It’s not often I find myself completely agreeing with David King, but I found myself nodding during the broadcast of the Adelaide v Gold Coast encounter today.
You’re going to get good honest footy from the Gold Coast Suns. They lack a couple of stars to do the spectacular or at least the dynamic, game-breaking things that set teams apart, but if you play them on their merits, you’re always going to get a contest.
It took the Adelaide Crows a quarter and a bit to work out that finessing the ball, being too cute, and going at three quarter pace in contests were not going to get the job done, but once they woke up, we may have seen a giant start to emerge from hibernation.
Do giants hibernate? Were the Suns the right team at the right time for the Crows to run into? Am I asking too many questions to begin a game review?
All will be answered, or artfully dodged in the Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
THE EDDIE BETTS SHOW
I’m not a great fan of out the back goals, and Eddie was making a living out of them in this game, but when something happens that’s pure footballing genius, you can’t help but tip your hat.
The game was well and truly over when Eddie Betts kicked his sixth and final goal in his 300th game. He’d just been gifted a charity goal for his fifth after Lachie Murphy met the shoulder of Jarrod Harbrow, but I didn’t have Betts as one of the best players on the ground by a long way. It’s probably the first time this season where a player has a bag of five and wasn’t in consideration for votes.
But what Betts pulled out on the boundary line, in the opposite pocket to his usual brilliance, was something to behold. Marginally beaten to the ball by Jarrod Harbrow, the spoil somehow stayed in the field of play. Betts read it well, caught it cleanly, and off one step unleashed an amazing, curling banana kick on the left foot.
It swung from right to left in the Adelaide evening sky as the crowd erupted into rapturous applause. In his 300th game, Eddie had kicked his goal of the year contender, and those who doubted that he could still cut it at AFL had another miraculous effort to silence them.
In a game that lacked a genuine highlight, it was the most Eddie Betts thing that Eddie Betts could have done.
And make no mistake… Eddie Betts did it. Again.
You could almost hear a collective groan from Adelaide supporters when Tom Doedee went off the ground after injuring his ACL early in the season. After losing Jake Lever at the end of 2017, Doedee made a lot of people forget about Lever.
And then when Doedee went down… he’s a hard player to forget.
But Alex Keath is doing his utmost to stand up in a role that is one of the most important in the Crows structure. He was excellent this afternoon, racking up 12 intercept possessions to lead all players in a stellar defensive effort.
Keath was one player I didn’t think would be a standout for the Crows, but here we are, 17 games into his career, and he is starting to look like the key back the Crows need. He had 18 touches, and ran at an impressive 89% efficiency for the game, and though he got his hands on it plenty of times, is well aware of his limitations, and dishes off to others to clear the defensive 50. That is a well-drilled defender.
So there was another guys celebrating a milestone in this one, and despite it being anything like a party in the dour first quarter and a half, it took some running brilliance from 150-game runner, Brodie Smith to spark the Crows into action.
Adelaide missed Smith last season. He returned late in 2018, but the Crows’ season was already all but a lost cause. If he continues this form, maybe he can be the man that ignites Adelaide in what has been a rather up and down start to 2019?
Smith had 27 touches off half back, at 85% efficiency as he went about his business, gathering a game-high 674 metres for his team. Whilst metres gained can be a misleading stat at the best of times, Smith’s disposals were obviously cutting the Suns to bits.
He darted through the middle of the ground to become not only a rebounding defender, but also a scoring threat in the last quarter, snagging a long goal to give him two for the day.
Earlier in the season, many asked how the Crows were going to accommodate Smith, Laird and Wayne Milera across half back. The answer against the Crows came in the form of Smith stepping up his game, particularly when Milera went down hurt after a nice Pearce Hanley bump in the contest.
Milera may miss some extended time by the look of it, but with Smith back in the team, the Crows have a reliable run-and-carry defender who hits targets regularly.
While the Crouch brother combined for 72 touches between them, it was fellow midfielder, Rory Sloane who impressed most, with 20 contested touches amongst his 32 for the game.
Sloane is an absolute workhorse, and his six tackles indicate that he works just as hard without the ball as he does with it. On several occasions, it was his direct pressure on the ball carrier that caused a turnover, or impacted a disposal to the point of making it ineffective.
When there were rumours that Sloane was looking to relocate to Melbourne last year, there were those who thought it may have been a good move to get a fresh start somewhere else. Others speculated that the playing group at Adelaide weren’t a happy bunch. Sloane bucked all that when he re-signed with the Crows, a move that demonstrated he believed in where the club was at, and where it was headed.
He has become the heart and soul of this club; just as important as any member of the team, and the leader they needed to sit alongside Tex Walker.
TWO METRE PETER
Say what you want about the departures from Gold Coast, but the development of several players may not have occurred with Tom Lynch, Steven May, Aaron Hall and Jarryd Lyons in the team. Chief amongst those developing well is Peter Wright.
The big fella took seven marks for the game, with just about all of them in the forward half. With 54 games now under his belt, he is fast becoming one of the most difficult forward match ups in the game. He leads well, has good instincts as to when to take off, and when taking the ball at its highest point, he is a free kick waiting to be called.
If anything, he should’ve had more chances this afternoon, but for some wasteful inside 50 delivery from his teammates. I’ll go out on a limb here – I think we’ll see the big guy grab a 6+ goal game in the not-too-distant future.
If he can get a little support inside the attacking arc (Rankine, Sexton would be great in tandem) and have one of the classier midfielders deliver the ball, we might see Wright emerge as a legitimate force in 2019.
He’s well on the way already.
That said, when those chances in front of goal present, you have to capitalise on them, and the big fella could’ve had five in this one.
I reckon Lachie Murphy was the first of the Adelaide Crows to up the ante in terms of pressure football this afternoon.
While his numbers aren’t going to blow anyone off the park, when the Suns were bottling things up in the first and second quarters, Murphy was the circuit breaker the Crows needed.
He finished with three goals (not counting the gift he gave to Eddie Betts) and five tackles, each of which were important. Though he didn’t hit the trigger for small forward pressure (three tackles inside 50 is when you know someone is on!), he was able to disrupt the Suns often enough to create chaos and open the door for teammates.
And then there was his mark with the flight of the ball, opening the door for Betts to kick his fifth. Never at any stage did Murphy take his eyes off the ball as he ran back with the flight. I actually think Harbrow could’ve really hurt him had he wanted to, and was quite justified in the contact he made, but I may be on an island with that one.
Nevertheless, Murphy’s courage should be applauded, and Eddie owes him a nice steak for the generosity he displayed by staying down and being unable to take his kick for goal.
THE BIG BODIES
You look at Hugh Greenwood and Cam Ellis-Yolmen running around the midfield and they’re like human tanks.
15 contested possessions and two contested marks for Greenwood, combined with 12 contested touches amongst his 29 disposals for Ellis-Yolman are great pointers that the Crows got it right at the selection table. At times they were running alongside their Gold Coast opponents and you could just see the difference in body composition. There was simply no way that the Suns’ mids could continue to match it with these brutes for the entire game.
Against these two, the Crouch brothers and Slone, the Suns midfield were like welterweights trading blows with the heavyweights. Eventually they were going to get hurt, and all it took was a little fumble or double grab for the smaller Suns to start feeling the heat with the bigger bodies surrounding them.
If there is a criticism of having these two in the midfield mix it’s that the Crows look very one-speed with them in there. The run and carry doesn’t come from that midfield, but needs guys like Gibbs, MacKay and Atkins running past to capitalise on the work of the big bodies. It worked today, but let’s see how it goes when they run into a midfield that can match it with them physically.
THE LACK OF A FINISHER
There’s a fair bit the Suns have to work with, but one thing they’re really missing is that classy inside 50 finisher. As much as I like Alex Sexton, he’s the guy you want running deep inside 50, getting onto the end of the forward thrust.
Sadly, he led the Suns in inside 50s todays, meaning that it was either Two-Metre Peter, or bust. Jack Bowes and Touk Miller (second and third in inside 50s) are both grunters, and will do the hard yards, but when you have leading forwards, you need that touch of class to finish plays off, and I don’t think they’re going to give you that.
Jack Martin is the one you’d like to have kicking to you, but he splits time between forward and midfield so can be caught between the two positions at times. Fiorini? Getting plenty of it but was under pressure on many of his disposals. Harbrow? Nice kick, but didn’t have the run and carry due to having to play so deep on Betts.
Pearce Hanley is the other option, but by the time he started accumulating touches, the game was gone, and the chances of spotting up a leading forward with fatigued legs becomes less likely.
The Suns should get Lachie Weller back eventually, and Izak Rankine might be the spark they need hitting people up inside 50. There’s a bit to work with, but if you’re a Suns fan, you’d want it to start working sooner rather than later.
THE FIRST QUARTER
It was ugly, scrappy, and for a while there, looked as though we may have a goalless quarter on our hands.
Kicks were sprayed, targets were missed and errors were aplenty as the Suns… and I mean this with the utmost respect, dragged the game down to play it at their level.
And the Crows fell into it.
In the intro, I mentioned that it took Adelaide a quarter and a bit to work out how to play Gold Coast, and it is so, so simple. You have to match their effort. They’re always going to bring 100% effort to contests, and they did it today. In a sense, they tested the Crows out.
I like this quote – Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
In this one, the Crows took a while to learn that dicky little handballs in close weren’t going to work. The Suns were hunting, scrapping and throwing themselves into the contest, and the Crows were trying to outclass them, when what they really needed to do was outmuscle them.
Yes, they worked it out, but in the interim, we were treated, and I use the word very loosely, to an abysmal quarter of football.
I’m not sure how many grabs he ended up taking inside 50, but I know that Tex Walker had five at one stage. What a relief that must be for him, after having just one to the beginning of the round. He was a couple of long shots at goal away from having a day out today, and though a lot of that was due to the Crows breaking down the pressure of the Suns halfway through the second quarter, seeing those clean hands from Tex must have been a welcome sight.
I was glad to see Tom Lynch get better as the game wore on. Let’s face it… he’d have had trouble getting worse. Clanger after clanger in the first half of the game saw him going at a very lowly kicking percentage, but testament to his hard work, he finished with 22 touches as the high half forward, and even got that disposal efficiency up to 63%.
Pretty harsh of the Crows fans giving Lynch the Bronx cheer when he hit up a teammate in the second quarter.
I reckon the Sam Collins story is a great one, and one of his contested marks in defence in this game was an absolute pearler, but please, Stewy Dew and the Gold Coast defence…. Stop relying on his kicking to get you out of trouble. It’s not his wheelhouse, and he doesn’t look comfortable doing it. Take a look at the way the Crows were using Alex Keath today – they play to his strengths and don’t expect him to be making the difficult kick outside 50.
Whenever Collins has that kick, I start to get nervous. I’ve seen enough of the Suns this season to know that Collins, as great as he is turning out to be overhead, is a complete liability when forced into the role of kicker deep in defence. The Suns need to orchestrate a runner, or a couple of runners to take the heat off Collins after he does the hard work in winning possession.
I know it’s Alex Sexton’s job to zero-in on the goals whenever he gets close, but there is a touch of Kevin Bartlett about him at the moment. Lower those eyes once in a while.
I thought Bryce Gibbs was good without being great. Playing deeper into defence than he usually would, he got a little bit of the easier ball in this one. Only three contested touches came amongst his 26 for the game, yet he missed the target a few times along the way.
I like Brayden Fiorini. I like him more because Champion Data rated him as “poor” coming into this season, and he has stuck it right their asses by averaging 28.4 touches per game this year. That said, he was under a lot of pressure every time he got it in this game. I’d like to see him get a bit of protection around the ball, but other than Hanley, who do the Suns have that can run into a few people?
That Greenwood contested mark inside 50 – three Crows flew for that one and only one Suns defender. That was a big defensive breakdown.
Once a bit of fatigue set in, that rebound from the Crows became deadly. Murphy’s goal out the back came directly from a quick defensive 50 exit following Alex Sexton’s miss. What’s the old saying – fatigue makes cowards of us all? It also makes bad transition defenders.
And that’ll about do me. I don’t want to get too excited, too early (as my old mate, Joe Ganino reportedly does) but the Crows have the Saints next week in what will be a belter, and we get the first Q-Clash in a while that means a bit. I’d like to see Metricon Stadium sold out.
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