With the Grand Final played and won, the long dark no football months of summer lie in wait for us. In an effort to bring some light to this miserable time, The Pinch Hitters intend to take a look back at the season that was and celebrate the great moments of season 2018. Today we shine a spotlight on the recruits who set the football world alight in their first season in their new clubs colours. Lets count down the Top Five.
5. Adam Saad
The Bombers acquisition of Dylan Shiel this off-season should have come as no surprise given the returns they realised in 2018 after their raids of the expansion club at the end of 2017. Adam Saad slipped effortlessly into Essendon’s half back line and became an explosive weapon in the Bombers high octane style of play. His run, carry and daring set the Bomber crowds alight and saw him claim a fourth place finish in the club’s Best & Fairest.
4. Jaidyn Stephenson
It was a debut season to remember for Jaidyn Stephenson. Drafted with the sixth pick in the draft by Collingwood, he played all 25 games in the clubs Grand Final charge and became their first ever winner of the AFL Rising Star Award. Quickly becoming a vital part of the Magpies fleet of small forwards he kicked 38 goals, the most by a teenager since Chris Grant in 1990, including two on Grand Final Day.
3. Tim Kelly
Having been overlooked in the draft for five years in a row, Tim Kelly played like a man with a point to prove after being drafted by the Cats at his sixth attempt. Quickly cementing his place in Geelong’s star studded midfield, the 24 year old averaged 23-disposals a game and would finish the year adjudged the AFLPA’s Best First Year Player and tied for second with Patrick Dangerfield in the club’s best and fairest.
2. Devon Smith
Smith was the perfect acquisition for the Bombers in 2018, with his relentless pressure (he led the competition for tackling with 186) bringing a new dimension to the side. Playing through midfield and half-forward, Smith hit career-highs for average disposals, contested possessions, tackles, and clearances as he was clearly the Bombers best player in 2018. His decision to trade Sydney’s West for Tullamarine rewarded with the Crichton Medal as Essendon’s Best & Fairest.
1. Luke Hodge
READ: The Hodge Effect
While the sight of Luke Hodge in anything other than Brown & Gold took a little getting used to for the rest of us, the foresight of the Brisbane Lions to imagine him providing leadership for their team has been rewarded in spades. The impact the four time premiership winner has had on the club being far greater than the sum of his statistics on game day.
With a list packed with young and exciting talent, the Lions needed an experienced head to fast track their development. While his impact wasn’t felt on the win loss register, it was clear in the way the team went about their footy. If you are looking for a team to make a sharp rise from the mire of the bottom four, Brisbane may well be it and Luke Hodge will be a large reason for the climb.