From the start of this bizarre and unprecedented footy season, the AFL said it would need to be agile and flexible as it navigated uncharted waters and attempted to complete a meaningful premiership season.
This was never more evident than Saturday when Essendon defender Conor McKenna became the first AFL player to test positive test to COIVD-19.
But footy’s reboot has proven the fans will need to be equally adaptable to the fast-changing landscape, with on-field performances set to wildly fluctuate from one week to the next and supporters set for a roller coaster season of highs and lows.
The Lions’ coach Chris Fagan dubbed it the Magical Mystery Tour and the past two rounds have shown that footy has never been more mysterious or unpredictable.
Round three started with Hawthorn’s shock 32-point win over the reigning premier Richmond.
The Hawks, embarrassed by Geelong the week before and dismissed by experts as being too old, produced an ageless performance.
The return of Jaeger O’Meara and a vastly improved showing from fellow midfielders
James Worpel and Tom Mitchell had a telling influence, with the Hawks from the outset displaying superior commitment, a greater willingness to run and move the ball.
While the exceptional Isaac Smith smoothly loped and penetrated, the Tigers were fumbly and disjointed, with their typically slick ball movement blunted by a well-structured and disciplined opposition.
It was another flawless coaching display from modern great Alastair Clarkson, who presented a winning plan to his players that was perfectly executed.
James Sicily was brilliant, while late inclusion Jack Scrimshaw caught the eye.
Wearing four-time premiership defender Grant Birchall’s old number 14, Scrimshaw looks a spitting image with his neat left foot and slightly hunched running style.
Hawks fans will naturally hope the comparisons don’t end there.
While Hawthorn nailed the game plan, what on earth was GWS thinking.
The Giants were missing one of their most effective kicks Josh Kelly and lost another quality connector Lachie Whitfield to a first-quarter concussion, but their timid and indirect ball use against the Bulldogs on Friday night was perplexing.
Despite having three imposing tall forwards — Jeremy Cameron, Harry Himmelberg and Jeremy Finlayson — and the Bulldogs relying on a relatively small back line, the Giants continually chipped sideways and backwards when a faster and more direct approach would have stretched their opponents.
Grandstand expert and former Geelong premiership captain Cameron Ling was particularly scathing.
“Their ball movement is baffling,” he said.
“When you’ve got so much talent in the team… you’re not going to kick a winning score playing like that.”
As for the rivalry, there’s nothing contrived when it comes to the hatred between the Dogs and Giants.
I loved the theatre of the Friday fireworks but Greater Western Sydney was guilty of overplaying it.
Sending Nick Haynes to the coin toss to get in the face of Bulldogs’ captain Marcus Bontempelli wreaked of a side that was over stimulated and lacking focus.
The Bulldogs didn’t shy away from the physical nature of the contest — the constant push and shove throughout the night, or the all-in melee at three-quarter time that looked more at home in a bygone era — but Luke Beveridge’s side also maintained a more hard-nosed attack on the ball and ultimately won the most important fight — for the four points.
In their opening two games of the season the Dogs looked listless, but this was a tremendous display of slick-handed, high intensity footy.
On return from injury, Tom Liberatore was a key protagonist hunting the ball and opposition with ferocity. If the midfield can start to better connect with the side’s struggling forward line, the 2016 premiers might yet give their fans some joy in 2020.
The Mystery Tour’s most magical performance came on Saturday night as Eddie Betts in his big blue shorts put a big wide grin on the faces of fans and his teammates.
The Blues’ first win over Geelong at Kardinia Park since 1996 was the shock of the round.
Finally, Carlton arrived on time and played with conviction from the first bounce.
The typically slow starters booted five goals to one in the opening term and led by as much as seven goals before Geelong’s ultimately futile fightback.
The best of Betts is behind him, but the 33 year old’s capacity to make defenders nervous, his clean ball handling, game awareness and freakish skill gave the Blues a spark that’s been missing in recent seasons.
The XL shorts will be flying off the shelves of the Carlton shop if Eddie’s electrifying antics continue.
To underline the unconventional nature of the season, 2019 wooden-spooners Gold Coast won again and it wasn’t the least bit surprising.
After breaking a 19-game losing streak last week with a convincing win over West Coast, The Suns claimed their first ever victory over Adelaide.
And they didn’t just beat the Crows, they slaughtered them.
Stuart Dew’s once-ridiculed side is no longer an easy kill and has transformed itself into a well-drilled, high-pressure unit.
The success starved club is consumed by an insatiable hunger and inspired by a newfound spirit.
Hugh Greenwood’s powerful second-quarter clearance that set up Matt Rowell’s magnificent running left-foot goal was a jaw-dropping passage of play that typified the reinvigorated line-up.
To the Suns, Rowell is the brilliance of John Lennon and Paul McCartney combined as he fronts an exciting young group with its star on the rise.
In the Magical Mystery Tour, here come the Suns.