Melbourne are kings of the AFL for 2021. And the Demons broke their drought in such fine style it seems 17 other clubs might have some catching up to do.
The good news is that they all now have six months to get their houses in order in a bid to compete again, some with new coaches, others about to hit the trade period and draft hard to refurbish their player lists.
Not to mention a full pre-season in which to improve fitness, tweak game plans and to attend to the deficiencies laid bare this year.
What does each club most need in order to mix it with the likes of the Dees in 2022? Let's take a look.
In year three of a rebuild under Matthew Nicks, 2022 is the year the Crows have to start bedding down more of those new pieces into the jigsaw puzzle. That's particularly the case up forward, where Darcy Fogarty, Riley Thilthorpe, Elliott Himmelberg and Billy Frampton have all been tried alongside Taylor Walker without making a spot their own.
Two "D"s should be the Lions' focus for 2022 - depth and defensive pressure. The first was exposed with the loss of key players at either end, Eric Hipwood up forward and Darcy Gardiner down back. More injury cover is required. Brisbane was also at times vulnerable around the contest, where opposition midfields were capable of winning too much ball and scoring frequently without a strong enough response.
The Blues have a new coach in Michael Voss, and they have quality, young players at either end of the ground. What they chronically lack is enough midfield support for skipper Patrick Cripps and a now-established star in Sam Walsh, hence the interest in former Docker Adam Cerra. But even he on his own isn't enough. Perhaps the Blues need to bite the bullet on a couple of early-draft mids who haven't measured up and look elsewhere.
Sort out the backroom political strife. While the appointment of Craig McRae as coach is a big step forward and has been universally well-received, the continued in-fighting at board level is destructive, hijacks the agenda, and serves no purpose other than to propagate a narrative of a club not all on the same page. Sort it out ASAP, Magpies.
As positive as was Essendon's 2021 was, a 1-9 record against the top eight also underlined a still-clear gap between their own and the competition's best teams. Finding another quality tall at either end would go some way to bridging that, particularly down back, where Michael Hurley remains a big "if" and James Stewart still a bit "iffy" against quality key forwards.
A decent year for the Dockers, but still plenty of improvement required to mix it with the best in the competition. To that end, pace and skill are two areas which need to get better quickly, and a mobile tall might help Freo's scoreboard potency as well (ranked only 15th for points scored in 2021). Geelong's Jordan Clark would certainly help the skill factor, but more finesse is required across the park for Freo, the AFL's most inaccurate converter.
Try something different. The trading in of established senior players hasn't taken the Cats all the way, and nor has the overly-cautious obsession with controlling possession and the game tempo. It's time to take more risks, Chris Scott, be they offering more game time to younger, fresher faces on the list, or a more direct, quicker route to the scoring end which puts more faith in your team's proven ability to win the contest.
Credibility on and off the field remains the Suns' holy grail. A handful of wins over quality opposition was at least a step towards the former, but Gold Coast need a lot more than that, and for a sustained period, to finally pick up that passive support in a backyard prone to apathy. One will feed the other, and to acquire more wins, the Suns badly need more on-field consistency.
This time last year, a synopsis of GWS would have had to question morale and Leon Cameron's coaching position. But the Giants responded brilliantly to both those queries in 2021 in the face of adversity. It's personnel which can take GWS further next year, specifically key position players at either end with Jesse Hogan not necessarily durable up forward and Phil Davis approaching the end down back.
The Hawks' rebuild started to gather some serious momentum late in 2021. But now there's a new man in the driver's seat, Alastair Clarkson having handed the coaching baton to Sam Mitchell, and history shows the next chapter after a generational coach has left the building can be fraught (exhibit A Kevin Sheedy). Hawthorn needs to look resolutely forward next year, allowing Mitchell the platform, and the clear air, to build his own dynasty.
It's tempting to leave this space blank, for obvious reasons. The Demons have the game's best midfield combination, the No.1 ranked defence, and are No.5 for attack. They're also the youngest premiership side since the Bulldogs of 2016 (who failed to even make finals the next two years). Perhaps, then, that's at least a "keep your eye on" maintaining the appropriate hunger so that what has the capacity to be a golden era actually becomes one.
Far less gloom and doom attached to the Roos than most wooden spooners. That's because of some genuine promising signs from the younger likes of Jy Simpkin, Luke Davies-Uniacke, Tarryn Thomas, Nick Larkey and Cameron Zurhaar. Developing key position players at either remains a high priority, though; Charlie Comben is the hope of supporting Larkey up forward, but Ben McKay badly needs assistance in the defensive 50.
There's a potential problem looming up forward with Charlie Dixon now 31 and still lacking support. But support is a bigger problem for the midfield, where the dependence upon Brownlow medallist Ollie Wines and Travis Boak was ruthlessly exposed in the preliminary final. It's time, in 2022, for young tyros Rozee, Butters, and Duursma to step in terms of midfield minutes and consistency and relieve the burden on the 'top two'.
The Tigers' back six was ravaged by injury all year, and now there are permanent holes left by the retirements of Bachar Houli and David Astbury, spots which may need more immediate replacements than some of the youth at Punt Road can provide. The depth players at Richmond haven't had a heap of opportunity over the last few seasons. It's going to come now, which means this (thankfully longer) pre-season for the Tigers needs to be a big one.
The one thing the Saints need most after some trade-ins which backfired is emerging young talent. With just three national draft picks, though, (9, 46, 64), they're not yet in a position to acquire much. This might require some bold moves at the trade table next week - selling players off for picks, particularly talls who can help out the fragile Rowan Marshall/Paddy Ryder ruck combination.
The Swans had a terrific year relative to expectations, but despite the huge promise of some very talented youngsters, still look a little on the thin side when it comes to depth, and specifically, tall talent. Tom Hickey can't be expected to have another year out of the box and could use some support, and while we'll see a lot more of Logan McDonald; veteran Lance Franklin could do with a bit more of a chop-out up forward than just the young Sandgroper.
With a dozen players 29 or older on the list this year, regeneration via the draft has to be a priority for the Eagles. But so might be some revision of their game style. West Coast's uncontested keepings-off style saw them regularly picked apart defensively when it didn't have the ball, and it ranked low for tackle pressure and contested possession. A more physical approach seems required now.
Another quality key defender. Alex Keath can't do it all, and Zaine Cordy and Ryan Gardner won't cut it against the very best key forwards in the competition. The Bulldogs rank only mid-table for fewest scores conceded per inside 50. That needs to be tightened up as the best teams continue to hit the scoreboard as hard as Melbourne did in the Grand Final.
You can read more of Rohan Connolly's work at FOOTYOLOGY.