Nothing about the 2020 AFL season could be considered normal. Consider, for example, that midway through June we'd seen just one round of games and by then none for nearly three months.
We had an abbreviated fixture, shorter games, and the vast bulk of teams didn't get the chance to play at home. Given the impediments, that we eventually witnessed 153 games was remarkable in itself.
But some things do remain the same. Like the also-rans. As eight teams prepare themselves for a tilt at the premiership, there's another 10 beginning some serious self-assessment as to where things went wrong this year.
Some had a nightmare, others finished with plenty to look forward to. Here's my take on them all.
MELBOURNE (9th - 9 wins, 8 losses)
There were certainly decent moments for the Demons. Unfortunately, there were also some shockers, most importantly that disastrous two-game stretch in five days in Cairns, when they effectively blew a finals spot with losses to Sydney and Fremantle. That's two finals misses in a row now since reaching the top four in 2018, and a list this decent should be doing better. Could certainly use some more midfield speed, and there's way too much dependence on the still-inexperienced Sam Weideman as a key forward target. Coach Simon Goodwin has plenty of thinking to do over the off-season about some alternatives.
GWS (10th - 8 wins, 9 losses)
There's no getting around it. Any grand finalist which misses the following year's finals altogether has had a nightmare of a season. It happened to Adelaide in 2018, and the Giants must be praying history isn't going to keep repeating on that score. Coach Leon Cameron (who has been extended) might be looking at a semi-rebuild here, with veterans like Heath Shaw and Shane Mumford surely pondering retirement, Zac Williams wanting out, and Jeremy Cameron looking anything but happy. The Giants couldn't ever get on a roll, ended up losing five of their last seven games, and seemed to lose most of their damaging run and flair in the process. A lot of work to be done.
CARLTON (11th - 7 wins, 10 losses)
The Blues had some big moments, like beating Geelong at Geelong and a famous after-the-siren win in Perth over Fremantle, but their massive Achilles heel proved their seeming inability to halt opposition momentum, which often saw them either conceding too big a start or getting run over. Carlton regularly failed to make the most of scoring opportunities, too. That said, Sam Walsh's development continued, Jacob Weitering was outstanding in defence, and Harry McKay showed real maturity as a key forward. Much hope will be invested in the return of Charlie Curnow in 2021. Alongside McKay, he could be the key to Carlton turning promise into more tangible rewards.
FREMANTLE (12th - 7 wins, 10 losses)
For a team which won just two of its first eight games, Fremantle finished 2020 with much hope for the future under new coach Justin Longmuir. Even whilst losing, the Dockers were never less than competitive (indeed, only two of their 10 defeats were by more than 30 points). And in the second half of the season, those near-misses began to be converted into wins. Despite missing some big names from the backline, Freo was rock-solid defensively, thanks largely to a great year from Luke Ryan, and Caleb Serong in midfield was a revelation. The Dockers certainly need to score more, but Matt Taberner's consistency was a positive even in that area. Will certainly be bullish about what next year can bring.
ESSENDON (13th - 6 wins, 10 losses, 1 draw)
It was a car crash of a season for the Bombers, who went from finals to 13th, won just six games, and just one of their last 10, looking a dispirited rabble by the end. Sure, injuries to a score of key players didn't help, but their lack of depth was exposed, their game style looked confused, and the dual coaching arrangement of John Worsfold and Ben Rutten was a mess. Now there's every chance they'll lose a trio of stars in Joe Daniher, Adam Saad and Orazio Fantasia. Key defenders Cale Hooker and Michael Hurley are ageing, less capable and reportedly disenchanted, and while newly-crowned best and fairest Jordan Ridley was a revelation, Andy McGrath shone and Kyle Langford improved, that's not nearly enough for a team whose senior core is unravelling. A major rebuild might be on the cards.
GOLD COAST (14th - 5 wins, 11 losses, 1 draw)
The Suns certainly looked more solid than before, and at least didn't suffer the same number of heavy defeats as previously, but yet again a season which began full of promise still finished in a string of defeats, just one victory coming in the last 10 games. Sadly, much of the momentum seemed to evaporate after the season-ending injury to boom youngster Matt Rowell, who'd given them a huge midfield boost. Fellow draftee Noah Anderson soldiered on, and senior pick-ups Hugh Greenwood and Brandon Ellis proved great value, so there's plenty of plusses, but Stuart Dew's team really will have to deliver more tangibly in 2021 to be taken seriously.
HAWTHORN (15th - 5 wins, 12 losses)
This was rare territory indeed for the Hawks, their lowest ladder finish since 2004, and until their rousing last-round victory send-off for retiring Ben Stratton and Paul Puopolo, they'd won just one of their previous 12 games. Simply couldn't get their hands on the football enough thanks to a midfield which lacked depth, and they looked thin up forward and shaky indeed defensively, particularly once clearly their best in James Sicily was lost to a serious knee injury. A couple of fresher faces in Will Day and James Cousins showed some promise, but years of sustained durability from the veterans has almost inevitably left Hawthorn a bit short on the emerging talent front. Looks like it's time to hit the draft in a big way rather than the trade table.
SYDNEY (16th - 5 wins, 12 losses)
The ladder might not say so, but 2020 actually ended up a very positive year for the Swans, particularly given they didn't see Lance Franklin for the entire season, and also lost Isaac Heeney, Dane Rampe and Josh Kennedy for large chunks of it. Sydney was seldom blown away, threw a huge spanner in the works of a couple of other finals aspirants, and continued to turn up promising talent in the likes of Justin McInerney, James Bell and Hayden McLean, while James Rowbottom took another big step forward. There's no doubt the Swans need another dangerous key forward with doubts on the durability of both Franklin and Sam Reid, and midfield warhorses Kennedy and Luke Parker need more help, but this is a transition which looks like it could get somewhere quickly.
NORTH MELBOURNE (17th - 3 wins, 14 losses)
A season which started well with two wins finished up a disaster, with just one more coming in the last 15, and ultimately forcing coach Rhyce Shaw and the Roos to concede major list surgery was required, 11 players already cut immediately after the final game had ended. Some familiar names are already gone, and some huge ones in Ben Brown and even Shaun Higgins may yet join them. It's obvious, given the cataclysmic impact the long-term injury loss of Ben Cunnington and skipper Jack Ziebell had on performances, that the Roos lacked depth and that too many experienced players simply weren't good enough to pick up the slack. Which means that come 2021, Shaw is effectively beginning the North coaching gig all over again.
ADELAIDE (18th - 3 wins, 14 losses)
It looked almost certain with a month left that the Crows would record league football's first winless season since 1964. But suddenly, the glimpses of promise Matthew Nicks' team had shown ever-so-briefly were strung together for longer periods, and an ice-breaking win over Hawthorn ended up becoming three in a row. There's still a heap of work to be done, but Nicks stood his ground in playing the kids for extended periods, and the likes of Lachie Sholl and Harry Schoenberg delivered for him, while the older Shane McAdam and Tyson Stengle showed some real spark. It meant the Crows can approach next season with some tangible gains having been made, and importantly, with genuine hope that can grow.