Know what I love about footy in Cairns?

Not much. It is basically guaranteeing, at best, that you’re going to get a slippery contest that can degenerate into a slog. Or you could get a torrential downpour that could degenerate into a slog.

So chances are, at some point, the game is going to be a slog.

This kind of plays into the hands of the Swans. Or so I thought. Being able to limit the height advantage of players like Oscar McInerney and Eric Hipwood was likely to bring the game back onto terms that could see them eke out a victory.

And early in the fourth term, the Swans turned the game on its head by slamming on two quick goals to reduce what felt like a safe margin to just two points.

However, if we got a torrent of rain at one point during the game, the Brisbane Lions unleashed a torrent of their own in the last quarter, slamming home six goals (one more than for the three previous quarters combined) to in by a comfortable 32 points.

But it wasn’t that comfortable, was it?

With an eye cast over the game and an apology of sorts to make, The Mongrel asks the big questions stemming from yet another win for the Lions as they shored up a spot in the top two with just one game to go in the 2020 season.

 

IS THE MONGREL READY TO APOLOGISE TO DANIEL MCSTAY?

I’m not sure he would be ready to accept it if I did.

I have been pretty critical of Daniel McStay this season. He has not produced the kind of football a key forward in a power-team like Brisbane should. I felt that he could even be the chink in the armour come finals time.

And then he goes out and plays like this.

He had seven touches in the first half, in conditions that were not commensurate with a big man having an impact, but I felt that everything McStay did up until half time was important. He took contested grabs, set up goals and kicked one himself as he stood up in the wet conditions.

In this game, Daniel McStay proved what he can be worth to the Lions. With Cam Rayner doing his invisible man impersonation again (this is year three for him – enough of these games where he doesn’t get near it, please!), McStay was a huge presence across half forward and even worked his backside off to get back into defence and help out down there.

He was even taking “Get Out Of Jail” marks as the Lions exited their defensive 50 at one stage – he was demonstrating his work ethic for all to see.

Yes, I doubted the ability of Daniel McStay. Yes, I did not think I would see a performance like this from him this year. And yes, I am happy to eat humble pie on this matter. He may come out next week and have a shocker, but after this evening, I won’t be targeting McStay – he proved that he can deliver when the Lions needed someone to do just that.

 

WERE THE TACTICS OF RYAN CLARKE LEGAL IN STIFLING LACHIE NEALE?

T won’t be popular, but yep, they are completely legal.

Lachie Neale did not look happy with the attention being doled out to him at stoppages and around the ground. Ryan Clarke was constantly pushing him, bumping him and impeding his run. He was in his face, he was making his life difficult and he was reducing Neale to the role of frustrated suburban footballer who was struggling to get a kick.

And I am a fan of it.

I am also a fan of the player, or the team that learns how to best counter these tactics.

The only player seemingly interested in laying a block for Neale was Dayne Zorko, but what I would have liked to see is Mitch Robinson charge in off the wing and put Ryan Clarke on his backside. I would have liked to see Cam Ellis-Yolmen use that big frame of his to send shockwaves up Clarke’s spine with a fair bump at a stoppage. Instead, we saw Neale left to deal with Clarke by himself.

And if that is what happens going forward, it could spell trouble.

Neale is a star of the competition, and when you have a player of that calibre on your team, it is prudent to protect them as best you can. Nobody put physical heat on Clarke when he went near the footy. Sometimes it is worth giving away a free kick at half back if it means shaking up a tagger – if Neale runs into Mark Hutchings or Cam Guthrie in the finals and is having trouble accessing the footy, it is up to the entire team to come to his aid. At every opportunity, they have to make the tagger pay. They need to crunch him at stoppages, in marking contests and in tackles.

We are almost at the point of the season where we’re playing for sheep stations. In a few weeks’ time there is no “next week” and the Lions are going to need their best player finding the footy without someone hanging off him like a cheap suit.

The Lions have some big bodies to utilise. And they need to use them to ensure Lachie Neale can power that midfield.

 

WHAT SORT OF PLAYER COULD WILL HAYWARD BE?

I find it really interesting that Stevie Johnson sits on the coaching panel of the Sydney Swans, because I see plenty of his influence evident in the game of Will Hayward.

Not to the same level, of course – Stevie was like a mad scientist at AFL level, doing things others only thought about, but the mix of skills and the way he moved both with and without the footy… Hayward has a few of those qualities as well.

Hayward had a poor 2019, and whilst I am completely speculating here, I don’t reckon his head was well and truly in the game. he looked like he was meandering about, waiting for his 2018 form to carry over into the next season.

Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

Hayward has oodles of talent. He also has wonderful skills, a good footy brain and impeccable balance. I’ve seen signs of the hard work this season – his defensive job on Nick Haynes was an absolute pearler against the Giants, and we saw more of his talent in this game.

Alongside McStay, I thought Hayward was the most potent forward in the first half. He had seven touches, four marks and a goal up until the main break as he looked every part the damaging forward.

I can remember watching him in 2018 and at around the half-way point of the season, I thought he was a sneaky chance at All-Australian selection. It may sound silly now, but the Swans were in the midst of a six-game winning streak and Hayward had 25 goals in 12 games. That’s what he is capable of, and in 2021, I expect his to be a name on plenty of lips.

Talent and hard work… a great combination.

 

 DID THE LIONS JUST PLAY LIKE… LIKE RICHMOND?

I usually try not to be swayed by stats when writing a review, but this was a little tasty.

Everyone loves contested possession, right? We all adore it – we hear it from the commentator and analysts… data gurus and the like – contested possession is king! But when you have more contested touches AND more uncontested touches, you should be winning games. You’re owning the footy and controlling the game.

In theory, anyway.

Geelong controlled the ball against Richmond the other night – fat lot of good it did them!

Sydney controlled the ball against Brisbane tonight – same result.

The Swans were +33 in disposals, with more contested possession (+8), more uncontested possession (+22) and more clearances (+3), but it didn’t matter, did it?

Sydney may have controlled possession, but the Lions controlled the game. they were more in control, made better decisions and used their disposals to hurt.

Disposals for the sake of disposals do not help a team at all. Meaningful disposals do, and that is where the Lions had it over the Swans in this one.

 

WHAT IS THE VALUE OF JARRYD LYONS TO BRISBANE?

Right now, his value is immeasurable.

With Jarrod Berry on the sidelines and Lachie Neale fighting a losing battle against Ryan Clarke, the Lions looked for other options through the middle. And just as he has for the majority of the season to date, Jarryd Lyons responded.

Whilst 20 touches do not sound like the kind of numbers you’d write home about, Lyons’ ferocity in the contest resulted in 14 of those disposals coming in contested fashion. He worked hardtop collect his touches all over the park and consistently placed himself in the right spot to cut off the Swans at the knees.

Lyons added seven intercept possessions to his stat line in this one as he stepped up in the first quarter as the Swans made life tough for Neale.

 

WHO WAS THE BEST MCINERNEY ON THE PARK THIS EVENING?

Well, they didn’t play on each other because that would have been a bit of a mismatch, but I liked the contributions of the McInerney-components of both teams.

Oscar is surprisingly dexterous for a big guy, and his clean hands at ground level often find his opponent… and perhaps a certain Mongrel, a little surprised.

With the wet footy, his ability to take the ball cleanly at ground level meant that situations that may have led to the lions being contained saw them release the footy quickly to a teammate.

The other McInerney – the Sydney version, backed up his Rising Star nomination from a couple of weeks ago with another polished display. Playing on a wing opposite Mitch Robinson, the young fella was undaunted, picking up 17 touches with zero turnovers for the game.

I really liked what I saw from Justin McInerney in this game. Sydney have a great crop of young talent that will hold them in good stead as they develop. With Rowbottom out this week, and Hewett and Heeney out long-term, the Swans have managed a mini rebuild on the run. If they can retain Papley – and Jonathon Brown announced during the broadcast he believes he is staying – the turnaround in Sydney may be quicker than first thought.

Oh, and one last thing on the Big O – while everyone was wetting their pants about Aliir Aliir having three bounces through the wing and half forward, how bloody good was the chase from Oscar! He actually got him in the end, though Aliir did manage to get the disposal away under pressure.

For a bloke of Oscar’s size, that chase was wonderful.

 

DID THE LIONS GET STUNG INTO ACTION IN THE LAST?

Hell yes they did, and hell yes they responded.

Credit to the Swans – they certainly know how to stick around.

And credit to Luke Parker – he threw everything he had at that last quarter, clocking in at 15 disposals in the fourth alone. That is a monumental effort.

The Swans had big efforts from him, the old stager, Josh Kennedy and the young fella, Nick Blakey as they hustled their way back into the contest.

Blakey’s sizzling left foot sent two inboard kicks to both Parker and Will Hayward, which set up the goals to bring the Swans back into the contest. It is these kinds of actions that have Swans fans salivating about the player Blakey could become. So far this season, he has been down more than he’s been up, but the signs are still there and once he finds his right position in this team (I still think it is as a lead-up centre half forward) he will establish himself as one of the best players in the game.

But two-points was as close as the Swans would get, with the Lions kicking six of the next seven goals to run away with the game.

It was amazing to see the Lions flip the switch and have this sense of urgency about them in the last quarter. The Big O had a huge influence, and his clean hands to feed Charlie Cameron on the run were superb. Mitch Robinson cracked in like a ravenous wolf, whilst Eric Hipwood, Cam Ellis-Yolmen and Keidean Coleman all elevated their games to get the Lions over the line.

It was a very impressive ten minutes of football that emphasised just how powerful the Lions can be when they’re up and going. Which leads me to my next question.

 

AND HOW DOES THAT LAST QUARTER SIT WITH YOU?

This is the interesting part.

Is it okay that the Lions reacted well when the pressure came from Sydney? Had the Swans not turned the heat up in the last quarter, would you be satisfied with Brisbane running out the clock in a scrap and maintaining the two and a bit goal lead?

It is easy to brush that aside and state that it doesn’t matter – the four points are what people care about, right? But I beg to differ.

Great teams do not hesitate to put their foot on the throat of an opponent. They don’t need an invitation to do so, and they certainly don’t need to be prompted to do so.  In a hard-fought game, Brisbane were obviously capable of playing at a higher level and really could have put this game out of reach earlier. They didn’t, and it took a strong challenge by the Swans to kick it up a notch (copyright Elzar – Futurama).

I don’t know about you, but if my team is capable of dropping the hammer on the opposition like Brisbane did in the last, I would not be at all pleased that it took Sydney getting within two points for it to take place. As it stands, my team does not have that capacity, but if they did, I would be more than a little annoyed.

At some point, Brisbane may find themselves in a situation where they need to turn it on again, as they did in this game. What happens if they can’t? What happens if it is not against a side like Sydney, who despite being on the rise, still has a soft underbelly? What if it is against Richmond? Or Geelong, who don’t capitulate as easily?

I want to see the Lions go all out so they are not finding themselves in a situation like this in a few weeks’ time. This is not the time to wait for something to prompt you – this is “go” time. Top two was at stake, big finals will be at stake, and maybe… just maybe a premiership could be at stake.

There is no place for reactionary footy now. This is the time the Lions need to establish themselves as a cut above, and they need to do it from the first bounce. The foot goes on the throat immediately, or you might not get a chance to do it later on.

 

HOW IMPORTANT WAS ARCHIE SMITH IN THE LAST QUARTER?

So, the AFL app is telling me that Big Archie had one clearance in the last quarter, but I am pretty sure I saw him take the ball cleanly out of the ruck twice. My notes also say he did it twice… did I get confused in my advancing years and watch a replay or something?

I felt that Smith crashed into the ruck contests as the scores got close in the last quarter and really helped in getting the ball going the Lions’ way. After giving up several centre clearances, Brisbane won three vital take-aways in a row, resulting in scoring opportunities and it was at that point that Smith was in the ruck.

I’m not going to sit here and state that he was in the best players for the Lions – he was not – but when the pressure was up, I think he actually played his best footy. He is not at all afraid to throw himself in and make contact, and if you’ve read my stuff for a while now, you’d know I like that in a player.

He is one to keep a close eye on.

 

HOW MUCH HAS DANIEL RICH STEPPED UP THE LAST TWO WEEKS?

I could probably ask that about the entire Brisbane defence, but I am choosing Rich because he was the bloke collecting 23 touches in this one and adding 600+ metres for his team.

That is a huge stat, and over the past two weeks, Rich has shouldered plenty of the load in the absence of Harris Andrews. His six rebound fifties were just part of the story in this one, as he run through the guts and long kicking also saw him notch five inside fifty deliveries.

 

DID CAM ELLIS-YOLMEN DO ENOUGH?

I touched on him above and how I would have liked to see him use that big frame to create space for Lachie Neale, but overall, how did he go?

Look, I would have liked more than 15 touches out of him, but this was a pretty low-possession game for the Lions (Rich’s 23 led them and Lyons’ 20 were the best for the Lions mids), his heavy work and ability to stand I tackles to dish off was very good.

I watched CEY closely at Adelaide and thought he could have a huge impact once he realised just how bloody hard it would be tackle him. He is a monster and could really do some damage with a head of steam up. At the moment I fear he is simply keeping Jarrod Berry’s spot warm, but he has another week to strut his stuff and in finals footy, Chris Fagan may decide he needs a big body around the midfield.

 

HOW ABOUT SOME QUICK BITS?

A quickie or two, you say?

I liked what I saw from Mitch Hinge in this one. I reckon he might be one of the players out there to show what he can do, with the list management becoming something of an issue for clubs going forward. Playing on the wing to relieve McCluggage and Robbo, I liked what he had to offer.

Bloody Hipwood is quick, isn’t he? Another player you just cannot allow out the back under any circumstances.

Callum Mills looked like he was going to be in for a monster game early on. The Swans did well to work him into position as the free man in defence, but the Lions did well to negate his influence as the contest worse on.

Plenty to like about Charlie Cameron’s game. it wasn’t his best work, but the signs are all good and he is starting to look agile again. He’s always looked quick, but it is the change of direction and elusiveness that make him most dangerous. Just in time, too.

 

And that’ll do me. Though they ended up beaten by five goals there was plenty to like for Sydney. Likewise, thought they were able to shift into another gear, a little to dislike about the Lions’ performance.

Next week the Lions welcome the Blues to the Gabba and should be able to account for them given Carlton no longer have anything to play for.

The Swans say goodbye to the 2020 season with a game against the Cats on the rebound. Ouch… I don’t think Sydney are the sort of team that will capitulate easily, but Geelong will be wanting to prove a point.

 

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