Without being accused of bias, I have to start this review off by saying this game was eminently forgettable. Having watched the game and compiled my notes, I then sat on them for a couple of hours. It’s hard to remember anything of note actually happening. The weather in Melbourne on Saturday was abysmal, with the mercury just barely reaching double digits, and he had gusty winds which even the enormous stands of the MCG couldn’t block out. The skills on show were at times sloppy and at times worse, but in the end the better team won the day.
Melbourne haven’t copped anywhere near the criticism they deserve this season. They aren’t low hanging fruit anymore, and yet people seem content to let them off scot-free because of injuries, among other things. In reality, the injuries Richmond have had to deal with have been far more significant this season, yet the Tigers managed to soldier on for the first half of the year before breaking into a gallop after the bye to now be knocking on the door of the top four. The Demons, on the other hand, took a bad start to the year and never seemed to be able to rid themselves of their own misery, wallowing now into 17th spot. They’ve lost their last five games, and you couldn’t possibly blame them for counting down the days until the horror of 2019 is over.
Collingwood, on the other hand, have had a hugely topsy-turvy year. Injuries have played their part, but since the last time they played Melbourne in Round 14, a game they won to have themselves 9-3 heading into the bye, they’ve won just four of their eight games. Back-to-back losses to the Giants and Tigers just a fortnight ago gave the impression that the Pies were done and dusted for 2019, but to Nathan Buckley and his side’s credit, with their backs to the wall they’ve managed to earn wins in their last two games, against admittedly inferior opposition, to have them back in contention for a top four spot. While today was certainly not their best win by a long shot, it’s a win in the books, and they all count in the race for September. In what could best be described as a squib of an affair, here’s what happened:
OH NO, NOT YOU AGAIN
Some friends are comin’ round tonight
He’s out on the town, He’s tryin to score
With thanks to Australian Crawl. In what was a first quarter played predominantly between the arcs, chances to score were few and far between, so when Jordan Roughead, cast as a forward today in the absence of Mason Cox and Jordan de Goey, had his kick smothered by Jake Lever at the top of the square, it looked like a wasted opportunity, and a bad one at that. Enter, however, Brody Mihocek, who, like his team’s mascot, swooped on a loose ball and snapped the ball through for what looked like a goal. Angus Brayshaw, bizarrely sans helmet for the first 15 minutes of this contest, jumped straight to his feet though, claiming he had touched it, and the goal umpire obliged, asking for a score review.
Since the score review was really put under the blowtorch after another Collingwood game, against Fremantle in Round 11, it seems that the bigwigs at AFL House have done their best to fix the system, and there have seemingly been far fewer errors since Michael Walters was erroneously awarded a goal in that clash. The process has certainly been under the blowtorch far less frequently, and I think fans are slowly coming around to the idea that having some kind of review system is better than not having one at all. That is a camp within which I would place myself firmly, with the ability to overturn obvious errors an important tool up the sleeves of the umpiring staff.
With all this being said, the score review today looked to be an absolute shambles, and it very easily could have been the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of the AFL abolishing the system altogether. Calling the incident a straw is probably selling it a bit lightly though. It was more of a grand piano dropped from 30 storeys high. With the initial angle of Brayshaw’s attempted smother fairly inconclusive to the naked eye, the broadcast cut to another angle that showed the ball had been clearly touched. The only problem with that was that the vision in question was of Lever’s smother on Roughead, and not Brayshaw’s on Mihocek. Nevertheless, the incident was quickly ticked off as a behind, with many, myself included, believing that the score reviewer had clearly investigated the complete wrong incident.
Fox Footy, the host broadcaster, didn’t show a replay of the situation until the last quarter, when the game was all but over, and though further angles of the Brayshaw play didn’t seem to say any more about whether the ball was touched, apparently technology made available to the score reviewer suggested it was. Now I’m all for the right decision being made, although the optics of this one were horrendously bad, but you would think that the host broadcaster would be afforded the vision made available to the analyst in question determining the score. At the end of the day the incident made little difference to the result, but if the AFL want to persist with the score review and not be criticised of complete and total ineptitude, it might be high time they got someone capable of decent PR spin in to head office.
MAN OF STEELE
I’ll keep you by my side with my superhuman might
With thanks to 3 Doors Down. Adam Treloar was a clear best on ground last weekend against the Suns, but Steele Sidebottom was a close second. Playing as a half forward in the absence of de Goey, Sidebottom looked back near his creative best, with shades of September 2018 about the way he moved in and out of congestion and created space for his teammates. Some coaches would not have repeated that kind of masterstroke, but while the Pie certainly didn’t play every minute of game time as a forward, Nathan Buckley essentially stuck to his guns.
At times in the first quarter it looked as though the Pies simply lacked a forward structure. With Cox and de Goey out, it was probably a result of the team simply not being able to kick it to the targets they are ordinarily so used to kicking it to. However, with Sidebottom winning just one of his eight first quarter touches inside forward 50, it looked as though he was getting lost up the ground a little too often. However, I think the reality was that his workrate was just so high that he ended up getting further up the ground than he probably needed to. It didn’t end up hurting the Pies though, and he was very much the difference maker in their forward line. If any player were to end the goal scoring drought for Collingwood by receiving a handball and bursting through 50, I probably would have backed Sidebottom, although he ended up missing his shot in the first quarter.
He’s kind of like a Mr Fix It for Nathan Buckley, with the capacity to fill just about any gap on the ground. His hands out to Treloar for Pendlebury’s second were tremendous, finding space in a pack where there wasn’t then releasing the pressure by getting the ball out of the congestion, then essentially the same moments later for Varcoe’s second. He was by far and away the best on ground after being in the best last week, and the lack of attention given to him by opposition sides is almost criminal.
After his performances in the finals last year, and having finished second in the Brownlow, you would think that teams would attempt to negate his influence, but having been shifted into a more outside role this year, in combination with the prolific season Treloar is having and the more than able support being provided by Pendlebury and Taylor Adams he’s flown under the radar a little. Just five of his 28 disposals on Saturday were contested, as he found the ball far too easily. His workrate is almost unmatched, and despite playing predominantly in the front half, he was on the last line of defence late in the third to save a goal. He finished the day with five tackles, six rebounds, four inside 50’s, three clearances and eight score involvements in a clear best on ground performance.
Sidebottom was ably assisted in the forward line by Brody Mihocek. He had been a little quiet as the focal point of the Pies’ forward line, but his mark at the front of the pack in the second was typical, and he nailed the set shot to restore the lead. Really lifted in the second, rarely fumbling any opportunities that came his way. The former Borough man worked his way on top of his duel with Jake Lever, using his body exceedingly well in the third to mark and kick his third, and though the Dees shifted May onto him for the last, the former Sun allowed his opponent far too much space inside forward 50 for the Pie’s fourth goal. Mihocek ended up with 4.1 from 12 touches, with seven marks and eight score involvements, as everything he touched pretty much turned to gold.
Impressively, he also laid six tackles, and four inside forward 50, as he did everything Bucks could probably have asked of him and more. Collingwood’s forward set up almost looks more dangerous without Cox and de Goey, with unpredictability an asset rather than a liability, and Mihocek as an able key forward.
A SHIPWRECK OF A SEASON
I just spent six months in a leaky boat
Lucky just to keep afloat
With thanks to Split Enz. Melbourne’s year never really got out of the harbour, with Simon Goodwin and his coaching staff having to constantly bail out the water being let in by a team which struggled to commit to footy’s fundamentals, things they did so well last season in their run to that prelim which now looks like a complete aberration.
It was interesting to hear Garry Lyon on commentary, a man for whom this club clearly means so much, talking about how basic skill errors have killed the Dees this year. When they take the game on, when they run and gun through the corridor and their prime movers get involved, Melbourne look less like a dinghy and more like the super yacht we know they can be. It hasn’t been a complete write off of a year, with Steven May and Jake Lever playing a few games together, Bayley Fritsch being unearthed as arguably the club’s best forward, and flashes of brilliance from Christian Petracca, but ultimately it has just been too little from too many for the Demons.
For an example of Melbourne at their most infuriating, you need only look at the passage of play leading up to Fritsch’s behind in the first quarter, with the ball transitioning from defensive 50 to the forward line in essentially the blink of the eye, with the former Casey Demon taking a good mark in front and then hitting the post from a very gettable set shot. Or you could look at Christian Petracca’s point early on, where he read the flight of the ball perfectly at the front of the pack then went back and missed his set shot badly. Their first quarter looked half decent though, with scrappy finishing the only thing keeping them from establishing a good lead at quarter time, though in fairness inaccuracy was an affliction with which both sides had to deal early.
Petracca and Fritsch look a likely duo up forward though, and both were decent today even if they went missing through patches of the middle half of the game. Petracca was involved in all five of the Dees’ first quarter scores, and looked on for a big day before Brayden Maynard and Collingwood’s stoic defensive group really put the clamps on the pair. The 2014 Number Two Draft Pick went right off the boil, and despite an excellent kick to Josh Wagner late in the second which his teammate duly missed, Petracca was pretty much unsighted until the fourth quarter, when the game was essentially over, but finished with 1.2 from 20 touches, with game highs in 10 score involvements and 11 inside 50’s. He’s tremendously talented, and could genuinely tear a season apart in the future, but this year has been pretty disappointing for the youngster, just as it has been for many of his teammates.
Fritsch’s day was by no means horrendous. Three of his 10 marks were contested, and half came inside forward 50, as he showcased his aerial prowess against a Magpie backline which is above all else pretty good at killing off balls in the air. It could have been a mammoth day from the Dee to cap off what has been a pretty good month, with multiple goals in each of the previous four games after managing just four goals in the 15 games leading up to that point. However, in difficult conditions for goal kicking Fritsch managed just 1.4, and in a game the Demons ended up losing by just 17 points, that level of inaccuracy proved fairly costly. He was far from his side’s worst though, and looks perfectly at home as a forward.
It has of course been an awful year for the Demons, but watching their game against Collingwood you just got the sense that this is a side completely devoid of confidence. Jake Melksham returned to the side last week after three months out, and though you could probably give him one game to find his feet, he went backwards today, with just 0.2 from 12 touches. He was far from alone as a forward though, with Harry Petty, Oscar McDonald, Jayden Hunt and Oskar Baker all registering 10 touches or fewer.
It would be unfair to blame the forwards solely for today’s performance. Their defence on paper should be one of the best in the AFL, and though Steven May has acquitted himself pretty well since his return to the senior side in the second half of the year, with his smother on Will Hoskin-Elliot in the goal square in the first quarter reminiscent of another famous Collingwood MCG moment, he has received too little help. Jake Lever was beaten by Mihocek, Sam Frost had no impact, and Michael Hibberd looks nowhere close to the All Australian he was in 2017. The former Don’s kick to Callum Brown (who had another excellent day) right at CHF in the final minute of the second was a horror, and not only did it stop his side from going inside 50, Collingwood almost managed to score from it.
These sort of team-wide issues have to begin somewhere, and I reckon Melbourne have looked devoid of leadership this season. You’d be hard pressed to find a footy fan anywhere who wasn’t happy for Nathan Jones with the success of last season, but he looks to have run out of legs this year, and it might almost be worth considering whether it’s best to jump before you’re pushed. He had 20 touches at 80%, but just four contested possessions, and after going without a tackle last week he laid just one this week. Again, he was far from his side’s worst player, but I reckon he might need to consider relinquishing the captaincy next year to focus on regaining his best form.
Viney is a tough nut, and that is no secret, so he wasn’t going to back up last week’s tackle-less performance with another one that would invite questions over his attitude. Only Clayton Oliver, who was in Melbourne’s best three, has more than the co-captain’s eight tackles for their side, but Viney managed just the 18 disposals and seven contested. I reckon he, like many at the Dees, simply can’t wait for the year to be over.
BACK IN BLACK (AND WHITE)
So look at me now
I’m just makin’ my play
Don’t try to push your luck, just get out of my way
With thanks to AC/DC. Collingwood’s push for a top four spot may ultimately come to naught, but if nothing else comes of this season they’ve given themselves a pretty good platform for next year. While regular contributors Pendlebury, Varcoe and Mayne are all the wrong side of 30, they’ve all been at the very least handy this year, with the captain having yet another in a long line of remarkably consistent seasons. However, what should be most exciting for Collingwood supporters is the prevalence of young talent in the senior side.
Callum Brown has been the Pies’ biggest improver this year. He’s played 18 of a possible 20 games now, having not missed a game since Round 4, and after playing just 13 games in his first two years at the club. It was probably the best game of his young career on Saturday, with 21 touches and five inside 50’s. His handball to Rupert Wills in the first was the right option, but he needed to lay a shepherd on Clayton Oliver, who ended up executing a run down tackle.
Another player who absolutely deserves a greater mention in this section is Brayden Maynard, who has been a vital cog in the Pies’ backline all year. He hasn’t missed a game, and is averaging career highs in disposals and rebounds as he becomes a far more trusted, senior player at the club. He is just 22 years old, with 93 games under his belt, but plays with all the confidence of a player with 200 games of experience. He had another 20 touches today, and was vitally important in ensuring the Dees couldn’t penetrate their opposition’s defence, but it was two tackles which really put him at the forefront of the mind. His crunching tackle on Fritsch in the first was a beauty, and probably saved a goal for his side, and he didn’t stop running even when the game was over, nailing Jake Melksham with a huge tackle in the dying seconds of the game. That’s the kind of desperation coaches love to see, and I have no doubt Maynard would be close to the first picked every week at the Holden Centre.
Collingwood weren’t really challenged on Saturday. Melbourne pressed hard early, but got no scoreboard reward as a result of their efforts, and then went missing for a long patch of the second and third terms, allowing Nathan Buckley’s side to kick seven goals in a row in a 36 minute patch across the middle period of the game. Again, the Dees probably won’t cop any of the time under the microscope, what with Essendon’s insipid performance on Saturday night, but when the end of the year comes, a thorough review of where Melbourne are at needs to be undertaken.
SATURDAY ARVO’S ALRIGHT (FOR FIGHTING (TO A NIL-ALL DRAW))
Well they’re packed pretty tight in here tonight
I’m looking for a dolly who’ll see me right
I may use a little muscle to get what I need
With thanks to Elton John. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the most intriguing part of this match, as it always is when these two sides clash, was the battle between last year’s All Australian ruckmen in Brodie Grundy and Max Gawn. If you cast your mind all the way back to the Queen’s Birthday match this year, you’ll remember Max Gawn was unbelievably dominant, receiving three Mongrel Votes, and yet his team lost comfortably. Apparently Grundy wasn’t 100% that day though, so this clash shaped as an even more enthralling one, with the Pie out to prove a point.
Gawn took Grundy forward in the first quarter in what was a clever move. Forcing Grundy to defend against the bigger Gawn is clearly a difficult task, and the Dee used his larger frame and somewhat surprising agility to get out on the lead and take a nice mark to cap off a good passage of play from his side. His set shot was abhorrent though, not making the distance from 40 metres, and if you start as you mean to go on, this was a bad sign for the Dees.
The battle was probably a nil-all draw in the end. Gawn had some nice moments, with a set shot goal, and his hitout to Jordan Lewis for Fritsch’s goal was a thing of beauty, but Grundy was probably more consistent all day. I reckon Bucks would be happier with the way the duel unfolded than Goodwin. Gawn is vital to Melbourne’s structure, and while Grundy is probably Collingwood’s best player, they’re so gifted in midfield that they could, on a day like today, which admittedly didn’t suit the big men, afford a breakeven.
In the end, the Pie won the hitouts 44-29 over his opponent, and had 16 touches to 13, but Melbourne won the clearances 36-31. Gawn was essentially playing as a tagger on Grundy, but I reckon if you had to declare a winner, it would have been the Magpie, but only just.
This was not a game many would want to go back and rewatch. I’m not sure we learnt much more about Melbourne, who have fallen away so dramatically after last year’s finals exit, which you’d have expected would have instilled some fire in the belly. They have games against fellow bottom six sides Sydney and North Melbourne to come this year, but they are consigned to at the very best a bottom four finish, and a top four draft pick in this draft could really provide some much needed vitality to this Demons’ side.
While there are no easy games, I reckon the Magpies would be loving their draw at the moment. After a challenging six week period, games against the Suns and Dees have allowed them to rediscover some of their mojo, and they finish their home and away season with games against the Crows and Bombers, both of which they probably start favourites in. They’re outsiders to finish in the top four, but if Richmond lose any of their final three games, it certainly would open up a spot for the Pies heading into September.