Though they are the eternal excuse, it cannot be understated just how impactful and degrading injuries can be to a club’s ambitions for a season. All it takes is some long-term injuries to a handful of key players to derail any club’s hopes of making finals or contending for a premiership.
Given the breadth of injuries that have plagued the AFL in 2020 – most certainly due to the rushed season and condensed fixtures – we’ve decided to look at who have been the worst hit clubs for injuries in prior seasons, 2020 notwithstanding.
(Disclaimer: this isn’t license for the fans of these clubs to use this as an excuse for their poor performances).
For all of Collingwood’s good fortune in the last couple of years, including a grand final berth and a preliminary final the following year, it’s fair to say that they have dealt with several injury crises despite their persistent place as a premiership contender.
The club has had to deal with a wealth of soft-tissue injuries and traumatic ailments that have seriously derailed their premiership ambitions, leading Nathan Buckley to selection headaches as he tries to break his own personal duck.
Collingwood always seems to bookend their seasons with injury woes, with their worst cases often coming early in a season, then towards the tail end when it’s crunch time. In 2018, they suffered a multitude of torn ACLs in Tyson Goldsack, Lynden Dunn, among others – a horror way to start the season. Darcy Moore persisted with leg injuries that severely limited him, while Adam Treloar injured his hamstring in the run-up to the finals (not the first time this has happened to him). It’s a miracle they even made the grand final and nearly won it.
2019 seemed to be as bad, if not worse, than their previous year. In scattered cases throughout the season, a multitude of players had issues, mostly soft tissue. Taylor Adams, Moore, De Goey were some of the bigger names who suffered from hamstring concerns. Tom Langdon has had knee troubles that have kept him largely on the sidelines since 2018, while Dayne Beams experienced a plethora of injuries that ruined his return to his old club. It became evident that Collingwood were somewhat cursed in the medical room.
However, it’s 2020 where it’s become a farce for the club. At the time of writing, Treloar has pulled his hamstring off the bone, Pendlebury has only just returned from a thumb injury, De Goey is likely out for the season, Jeremy Howe ruptured his PCL and Isaac Quaynor had his leg cut open by metal studs. Their finals hopes are hanging by a thread, as Collingwood deals with another year of an injury crisis.
You really cannot begrudge them for believing that they have been arguably the worst-hit club in the AFL when it comes to injuries.
Similarly, to Collingwood, GWS have been impacted by the injury bug whilst holding finals and premiership ambitions. It can even be said that the club has suffered dearly when attempting to secure a premiership that many had thought was due to them, given their development following their introduction to the AFL in 2012.
2017 saw the Giants as one of the worst-hit clubs in terms of key injuries to vital players. Ryan Griffen, Brett Deledio, and Stephen Coniglio all saw significant portions of the season on the sidelines due to their injury troubles. Most damningly, and perhaps in a case of over-analysing, the Giants sat atop the ‘injury ladder’ when factoring in the sheer amount of games lost, while again finishing at the top of the ‘injury cost ladder’, which adds up the total scoreboard points lost per injury, according to AFL Player Ratings. GWS had all the metrics to blame injuries for a season of falling short.
The following year featured more of the same, as Toby Greene spent significant portions of the season out, as did superstar Josh Kelly, former number one pick Jon Patton (whose knees never were quite right) and hard runner Tom Scully. GWS never had a shot at fielding their best 22 that season, so it was no wonder they struggled.
Last year, the Giants stumbled to 6th on the ladder, with a third straight year of an injury crisis. Stephen Coniglio tore his meniscus and missed the second half of the season, including their shock Grand Final appearance, no doubt a big loss in their mauling at Richmond’s hands. Phil Davis limped to the grand final on one leg, barely able to get on the field while Whitfield dealt with an appendectomy from the week prior. Toby Greene also persisted with soft tissue concerns, while Callan Ward missed the season with a torn ACL suffered in Round 1. This was perhaps the worst hit team to make a grand final we’ve ever seen.
‘Injury crisis’ has now become synonymous with the Giants.
If we are going to talk about clubs that have been racked with injuries, then Essendon has to be considered as one of the most troubled by the plague of injury. The club has become known for its history of soft tissue injuries and chronic ailments, especially in the last few seasons following their Supplements Saga.
The obvious sufferer is Joe Daniher, who since 2018 has been kept out for nearly every game following an extended bout of osteitis pubis, where his pubic region has suffered inflammation and has prevented him from taking that next leap forward in his career for his club. Orazio Fantasia has also suffered from a ton of soft tissue injuries, such as hamstrings and calves, since his breakout year in 2017. His injuries coupled with Daniher’s have forced the club into makeshift forward lines that haven’t quite clicked, leaving the club in perpetual limbo.
If we’re talking 2020, where every club has been riddled with injuries, then perhaps Essendon have been the worst hit alongside Collingwood. As it stands, Essendon have only just announced that Daniher will return this season, having been without him for over a year. Jake Stringer missed significant time due to an ankle injury, where he was possibly rushed back in order to salvage something from the season. Fantasia is still out injured with a calf problem, David Zaharakis has suffered a quad injury that has ruled him out for the year, whilst captain Dyson Heppell has been ruled out indefinitely with an ankle injury since June, that will likely sideline him for the rest of the season.
These are just a handful of the key players that have spent time injured for Essendon, forcing them to scramble and to improvise in order to be able to field a side each week. The lack of a VFL in 2020 as well as really stretched their limits on the young prospects that they can bring in, as well as hinder any rehabilitation for their stars who would be returning from injury.