Yeah, yeah, so I get that this is an AFL season without a dominant team, in which seemingly any one of five or six teams could win the flag.

What goes unmentioned but is closer to the heart is that this is also the year in which your office tipping competition could be taken out by the girl who spends several weeks of the season in a remote area of Nepal.

(I couldn’t make this stuff up, our WAtoday comp is currently being led – by three clear tips no less – by someone who has just returned from Everest base camp).

Never before can I remember a season in which a) the form of so many teams could be chucked out the window b) gut feel had such potential to reward the brave (especially in tipping comps weighted on betting odds) and c) inaccurate guessing could bring tippers so badly undone.

My season’s total to date is 54 correct tips (one week I forgot to tip and got a three). If I’m being kind to myself, I note I’m only one tip off being as smart as Mick Malthouse; if I’m being realistic, I recognise that I’m being killed by most “experts”, such as Dennis Cometti (63).

Among my short list of hits for the year – tipping both Adelaide and St Kilda to beat Sydney and, in turn, predicting Collingwood would beat the Crows in Adelaide on the weekend.

Among my longer list of dumb efforts so far – going for Richmond to beat Carlton in round one (and writing that the Tigers would make the eight), thinking North Melbourne could defeat the Swans in Sydney and then tipping Port Adelaide to beat Essendon and Sydney but then somehow imagining the Gold Coast might upset the Power last week.

(at this point I also feel compelled to re-reference my comment a couple of weeks back that, if the Port playing group was put out in a hard rubbish collection, most would just get left alone on the verge by passers by until the council truck rolled up…clearly I have a love-hate thing going on with the Power).

And then there is my own club, Fremantle.

I failed to tip the Dockers in their round one upset of Geelong but – through no conscious effort – I’ve managed to tip them every week since.

There has been triumph (a Friday night win over St Kilda), bewilderment (a quite bizarre loss to Carlton), frustration (ball butchery in what should have been a win against Sydney) and a prolonged flurry of expletives (seriously, what made me think they could just hang within striking distance of Hawthorn in Launceston, then run over the Hawks late?).

Sunday’s western derby was the last straw.

I’d hoped for some good old-fashioned derby spirit.

I got it all right, just not so much like 2000’s Demolition Derby and more like the first ever Freo-West Coast match in 1995, which the Eagles won by 85 points.

Some observations from western derby 35:

  • While the Dockers were trying to work out if three ruckmen could play in the one team, the Eagles just casually trotted out by far the best big man combination (Dean Cox and Nic Naitanui) in the competition.
  • The Eagles have lost three of their best forwards (Josh Kennedy, Mark Nicoski and Mark LeCras) but still get the job done around the goals. Meanwhile, Freo’s two best forwards (Hayden Ballantyne and Matthew Pavlich) are on the park but regularly needed up the ground to help a midfield sorely lacking for pace and penetration.
  • The emerging young team of 2010 (Freo) has not only been comprehensively passed by the supposedly stuck-in-the-mire side of that same year (West Coast), there has actually been some lapping involved.
  • I packed in watching the game at three-quarter-time, insert your own jokes about whether I lasted 20 minutes longer than some of the Freo players.
  • Chris Masten would walk straight into the Dockers team and not even be its worst kick. Naturally he’d have to do something about that hair though.
  • It’s probably going to be a while yet before things improve greatly for Fremantle.
  • Lastly, it’s about time I stopped tipping the Dockers against teams higher on the ladder.

The second-last of those items is perhaps the hardest to accept.

I didn’t expect Ross Lyon to be a miracle worker when he replaced Mark Harvey but, based on what he achieved with St Kilda, I figured he’d have the Dockers challenging for fifth or sixth spot and shaping as a finals wildcard.

Now, however, I think about the midfield cattle he had at St Kilda – Nick Dal Santo, Brendon Goddard, Lenny Hayes, Leigh Montagna, even Clint Jones – and, well, the differences at Freo are pretty sobering.

From what I saw on Sunday, it will likely be another two or three years before the Dockers have the midfield zip and oomph to be a consistent threat against the best sides.

Disappointing but, unfortunately, something Freo fans and Lyon will have to work and live with.

None of this, of course, should particularly bother Eagles supporters, who can safely start planning to spend part of September at Subiaco (and maybe even the MCG)

To the West Coast fans who occasionally read this column and accuse me of being an Eagle hater simply because I support the Dockers, let me state a few things unequivocally.

Your team is all class. I actually quite enjoy watching it play (geez, that hurt to type). In such an even season, you are as likely as any club to win the flag.

I envy your ability to go to watch the footy each week and just know you are going to win – a feeling foreign to Dockers fans, save for that golden run in 2006.

And finally, I won’t tip against you again. At least, not until round 21, on the road against Port Adelaide.

Tough outfit that Power, at home, on a cold late winter’s afternoon in Adelaide.

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