Last season I took quite an interest in some of the pronounced individual matchups we were treated to over the course of the year.
In the era of rotations and team defence, it is not often that you get to see a genuine one-on-one tussle, but in 2019 it happened several times, and in 2020 I’m looking forward to a little more of it.
We got Grundy v Gawn, Bont v Cripps, Dusty v Danger… and I want MORE!
The game is currently at the point where we may get to see three or four different opponents at any stage of the game, but there are some that are more about the individual clash than the overall structure, and it’s these contests, pitting two stars of the game against each other that drags people through the turnstiles.
Let’s have a look at some of the individual matchups to look forward to in 2020
GRUNDY V GAWN
This is your one guarantee. Whilst mids will rotate around different roles and different opponents, the two big guys, and the two most consistently great rucks of the past two years will be going head to head in two games in 2020, injury permitting.
In 2019, the pair split their contests, with Gawn taking advantage of an ailing Grundy to completely obliterate him in their Queen’s Birthday clash, only for Grundy to take the points in their second clash of the year.
We get these two going head to head in Round 12 (Queen’s Birthday) as well as Round 18 (someone else’s birthday, I’m guessing) in what will be the fifth and sixth instalments of the Grundy-Gawn wars. I started monitoring these clashes closely in 2018, which saw both men arguably start to peak. Gawn has a couple of years on Grundy so to count their earlier matchups is unfair. Right now we have the 25 year old Grundy against the 27 year old Gawn.
In their four games since the commencement of 2018, the score is locked at 2-2 in terms of clear individual wins. How these games go in 2020 may well start to shape just how we remember these two, and their friendly rivalry.
CRIPPS V BONT
Now we’re talking.
Cripps gave Bont a real touch up in their first clash in 2019, punishing the unaccountable Bontempelli at stoppages en route to 37 touches and 11 clearances. It must have sting Bont to have been so easily handled by Cripps, especially at a time when Carlton were not performing well at all.
Cripps powered his team to their only win in the first 11 rounds against the Dogs, and Bont needed to make some adjustments.
And adjust he did.
In Round 13, the captain-in-waiting amassed 27 touches, seven inside 50s and seven clearances to clearly get the better of Cripps, who had one of his four worst outings of the season.
Looking at the future of the AFL, it is almost impossible to cast your gaze beyond these two. Taken in the same draft, people will talk about their respective merits for years to come. Playing roles that can swing the game in a quarter, both men must be mindful of the other as they go about their business, lest the game slip away quickly.
With both players just 24 years of age, there is years and years of this rivalry to come, but in terms of 2020, whoever gets the upper hand may be a big enough factor to swing the entire game, and maybe shape a potential finals berth.
We don’t have to wait long for the Bont v Cripps clashes, with the teams playing each other twice in the first 11 rounds (nice one, AFL…). The first clash is in Round 2, with the second in Round 11. Both games are under the roof at Marvel, so we get to see them go at it in the best possible conditions.
YEO V DUSTY
There aren’t many who can match it physically with Dustin Martin, but Elliot Yeo is one who can. He proved this in 2018, when he went head-to-head with the dual Norm Smith champ, and took home the chocolates, but a lot of water has gone under the bridge since.
Both men have a flag to their names, with Martin adding more accolades along the way. Yeo has gained the attention of the mainstream media with his consistency and ability to play both an attacking and defensive brand of football.
Wanna know a secret? You all know I’m a Hawthorn supporter, but at this point in time what I really want is three games between the two in 2020.
We’ve got Round 5 locked in (unless you own a Geelong fixture, I guess) and we get to see the Tiger and Eagles again in Round 14, but this is the clash I want to see in the biggest game of the season. I want Richmond v West Coast on the last Saturday in September. I want 100K screaming lunatics in the MCG, and I want Elliot Yeo to walk to Dustin Martin for the first bounce, look him in the eye, shake his hand and say “not today”.
And whatever happens next will be something for the ages.
BUDDY V RANCE
Ah, I’ve missed these two going at it.
2019 gave us a break from the annual Buddy-Rance matchup, but I hope its back with a vengeance in 2020.
We only get one shot at it this coming season – Round 11 at the MCG. These two are no longer spring chickens. Buddy is 32, and Rance has now clicked over into his 30s as well, but the competitive fire still burns brightly, and if anything can bring out their best, it will be the clash of the best forward of the last ten years against the best defender of the last ten years.
Injury slowed one and stopped another in 2019, but with Franklin returning to preseason early for the first time in his Sydney tenure, and Rance coming back from a torn ACL, and giving himself ample time to get right, we might see one more monumental clash between these two, and I will love every minute of it.
There are those who say Rance doesn’t play directly on Franklin, and there is a small amount of merit in their statements. Richmond switch and change as well as, or better than, any team in the competition, but if Buddy is the deepest forward, you can bet your bottom dollar he is going to have Rance to deal with in one-on-one match ups.
Fingers crossed they both stay healthy and we get one more huge encounter between the pair.
MITCHELL V NEALE
I had to change the order unless people thought I was talking about Neil Mitchell.
Over the past two years, Tom Mitchell and Lachie Neale are the only two players to amass 50+ disposals in a single game. Mitchell did it an unbelievable three times over 2017-18 and Lachie Neale added his name to just nine others to top the 50-disposal mark.
Do Chris Fagan and Alastair Clarkson have a sense of theatre? Will they look at their outstanding ball-winning stars and think ‘let them play’ and allow them to go head to head in the middle?
Both play an in-and-under, linking role through the middle, with Neale one of the big reasons Brisbane made a surge in 2019. Mitchell’s 2018 was one for the ages, capturing both the Brownlow and MVP, but his 2019 was completely derailed by injury.
Can Neale go to another level? Can Mitchell get back to his best? Will the old buddies, Fages and Clarko let their stars play?
If we don’t get to see it in Round One, maybe we’ll get it in Round 15.
GRIMES V CAMERON
Not Jeremy Cameron… I’m looking right at Charlie Cameron in this one.
Dylan Grimes gave him a huge touch up in two consecutive games at the pointy end of the 2019 season. Cameron had a wonderful season, and established himself as the best small forward in the game, but Grimes was having none of it, and blanketed Cameron when it mattered most.
Charlie and the Lions complained about holding and the tactics of Grimes, but from memory, it looked to me as though Cameron instigated a lot of the grappling, then cried foul when Grimes was more than happy to engage.
Cameron kicked three goals in total for the games, but his impact was minimal. Grimes gave him a bath, and the spark of revenge would have to light a fire under Cameron heading into 2020.
Can Charlie reverse things and gain the upper hand on the Richmond Greyhound? Or will Grimes shut him down yet again?
The Lions only get one crack at the premiers in the home and away season, and Charlie Cameron should have it circled on his calendar – Round 8.
DE BOER V CUNNINGTON
I was one of the few seriously considering whether Matt de Boer should be an All-Australian around the halfway point of the season. He was shutting down the biggest names in the game on a regular basis, and was in the process of doing that to Ben Cunnington as well in Round 13.
But Cunners had had enough.
In a nasty incident in the fourth quarter, de Boer tackled Cunnington and pinned the ball to him – playing the tagging role perfectly. Well, perfectly if you’re a GWS supporter. Cunnington wasn’t as impressed, and after the whistle blew for a stoppage, he shifted his weight to slam de Boer to the turf. The impact injured de Boer’s shoulder, sidelining him for eight weeks, and putting him completely out of AA contention.
I’d be pretty pissed if I were de Boer, and I’d be looking at evening up.
That said, Ben Cunnington doesn’t seem to be the sort of guy to shy away from a bit of argy-bargy and this clash could end up being one of the highlights of the season.
North and GWS don’t meet until Round 16, and you can bet de Boer will be looking forward to that one. And Cunnington will be waiting.
KELLY V DANGER
First and second in last year’s Geelong Best and Fairest count, these two were the driving force behind the Cats’ midfield, particularly early in the season, but with Tim Kelly flying to coop and heading back to WA, we may not get to see them go head-to-head.
After a wonderful first season, Kelly’s 2019 was outstanding. He stamped himself as one of the premier mids in the game, and created a one-two punch that knocked many teams flat on their backs.
Dangerfield was stellar again in 2019. His burst and relentless attack on the footy make other players look less than interested, but Kelly is one who can match him in terms of breakaway speed AND winning the footy at stoppages. As a matter of fact, Kelly just shaded Danger in terms of winning the footy at the coalface, notching 5.88 clearances to Danger’s 5.79.
Now Kelly enters a midfield with the likes of Yeo, Shuey and Gaff for help. Danger gets Jack Steven to help, but so much of the responsibility falls to him once again.
Can Kelly showing his ageing former teammate a clean pair of heels? Or does Danger have a fair bit left in the tank, and a fair bit to prove to the bloke who opted to leave?
I guess we’ll see in both Round 3 and Round 16.
DANGER V DUSTY
Over the course of the last five years, it has been these two who have set themselves apart in the midfield, with the added ability to go forward and punish teams on the scoreboard.
Here’s the thing – Dusty has pulled away over the last few years. Whilst Danger has been excellent, Dusty has the results on the board, and if Dangerfield wants to be remembered as a bloke who was the equal of Martin, he needs to start stamping his authority on their contests.
He gets only one chance to do this in 2020, and that’s in Round 9.
The Cats venture to their home away from home (ouch!) to meet the Tigers in what should be a blockbuster Friday night clash.
Look, the Cats had the Tigers on the ropes in the 2019 prelim. They were up at half time and needed to step on the throats of their opponents. But they didn’t, and Patrick Dangerfield was nowhere to be seen in that third quarter. This game is a pseudo shot at redemption, and danger needs a big one, but he is going against a man who thrives in the spotlight, and wanting something badly doesn’t necessarily equate to getting it when there is a player the level of Dustin Martin in your way.
Can Dusty put more distance between himself and his closest rival, or can Danger and his Cats start clawing back at the premiers?
FYFE V CRIPPS
In 2019 there were just two men to average 17+ contested touches per game. One won the Brownlow and the other won the Leigh Matthews Trophy as the MVP, and with both having an advantage over the other (Cripps in clearances, Fyfe in overhead marking) the potential matchup of these two is tantalising to say the least.
Both of these men are CLEARLY their teams’ best player, with so much on their shoulders, that a direct matchup between the two could go a long way to determining the result.
Fyfe is 28 years old, with the 24 year old Cripps already a match for him. It’s in these situations that a player can start taking things personally. There will be no backward steps in this clash, and if we get to see them go head to head, it will be an absolute joy.
The Blues head west to face the Dockers in Round 14 in their only clash of the season. It is a game Cripps missed in 2019, yet the Blues were still able to win.
DANIHER V MOORE
This was a highlight last season – a cracking contest amid the turmoil of disastrous umpiring on ANZAC Day.
In an incredibly rare occurrence we had the privilege of watching darcy Moore and Joe daniher engage in a contest in the forward half without six other blokes getting in their way and making a nuisance of themselves. The result was something special, with Daniher hobbling to a season-best four goals and Moore pulling down six grabs of his own and exiting defensive 50 eight times.
In a game full of controversy, it was like a beacon of positivity that prevented the game from being dragged down by the umps. Remember the no-calls and all the players stopping??? Oh, I remember.
Part of me wanted this to become an annual tradition, and something that would make the Anzac game even bigger, but with Daniher looking at other options, these two games may be the last Daniher-Moore clashes we see in these colours, and you know – it’s a damn shame.
They’ll clash again on Anzac Day in Round 6 and hopefully once more in Round 20 before all the talk about where these guys will play next season takes over.
YOUTH IN REVOLT
I’m always on the lookout for the next big rivalry in footy; a duel that could capture the imagination of the footy public, and whilst it is completely speculative at this point, I am very much looking forward to seeing where the Aaron Naughton v Harris Andrews battle takes us over the next few years.
At 22, Andrews has now well and truly arrived as a defender. With his first All-Australian berth in 2019, he is the heir apparent to the role so often filled by Alex Rance. Naughton, on the other hand is still making his name, but he announced in no uncertain terms that he was a force to be reckoned with in 2019, grabbing nine contested grabs in one game – one short of the record set by Wayne Carey.
And god help him… he was only 19. As a matter of fact, he turned 20 about two weeks ago.
These two clash in Round 5 at Marvel Stadium in their only encounter of the season and could start an enduring legacy of elite defender v elite forward. It should be a pleasure to watch… if the coaches roll the dice and allow these two to go one-on-one.
Feel free to add your own individual marquee matchups, but right now, here’s the individual calendar of events in terms of the big one-on-one battles we’re looking forward to at Mongrel HQ, and we’ll be covering them all, in-depth.
ROUND 1 – LACHIE NEALE V TOM MITCHELL
ROUND 2 – MARCUS BONTEMPELLI V PATRICK CRIPPS
ROUND 3 – TIM KELLY V PATRICK DANGERFIELD
ROUND 5 – DUSTIN MARTIN V ELLIOT YEO
ROUND 5 – AARON NAUGHTON V HARRIS ANDREWS
ROUND 6 – DARCY MOORE V JOE DANIHER
ROUND 8 – CHARLIE CAMERON V DYLAN GRIMES
ROUND 9 – PATRICK DANGERFIELD V DUSTIN MARTIN
ROUND 11 – MARCUS BONTEMPELLI V PATRICK CRIPPS 2
ROUND 11 – ALEX RANCE V BUDDY FRANKLIN
ROUND 12 – MAX GAWN V BRODIE GRUNDY
ROUND 14 – DUSTIN MARTIN V ELLIOT YEO 2
ROUND 14 – PATRICK CRIPPS V NAT FYFE
ROUND 15 – LACHIE NEALE V TOM MITCHELL 2
ROUND 16 – BEN CUNNINGTON V MATT DE BOER
ROUND 16 – TIM KELLY V PATRICK DANGERFIELD 2
ROUND 18 – MAX GAWN V BRODIE GRUNDY 2
ROUND 20 – DARCY MOORE V JOE DANIHER 2
There are a few others I could add as well. Bont v Fyfe is one I look forward to. Joey Kennedy raises his game against Paddy Cripps, Adam Treloar v Luke Shuey in the guts is always intriguing, and I wouldn’t mind seeing how Ben Stratton and Orazio Fantasia renew acquaintances in 2020.
As always, if you have your own, feel free to add them in the comments, or hit us on our socials.