Ahhh, remember the good old days of 2018, when teams travelled to Perth after feeling quite optimistic, and then they’d get beaten into submission.
Well, after watching Melbourne fold like a deck of cards in the last five minutes of the first quarter, I got the feeling we may have been returning to those times. Alas, it’ll have to wait until at least May 31st for the West Australian beatdowns to recommence as, sadly, the AFL, like many other codes around the world, is on hiatus.
The margin said 27 points, but this felt like so much more.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly of the Eagles’ win over the Dees.
I’m not sure whether Liam Ryan will receive votes for this game from those who matter, but I thought he was outstanding in both his attack on the contest, and his willingness to work up the ground to provide an option.
He finished with 3.3 for the game, and looked to be the most dangerous player on the ground. There’s a bit to that – players like Jamie Cripps, or Brendan Ah Chee in this game can end up with nice numbers and slot a couple of goals, but they don’t look dangerous. They don’t look as though they can take the game by the throat and squeeze.
Liam Ryan has the ability to look like that, and that is exactly how he looked in this game.
He was inches away from some big marks, but it was his little knock-ons and ability to get involved with scoring that had him as the standout for me. He had nine score involvements for the game, more than making up for the off-days endured by Darling and Kennedy.
REAPING THE REWARDS
I wrote a fair bit in the pre-season about Tim Kelly’s impact on the West Coast midfield, and whilst I will touch on a couple that seemed a bit lost below, one man who looked very content with the current structure, and his place in it was Andrew Gaff.
He had the standard 30 touches in this game, but it was the nice little ‘86% efficiency’ that accompanied those touches that made his work standout.
Last season, Gaff was sucked into the contest too often, and as a result, his disposal efficiency plummeted. With Tim Kelly in more at the coal face (or as Wayne Carey calls it, the cold face), gaff has the freedom to put himself in much more damaging positions, where his skills and run can be better utilised. We saw the results of that today.
Gaff was in for a monstrous 2020, and while a few jumped off him last season due to his impact being less significant, we saw this coming a mile off at The Mongrel. I hope things get back to relative normalcy so we can see just how good he can be this season.
CONTROLLING THE AIR
There are a few defenders I could throw in here but I want to focus on one in particular.
Barrass had a difficult 2019, and when the pressure was on in the finals series, he didn’t exactly have the capacity to step up to the meet the challenge. He made mistakes – costly mistakes, and you could see it affected him. He spoke openly about the issues and how he was dealing with them, and I gained a new measure of respect for him in the process.
And that respect increased this afternoon again, as he completely killed almost every long ball inside 50 for the game. One thing that has come out of having no crowds at the game is that you can hear the smack of flesh on flesh in a contest. You hear the grunts of those being caught in tackles, and the ‘BONG’ of the ball hitting the goal post is something we haven’t experienced in footy until now.
But the sound of Tom Barrass thumping a footy out of a marking contest was probably the best sound I heard over the weekend. He was an absolute monster, and it wasn’t too long before Simon Goodwin decided to spare Tom McDonald the embarrassment of having Barrass’ fist almost punching a hole in the ball as he tried to mark it, and sent him down to defence to get a touch.
On his day, Barrass is excellent, but he earned the ire of some Eagles supporters for his mistakes in 2019. In 2020, he looks to be ready to make up for them. Maybe god have pity for the Sherrin when he gets a good look at it and cocks that fist in the air.
NAITANUI V GAWN
Ah, now this was interesting.
We’ve not seen Naitanui and Gawn head-to-head for a while, and whilst the postponement of the season dampened my enthusiasm overall, seeing these two square off had me more than a little excited.
Gawn has been the ruck poster boy for the past two seasons, alternating the position between him and Brodie Grundy, but in 61% of game time, Nic Naitanui strolled right up to the podium, eyed third place and shook his head – he wants that top spot!
Naitanui won the clash between the two, winning far more hit outs when the big guys were opposed directly, and working just as well around the ground – an area Gawn usually puts distance between himself and whoever his opponent is.
Nic Nat played a third less of the game, yet collected more hit outs, and had just one less possession. He also managed to edge Gawn in clearances (6-4).
Naitanui’s issue over the past few years has been fitness. There has been no doubt that when he is on the park, his influence is huge, and in this match-up, how good he is, against one of his true peers, was on display for all to see.
Don’t get me wrong – Gawn was not disgraced. He was just beaten on the day, and there is absolutely no shame in that when you’re match up on Naitanui.
I feel for this bloke on a number of levels.
You ever see a practice game of basketball or something, and everyone is passing the ball around, making sure everyone gets involved, and then there is one guy who thinks he is playing for the NBA title, and he is fouling hard, complaining about calls, yelling at teammates and just cannot find a way to take it easy and enjoy himself?
That’s how I pictured Jack Viney in this game. I’m sure every player out there gave a shot about this game – Jack Viney just gave more shits than anyone else. He was in-and-under, spinning out of trouble, and putting the Melbourne midfield on his back when it became apparent that none of them were ready to operate on the same level as him.
He finished with 20 contested touches, which is a monstrous effort in a game with shortened quarters, amongst his 34 touches for the game. He managed to do this at over 70% efficiency despite receiving a lot of attention at stoppages. Still, he managed seven clearances, which were also a game-high.
Viney looked set for a big year. After struggling for a couple of season, he looked as though his body was right and he was ready to re-establish himself as one of the premier on-ballers in the league.
And now, like all of us, he will have to wait.
If there is one player you can put money on to burst out of the gates when/if the season resumes, I’d be putting some coin on Viney.
GOOD SIGNS FOR MAY
I wrote about Barrass above, and just as impressive in this one was Steven May, who despite being under siege at points, managed to record a resounding win in his personal battle with Josh Kennedy.
Both he and Oscar McDonald alternated between the two big Eagles and gave both Kennedy and darling little chance to excel in the air, and covered them both well on the deck as well.
The writing was on the wall for Sam Frost this season, and he high-tailed it out of Melbourne after realising that he would be fourth in line behind these two and Jake Lever in that Demon defence, and you could see why in this game.
THE PICKETT WORK ETHIC
Even if he didn’t bob up and kick a goal, Kysaiah Pickett won over the footy world with his willingness to get out and run, and run, and run right past everyone to ensure he was part of contests both in defence and in attack.
His run in the first quarter to secure a shot at goal was breathtaking, and only missing the finish to create an instant memory for Dees fans.
He was very good for a debutant, and though he may have to wait a while for another crack at it, he showed enough to make you think he is easily best-22 at Melbourne.
YEO COULD DO BETTER
On a day where the game seemed to be played between the arcs, there should have been plenty of ball to win for Elliot Yeo, but he simply could not get into the game at all.
Giving away a mammoth seven free kicks, whilst receiving none himself, Yeo managed to gather just 12 disposals for the afternoon, and though he added five tackles, his game was miles off where it needs to be. Lucky he has some time to work on it, huh?
I was wondering whether we’d see any teething problems with the Eagles’ midfield with Tim Kelly in the mix, and whilst both Yeo and Jack Redden were both really quiet, one game is way too small a sample size to make any real assessment on the impact.
Yeo still pressured the player with the footy, but unlike his usual result of worrying an opponent out of possession, or dragging him down in a tackle and mauling him, Yeo was just a bit overzealous, and will need to adjust slightly before the next game rolls around.
NOT A DAY FOR KEY FORWARDS
Conditions looked pretty good, and the handling of the footy at ground level, whilst not perfect, was still pretty good.
But the big forwards could not get amongst it at all.
Josh Kennedy was given a bath by Steven May in perhaps May’s best outing since becoming a Demon. We got a mixed bag from Kennedy in the pre-season, with a six-goal bag one week, followed by a game where he was hardly sighted, and after watching him last year, I came to the conclusion that JK would “miss” just as often as he would “hit” in terms of performances in 2020.
Jack Darling was marginally better, collecting eight touches and doing some of the hard stuff to create for others, but in terms of clunking marks, forget about it. He was actually more effective when the ball was on the deck, which is the polar opposite of his game over the last several years.
At the other end, Tom McDonald finished with two goals but in reality he was given a bath by Tom Barrass. TMac had just seven touches and remains a far cry from the power forward whose form made Jesse Hogan expendable in 2018.
Instead, it was left to the little guys and mid-size forwards to hit the scoreboard. Brendan Ah Chee did some useful things whilst Kysaiah Pickett could have ended up with four.
DONE AND DUSTED?
This game had an eerie feeling to it. I’m not sure if you could sense it, but even on TV, you could sense there was this impending doom around the game. It was as though the players knew their seasons were cooked.
So much work, so many hours training, getting your body right and priming for this day, only to have the rug pulled from under you… it must be heartbreaking. I’m a fan, and I’m heartbroken. Imagine if this was the thing your entire life revolved around?
Watching the teams out there, I started to wonder how those for whom the clock is ticking would feel. Josh Kennedy, at 33 years old is definitely no spring chicken. It seems like just yesterday that he was traded to the Eagles for a bloke named Judd, and people were talking about how Carlton won the trade. Yep, people were saying that.
On the sidelines you have Will Schofield who is 31, and Nathan Jones who had to be talked into going around again by his younger brother in the off-season. He’s 32 but he plays like a man whose body is aching. Turning 30, Mitch Brown was thrown a lifeline by the Dees, but as the season slips away, his hopes of being on an AFL list next season grow very slim indeed.
Then there are those in their peak years. They might be robbed of a season where they were at their best. It could impact their legacies.
Gaff, Kelly, Yeo, Shuey, Darling…
Viney, Gawn, Petracca, Oliver…
All with 20+ games less, and the marks, kicks, highlights and lowlights that go with those games all missing from their CVs.
I’m a bit of a footy historian, and I didn’t even like that games were being shortened – it messed with career-averages and so on, but this… losing a season… it’s a disaster.
The AFL claims that they could be back on May 31st – that’s the target. They stated this on the same day that our Prime Minister warned that anything we implement will be for more like six months than six weeks.
I hate to say it – it kills me – but I think we may have seen the last game of footy for the 2020 season.
And I hate it so much.
HOW WERE THE RECRUITS?
We’ll tackle it the only way I know how. One by one.
Tim Kelly – he had moments, but played a role without starring. I liked his run forward of the ball, and thought he looked most damaging when he received the first possession from the clearance. A few too many turnovers when 16 of his 19 touches were uncontested.
Adam Tomlinson – Was the invisible man for three quarters before his elite tank allowed him to work into the game in the last quarter. 14 touches, but little impact on the game.
Ed Langdon – Remember that band, Everything But The Girl? Me either, but I remember their name. Langdon had 31 touches but lacked the finish going inside 50. I don’t think he hit one target in a meaningful way going forward. Still, covered a heap of distance for the Dees.
DID ANGUS BRAYSHAW TURN THE CORNER IN THE THIRD QUARTER?
Basically unsighted in the first half, I wouldn’t be surprised if he copped a blast at half time and was told to either pull his finger out, or… I don’t know, something bad would happen in some way, I guess.
He really got amongst it in the third quarter, and won plenty of the footy. Failed to finish on consecutive shots at goal, which is always a worry in terms of confidence.
IS BRENDAN AH CHEE A REALISTIC OPTION FOR THIRD FORWARD?
He looked pretty good out there, and with both Oscar Allen and Jake Waterman missing, got amongst the goals early in the game, and set one up for Liam Ryan as well.
Was he good enough to take the place of either of those I mentioned? Hmmm, I’m not sold, but he did himself no harm in this one.
How good is Shannon Hurn? Far out, he is a footballer’s footballer. 23 touches at an incredible 96% efficiency are the sorts of numbers that make stat nerds lose their minds. Add to that, the fact that he wins his own footy and never, ever looks flustered, and you have the complete defender, right there.
Another decent hit out for Christian Petracca. He is one of those pre-season heroes that really looked as though he was ready to take the next step in 2020.
Very underrated game from Dom Sheed, who just seems to bob up at the right time and hurt teams on the scoreboard. He is another who looked very comfortable working alongside Tim Kelly.
Guys, it’s late and I am tired. It’s been a deflating kind of day in many ways, but I am sure Eagles supporters would be buoyed by watching their team get a win. Dees fans…well, at least the travel bans allow your team to return to Melbourne, so there’s that.
Overall, solid win by the Eagles, but I am sure in other circumstances Adam Simpson would have liked a bit more scoreboard pressure by half time after that flurry at the end of the first quarter.
Stay Mongrel, people.