We're seeing some ticker from the cellar-dwellers, and ain't it great

It was just three weeks ago that those of us who routinely bemoan the "Chicken Little" tendencies of many in the football world to catastrophise began to think maybe this time they might actually have a point.

If we were talking about the bottom of the ladder, that was. After Round 9, the yawning gap between the bottom three sides on the ladder -- Hawthorn, West Coast and North Melbourne -- and the rest was pretty self-evident.

The Hawks and Eagles had won just one game each, the Kangaroos two. Not just that, though, all three had percentages in the low 60s, only one other team with a percentage less than 97%.

This was some sort of chasm, and it inspired, as such situations generally do, a whole fresh round of over-the-top "hot takes" about least competitive lower echelons for decades, emergency draft assistance and "basket cases".

How's that looking now? Hmmm ... not for the first time, just a little premature perhaps?

That percentage gap has been slashed. The Hawks have trebled their win tally. And North Melbourne and West Coast, whilst not increasing their match points, have at the very least rediscovered a bit of "ticker".

Hawthorn's 116-point smashing of West Coast clearly instilled the confidence necessary to knock over St Kilda the following week.

And strange as it may sound, even Hawthorn's 55-point drubbing at the hands of Port Adelaide on Saturday threw up significant markers as well, none the least the Hawks finding some welcome resilience when they looked set to be another member of the 2023 100-point-plus defeat club.

Even in Hawthorn's more abject performances this season, there's generally been something or someone fresh over whom Hawks fans could enthuse - the equivalent on Saturday the likes of Josh Weddle, Tyler Brockman or Connor Macdonald.

But Hawthorn really found something on a pure resistance level in Adelaide, too, hitting back at the carnage the Power was causing on the scoreboard, booting six of the last eight goals of the game.

It's been a similar story with the Eagles against Essendon, then even more so against Collingwood on Saturday, the top team on the AFL ladder leading bottom by just 14 points late in the third quarter.

It's taken a lot less than some thought it might to get West Coast in with at least a sniff again, even with the now seemingly inevitable spate of in-game injuries, the likes of Dom Sheed, Elliot Yeo and Tim Kelly making a world of difference in the middle stages against the Pies.

And how much improved has North been the last few weeks? The Roos have lost to Sydney and Essendon by a kick or less, and kept Collingwood relatively honest in between.

The kids look increasingly impressive, Harry Sheezel, Will Phillips, Bailey Scott, and George Wardlaw for starters, then there's the greater authority senior hands like Ben McKay are now bringing to the mix. And on Sunday, the near-upset of a top eight side came despite the second-half absence of Jy Simpkin and Hugh Greenwood. And of course, the absence of its coach Alastair Clarkson.

This is a side, remember, which some critics have in recent times suggested was just as bad if not worse that Fitzroy in its last AFL season of 1996. Which was patent rubbish even then looks even more stupid a comparison now.

Fitzroy, broken, broke and bowed in its final sad year in AFL company, was ritual cannon fodder, beaten by 100-points-plus four times, and nine times losing by 80 points or more. That's happened to North Melbourne just once thus far in 2023, and you'd think is unlikely as the confidence levels among the kids rise on a weekly basis.

The couple of teams just above that bottom three, by the way, GWS and Richmond, turned on another great game on Sunday afternoon.

And nor should that have been any great surprise. Because if you invest a few minutes in something more than fingernail-deep analysis, it's pretty clear the Tigers and Giants have been far from terrible this season, Richmond losing five games by 18 points or less and drawing another, seven of the Giants' eight defeats in 2023 by 21 points or less.

Notice something else about these "down-the-ladder" teams? It's that if you throw 13th placed Richmond into the mix, you're talking about three teams which have shared seven of the past 10 AFL premierships. We're hardly talking institutionalized failure here.

And of course, Collingwood, rightly the current hottest flag favourite, was this time two seasons ago the subject of all sorts of hand-wringing and internal and external angst.

The Pies would eventually finish a dismal 17th, spend much of the year squabbling around the board table, and eventually replace a legend called Buckley as coach with a little-heralded development based guy called McRae. Not a bad call as it turned out.

For the AFL ladder's cellar dwellers, the past few weeks have offered something other than gloom and doom. And the lesson in that? That sometimes, whether you're a club coach, administrator, or even simply a fan, you really do just need to close your eyes, stick your fingers in your ears, sing "La, la, la", and avoid all the unnecessary white noise.

You can read more of Rohan Connolly's work at Footyology.