In a game dubbed ‘the country game, played in the middle of the second biggest city in Australia, one regional team, located 45 minutes drive from Melbourne, took on a team that is now based up near the airport but has its roots fifteen minutes away.

But it’s the country game! Here’s Paddy Grindlay’s good, bad and ugly.

The Good

Gaz Booed, Reported, but Responds.

I want to be very clear here:

I won’t tell anyone when, why or who to boo.

I don’t want to pen pages full of indignant, outraged defence of a player who is booed.

Booing someone does not mean, in my book, that said player is an irredeemable villain who is universally despised. Nor does it mean that the boo-er is a disgrace. Booing a player, in most cases, is due to dirty plays during the game. Rarely is a player booed for his off-ground behaviour.

Gary Ablett copped it from those in black and red. How much of the vitriol stemmed from Ablett’s ill-advised liking of a homophobic post by Israel Folau is unclear. It could have easily been from his stray elbow that massaged Dylan Shiel. I have a sneaking feeling the origin was the former.

Be that as it may, the facts are the following: Ablett liked a post he shouldn’t have, and he’s going to pay for it for much of this year, I’d wager. Which is fine. The upset over Ablett’s booing is justified – I won’t deny the man is a champion, and seeing a champion booed will never fill my heart with anything but disquiet. When Adam Goodes was booed, there was a ground-swell of racial vilification that gave the saga the nastiest of edges. Ablett has fallen afoul of the court of public opinion. I’m sure his football isn’t affected (as his game today proved) but watch this space. The AFL may look to respond.

With that out of the way, Gary had a strange Sunday afternoon. In the first quarter, he ran the MRO gauntlet with a sneaking elbow that, no matter how hard, collected the side of Dylan Shiel’s head. It was reckless and unneeded, and he will be looked at, but Shiel played out the game with no ill-effect. Worst case, he misses a week.

Booed and booked, Ablett shone for the Cats. His pair of goals typified class in a game that slogged and shuddered its way to a dour finish. His 26 touches, that hunch-backed, intentful Ablett run; Gaz is genuinely entertaining to watch when he’s on, and the Dons were kind enough to allow him a paddock to dash into for much of the game. By the end of the game, those adorned in white-and-blue hoops cheered his every possession, drowning out the boos.

It was a symbol for his game. But there will be more to come from today.

The Sheen of the B-Team

Joel Selwood was ruled out well before the game’s beginning, setting the Cats’ vaunted midfield a task. When Patrick Dangerfield’s left knee and ankle threw in the towel in the first stanza, relegating the Brownlow Medallist to the forward line and an eight-possession game, Geelong’s midfield looked a little bare. Against an Essendon side looking to rebound after a controversially bitter loss to Collingwood, Dangerfield and Selwood’s absence felt, on paper, match-turning.

But the Cats have a lot of midfielders and they’re not too bad at football, it turns out.

Tim Kelly played a fantastic game of football, dominating the contest with 30 disposals and 10 clearances, hustling from stoppages and bringing forth the wave of fleet-footed Cats beside him. His two goals (he could’ve had three but gave one to Duncan) were crucial; and he had help. The aforementioned Duncan, a wondrously consistent footballer, tore up the outside and bagged a trio of snags, most entertaining a from-the-square torp that pinged against the lofty advertising boards. Cam Guthrie (25 touches and a goal) and Sam Menegola (28) dug in, but I was most impressed with two experienced Cats in their first year of senior footy.

Tom Atkins has been plugging away in the VFL for some time and, finally on an AFL list, has shown all and sundry that he’s more than capable. Usually cast in the mould of a high-pressure forward flanker, Atkins found himself a niche in Geelong’s star-short midfield and impressed with a workmanlike 23 touches. It was apt that Atkins, with an old-fashioned country mullet, shone in the Country Game where the contest was dour.

Gryan Miers is the other guy I loved on Sunday. He has the most, ah, intriguing name in football and his dreadlocks are pretty interesting as well, but what I was most fascinated by was his role as not just a link-up guy, but a midfielder. From what I’ve seen of Miers, he’s capable of applying plenty of ball-pressure and surprising with a sneaky 20 possessions as a bubbly half-forward. He had a very noticeable 25 touches and roamed well away from his happy goalsneak-ing home for a lot of them. How the Cats keep unearthing players like this is beyond me.

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The Great Wall of O’Blicwartij

Tom Stewart’s an All-Australian so, really, we should expect a domineering, “you shall not pass” sort of performance, where he refuses to be beaten, leaping around like a gleeful moustachioed bandit robbing footballs that fly over the local footy club’s fence. Stewart dragged down a ton of marks and had 21 kicks as he mopped up Essendon’s ineffectual forward line. He’s piecing together another All-Australian season but his mate Mark Blicavs might take away a spot, the way he’s playing.

Blicavs ate Daniher alive for three quarters, matching big Joe’s steepling run and ridiculous leap with his own. He spoilt him, tackled him, threw him around like a rude uncle playing backyard footy with the family. Daniher’s single goal was a rushed snap when the game was all but concluded. He is one of the toughest backmen to score upon and seemed to win every aerial contest.

Finally, I want to give some love to Jake Kolodjashnij and Mark O’Connor. The third banana’s of Geelong’s back half don’t get a whole lot of media coverage because of the work of Blicavs and Stewart, a la Astbury and Grimes for the Tigers when Alex Rance reigned supreme. But Kolodjashnij quietly went about his work, ho-hum, nothing to worry about.  For Stewart to intercept and Blicavs to lock up Daniher, Geelong’s #8 has to hold his own – and he did, backing into packs and taking tough defensive marks. Jake Stringer kicked 3 on him but, to be honest, Kolodjashnij looked to have won the battle for mine.

Mark O’Connor was more noticeable because he completely bludgeoned Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, who went goalless from his meagre 9 touches. O’Connor looks an honest footballer, who runs hard alongside his opponent and determinedly butters up time and time again.

Geelong’s defence is great. It’s really great. It might be Premiership-good.

The Bad

Anthony McDonald-TipungBarometer

Pardon the horrific subtitle.

I really love watching Walla play because he’s fast, strong and brings his teammates with him. You can’t escape his tackling, he kicks miraculous goals and sets others up and he chases maniacally, making plenty somethings out of less than nothings.

A small forward often can’t do this forever at a high level. There are stinkers chucked around through a career. This was one of them.

Walla couldn’t get going on Sunday. O’Connor was sent to him and the Irishman limited him to perfection, not allowing the Dons superstar his bullocking run into and out of contests. He couldn’t make an offensive impact and it showed on the scoreboard. I expect Walla to lift next week.

Unfortunately, the issue with McDonald-Tipungwuti is not the man himself, it’s the Dons’ inability to kick a winning score without his oft-magnificence. My favourite stat of the day comes from Joshua Kay (@js_kay on Twitter). In Essendon’s last five wins, Tippa has 20 goals, one behind. In their last five losses, he has a total of 0.0.

Kick! The! Goal! Dons!

3.7 in the second half will not win you games of football, Essendon. Aaron Francis’ move to the forward line looked pretty fun pre-game, and on the stats sheet, 7 marks and a couple of grabs inside 50 look most definitely serviceable. However, Francis missed both his shots at goal, Kyle Langford did as well and Jake Stringer had 3.2 on the day.

Missing goals, however, didn’t cook Essendon; the Cats were bloody good and refused to be beaten. But note this ‘bad’ column. If Essendon can’t get Tippa to score, they seem to lose. It’s not much of a problem at this moment; so far this season, they haven’t kicked poorly at goal, and found plenty of avenues to goal.

So far.

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Look! Mongrel Punt Stubby Holders. Buy one and be cooler than all your friends! It also helps the site out.

The Ugly

That Danger Gaffe

If you mark the football mere metres from goal, with a pretty slim angle, please, I’m begging you, go back and kick the goal.

Patrick Dangerfield had full-on egg-to-the-face in the second quarter where he decided to handball to youngster Jordan Clark in the goalsquare, moments after snagging an overhead mark about 11 metres from the goal umpire. He wasn’t really unchecked either, Clark, and that was before he panicked as Danger’s lobbed handball hyperbola-d its way toward him and fell over.

Dangerfield was left wandering ashamedly about as Essendon fans (and the entirety of footy Twitter) fell into hysterics. Lucky the Cats won.

If you play footy on weekends, wherever it may be, and you mark the ball in the goalsquare, kick the thing through the big pointy sticks. Please.

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