatest of the year.
The 27-year-old, who spent time in prison in his late teens, was picked up by Richmond from South Fremantle during the mid-season draft.
Pickett (who gathered 22 touches) became the first player to debut in a grand final since 1952, and the first to win a premiership in his debut game since 1926.
Not even the shock December retirement of star fullback Alex Rance could take the gloss off the Tigers' year.