Is there a bit of blood in the water at Collingwood? The Demons came out as though they sensed a little in this game, taking the fight right up to the Magpies early, and punishing them late in the game to run out convincing 56-point winners.

The victory sees Melbourne move right back into finals calculations and, just half a game ahead of them, leaves Collingwood on very shaky ground. It was just a few weeks ago that Collingwood were premiership favourites and the Dees were written off.

Remember those days?

Come on, they weren’t all that long ago at all. Things change quickly in footy this year.

Melbourne went in without Max Gawn, denying us another instalment in the Grundy-Gawn ruck wars, but it was the pressure of the Demons, and their insistence on not screwing around with the footy once they got it on the outside that saw them own contests and spread more effectively.

This is the game the Demons fans have been waiting for. There is still life left in the red and the blue, and over the past few weeks, we have seen plenty of it with three wins on the trot.

Are the Dees the real deal now? Or have the Pies just fallen off a cliff?

I guess that’s what I am here for as we ask the big questions about the Melbourne v Collingwood clash.

 

WHERE HAS THIS VERSION OF MELBOURNE BEEN?

If anyone knows, could they please let me know? I reckon I might find a good version of my Hawks somewhere around there as well.

The Dees were fantastic in this one. If I could choose one word to describe them, it would be “uncompromising”. They did not take a backward step all game long and dared the Pies to take them on, only to completely shut them down when they opted to take up the challenge.

The pressure of the midfield combined with both the defenders and forwards willing to come off the line to impact a contest saw the Dees make the Pies look messy and without structure. Collingwood are a well-drilled unit – this is not a very easy task to accomplish.

There are days when you can get a read on a game in the first five minutes, and watching Melbourne attack the footy early, you could tell they were right up for it in this game. I’ll get to several of the players that stood out as we progress, but in many ways it was the lesser lights that made Melbourne so damn good in this game.

It was Aaron vandenBerg crashing into all and sundry, it was Michael Hibberd’s desperate lunges to prevent a score, and it was the gut-busting run of Ed Langdon to run hard into both the forward and defensive fifty arcs to provide an option for his teammates.

Yes, I loved Petracca in the guts and Clayton Oliver hunting the footy as much as the next bloke, but this game had so many little highlights from blokes that won’t get much of a look in when votes are handed out, that I reckon they need to be mentioned.

Brayden Preuss was able to hang with Brodie Grundy, Nathan Jones’ desperation to split contests and Angus Brayshaw looking composed in the middle… that’s something we haven’t really seen in a long while before the last couple of weeks.

This was a wonderful team-effort, but as always, the focus has to narrow on a select few. I hope I can cover them all.

 

HOW TOUGH IS AARON VANDENBERG?

I’m not celebrating the collision that saw Brody Mihocek stretchered off in the first quarter – no one likes to see someone with their eyes on the footy hurt like that, but whilst many were watching Mihocek get hit, then hit the ground, I was just as impressed with the courage of Aaron vandenBerg in that contest.

Yes, Mihocek was courageous as well – incredibly so. Both guys had eyes only for the ball, committed themselves to the contest and absolutely launched into the pack. But it was vandenBerg that took Mihocek out – legally and with power.

It was the action of a man intent on making a statement, and it was heard loud and clear by his teammates. It’s unfortunate that Mihocek was injured in the process, but the intensity of vandenBerg’s attack set the tone for the Dees and the entire team followed. How could a teammate not attack the contest with intent when vandenBerg is up there throwing his body in harm’s way like a lunatic? It compelled the Demons to do the same all night – it lit a fire under a team that has had their aggressive, pressure-filled game in hibernation for too long.

Not long after Mihocek was stretchered off, vandenBerg was at it again, this time backing into the oncoming pair of Sam Weideman and Darcy Moore and getting crashed to the turf again. This was a big hit as well, and at this stage he had to have had a bit of a target on his back, but vandenBerg opened himself up, backed into the oncoming traffic and got nailed. He got to his feet to take the free kick and refused to show he was hurt.

It was a “follow me” moment.

There aren’t many old-school kind of footballers in the league anymore. They seem to have been replaced with high-octane runners and top-level athletes, but vandenBerg looks like a footballer that could have laced them up in the eighties. He strikes me as a guy you could have seen wrestling with Dipper on the far wing with the footy eighty metres away, or dropping in the hole in front of a charging Tony Lockett… knowing what was coming but doing it anyway.

Blokes like this – you build your culture on their selfless efforts, and when it was his turn to go in this one, Aaron vandenBerg went. And once he did, the Demons walked taller.

 

 

WHERE WAS THE MAGPIE PRESSURE?

In the first half, it was actually there. Believe me, they were putting some of the Dees under extreme pressure. It’s just that when compared to the kind of pressure Melbourne were applying, it just seemed as though it was lacking.

Taylor Adams was hard at it, and you can look at the clearances in the first quarter as evidence that the Pies were cracking in. They feasted on the stoppage ball early on until Clayton Oliver took matters into his own hands in the second, winning five clearances, himself to make it a much more balanced contest in the middle.

The Pies fell away in the last quarter and went from pressuring to undisciplined, however don’t be fooled into thinking they weren’t having a crack through the first three quarters – they were. They just weren’t up to it.

 

HOW IMPORTANT IS A FIT, COMMITTED JACK VINEY TO THIS TEAM?

He won’t walk away with huge numbers or the three votes in this game, but watching Viney play anti-social football must warm the cockles or the Demon hearts.

It is his second efforts that I love, and without the commentators gushing over him this season, he is compiling the kind of season we were all expecting last year. He will figuratively claw, scratch and bite to get a touch and refuses to give in even when the opposition extracts the footy.

They grab it and run, but just as they think they’re in the clear and attempt to get a kick away, there is the lunging desperado named Jack Viney getting a hand on them to affect the kick. It’s not a tackle. It’s not a spoil. In truth, it would be as annoying as hell, but it is enough to disrupt things. That’s what Viney is – a disruptor.

Truthfully, when the commentators were spending half the time lauding what a tough guy Viney was last season, it kind of made me dislike him a little. Petty, I know… I’ve never said I’m mature. Here were the Dees, getting whacked week after week and Garry Lyon and James Brayshaw were there yapping on about how much of a warrior Viney was – I wanted them to call it like it was; a very disappointing season for both him and his club.

This season, they’ve shut up and Viney’s actions seem to be doing the talking. He had six clearances in this one and though he laid just two tackles, the amount of times he was able to get a hand on an opponent, or break up a passage of play was so important to the mounting pressure of the Demons. He was like the pebble that drops into the water. There were ripples everywhere, and he was causing them.

Again, others will probably get the plaudits in this game, but I reckon there will be five or six moments in the review of this game where Simon Goodwin stops the footage and points out Jack Viney’s little acts that most missed.

 

IS THAT THE BEST GAME OF ED LANGDON’S MELBOURNE CAREER?

Hell yes.

I know he had a good one all the way back in Round One, racking up 31 touches as the Dees fell to the eagles, but he was influential in this game to the point I was wondering why the hell Josh Daicos or Tom Phillips didn’t tighten up on him at all.

He ran hard for his 22 touches and importantly, ran at 82% efficiency. His kicking inside 50 ha been a little iffy at times both this year and in seasons past at Freo, but there was a crispness and decisiveness about his footy in this game. He moved up and down the wing with purpose and when he got the footy, was creative without being unnecessarily risky.

With two goals to his name, he was able to get loose inside 50 and punish the Pies’ runners for their lack of defensive effort. I’ve been waiting for Langdon to have a game like this – not extremely high numbers, but extremely high effectiveness. Today, he turned it on against the Pies and more than justified his recruitment.

Now, they just have to get Tomlinson doing something similar and they’ll be off to the races.

 

HOW GOOD WAS JAKE MELKSHAM?

Way back in February, I buggered off from work one day to go and watch the Dees play North Melbourne at Arden Street in a practice game. With the season looming and Covid just an above average, yet questionable scrabble word at that time, I was so impressed with the way Jake Melksham moved and got to the right spots. He was dangerous every time the Dees moved the ball from half back and was easily the cleanest on the ground with the footy in his hands.

Of course, the season was derailed and upon reset, anything that was happening back in February was summarily dismissed and forgotten.

But watching him in this game, memories flooded back. And seeing that he had a defender the calibre of Brayden Maynard on him, the contest between them immediately grabbed my attention.

Melksham is a step ahead of most on the park. He is a player who sees the game rolling out in front of him and can make decisions based on where the ball is headed – not where it is. And a player like that is always dangerous.

What this meant is that Maynard couldn’t do what he is so adept at doing and drift off to intercept, In effect, by having Melksham as his direct opponent, it forced Maynard to play an honest game of accountable footy. The results were not great for the Pies.

Melksham kicked two goals, himself and had two direct goal assists as well as he continued to be dangerous even with such a quality player having the role of curtailing him.

That, ladies and gents, is a very good player doing very good things with a very good player trying to stop him.

 

HOW BIG WAS THE MIHOCEK LOSS?

Given the Pies’ makeshift forward line, the absence of Brody Mihocek was huge. Without his work ethic and ability to take a contested mark, Collingwood looked directionless going forward, and when Ben Reid went down with another soft tissue injury (seriously, he should be sponsored by Kleenex) the Pies became reliant on Will Hoskin-Elliott to provide a mobile marking target.

Hoskin-Elliott has been good for the Pies as a third or fourth option, but being the main man is a little too much responsibility for him. Without someone who could provide a good marking target (and for some reason the Pies seemed reluctant to go to Darcy Cameron despite a good outing last round) they looked cooked.

So, in answer to the question, the loss of Mihocek was huge. I have said it a few times  – the Pies have this fleet of mid/small-sized forwards that can carve up a game. they’re interchangeable, meaning that when one goes down, another is capable of filling the hole, but with Mihocek… I don’t think any Magpie can fill the hole he leaves behind.

Here’s hoping he comes up okay and it turns out that the way he hit the deck isn’t as bad as it appeared… because it appeared pretty bad.

 

WHO WAS THE BIGGEST OUT FOR THE PIES?

At three-quarter time they put up the inevitable graphic that had the Magpie injury list on it.

It had to happen, right? But was it a reason for their poor play in this one, or was it due to the Melbourne pressure? I’d say the latter, but it is undeniable that the Pies had some quality on the sidelines.

Of the group, who would have been the handiest in this game?

I was initially thinking Treloar, but the Pies had a good run and plenty of the footy through the midfield. What they were lacking, particularly with both Maynard and Moore engaged in good contests, was that defensive sweeper. Jeremy Howe would have been the perfect addition to stifle his old club as he patrolled half back and clunked marks.

However, with the AFL app (which is only ever a few weeks out of date on injuries) stating he is still a minimum of six weeks away, the Pies’ defence is going to have to meander on through this patch. If they can get Jordan of the Roughead variety back, it should free up Darcy Moore a little to stop the bleeding.

If they don’t, I think whatever else they try may be akin to placing a band aid on a bullet wound.

 

DOES CHRISTIAN PETRACCA HAVE THE STRONGEST HANDS WITH THE BALL ON THE DECK?

Allow me to explain.

The ball is in dispute. There is an opposition player on the ground and he is holding the footy there. Christian Petracca wanders over to the contest and just YOINKS the footy out of there like he is taking candy from a baby. Then he just runs away with it. He is like the ground ball bully.

I see this happen every week and no one ever mentions it. It’s like he is lifting a feather and the opposition is trying to hold onto a piece of led. The guy just muscles his way out of a situation that would normally result in a stoppage just because he refuses to allow the ball to be locked in.

Take a look at him when you next watch the Dees play. The ball is in dispute, other players are scrambling for it, he wanders over and pins it to the ground like Steve Irwin used to do to a crocodile, and then he just pulls the bloody thing away from everyone else like he is the only bloke that knows what he’s doing.

If you were giving votes in this game, I’d probably have him behind Petracca and Langdon this week, but it was such an even performance by the Melbourne midfield, I wouldn’t be surprised if he sneaks in for a couple of votes on Brownlow night. He did hit the scoreboard and once again was right up the top in terms of score involvements.

It has been a joy to watch him realise his potential this season.

 

IS THERE ANYONE I’M WORRIED ABOUT FOR THE DEES?

Yeah, there are a couple, actually.

I’m really not sure we’re going to see a version of Tom McDonald that is anything like the 2018 incarnation again. He did a couple of nice things in this game, but the stuff you’d want to see from him – marking on the lead… making a good lead, even… they’re just not happening.

He had eight touches in this one, and got the majority of them whilst running around up the field as a ruckman. With Sam Weideman now playing to the level the Dees were hoping for last season, TMac’s time as the number one forward has been and gone in the blink of an eye.

The other I am not yet sold on is Adam Tomlinson, but this was something I wasn’t sold on when Melbourne pulled the trigger for him in the off-season. No matter where I see him play, he just seems like he is being played out of position! Half back – no good. Wing – no influence. Forward will be next, and I am not sure he’ll cut the mustard there, either.

If Simon Goodwin tries him at half forward, I’d hope he would play the searching, leading type of role that Tom Lynch played in the Adelaide run from 2015-17. Lead up hard and then run back inside 50 hard as well. Tomlinson has a huge tank – he can run all day and is almost key position size. If he can’t fit in there… I don’t know what else to do with him.

 

WHO WON THE WEED V MOORE CLASH?

Well, Weideman hit the scoreboard, provided a great aerial target for Melbourne and the Dees won, so you’d say it was him, right?

Yeah, I suppose so, but part of me just wants to give a huge shout out to Darcy Moore. Unlike many of the big-name defenders over the last few years, Moore actually takes on the biggest job every week for the Pies. He doesn’t shy away and run in as the third man up to make the big spoil – he is responsible for the deepest forward, and whilst Weideman is no household name just yet, when he went to the goal square, Moore didn’t flinch – he became his responsibility.

Weed attacked the contest well, bringing the ball to ground and preventing the Pies from springboarding thanks to Moore’s intercepting ability.

Moore did have seven intercepts in this game – slightly above his season average, but after a first quarter that saw Weed mark and goal, the duel was about a breakeven.

Again, the Dees won, so it is easy to hand the win to Weideman, and if you do, that’s cool. But given the way the ball was coming in, I thought Moore was far from disgraced.

 

IS TAYLOR ADAMS THE NEXT COLLINGWOOD CAPTAIN?

Yep, of this, I have no doubt.

In a game that saw the Dees get a hold of the Pies, Adams looked like the only bloke out there that was genuinely annoyed with the way things were playing out. He fought and scrapped and refused to take the foot off the pedal irrespective of the score line.

When you’re looking for the man that will lead the Pies, Post-Pendles, you could do a lot worse than cast your eye over the way Adams has gone about it this season.

He was huge last week and though they obviously didn’t get the result this week, his efforts cannot be faulted. With Treloar missing again, Adams has put his hand up as the hard working mid at Collingwood this season and whilst he doesn’t have the poise and class of Pendlebury, he had a hell of a lot more ticker than just about every other bloke out there wearing black and white in this one.

 

DOES CLAYTON OLIVER HAVE THE BEST HANDS IN THE GAME?

As in one touch pick-ups and dishes in traffic, it would be difficult to go past him.

I love watching him track the footy. As he picks it up and the lift doors close on him, he has an uncanny knack of squeezing the ball out to a teammate I didn’t even know was there. Blokes like Diesel Williams and Sam Mitchell had that talent – you can’t learn it.

He led the game in clearances again this week, but it was the 83% disposal efficiency that would be making Simon Goodwin smile. Oliver took some high difficulty kicks in this game and pulled them off. He has been criticised over the journey for missing targets and turning the footy over, but I am a believer in him and reckon when all is said and done we will be talking about him as an all-time great for the Melbourne Footy Club.

He has just turned 23 and is one of just three men to ever clock over 400 contested touches in a season. The other two are Josh Kennedy and Patrick Dangerfield. Esteemed company, already.

 

WHO WAS BEST ON?

Damn, what’d I ask that for?

I haven’t yet worked out the order, but you could throw a blanket over Ed Langdon, Clayton Oliver, Angus Brayshaw, Jake Melksham and Christian Petracca, but I reckon in a 5-4-3-2-1 system as we have here at The Mongrel, I’d like to reward someone like Charlie Spargo or Aaron vandenBerg as well, as they were both really important in less-obvious roles.

Taylor Adams could possibly squeeze one of them out, however.

 

WHAT’S NEXT?

The Dees get the Dogs on Saturday in a game that could finish the Dogs off if they lose. I’d love to see the Dees show a little killer instinct and rip the heart out of their season by knocking them over. That’s the kind of Melbourne team you want – bloody ruthless.

As for the Pies, well they get a nice eight day break before facing the Kangaroos. North were good against the Lions, if you consider scrapping and turning it over as much as the other team good. The Pies desperately need this one, and they should deliver to get back on track. A loss would be disastrous.

 

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