With every Victorian team fleeing the Garden State, today it was a supposedly sunny Gabba playing host to Richmond and Sydney. For the Tigers, this was the perfect antidote to a season that threatened to unravel if changes were not made. On the other side of the coin are the injury-depleted Swans, who this season would’ve been hoping to climb back up the ladder and prove that 2019 was an anomaly. The normal sunshine of Brisbane was taken over by heavy rain clouds, which directly affected the spectacle both teams could produce. Many on social media have called this contest the worst game of football ever, and if we’re all being not honest with ourselves both teams didn’t give this Mongrel Punter much to write about.
So sit back, relax, but don’t bother to put the kettle on because it’ll only be halfway done by the time you’ve finished reading the Mongrel’s review of Richmond’s eight point victory over the Swans.
THE BACK STORY
Sitting 11th before the round started, the Tiger Train, minus nine of the 2019 Grand Final team, needed to get their premiership defence back on track, and some time away from the Melbourne bubble would strengthen the bond within the group. Although Shane Edwards and Bachar Houli (understandably) elected not to travel to the hub, the Tigers saw this time away as an opportunity to reset.
Coming into the Swans clash, questions were being asked if this season meant anything to this group. Was the hunger still there? Did they really want to be playing right now? Richmond semi-answered the doubters with a hard fought win against Melbourne, but it far from convinced that this team had the mental edge to overcome the challenges of a shortened, emotionally draining season and contend for another flag.
On the flip side, and it was an entirely different story for Sydney. To say the Swans have been decimated by injury would be to say that the Titanic took on “a bit of water”. Resorting to playing an eight game key defender in the starting ruck post, and smaller players Heeney and Mills in key positions, John Longmire has been looking far and wide for any height on his list, to no avail.
Injuries happen to all teams, but the tall timber unavailable for John Longmire is staggering. Naismith, Franklin, Reid, Melican, McCartin, Brand, Sinclair, Knoll, and Amartey are all in the casualty ward, leaving only Aliir (more on him later), McLean, Blakey and Dawson at Horse’s disposal. The Swans issues aren’t just about their injury list, but they have been so decimated that Longmire’s game plan is almost out the window at this point, and taking on a Tigers outfit determined to turn their season around would be challenging to say the least.
Those hoping for an entertaining spectacle would’ve been disheartened on Thursday, with five premiership Tigers missing the clash for various reasons. It was another headache for John Longmire, losing yet more players over 190cm in Lewis Melican on Thursday, and Aliir Aliir before the bounce.
The game itself started promisingly enough, with Jack Riewoldt converting a controversial free kick within the first minute of the match. Some would argue that as long as you are within nine metres of goal, you are under pressure and can therefore rush a behind. In this case, Callum Mills had plenty of opportunity to dispose of the ball, chose not to, and edged himself closer to the line, going over it after a gentle push from Riewoldt. Yes, Riewoldt contributed to the free kick somewhat, but Mills knew exactly what he was doing and was duly penalised for it.
With 10 minutes elapsed, Richmond had gained control of the match, kicking the first three goals of the contest. After the Swans nailed their first goal through James Rowbottom, it was more bad news, with co-captain Josh Kennedy done for the day with an MCL injury. Heading into quarter time the contest became a tight arm wrestle. Richmond were the better team but couldn’t convert their ascendency into scoreboard pressure, and the Swans didn’t appear to have a forward setup good enough to threaten the big sticks.
After quarter time, scoring completely dried up. Watching on it was plainly obvious that Longmire went to his defensive playbook, and it stifled the Tigers. You might think that this would allow the Swans to put some pressure on the Tigers with goals of their own, but it soon became clear that Sydney weren’t ever going to threaten the scorers. Tom Papley kicked the only goal of the quarter two minutes in, and during time on, the heavens opened. The tight tussle we witnessed in the first quarter was turned up a notch, but that only made the game worse to watch. Half time couldn’t come quick enough for everyone involved, including the viewing public, as both Hardwick and Longmire needed to flick the switch and open up the game to try and make the match more enjoyable to watch.
As the rain kept tumbling down in the third quarter, it was Richmond’s turn to kick the only goal of the stanza. Tom Lynch, who broke his hand during the Melbourne win and didn’t register a touch in the first half, nailed the kick from outside 50 to put more breathing room between the two teams. The Tigers were the better team around the ball, and although they went forward a number of times, Longmire’s tactics were simply to not allow any opposition scoring whilst seemingly not being bothered when the ball went in his team’s direction.
You’ll notice at this point that we are breezing through the match summary, which tells you a little bit about the game we all witnessed. It was farcical at times just how stifling the contest became, and at no point was there any spark to liven up proceedings.
Richmond took a 14-point lead into the last quarter, and Sydney were happy to let the Tigers have the lead until the final minutes of the match. Yes, it continued to rain heavily, but Longmire’s “park the bus” mentality killed any enthusiasm in the game. Sydney’s first score of the quarter didn’t arrive until 12 miuntes had elapsed, and although the Swans were at this point still 14 points down, there was the faintest glimmer of hope that a miracle could happen in the final few minutes. Papley nailed another goal to get his team within eight, and more scoring opportunities followed for the Swans, but the game was basically over during time on, as Richmond’s players went into defensive mode once more. Thank goodness for everyone involved that the dreary affair was finally over, and thanks to a rushed behind, we avoided the lowest score since the VFL became the AFL.
THE PLAYERS OF THE MATCH
We’ve come to the difficult part of the review. This was such a hard game to watch, that it seemed like no player really stood out as having a Brownlow Medal 3-vote performance. Granted, there were a select number of players that can hold their heads high from an individual standpoint, but this was more an exercise in defensive toughness rather than sustained excellence.
Let’s start from the winners’ backline. Sydney only went inside 50 on 35 occasions. Their inability to score from forward entries was largely on the back of Richmond’s tall timber in defence; Dylan Grimes, Nathan Broad and Nick Vlastuin. Broad in particular was the best of the bunch, his aerial prowess continually cutting off Swan forward thrusts. Gathering 16 disposals and seven marks, Broad was also Richmond’s main rebounder, and along with Grimes, Sydney just couldn’t mount enough momentum to get past the Tigers’ twin heavy hitters. Jayden Short was close to best afield, playing a sweeping role across half back with 26 important disposals to link up with the midfield. The only Swans forward that presented any danger was livewire Tom Papley, who didn’t have as much of the ball as many teammates, but he was an ever present threat to Richmond’s backline, and his work went unrewarded.
In the middle, and it was a total annihilation in the centre circle. Granted, Hayden McLean did not present much danger, but the twin attack of Ivan Soldo and Mabior Chol completely overwhelmed the young Swan; evidenced by the laughably one-sided hit out stat of 32-5. The total domination of Soldo and Chol helped the Tigers control the clearances, led by Shai Bolton and Dustin Martin. Richmond were also better on the outside, with Kamdyn McIntosh controlling the wings effectively; his 24 possessions and five marks were the key to Richmond’s forward movement. Jack Graham and Kane Lambert were among the positives, with Lambert stepping up to lead the midfield with 23 disposals, and Graham acting as a defensive beast with a game high six tackles, while also playing the role of forward ball mover with seven inside 50’s and six score involvements. The Swans had their fair share of the ball, but thanks to a Josh Kennedy injury, no player in the middle truly stood out from the pack. George Hewett deserves praise for his continual attack on the ball, and young guns Ryan Clarke, Harry Cunningham, and Oliver Florent proved that they will be able to step into the leading man role once Kennedy and Parker hang up the boots.
Damian Hardwick was right. It was borderline farcical that Richmond registered 53 inside 50’s and only managed a measly four goals. It also speaks volumes that Callum Mills was clearly Sydney’s best player, which tells you something about the game we all had to witness. Mills’ 29 touches all came after quarter time, playing almost exclusively as Sydney’s extra man in defence, and Hardwick had no answer for Mills. Jake Lloyd was also noticeable playing the same role, and his 11 rebound 50’s was by far the best from either team. Coming in as a late replacement for Aliir Aliir, Longmire threw Robbie Fox onto Tom Lynch, and his tactic worked brilliantly. Fox kept Lynch to the solitary goal, and more importantly, Lynch only registered five disposals, his ineffectiveness all due to Fox’s defensive display. Richmond’s forward line struggled for cohesion for much of the afternoon, and due to the ultra-defensive, scrappy nature of the contest, no forward player wearing yellow and black stood out. Jack Higgins and Josh Caddy were prominent playing as defensive forwards, with Higgins’ toughness earning him three free kicks.
THE NERVOUS MEN
Normally in this section of the review, we would highlight those players who produced below averages performances, and would face a nervous week to see if the axe would fall on their heads come selection evening.
Yet, thanks to the coaches and their negative game styles, no player stood out in a positive manner, and conversely, no one appeared to play especially poorly. Interestingly, both sides had very similar possession numbers, and both teams had three players gather over 20 disposals. What this translates too is 38 other players gathering enough of the ball that their stats don’t look horrendous at first glance, yet not having enough of the ball to make a significant impact across the entire four quarters.
Isaac Heeney was so-so given his lofty standards, and given he was clearly the most experienced forward for the Swans, no greater opportunity to stamp his influence on the contest would present itself. However, Heeney failed to deliver, and during the last quarter he sustained an ankle injury that will unfortunately see him sidelined until 2021. Heeney certainly would not be considered his sides worst, but he is perhaps the only player that fell short of his usually high standards. Nick Blakey played a lone hand as Sydney’s only tall forward, and while he presented well and will learn from the experience, he will need to have some goal kicking practice at training this week, as he had four shots on goal and failed to nurse one through the big sticks.
For the winners, Daniel Rioli’s form has dropped off since his 2017 best, and he would be looking to make amends for another poor output. Rioli only registered six possessions, and only one of them was effective. Given how far Rioli has fallen in the past two seasons, he will need to produce a number of noteworthy performances to save himself from the axe when senior players return from injury. Tom Lynch also didn’t have his best day, but fresh from hand surgery, unsuitable conditions, and his credits in the bank will ensure that he will be a mainstay for the Tigers forward of the ball.
Well, that was that. A gloomy, boring spectacle that has put the blowtorch firmly on all 18 coaches, not just Longmire and Hardwick, to fix a style of football that is spiralling out of control. This game was the worst of the season thus far, but the fact that some others will have a differing opinion speaks volumes about the exhibition the viewing public has had to witness in the McLachlan led AFL era. Hopefully this match will spark change across the board, because if this trend continues, fans will start abandoning the sport in droves.
I could go on and on about the terrible score line, and the fact that if I wasn’t the man in charge of penning the review, I would’ve turned the game off in the second quarter. For now, this is a major issue. Forget the uncertain nature of 2020. Forget hubs, traveling teams and an unfair fixture. This game that we all love is in a terrible state, and I for one want to see good footy return. Where 80 points gets you a 20-point loss instead of a 50 point win. If we lose the fans, they’ll find something else to watch and they won’t come back.
So to the coaches, players, administrators and head honchos, this message is for you.
Fix it. Fix it now. Don’t oversee the AFL’s death. Be responsible for its resurrection.