The 18 club captains – or the most photogenic of the co-captains – gathered on the rooftop of the Museum of Contemporary Art to help launch the 2012 AFL season.

While the annual captains’ survey found Hawthorn to be the most likely to make the grand final amongst the skippers, with 11 votes as the other club most likely to make it to the grand final but Luke Hodge was playing down expectations.

The Hawthorn captain brushed off any worry of expectation though.

“From when you first walk into a footy club you are taught not to worry about external opinion,” Hodge told BigFooty News.

With a couple of blockbuster games against last year’s grand finalists in their first two weeks, the Hawks get an early opportunity to see where they stand in season 2012 which is something not lost on Hawthorn’s skipper.

“Pretty much all we focus on are firstly Collingwood and Geelong – they’ve been the most consistent teams over the last three or four years, and they’re the ones you’ve got to knock off. Then there’s Carlton and West Coast and other teams coming up behind them.”

Joel Selwood maintains that the Cats will still be a force in 2012 despite whispers of a fading squad.

“People talk about us by asking when we are going to fall over. We don’t need to fall over and we are going about things the right way.

“We don’t want to do any worse than last year, but the whole competition has improved, so we’ll have to lift again,” said the first-year captain.

Essendon skipper Jobe Watson was particularly optimistic about the improvement in the Bombers, describing the mood around the club as “pretty excited” after “a good injury free pre-season for a lot of the guys, we’ve got a lot of conditioning in”.

And after the furore  of the defection of ‘Bomber’ Thompson and getting Hird on board, Watson believes that the consistencies in the club should translate to results on the field.

“The guys are a lot more familiar with the program and what they are trying to get out of it. We are looking forward to seeing how further advanced we are after 12 months, and now 18 months under Hirdy’s tuition and similar sort of philosophies and coaching styles.”

After flying under the radar as ever, Sydney surprised many by winning through to the semi-finals in 2011, and with a more free-flowing game plan and a more potent forward-line, are feeling good about their chances for the upcoming season.

With the season launching on his doorstep, and Kevin Sheedy ensuring lots of column space for the AFL’s newest team, the Swans have been quietly going about their business and skipper Jared McVeigh is not short on confidence.

“We’re really confident, we’re confident in our coach, his game plan and the players we have around us. Playing two finals last year we know we can match it with the best teams,” he told the BigFooty News.

Alongside the Hawks, the club captains also voted Collingwood, West Coast and Geelong as those most likely to make the eight. Also quietly fancied to return to finals were Adelaide, on the back of their NAB Cup win.

Captain Nathan van Berlo described the feeling as cautiously optimistic despite their excellent pre-season run.

“For us it’s about continual improvement – that’s something Bret Stanton brought with him from day one at the footy club.

“We realise that we’ve started off the pre-season really well, but after all, it’s just the pre-season, but if we keep improving on that, then I’m sure our performance will come and we can get this club back up where it belongs,” van Berlo explained.

Lance Franklin was almost unanimously tipped to take out the 2012 Coleman Medal, with 14 of the 18 captains voting him to be the season’s leading goal kicker.

His skipper Hodge was full of praise, describing Buddy’s development as a player, not just as a goal kicker.

“He’s always been a quiet guy, but even you guys can see, on-field, he’s a bit more mature out there, just how he handles himself in the media, and how he is more willing to help out the young guys, while most players are just worrying about getting a game.”

He’s done a lot more focusing on helping his fellow forwards and helping to make a better side overall,” added Hodge.

Franklin at 24 was added to the Hawks’ leadership group this season, something Hodge had no reservations about.

“Tactically he’s thinking more about the game – he knows where the ball is going to go – the more you play senior footy – he’s played 131 games now – the more knowledge and experience you are going to get to help out the younger guys.”

GWS’ No 2 draft pick, Stephen Coniglio is the popular choice among the captains to take out the 2012 Rising Star.