Thank god I got to cover this game – it renewed my faith in footy this weekend.

How so? Well, on Friday night I saw the stupidest fixturing of the season result in the Hawks obliterating the Giants. Yesterday, I had to endure one of the most dire halves of the season between Geelong and North Melbourne as the Kangaroos forgot how to play footy, and I was really hoping that this one was able to provide me something worth writing about.

And as the final siren sounded, I was a happy footy fan again.

The best game of the weekend saw the Crows take it right up to the Eagles, but on their home deck, the Big Birds were able to steady and eke out a ten point win on the back of Jack Darling, Luke Shuey and a combination of Yeo, Rioli and Sheed.

The Crows were far from disgraced, with the Crouch brothers running amok in the middle and this young star in the making having his breakout game. His name is Darcy Fogarty, and I’ve been banging on about him for over 12 months now. Finally, I get the chance to write about him in a game.

There is a heap to get though here. It’s probably lucky I run this joint, and word-limits are a thing that went out with newspapers, right?

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

THE GOOD

JACK DARLING

Has there been a better-performed forward in the second half of the season than Jack Darling? Maybe Tom Lynch at Richmond, but if push came to shove, I am still choosing the Eagles’ big man as the best.

He continued on his merry way this afternoon, and at times he found himself in such vast amounts of space inside forward 50 it wouldn’t surprise me if he’d forgotten to wear deodorant and opposition defenders just didn’t want to go near him.

I know the Crows were being caught out on turnovers, but their inability to get back and get someone close to Darling probably cost them the game. That and the turnovers themselves, which we’ll get to.

Darling clunked marks, kicked goals round the corner and laid off two direct goal assists himself. He worked up the wing to contest in the air, and his work at ground level was some of the best I’ve seen inside 50 this season. Not just by Darling – by anyone! He laid seven tackles inside forward50, his determination to lock the ball in the Eagles’ front half a vital component of the home side’s victory.

So, do we all have Darling as our All-Australian centre half forward at this stage? It seems strange to be saying that after he started the season pretty slowly, but he just hit a career high 50-goals for the season, and if he has a big couple of weeks, could still win the Coleman. I know it would take a bit of a miracle for that to happen, but it’s not entirely out of play.

Am I crazy thinking that darling at CHF and Lynch at FF is a viable All-Australian key position combination? I really don’t think I am, but Tom Hawkins probably deserves a look in as well. These next couple of weeks will be very interesting, as most of us have very short memories and… I forgot what I was going to write.

Just kidding – so often how a player finishes the year has a bigger impact on the AA selectors than the way they started. A good fortnight will see Darling in the All-Australian best 22.

CROUCH X 2

If we have to pick, despite the weight of sheer numbers, I am saying that I think Brad Crouch had a better game. His 35 touches seemed to have a little more meaning for me, and his ability to get forward caused some real headaches for the Eagles.

Matt was prolific. His 43 touches were by far the game-high, but I felt he got a fair few of them drifting back into defence, whereas his brother worked mainly through the guts, where the action was.

Plus, we have to deduct a little from Matt due to the fact he was the one responsible for putting Rory Sloane (who had 17 touches at this stage) out of the game with some sort of eye/orbital bone injury. Yeah, I know where the orbital bone is – wanna know how? I got punched in the eye once and the fucker cracked it.

Still, you should’ve seen what I did to his fist! I really messed it up with my face!

Since being mooted as potential trade bait, the Crouch brothers have really turned it on for the Crows. Their work at the coal face (15 clearances between them) and ability to find the footy probably make them the best brother combination since… (and cue the outrage when I miss a pair of siblings) the Krakouer Brothers, who adored in the 1980s.

My hope is that the Crows keep this tandem intact, however, if Malcolm Blight gets his wish and they get shipped off to Gold Coast for Lukosius and draft picks, then I hope they are part of the solution for the Suns. Both are tremendous players.

LUKE SHUEY

We’re starting to head toward that time of the year. Some people call it finals. Others just use the word ‘September’ to describe it. West Coast supporters may choose to remember it as the time Luke Shuey plays his best footy.

I loved the way Shuey went about it today, and once again, his ability to stand in tackles, take the contact, and then just force the tackle to fall off him was remarkable. He has obviously done a mountain of work improving his core strength to the point where he is one of the hardest blokes to bring down in the league.

He had a game-high 19 contested touches to go with another game-high of ten clearances as he battled the two-headed monster with the help of a bloke we’ll get to soon named Elliot.

Shuey is exactly the kind of player whose game stands up completely in September. Those Norm Smith medals don’t win themselves, y’know? He is hard at the contest, but also possesses a knack to be able to run and spread at the right time, and his ability to win the ball at stoppages is right up there as one of the best in the game. Still, I find that plenty underrate Shuey, which is peculiar, yet understandable.

He doesn’t accrue monster numbers in terms of sheer possessions, but it is the type of disposals he has that should open eyes. This is the fourth time this season he has amassed 10+ clearances. Others to do that include Patrick Cripps, Ben Cunnington and Nat Fyfe. Pretty esteemed company, yet you rarely hear Shuey’s name mentioned alongside them.

Maybe that’s a good thing.

Earlier this week, new Mongrel Troy Mutton asked how the Eagles continued to fly under the radar of the AFL media. I reckon it’s because of guys like Luke Shuey that is happens. Whilst others are a mix of sizzle and steak, Shuey is all steak.

He leaves the sizzle to others.

THE FOG

Oh man… I’ve been waiting for this.

You could see this coming a mile off. Last season, I watched this kid play and immediately, I was drawn to the physical nature of his game. He was 18 at the time, and it was almost as though he was a heat seeking missile, seeking out any form of physical contact like my mate Joe Ganino at an over 45s night at the pub.

Darcy Fogarty was destined to be a star, and I am absolutely shocked that it took until last week for the Adelaide Crows to give him a run in the seniors. Was he coming on to Don Pyke’s daughter or something? His wife? His mum? I cannot for the life of me understand how he was not getting a game.

Lo and behold, they plonk him in the forward line and he starts to show exactly why he played ten games last season. I remember seeing him take heavy contact in a game last year which opened the door for a teammate to mark. He was laying on the ground after being decked. Smiling. Like a complete lunatic.

It was then I thought that the Crows had something special in their midst. What a shame it has taken until this point of the year to unleash him, at a point where the season is in very real jeopardy.

Fogarty took marks, danced through tackles, and even went body-to-body with Shannon Hurn and won. With this performance he has stamped the papers of Josh Jenkins, who if he wasn’t leaving prior to this game, is most certainly cleaning out his locker for real this time.

My eyesight has been getting worse for a while now, but in regard to spotting talent, I reckon I have decent ability. Darcy Fogarty stood out like the proverbial last season, and against the best team in the land, he showed exactly what he is capable of. It was a breakout performance, and guarantees his spot in the team for the last two games.

If I had my way, he would’ve been in the side all damn year.

PS – Did you see him attempt to kill Willie Rioli when Rioli decided he wanted to shepherd in the first quarter? Worth a look if you haven’t. Dermott Brereton said he had a bit of the dark side in him… my favourite Star Wars was The Empire Strikes Back, for the record.

DANIEL TALIA

Unsung and often unbeaten, Daniel Talia had Josh Kennedy’s number today, making just one error – a dropped mark – that led to JK’s only major for the afternoon. He was all over the champion full forward in just about every contest, and with Darling running rampant against Kyle Hartigan, it was Talia’s diligence that held the Crows’ defence together.

Whenever I write about underrated players at The Mongrel, I get Adelaide fans mentioning the name of Talia – I’m sorry, but I just don’t think a two-time All-Australian can possibly be underrated. They’re accolades that are attached to your name forever.

I think guys like Phil Davis or Robbie Tarrant are underrated – they’ve never received the honours Talia has, but I get why you all think he is underrated. Amongst the current crop of key defenders, Talia rarely gets spoken about as a AA chance anymore. If anything, he is even overlooked by his own supporters, as they were quick to jump on the Alex Keath bandwagon earlier in the season.

Talia strikes me as a player who doesn’t need a heap of accolades at this stage. The fact he blanketed Josh Kennedy so completely is reward enough for a champion of the game.

YEO MAN

You know what I noticed about Yeo today? He was starting to tackle to hurt, which is both something wonderful and something very, very dangerous at this point of the year.

He is the key to the West Coast midfield, with his physicality and his desire to lay a body on the opposition so important to the structure of their contested game. He has no fear of anyone on the league, and after fixing up Patrick Cripps last week, would have to be moving into string contention for an All-Australian berth.

He bashed and crashed his way to 15 contested touches as part of his 25 touches for the game, with the majority of his disposals coming in the midfield. His presence is one that makes the opposition look over their shoulders, and his run down tackle on Brodie Smith early in the game set the tone for his teammates to follow.

Yeo has been building all season, and with Garry Lyon stating he believes he is the best player in the competition this past week (what… a Victorian radio presenter actually recognising a West Coast player? I thought that never happened!) all things seem in place for Yeo to have a ripping finish to the season.

Personally, I am not sure if I agree with Lyon. I think Yeo is one of the most complete players in the league – no doubt. He is versatile, works hard both ways and is rarely beaten one-on-one, but the best? Hmmmm, talk to me at the end of September – I have a feeling Yeo will have the opportunity to prove or disprove Lyon’s claims around then.

Before I get off Yeo (that’s what she said) I’ll highlight one piece of play that I think epitomises his effort. After laying a tackle to halt the Crows at half back, Yeo threw himself across the boot of Bryce Gibbs. The ball ricocheted to Liam Ryan who slotted a goal.

That, my friends, is the value of Elliot Yeo.

WILLIE

We’ve been blessed over the years when it comes to the Rioli family. Maurice at Richmond, Cyril at Hawthorn, Dean at Essendon , and then by extension Michael Long and even Danielle Ponter in the Adelaide Crows AFLW premiership-winning team. The Rioli family is special.

I was quite surprised when Ponter was interviewed last season and she was asked who she thought was the best of all the Riolis. Without hesitation, she said Willie.

I’ll state that again – WITHOUT HESITATION she said Willie.

And over the last few weeks, we’ve seen glimpses as to why. This bloke is a football genius. He sees things no one else does. He thinks differently, reacts quicker and does things with more finesse than anyone else on the park. There are players you just love to watch – West Coast has a few – and Willie Rioli is one of them.

Here’s a few of the things that jumped out to me from today.

·         His kicking to position. That pass to Jack darling in the first quarter; 50 metres and landed right in his lap inside 50 was a thing of beauty.

·         Chase down tackles – he had another today, a full body tackle on Jake Kelly just outside 50 to earn holding the ball.

·         His read on the play – his front and centre clearance in the second quarter, beating two tackles and rolling a goal OVER both Kennedy and Talia was special – I wish Bruce was commentating that.

·         And his ability to spot up targets – his short kick to Sheed when everyone else thought he was going for goal in the third quarter was a great direct goal assist.

People, we are privileged to watch Willie Rioli play football at the moment. He was slowed by a foot injury in the pre-season, but has worked his way to full fitness now and is ready to take on the world. And he will only get better.

How scary is that?

JACKSON NELSON

Didn’t hear much about him during the broadcast? Didn’t see much of him during the game? Yet here he is in the good section.

Well, that’d be because you didn’t hear much, or see much of Tom Lynch during this game either, did you?

There was a very good reason a frustrated Tom Lynch was rolling round on the ground inside forward 50 in the last quarter with Nelson – he loves him.

Either that, or he was so annoyed with the constant attention Nelson gave him that he became incredibly frustrated and wanted to go on with it.

Lynch is a workhorse for the Crows. His searching leads, combined with his second and third efforts make him as dangerous as any Crow on the park. When you cut him out of the game, you cut off their supply inside forward 50, and that’s what Jackson Nelson was able to do today. Nice work, young fella.

NEXT WEEK

Oh man… I was excited about this last week, and now there’s been another win each added to the mix.

People – the Tigers and Eagles at the ‘G. This is going to be monstrous. I know there are a couple of other teams in the mix, but the way this season is playing out, this is the closest thing we’ve got to a Grand Final preview.

Stars aplenty, two very different styles and a top four… possibly top two spot on the line. Maybe even top of the ladder on the line. I cannot wait – putting my hand up to cover that one, and will being giving that one the deepest of dives. You think this 4K dive was deep… you aint seen nothing yet!

THE BAD

INSIDE 50 TARGETS

These Adelaide Crows had Darcy Fogarty and Tex Walker as their forward 50 marking targets. Can someone explain to me why, when both of these players had one-on-one situations, that players decided to go to Lachie Murphy in the air against Jeremy McGovern?

Talk about a lamb to the slaughter!

I know you have to honour the lead of whomever Gov is playing on in order to make him commit to a contest, but I am at a complete loss as to how sitting the ball on Murphy’s head and allowing McGovern a run at it helps Adelaide in any way, shape or form.

Tom Lynch was a big culprit for this today. So was Matt Crouch (that’s why I preferred his brother’s game).You have this nimble little bloke – where would he have the advantage against McGovern? On the deck, maybe?

Yet Lynch and his buddies kicked the ball high to him on a couple of occasions. The only person that thought things through was bloody Fogarty, and I know you’re gonna get sick of me singing his praises, but fuck it, I write these and spend hours doing so, and if I want to blow smoke up his arse, I will. Fogarty hacked one along the ground to Murphy – lo and behold, he wins a free kick against Shannon Hurn.

Use your damn brains.

EDDIE

I’m sorry, but this is just about over.

Eddie had nine touches, kicked one goal, and aside from his late goal courtesy of a gutsy mark, he was a non-factor again. Unless he is playing Gold Coast, we’re not going to see him star in the game again, and as great as he’s been over the journey, I reckon we’ve seen the game, or at least the games that mean anything, go past him this year.

If someone throws him a bone for next year, that’ll be great, but as a potent small forward, Eddie’s time as a star is over.

THE UGLY

TRANSITON DEFENCE

Wanna know where the game was won for the Eagles? Watch them spread on turnovers.

They have this innate sense that seems to set off an alarm when the Adelaide Crows were going to hack a kick to an intercept marker, and the runner would get on their bikes.

Gaff would be off. Sheed would be off. Shuey and Yeo would be off, and they would all run in a wave back toward goal.

The defenders would scramble, but for leg speed, the Adelaide mids could not keep up with the run of the Eagles. They burst them off several times, creating overlap and subsequent mismatches. You know what it also created?

Goals. Easy goals.

There is really no such thing as an easy goal at this level, but the play up field can make it seems so. Darling was finding himself out in the open due to the great run and carry of players like Gaff, Sheed and Jamie Cripps. It resulted in goals that simply should not have been permitted.

Goals to Oscar Allen, Jake Waterman and Jack Darling all could have been prevented with some better transition defence. You know who that falls to?

Over to you, Mr Pyke.

QUICK BITS

One more thing about Fogarty then I’ll shut up. How was Matthew ‘Original Thinker’ Pavlich, piggybacking off Brereton’s comment that Fogarty needs to make the contests at half back and contest? Derm had a point – Pav made it his point. Smoooooth. Not original, but smoooooth.

Not sure whether a kick to Gibbs in the third quarter was legitimately out of his reach, or did Gibbs go one handed because…  footsteps? If you remember the moment, let me know.

Speaking of Gibbs, I am pretty sure that chip pass from Rioli to Sheed that resulted in a goal was his responsibility. He was standing with Sheed and was not concentrating when Sheed took off and got the pass from Rioli. In fairness, 90% of players on the ground were waiting for Rioli to have a shot, so he was not alone. It just so happened it was his man that marked and goaled as a result.

So, one thing I noticed the Eagles do that the Crows do not – they give their big forwards legitimate one-on-one cracks at contests. If you’re Jack Darling, you know at some point you’re going to get the opportunity to beat your man in a one-out situation. I’m not sure Adelaide forwards get the same opportunity. I watched Riley Knight fake one way, then another, then go back to the original direction from half forward at one point. The result – an intercept mark to Tom Hickey as his forwards were crowded out of the contest.

Knight held that ball for five seconds longer than he had to and allowed the defenders, midfielders and eventually a damn ruckman to converge on the forward 50. Could a quick entry have been any worse? Yeah they may have been beaten in the air, but at least Walker could’ve had a chance at it.

You know in tennis (it’s okay if you don’t… I actually barely know what I’m talking about here) how they keep stats for unforced errors? Well, what do you reckon the ratio would’ve been today between these two teams? I watched both Walker and Otten completely miss targets from 25 metres away under zero pressure – both resulted in goals going the other way. I remind you, the margin was ten points.

Great to see Jake Waterman making the most of his opportunities. Both he and Oscar Allen are providing something different in the West Coast forward half, and allowing Jamie Cripps to work up the ground a little more.

Guys, the decision against Hurn for his deliberate behind was definitely a legitimate free kick. It was basically to the letter of the law. He was outside the square by a considerable distance, crushed the ball through… it was about as open and shut as you can get on that one. Not sure what the furore is about in regard to that decision. Maybe that the penalty is too big? A shot from the goal line is a huge price to pay for such a small infraction.

My concern is more the rule itself. In a contested situation, which is what Hurn found himself in, had he taken possession, he would have been tackled immediately. He may have put a bit too much mustard on the hit toward goal, but I’m not sure we have this rule right just yet. I understand we need to stop deliberately rushed behinds, but this one just felt off, and when it feels wrong in your gut, you know something is up. You’d hate to see a game decided by a ruling like that. It’s not the end of the world, but it should be something the AFL looks at internally as to whether these actions are punished so severely.

How did we read the ruck contest? At one point I heard a commentator state that Jacobs was killing Hickey. That’s not what I saw, and the clearance numbers reflect it. Jacobs had 36 hit outs to Hickey’s24, but Hickey was just as good around the ground, had three clearances of his own, and took a few nice grabs. Sure, his kicking for goal was at about Under 12 level, but hey… we can’t have everything.

Thinking Josh Kennedy has a good September in him? He almost marked a couple of big pack grabs today and just allowed them to slip out. He is getting an amazing chop out from Jack Darling at the moment, and he seems to need it.

Rory Laird had 27 touches at 87% today… yet some of his errors were very costly. If I point out that he was responsible for Liam Ryan for long stretches, that should give you an indication that he wasn’t at his best. By the numbers, laird has had a good season, but the eye test tells me he is nowhere near the level he was at in both 2017 and 2018.

Great to see Gaff being used as the first handball release at stoppages again. This is his role, and this is where he hurts teams. With him on one wing and Redden/Sheed alternating on the other, the Eagles have a spectacular one-two punch.

I’ve already covered how excited I am for the Eagles and Tigers next weekend, but the Pies and Crows should be a belter as well. Collingwood had a great win over Adelaide there last year and will be looking at repeating the dose. If today’s version of Adelaide show up, they win, and their season stays alive.

And that’ll do me. A highly enjoyable game of footy. Perhaps the best pure footy the Crows have played all season, and that actually says a bit about West Coast. If you’re a patron, you’re reading this first – thank you so much for your support. If you’re not, please consider signing up and supporting us to cover footy the way we want it covered.