TEN THINGS I LEARNT AFTER ROUND 14

 

  1. Joe Daniher looks happy to be back

 

After just 11 games over the last three seasons, Joe made a welcome return to the Essendon line-up and with it came his customary smile. It was just what Bombers fans needed after their recent run of mediocre form, and perhaps Twitter might be a little calmer this week. Although at half time when the Bombers trailed by six goals in what was looking like another defeat the usual suspects in the online world were at it again, but that didn’t age well.

In the first half, Joe understandably looked out of sorts. It seems the team’s fortunes paralleled his inability to get into the game. After half time he managed to get his hands on the ball and finished with three goals for the match getting the Bombers home by 16 points in what was a 52 point turnaround after half time.

Whilst I’m sure Joe has played better games for the club, his two late goals demonstrated that the longer the game went, the better he was playing, and his importance to this embattled team has never been more obvious.

For the Hawks, up to half time they had it all their way, and Essendon made error after error turning over the ball and allowing the Hawks easy passage to goal. However, after the break, the Bombers must have all changed their boots and were finding targets all over the ground. And the clearance count in the second half was a very lop-sided 20-6 in favour of Essendon. If they can maintain that form for the remainder of the season, they may still have a slim chance of making the 8, but with so many tough opponents remaining in their last 4 weeks, I still believe they’ll pay the price for their indifferent mid-season form.

McGrath for the Bombers was terrific once again and seems to have found a home in the midfield. The Hawks midfield were obliterated in the 3rd and 4th quarters, and although Tom Mitchell does get his hands on the ball a lot, he may not be hurting opposition teams as much as Hawks fans would’ve hoped. I’m still fascinated to know what is going on in Clarkson’s mind in terms of how he can turn this around for next season.

 

  1. I really do believe the Eagles don’t like playing in Queensland.

 

It seems that the Eagles really found their mojo once they were back home in Perth where they were invincible winning every game before their home crowd. Early on, we were all wondering if the Eagles were any kind of threat after losing three in a row and languishing with just one win (at home) from their first four games. They then squared up the ledger before returning to Perth and began playing the sort of football we knew they were capable of. After getting their season on track, their poor form in the Northern state seemed a distant memory, so it was with some curiosity that I watched the game wondering if there was anything to the notion they don’t like playing there. And, for me, the verdict is in and they clearly don’t.

Whilst Richmond is a very good side, the Eagles were a long way off their best. Despite Darling and Ryan playing solid games with three goals apiece, and Gaff and Shuey getting plenty of the ball, they still went down by 27 points and trailed all night. The Tigers had winners everywhere, and their captain played one of his better games for the season. After having issues with injury, it’s a promising sign to see a fit Cotchin heading into a finals campaign doing well. Dusty’s amazing banana goal was also a highlight. Tom Lynch managed just four possessions but still managed to score three goals. It just goes to show how important it is to keep his influence in check.

The next three weeks will be interesting. What may have seemed a fairly easy run for the Eagles now takes on a bigger challenge when they come up against the Bombers, the Bulldogs and the Saints all in Queensland. If they can’t shake off this apparent lethargy that seems to creep in to their game when playing at the Gabba or Metricon, their prospect of finishing in the prized Top 4 is diminished, and not getting any major home finals in Perth as a result will make ultimate success a bridge too far.

 

  1. The Cats are one of the strongest finishing sides in the competition

 

At quarter time in the Bulldogs v Cats game, the Cats were down by six goals and had been completely outplayed. But having studied many of the Geelong games this season, one observation is that they generally score heavily as the game wears on, and this game was no exception.

A quick analysis of their final quarters is telling. They have been outscored on five occasions out of 14 in the final term, but the most they’ve conceded is 4.0 in their round one loss to GWS. On five other occasions they’ve kept opposition teams goalless in the final term while never being goalless themselves. They’ve almost doubled the scoring with 298 points for as compared to just 157 against.

The moral of the story here is that if you’re leading by a few goals at three quarter time against the Cats, you’ll need to play a blistering final quarter to retain that lead. Sadly for the Bulldogs, losing key players during the game made resistance to the customary Geelong fightback very difficult. They were brave and fought the game out, but with a defence that is already under-sized, not having Easton Wood’s interceptions in the second half gave the Cats a clearer path to goal.

Geelong will also be doing their homework to ensure they don’t make slow starts like this one again. Patrick Dangerfield’s influence on the comeback was huge. It’s almost certain he will be adjudged best on ground and be awarded three votes. He has been pretty good this year, so I’m sure he’ll be on the leaderboard on Brownlow night, but whether or not he’s done enough to win is another story, however if the Cats keep winning and secure a position in the Top 4, he may have a medal of a different kind to add to his trophy collection.

The Dogs are by no means out of finals contention. But having a 37 point lead early in the second term, only to lose, they may put this one down as the one that got away and cost them a Top 8 spot.

 

  1. Port Adelaide has held top spot on the ladder since Round 1

 

Port Adelaide won big against the Suns in Round One and have managed to retain the number one spot on the ladder ever since. That’s no mean feat, yet many football scribes don’t see the Power as a genuine threat to Grand Final glory. It’s understandable as they have suffered three reasonably heavy losses to Brisbane, Geelong and the Saints. And it’s true that they were quite ordinary in those games, however, the lack of respect many have for this team is ill-conceived.

What I’m seeing right now is a club in cruise control. Up against the Swans on Saturday, they were good without being outstanding, but the game was never in doubt and they won the game by a comfortable 27 point margin against a team who tried hard all day. Like good sides do, they got the job done and continue to do so most weeks. They’ve possibly even got a few more gears they can utilise come finals time too.

Charlie Dixon was good once again booting four goals. Veteran Robbie Gray turned back the clock and found some of his best form which may have silenced those who are suggesting he is in decline. Wines and Boak were very strong in the midfield. Ollie Wines is an interesting one. There’s mounting speculation he may not be at Port Adelaide next year, but I wonder how he’d feel if they went all the way this year? For Sydney, we’ve already spoken of their injuries to key players and their lack of scoring power. That said, I do believe they’ve got a genuine star of the future in Nick Blakey. Though he didn’t have the greatest influence on this game, his athleticism and strong marking will make him a formidable player once he gets it all together.

 

  1. The Giants might actually want to play finals after all

 

I believe the Giants have possibly turned the corner after what has been very mediocre output from this highly talented list for most of season 2020. I also believe it started last week against the Eagles where they kicked the last four goals of the game to fall short by just 12 points thanks to the heroics of Jeremy McGovern. So it was no surprise to me that they came out firing this week against the Dockers and never lost control of the game. This put an end to any slim finals hopes that Fremantle had while re-igniting their season in a way that may put fear into the other teams above them on the ladder.

Looking at the run home for the Giants, it’s quite possible they could win all four games, and if this effort was any indication, it seems likely. I imagine youngster Jake Riccardi for the Giants will take this round’s nomination for the rising star with his four goal effort. It also seemed to trigger the recently struggling Jeremy Cameron who has had the spotlight shone on him in recent weeks with some pretty sub-par efforts, and rightly so. Cameron would most likely be the highest paid Giant on their list at over a million dollars, so perhaps seeing a young kid in Riccardi dominating early while probably being paid a tenth of Cameron’s salary made him flick the switch which resulted in a solid return of four goals of his own.

GWS now have the formidable forward setup of Cameron, Riccardi, Himmelberg and Finlayson. You can expect to see them scoring a lot higher for their last four games than their season average thus far.

The Dockers looked stunned all day. They would’ve gone into the match with some confidence based on recent form and knowing there was a slim finals chance on offer. But the Giants, after what’s been a season with many question marks around it, have finally come to play it seems, and Freo were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

 

  1. The Saints are no certainties to make finals

 

This loss would’ve hurt St Kilda. They now sit inside the 8 by just one game and have to win two of their next three games to make it certain. Their next outing against Hawthorn should go their way, but they play the Eagles and the Giants in their last two matches, and whilst they’re most certainly capable of winning against all of these teams, my gut feeling is they will struggle to beat the last two and face the heartbreak that comes with finishing 9th after so many close losses such as this one.

The Demons, on the other hand, have plenty reasons for optimism. Their run home is a good one. Their four remaining games include Sydney, Fremantle, GWS and Essendon. Winning two of those games may be enough, but winning three makes it certain. Having a strong percentage is also useful.

I’d like to talk about Christian Petracca. Drafted at number two behind Paddy McCartin, it seems looking at this form he’s finally delivering after a less than brilliant start to his career. Many were wondering if he’d reach his potential, but this year he’s without a doubt the most influential player at the Melbourne Football Club and can play any position on the ground. His four goals on Saturday were the difference, and the Saints had no answers for him. The Demons could ill-afford to lose him at this point. And as a team, they now have to learn to narrow the gap between their best and worst. But from where they’ve come from last year and the early part of this season where they looked like a very ordinary team, it speaks volumes of what they’re capable of, and I imagine the pressure on Goodwin has eased somewhat.

 

  1. Blues are not ready for a finals spot.

 

It seems the Carlton Football Club, like many struggling teams, just does not have it in their DNA to keep up the effort required to win matches against the better sides for four quarters. On several occasions this year now, they’ve either given up early leads only to fade late in the game, or allowed a side to get too far ahead to reel in although they’ve come awfully close on some occasions. Yes, they’ve improved, but sadly they’re still way off the mark and still have a few deficiencies that will need to be addressed in the off-season in order for the Blues to challenge for a Top 8 spot in 2021.

When pitted against a strong defence, the forwards seem to struggle to get to the contest and even bring the ball to ground to give the likes of Eddie Betts or Michael Gibbons an opportunity to crumb a goal. Instead, we saw countless intercept marks from Darcy Moore and Brayden Maynard, particularly after half time, and this resulted in Carlton managing a paltry four behinds for the entire last two quarters.

The Pies, as they often do, dug deep into their list with success. They’re definitely worthy of playing finals in the face of such a long injury list, a few off-field challenges and some indifferent form at times. But they’re a professional unit and a well-run club which is, right now more than ever, the envy of all Blues fans. Jaidyn Stephenson would’ve torn the game apart were it not for a bit of wayward kicking, finishing with 2.4. His pace is widely known, so it was a little puzzling that the slowest defender in the Carlton team in Plowman was given the job. It was always going to leave him vulnerable once the ball hit the ground, as demonstrated by the ease in which Stephenson got around him for an easy goal in the final term.

The Collingwood midfield also dominated. We always talk about Pendlebury and Treloar (when fit), but do most folks really understand just how great a player Taylor Adams is? The Pies have had a tough year, yet they find themselves in 6th position. They face Brisbane, the Suns and Port Adelaide in the remaining three games. One win will probably secure a spot in the 8, but if they get some players back and freshen up after their break in Round 16, they could still go deep into the finals.

 

  1. The Suns win their first game since Round 7.

 

Gold Coast seem to start seasons well, and then fade badly. This year, they are a far more competitive outfit. They’ve been a lot closer in more games than previous seasons, but for the last 7 weeks, wins have eluded them. So it will be a great load off the mind of Stewart Dew that they’ve finally had some reward for their efforts. And were it not for their wayward kicking, the 63 point smashing could’ve been even greater.

For Alex Sexton, it was a welcome return to form with four goals. It’s been an interesting year for him having been dropped on a couple of occasions. I’m not sure what to read into that, but he’s too good a player and definitely in their best 22.

For the Roos, it was another night to forget. They were soundly beaten in every department, and their injury list has clearly broken them this year. One wonders how their fortunes would’ve been in 2020 with a fit Ben Brown, Jack Ziebell, Ben Cunnington, Tarryn Thomas, Jamie Macmillan and forgotten man Ben Jacobs. Add this to the poor form of the likes of Polec (who I’ll talk about later) and a few others, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

The Kangaroos are a proud club, but they’re in complete denial if they think they’re not due for a rebuild. The Suns will take a lot away from this season, and with Matt Rowell ready to go next year, they may well rise up the ladder.

 

  1. What’s going on with Patrick Cripps?

 

Since Round One against Richmond where Patrick Cripps managed 31 possessions in a best afield performance in a losing side, it seems that the Carlton star is playing at a level which is well below the standard set in the last two seasons. Since Round Two he is only averaging 18 possessions a game and his influence on games is markedly down. He still gathers a lot of contested ball and, inexplicably, is still leading the clearances in the AFL, but that’s where the superlatives end.

There are many questions at this stage running through our minds. Is he fully fit? Is the workload from previous seasons taking its toll? Is he simply incapable of shaking a hard tag? Despite the improvement in Setterfield, and the doggedness of Ed Curnow in the middle, there still seems a lack of assistance for Cripps. It still appears that he’s the one required to do too much of the heavy lifting at the Blues, and one wonders if he’s had enough of it yet. And on a separate issue, his set shot kicking for goal is now becoming a source of embarrassment for him no doubt. You want your leaders to nail a majority of them, and he’s currently sitting at 4 goals from 12 set shots for the season, and the one he missed from 35m directly in front this round is what I’m talking about.

This year is almost over. As great as he has been, he wouldn’t want to have another season in 2021 like this one. He has four games to click into gear. We’ve seen how he can single-handedly turn games. We need to see that at least once before this season is over. But with a four-day break coming up, perhaps the Blues might be wise to give him the week off even if finals are still a slim chance. And if a certain Port Adelaide player should become available, the Blues should do whatever it takes to secure his services.

 

  1. North Melbourne’s list problems have been laid bare.

 

Before North Melbourne supporters decide to come after me, hear me out. Yes, I’m fully aware of the incredible injury list you have that would decimate most clubs. I’ve even stated that I don’t believe Rhys Shaw should be under any pressure whatsoever due to this very reason. But I’d like to take it even further if I may.

Firstly, with perhaps the exception of Ben Brown, your best five players will all be 30 or more next year. I’m talking Higgins, Goldstein, Ziebell, Cunnington and Tarrant. That is not a very good position to be in when you’re a side that is not in contention for finals. Ziebell’s body might not enable him to reach his best level either, and Cunnington seems plagued with back issues. So it’s the age of the better players that’s a worry for me as well.

The recruiting in recent years has also left me somewhat staggered. They went hard and paid big money a couple of seasons ago to land the trio of Aaron Hall, Jarod Polec and Jasper Pittard. Hall played against the Suns, but it appears the other two are failing to gain selection, and I believe Polec could be on over $700k a year! I remember thinking at the time they were brought to the club that it seemed a desperate move to be offering big money to a player of Polec’s calibre. He is by no means a terrible player, and at times has been very good for the Kangaroos, but you’d want a topline player for that sort of money.

It seems Rhys Shaw also does not see him in that light for now at least. I can’t help but think this costly move will set the club back for a few years, and when you consider that so many of their best are getting towards the end of their careers, they may struggle to be competitive for some time yet

 

EARLY EDITION – Collingwood v Carlton – The Good, Bad and Ugly