Fremantle v Carlton- What Happened?

 

Okay, full disclosure, I’m writing this review the morning after the game having gone to sleep pondering whether what I had just seen was some sort of feverish figment of my own imagination or whether Jack Newnes really, truly did slot arguably the second greatest shot after the siren to win the game in V/AFL history.

I’m still not entirely sure, to be perfectly honest. How a game of, well, that quality could end up with a finish of, well, that quality is in many ways mindboggling, though it does demonstrate exactly what it is we love about footy. The title of these reviews is, as ever, ‘What Happened’, but I don’t think that’s ever held truer than for last night’s game.

In any event, somehow Carlton went into this game as marginal favourites. Their first half against the Eagles was no doubt impressive, but they completely ran out of legs after the long break, and teams getting a fast start against West Coast before being reeled back in isn’t a particularly uncommon story. At one point, the Blues looked like playing finals but, having lost consecutive games and three of their last four heading into this game, it was going to take a minor miracle for that to eventuate. Winning this game was critical to that ambition.

On the other hand, Fremantle under Justin Longmuir have been reasonably solid of late. Despite losing their first four games, they were rarely uncompetitive, and wins in the last two games against the Pies and Hawks suggested the young blokes were buying in. Finals seemed a fair way out of the question though heading into this game they sat just percentage behind the Blues, and a win may have made a top 8 berth possible if unlikely.

I’m still not entirely sure how this game ended like it did, so with that in mind there’s only one question worth asking: what happened?

 

A New(n) Hope

As a matter of record, in my observation notes for this game, I jotted down the following sentence: ‘Newnes surely has to go’. I don’t remember exactly when that went into the notepad; it was probably when he missed a very straightforward running shot early in the third quarter which would have given his new side the perfect start. I’m not entirely sure whether the former Saint is a better option as a pressure forward than, for example, Paddy Dow, but after tonight’s game I think Newnes might become a life member of the Carlton Football Club.

In fairness, the bloke did lay a game high eight tackles, including four inside forward 50. In a game where Luke Ryan was best on ground, forward pressure was lacking but at least Newnes was willing to crack in. In any event, that kick, after the siren, was entirely unbelievable. We’ll get to the lead up shortly, sure, and though that was no doubt controversial, that should not take away from that kick. I have, truly, no idea how he managed to guide that through but even in his wildest dreams I’m not sure Newnes would have pictured himself striking that ball quite so exquisitely.

To be perfectly honest, it shouldn’t have come to what it did for the Blues. They kicked 3.7 in the second half to their opposition’s 1.3, but with one of their goals coming after the siren it could easily, easily have been another wasted opportunity for Teague’s side. As has often been the case for Carlton, their kicking going inside 50 was poor, and their ball use when the ball was inside their forward 50 was arguably worse. Michael Gibbons does a very good impression of a centre half forward, but sitting the ball on his head isn’t a plan that’s going to win too many games, especially when guys like McKay and Casboult occupy the forward line. Without taking away too much from Carlton, they do really need to tidy up their work going forward, and Newnes’ unreal winner has maybe papered over some of the cracks there.

 

The Real Flyin’ Ryan

As identified above, Carlton’s kicking going forward was very poor at times. That should not take away from Luke Ryan’s performance though, who I thought was so far best on ground it wasn’t funny. His 24 touches were the most of any Docker, but in part that was not that relevant. What was relevant, moreso, were his massive 14 intercepts. The Blues went inside 50 on 41 occasions, and yet Ryan, in tandem with Brennan Cox, were an impassable wall, and the aforementioned Casboult and McKay took just two marks inside 50, assisted by the conditions to some extent.

In our last Mongrel rolling All Australian team, back after Round Six, I don’t think any of our “correspondents” had Ryan in. That should change when we organise our teams following the end of this footy fiesta. The Docker is currently leading the League in intercept possessions, and is eighth for total metres gained. In regards to the latter, in the wet, he led his side for metres, with 495, and rebounds, with eight.

Without a doubt, Ryan was helped in some way by the conditions, which weren’t really conducive for big forwards. However, he was also hindered, dropping what would almost certainly have been the mark of the year late in the last quarter, having risen to the heavens and stuck out one mitt. He’ll have to settle for five Mongrel votes; adequate compensation in my eyes.

 

Cripp-led or Cripps Led?

Speaking of the Mongrel rolling All Australian side, Pat Cripps made it, from memory, without having really dominated games apart from that shock win down in Geelong. I’d be stunned if he made it in this time around, having had limited impact by his lofty standards for the majority of the year. If Carlton were to get up in this game, they needed more from their skipper, but they also probably needed more from guys like Ed Curnow and Sam Walsh, who have been solid if unspectacular in this strange year.

Curnow’s season-high tally for disposals in any game this year was 21, against the Dees, and since then he had only recorded 20 disposals twice. Whether it was the weather, a newfound sense of motivation or some other thing, Curnow was exceptional for the Blues. He played the conditions perfectly, in my opinion, proving the theory that in the wet big bodies don’t get any smaller. His 33 touches included 16 contested possessions, and game highs in inside 50’s (six) and clearances (10). While he may have gone at just 36% efficiency, that number in conditions like we saw last night can be somewhat misleading, and what was perhaps more relevant were his game high 536 metres gained as he dominated the midfield battle.

Walsh might not have the flair of other players from his draft like Rozee, Duursma, Bailey Smith, and even Rankine and the King brothers, but in adapting to a new outside role he has demonstrated his versatility and footballing talent, even if his raw numbers have dropped off. His 24 touches included 11 contested possessions, including a nice goal in the third quarter to bring the margin back within a kick. He then somehow managed to miss an easier drop punt on the run later on in the quarter, but he gained 511 metres for his team, had seven clearances and sent his side inside 50 on five occasions.

And then to Cripps. It certainly wasn’t his best game, and he probably wouldn’t be considered best on ground, but he seemed pretty intent on cracking in and Curnow’s performance probably assisted with that. A massive 20 of his 24 possessions were contested; four of his eight clearances came out of the centre and he laid six tackles. At times his kicking was poor, and he doesn’t always seem to know his limitations, but he’s clearly not the issue at Carlton, and acquiring some big bodied support for him in the form of, potentially, Brad Crouch or Ollie Wines should be goal number one for the Blues’ list management team.

 

Such is Fyfe

There are players in the league who just look better in the wet. Jimmy Bartel is the one who springs to mind for me, though there were of course others like Robert Harvey. Nat Fyfe doesn’t always spring to mind as elite in the wet, but he looked like he was playing dry weather football at times throughout the first half. Playing more minutes up forward than some may have expected, he finished with 21 touches, including 15 contested, whilst being involved in an equal game high five scores. Four of those came in the first quarter, but his kicking around the ground was excellent.

His impact was diminished in the third quarter, having just two touches as Carlton pressed hard for the lead. He did, however, have seven touches in the last to almost seal the game for his side. It’s a luxury Freo haven’t always had, to play Fyfe as a forward, but with guys like Brayshaw, Serong (who looked to have a tagging job on Cripps at times) and Cerra, the midfield looks in very good hands for the future.

 

The Last Two Minutes

This game was absolutely saved by the finish, and before I get into that discussion, analysing the last three minutes of the game is worthwhile, if for nothing else than its sheer comedic value. Harry McKay clearly struggled with the wet footy all night, and after clunking a nice mark in the pocket, he absolutely flushed the middle of the ball with a snap that somehow landed in the waiting arms of former forward Liam Jones, who probably owed his side a goal after his drop which led to Taberner’s third. Despite his best efforts to hand the ball off to Eddie Betts, he was forced to take the responsibility himself and his snap never looked likely.

Zac Fisher got hands on the ball off the pack after the kick out, and sent a pretty good kick inside 50. The ball cleared the pack and landed almost fortuitously for Eddie Betts, who hadn’t kicked a goal in almost 18 quarters of football since a second quarter goal against Port Adelaide. His tap on to Casboult was probably the right option, but then the big man tried another tap on and the ball got lost in another pack, ending up just near the behind post for a throw in.

It was probably not ideal for Freo, with a throw in as close to goal as possible. Tom de Koning got the ball down in front but there were no Blues waiting, and the ball fell to Walters, who had done a whole lot of not much all night but looked to have saved the game with a long kick to the wing. Matt Taberner had a clear run at the ball and all he really needed to do was take possession which probably would have saved the game for his side.

Instead, he tapped the ball towards the boundary and was pinged for deliberate. Sam Docherty rightly took the game on but shanked the ball out on the full, only to receive a downfield free for front-on contact by Andy Brayshaw, who didn’t do much wrong. I’ve watched the incident a couple of times, and I still honestly have no idea if that was a free kick. Blues’ fans will say it certainly was, Freo fans the opposite, but it’s genuinely tough to say.

In any event, the ball sailed over the diminutive Michael Gibbons’ head. Somehow, in spite of that fact, the ball ended in the hands of Jack Newnes and the rest, as they say, is history.

 

And Another Thing…

 

  • Kade Simpson, among others, is notable for always donning the long sleeves in the navy blue. It’s an outstanding look, underrated in some quarters, but not here at this particular section of The Mongrel Punt. It was, therefore, a shock to actually bear witness to Simmo’s bare naked pipes. The only excuse plausible is that the Blues did not manufacture or somehow did not possess long sleeve jumpers of their away jersey; a disgrace, surely, and it clearly ticked off the footy gods, with Kade copping one of the most brutal falcons I have ever seen in football. The veteran seemed okay, and didn’t leave the ground, but Christ, that would have stung.
  • Haven’t properly mentioned Taberner yet, but I thought he was excellent. Jacob Weitering hadn’t been outmarked in a one-on-one contest this year, but Taberner did so on a couple of occasions, in tandem with a fairly soft free kick in the first quarter which gifted him his first. Taberner and Lobb have had 49 contested marks between them this year, and could be the basis of a solid forward line in the future.
  • Carlton really dominated the game after half time. Freo’s only goal came from a poor mistake from Liam Jones, and the Blues really should have put this game to bed a long time before they had to.
  • Without engaging too heavily in umpire bashing, I think most footy fans would be growing fairly frustrated with the officiating of some games this year. It’s surely no coincidence, as I have written previously, that the best games this year have been the ones where the umpires fade into the background, but at times they’ve seemed to want to assert their own influence on contests when it just isn’t needed. Yes, we could point to the umpiring in that last minute, but there were plenty of decisions that were head-scratching at best.

 

That’ll probably do me. I’m still quite stunned this game ended the way it did, especially given the preceding 100 minutes of football. Some games truly can be saved by the finish, and this is the poster-boy for exactly that.

The Blues, having taken one win from three games in their Perth hub, despite having substantial leads in their two losses and never leading by more than a kick in their one win, now sit 11th on the ladder and are somehow just one win, plus a fair bit of percentage, outside eighth spot. They’ll be ruing a couple of their close losses, but they’ve been equally fortunate as unlucky in tight games this year. Next week they take on the Suns, in that club’s first ever Friday night game, to kick off 2020’s Sir Doug Nicholls Round.

For the Dockers, it’s perhaps hard not to be encouraged by their emergence this year. Justin Longmuir looks assured as a first year coach and will only get better with experience, as will their young guns. They do sit 14th, and while that’s not ideal by any means, taking a long term view, they’ll be alright. Next week they take on the Swans in Perth again.

 

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