It came down to the last kick and it came down to a Port Adelaide legend in the making to convert the goal and get the Power over the line.
It was Robbie Gray, a player who the Power have been waiting to ignite in 2020, who took the mark on the lead, and with time expired, he went back and slotted a difficult kick like he was shelling peas.
Have you ever shelled peas?
Me either, but apparently it’s pretty simple. People say it is.
Port did everything they could to lose the game, with point blank misses to Charlie Dixon and Todd Marshall in the dying minutes looking as though they could cost them dearly, but after giving up the shot to Marshall, it all fell to Robbie Gray with the game on the line. This was his time.
And like has so many times for this football club, he delivered.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
THE CONTESTED BEAST
Imagine if Charlie Dixon kicked straight? There’d be people comparing him to Plugger!
That Dixon was able to drag in six contested marks, and seven marks inside 50 should have resulted in an absolute bag for the big man is remarkable in the modern game. Teams structure their defences to prevent this kind of thing from every happening. Help defences swarm all over big men to prevent contested marks and bags of goals.
Yet somehow, Charlie was able to find space to dominate the air. He finished with three goals and four behinds, which really could have been very costly for his team.
So, do we look at this game as the contest Charlie Dixon had a mortgage on but didn’t quite own? That’s kind of how it felt. He had a huge down payment, had the cash to finalise the purchase but just didn’t transfer payment.
Instead, he had to go halves with Tom Jonas in owning this game.
I’m still unsure that I agree with David Teague leaving Liam Jones on Dixon all day. I suppose it was great that he showed faith in his defender, but with Jacob Weitering sitting there as the secondary defender, the thought to make the switch must have crossed his mind.
To be fair, Jones had a few really good moments against Dixon, and really the battle came down to whichever player managed to get front position winning the battle. I guess when you’re the one having the ball kicked to you, you’re going to get the preferred position more often than not.
Regardless of the match-up, Dixon was a monster. He looked every bit like the forward that Port have wanted him to be for years, and should have iced the game for his team in the last quarter. Still, all’s well that ends well and the Power walk away from this game with Dixon the dominant forward on the park and the four points as well.
As great as he was in this game it is scary to think that there is still a fair bit of improvement in Dixon. He was a genius at times and a man riddled with errors at others. A flawed genius, but a genius nonetheless.
Last week we released our second version of The Mongrel 50 and I received a few messages from port fans chastising me for not having Tom Jonas higher. For crying out loud, he was 17th in the entire league – I thought that was pretty good recognition.
Of course, I had some others ridiculing me for having him so high. I reckon those blokes should cast their eye over this game. And then they should be eating their words right about now as well.
Jonas was unassailable in this game, and his ability to intercept and take contested grabs under pressure was on full display in the finals minutes as he took a captain’s mark to start the final foray forward for his team.
But it wasn’t just a last quarter flurry that made Jonas’ game so good. He was at it all day en route to collecting 11 intercepts as part of his 20 disposals for the game.
But wait, there’s more.
Only two players prior to today have achieved what The Mongrel terms a defensive double-double. It is double figures in both intercepts and one percenters (spoils).
We can now add Tom Jonas to that list. It was a masterful defensive game.
THE WALSH MARK
There have been a few people down on Sam Walsh this season, with several jumping off him in favour of Connor Rozee in terms of the best player from the 2018 draft. And then there’s been the emergence of Bailey Smith to complicate matters further.
Walsh is a slow burn, and the sort of gut runner that is impacted negatively by shorter quarters. Similar to Andrew Gaff and Brad Hill, he is running at the same pace at the end of games as he is at the start. He has a huge tank and works both ends of the ground all day long, but today he had a moment that will forever be part of his highlight reels.
Today he put his body on the line for his team and took a courageous mark in defence, with traffic bearing down on him. Not just any traffic – Dixon and Jones. Either of those two could have split Walsh in half with the right connection.
Walsh launched at the footy and hit the pack with all he had, clunking the chest mark that made everyone watching nod in appreciation.
Some players go a whole career without a moment like that. Walsh’s hard run also resulted in two vital goals in this game. Matched up against fellow 2018 draftee, Xavier Duursma (returning from injury and will be better for the run) Walsh took the chocolates.
WEITERING IN DEFENCE
I mentioned above about the non-move of Weitering to Dixon, or at least a move to free Weitering up to help. Ah well… hindsight, huh?
You can only beat who is put in front of you and Weitering was doing exactly that today, particularly in the first half. Carlton fans will tell you that this man should be in the All-Australian team and they’re not wrong.
At half time he had six intercept disposals as he patrolled the half back line and chopped off everything that came his way. It was interesting to hear those with the stats at their disposal state that he had not lost a one-on-one contest inside defensive 50 to this point of the season. I can’t remember him losing one today, either.
TRENT MCKENZIE’S THIRD QUARTER
I cannot speak highly enough of the defensive efforts of Trent McKenzie in the third quarter, and really, all season for the Power.
With the Blues pressing hard, McKenzie put himself in harm’s way several times to save the day for his team.
His one-on-two breakeven against two Blues included a perfectly-timed spoil on Harry McKay and a follow up tackle. There was no stat for that, but it was one of the most important moments of the game.
McKenzie had five possessions for the quarter, with four of them coming via intercepts. The sides managed just one goal each in the quarter but I hasten to add that if not for the efforts of Trent McKenzie in defence, Carlton would have taken control of the game at that point.
COMETH THE MOMENT…
… you know how it goes.
I saw signs from Robbie Gray today. After being pretty down on form for the most part this season, it took a special moment to bring out the best in the man many believe to be the best player the Power has produced.
Gray has done it all in his illustrious career. An AFL Coaches Association Player of the Year award, three best and fairests, four All-Australians and five Showdown Medals, Gray is Port Adelaide. When you think of them, you cannot help but think of Robbie Gray.
Though the excitement of the Port Adelaide forward line has transferred to players like Connor Rozee and Zak Butters over the last twelve months, it came down to the skill and composure of Robbie Gray to ice the game.
He gave up an opportunity moments before and saw Todd Marshall miss the unmissable. Now it was his time.
Gray’s mark in front of Lachie Plowman put him on a tough angle. He sucked in the deep breaths, went back and did what great players do. His goal after the siren was one that has been overdue for Port, having had their hearts broken in close finishes over the years. But on this occasion, Robbie Gray was the one forcing all his teammates to completely disregard social distancing rules to slot the game winner.
He was under pressure. He was on a tight angle. And he went back and slotted the tough shot at goal to give his team the win.
Because that is what champions do.
THE INVISIBLE MAN
So, after a couple of weeks where he seemed to play the role of getting in the way and cocking things up, many would have put money on Justin Westhoff bouncing back this week.
I would have,
And I would have lost money.
So often used as a stop gap by Ken Hinkley, Justin Westhoff’s role in this Power team remains a complete mystery. Could it be termed a “decoy” at the moment? He doesn’t look like getting anywhere near the footy, so it might be the perfect role for him. Maybe it was him dragging Weitering away from Dixon?
Anyway, in two of the last three games Westhoff has registered five disposals or less. And yes, today comprised the “less” aspect of that statement.
Westhoff finished the day with three disposals and two marks, playing both ends of the ground to little effect. Port fans, what do you do with the Hoff?
Given you’re winning, do you persevere and wait for him to return to form? Do you plonk him on the half forward flank and have him lead up to half back to get into the game? In a close game like this, having a player of Westhoff’s ability doing very little could have been the thing that tipped the favour into the Blues’ favour. Port got by with him struggling today. Do they get by next time, or do something about it now?
When Michael Gibbons marked the ball with under a minute left in the game, it should have been game over. A perfect little kick from Sam Petrevski-Seton from a stoppage gave the Blues possession and should have iced the game.
Now, not to lay blame at all on the kick from Gibbons, which was down the line and a very ‘safe’ kick, but had the Blues made one more kick – a sideways or backwards kick and taken one more mark, I reckon they ice this game.
Was it fatigue? Could the players not give one more effort to run and spread to offer one last target? Were Port so diligent and well-drilled that they shut down all available options? Or was it the heat of the moment that caused Gibbons to go for the safe option.
Rewatching it, you can see Gibbons give a cursory glance inside, but there is no real intent to look for a short option and control the footy. The long ball was marked by Tom Jonas who started the ball rolling. It wasn’t too dissimilar to the West Coast v Collingwood Grand Final in that respect, with Jonas playing the McGovern role. All we needed at the end was Willie Rioli to run onto the ground and shepherd Lachie Plowman as he tried to spoil Gray.
Carlton had done such incredible work in the second half to take the lead, and after dominating the first half of the last stanza, probably should have put the game away. They’d survived several attacks from Port in the preceding moments and seemed like a team of destiny in this game.
Just one more mark. That’s all they needed.
Instead, it was just one kick down the line. And that’s all Port needed
ALMOST THROWING IT AWAY
Port did everything they could to lose this game, with three shots at goal missing the mark before Robbie Gray saved them.
Dan Houston missed a long one, before Charlie Dixon missed an absolute sitter right in front. Credit where it’s due – Charlie had clunked huge contested mark seconds earlier and had split his eye open in the process, but the miss from 15 out… it kind of tarnished his game.
However, that Dixon miss was nothing compared to the Todd Marshall miss from the top of the square. Gray unselfishly handballed him the footy for the snap that should have given Port the lead, but he somehow managed to miss. I’ve heard commentators speak about kicks at goal that are harder to miss than kick – I reckon the Marshall shot was one of those kicks.
In the midst of all that Gray missed a shot as well as the Power continued to surge (see what I did there?) but fall agonisingly short of the mark.
It would come down to Robbie Gray after the siren, and his wonderful goal wallpapered over some misses that would have been the talk of Adelaide had he not converted from 40 metres out on the tight angle.
All hail Robbie Gray. He pulled Port out of a fire in this one.
HOW FAR AWAY ARE THE BLUES?
Oh, they’re close.
Port are no run-of-the-mill team and the Blues were not only able to match them, but get the better of them for large portions of the game.
What was most impressive was the way the Blues rallied in the first quarter after giving up the first three goals of the game. that took some character, and they continued to show plenty of character as the game continued.
COULD PETER LADHAMS KEEP SCOTT LYCETT OUT OF THE SIDE?
My gut says no, but he really started to sway me in the first half. At half time, Ladhams had accomplished two impressive feats.
Firstly, he had matched the pushing, shoving Marc Pittonet in the ruck after the Blues big man had done a great job establishing himself as one of the better stoppage rucks in the game over the last few weeks.
Secondly, he picked up 14 touches, missing just one target along the way.
Part of me thinks he may have got a little ahead of himself in the second half, trying to spot up targets when the better option was to hand off to a runner, but overall he was the better of the two big men on the park and could deserve another run next week.
GIVEN ROOM, WHAT COULD HARRY MCKAY BE FOR THE BLUES?
If he gets a clean run at the footy in the air, he is close to impossible to stop. Several Port defenders had their turn on McKay this afternoon, and he managed to get the better of all of them at points. Three goals against a defence boasting names like Clurey, Jonas and McKenzie is a fantastic return.
I’ve often speculated that Charlie Curnow should be Carlton’s number two forward, with McKay, at 22, the better prospect. I guess we’ll see how Carlton plays them next season.
IF YOU COULD HAVE JACK MARTIN OR CHARLIE CAMERON, WHO WOULD YOU CHOOSE?
Oh, good question… I’m glad I asked.
I may be a bit of an idiot – just ask my wife – but I would grab Jack Martin at the moment. Cameron is an elusive player who can hit the scoreboard out the back or on the lead. Martin can do that as well, but can also work through the midfield and bring others into the game. he is also excellent overhead.
This season was the big test for Martin, with his tenure at Gold Coast something that always left me feeling he had more to give. I found myself wondering whether he was going to end up as one of those players who promised a heap and delivered a little, but he has been wonderful in stretches thus far in 2020, and I reckon he has another level to go to as well.
HOW GOOD IS ZAK BUTTERS?
I love Zak Butters.
I love the cheekiness. I love his willingness to do the tough stuff and I love that when the game was on the line it was him that went to Patrick Cripps. It was Butters on the last line of defence marking the hurried shot at goal and saving the Power and it was him running down Tom Williamson after the huge Sam Walsh mark.
Butters is a star in the making, if he’s not a star already.
HOW DO WE ASSESS THE GAME OF PATRICK CRIPPS?
21 touches and six clearances is far below the usual output of the Carlton co-captain, but this was a game where there wasn’t a huge amount of disposals for anyone. For mine, he failed to have the regular impact, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. That the Blues are playing this kind of footy without Cripps dominating is actually a positive sign.
I liked what Sam Mayes brought to the table on his Power debut. It was fitting that it was him hitting the pass to Robbie Gray to ice the game.
After a very close start, seeing Ollie Wines rise to the occasion in the second quarter would have had Port fans breathing a sigh of relief. Wines is due to repay the faith of the Power and is the big bodied mid many teams would kill for. After quarter time he played like he truly gave a shit, which is all you can ask for.
That first quarter was the best I have seen Mitch McGovern look in… ever. Or at least at Carlton. He only had three touches, but his attack on the footy and little knock ons opened up the space for his teammates on several occasions.
Anyone see where Eddie Betts went after half time?
Huge shame that Ryan Burton went down injured – he was compiling an excellent game off half back and was using the ball beautifully until then.
Another hand off to Kane Farrell for a long goal… teams haven’t learnt their lessons just yet, it seems.
And that’ll do me for this week. Port get to knock heads with the Saints next week, and given what these sides are capable of, I am looking forward to it already. Carlton get a North Melbourne side with its back to the wall. A good side would punish them and I do not think the Blues are a poor side by any stretch.
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