TEN THINGS I LEARNT AFTER THE SEMI-FINALS

 

1 There’s a sizeable gap between the Top 4 sides and the rest of the 8.

 

The first week of the finals saw four competitive and exciting games, none more so than Collingwood’s stirring one point win over the Eagles in Perth. Many thought the Pies would trouble the Cats and confirm Geelong’s reputation as underperformers in finals. It was obvious within minutes of the start that the Cats were going to be far too good for their rivals, but nobody envisaged that the three-quarter time score was going to be 62 to 7. To say that was embarrassing is an understatement.

Collingwood’s half time score was its lowest finals score in 60 years. I’m sure a trip to Perth and a shorter break took its toll, but I’m sure many of their players will be very uncomfortable when the game is reviewed.

Whilst the margin the Tigers and the Saints wasn’t quite as lop-sided, this was also another game that was over well before half time. Perhaps if the Saints were more accurate in front of goal the game may have been closer, but one gets the feeling it wouldn’t have been enough to change the result. As for the Eagles, you could see in the latter part of the season that they had slipped in form and, although they were fifth and only missed the double chance due to an inferior percentage, it seemed doubtful that they would go deep into the finals. The fact they suffered their first home defeat during the finals showed that they weren’t at their best. And the Bulldogs were never going to beat any of the Top 4 teams. The year they came up from seventh and pinched the flag was an anomaly, but many forget that they had also chalked up 15 wins which gets you in the Top 4 most seasons.

The end result is we have the appropriate preliminary finals next week and neither Brisbane nor Port are certainties to advance at this stage.

 

  1. The score review system continues to embarrass the AFL

 

It was just before half time when Jack Sinclair had a shot at goal that, had it have been ruled a goal, may have given the Saints some small hope of clawing their way back into the contest. It would have cut the margin to 26 points and may have seemed manageable. Nick Vlastuin was in the goal square and attempted to punch it through and appeared to miss it. The ball then appeared to bounce on the line and come back into play where it was subsequently rushed through for a behind, and that was the umpire’s adjudication.

And then came the farcical review.

On the replay, it became clear that the ball had cleared the goal line to begin with. It then became an issue of whether or not Vlastuin had touched the ball prior to it going through. Replays deemed it inconclusive, and then reverted to the old “umpire’s call”.

Now, the umpire’s call was not that it was a behind after being touched. His call was in relation to it being rushed through for a behind after bouncing back into the field of play having not crossed the goal line. If you really want to be fair with this, it was pretty clear that Vlastuin in fact missed the ball, so it should have been a goal off the boot of Jack Sinclair. However, because the umpire originally called a behind, that was the decision that stood.

And for those who may believe he got it right, think again. His original call wasn’t that it was touched, yet when signalling his final decision, he did in fact signal that it was. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The SRS is rubbish. It has failed dismally. People at home watching the game seem to have superior vision than those in the box charged with making the decisions.

 

  1. Can we just calm down a bit with the Lynch and Cotchin incidents?

 

The predictable outrage was on display once again after Friday night’s clash, with the usual suspects being admonished in the media for their rough play. Let’s have a calm discussion about the two incidents in question.

Firstly, there was the high tackle on Zak Jones by Trent Cotchin. Yes, it was high, and the free kick had already been given. Yes, he did sling him in the tackle, but he didn’t smash his head into the ground, and, more importantly, Zak Jones was able to get up and play on. That’s where it ends for me. A bad tackle, a free kick already awarded, and life goes on.

Tom Lynch has also come under scrutiny for dropping his knee into Dougal Howard during the third quarter. It was definitely an unnecessary action, and the subsequent fine is fair enough as far as I’m concerned. But those suggesting it warrants a suspension seemingly have little or no concept of the rules governing such incidents. This case would have been at the lowest end in terms of the impact of the knee to the body. To say it was low impact probably doesn’t even fully clarify the extent to how low the impact was. I’m pretty sure if there was a fly on Howard as Lynch’s knee came down, it would have survived the ordeal slightly dazed.

I know people love to talk about these kinds of things, and I know they’re not the greatest look for the game, but on the field in the heat of battle, players will transgress from time to time, and these transgressions are very small in the scheme of things. Most supporters would love having a Tom Lynch on their list who plays on the edge.

Every club has them, and they are usually treasured.

 

  1. Jack Steele can look back on his season with pride

 

Steele has been one of the bigger surprise packets of 2020. We knew he could play, but most would have thought of him as a tagging midfielder who plays shutdown roles and gets the ball a bit himself. He can certainly still play a negating role, but it appears now he’s become a premier midfielder who in 2021 may be the target of opposition tags, himself. He may very well poll quite highly in the Brownlow, and would have to be very close to taking out St Kilda’s best and fairest as well.

St Kilda’s recruitment of Steele from GWS has proven a definite win. In his two seasons at GWS, he managed just 17 games. In four seasons with the Saints he’s played 78, and at just 24 years of age, looks set to go on and exceed 200 games. Right now, GWS could use Steele as they do lack an inside midfielder who can shut down an opponent in the way Steele can while still racking up the numbers he does. It’s possibly the story of the Giants who will always continue to struggle to retain a lot of their talent due to the lifestyle on offer in Sydney’s west and the need for players to want to return home.

Jack seems very much at home now. Without really knowing the true nature of the leadership at St Kilda, it seems a fitting reward for his top-shelf season would be to promote Steele to the leadership group in 2021

 

  1. The Tigers will be seeking revenge next week against Port Adelaide

 

Who can forget the Round 11 clash between the Power and the Tigers? It was one of the best games of the home and away season, and up till three quarter time, the match was evenly poised until Port broke the game open keeping Richmond scoreless in the final term.

How are Richmond going to be able to turn this result around?

In the last game Robbie Gray was one of Port’s best so they’ll be making sure he doesn’t get off the leash. They’ll also need to keep Dixon under control as well. During the Round 11 clash, Boak, Wines and Rockliff also gave them headaches. So Richmond’s defence and midfielders will have to be at their best. Dusty is simply going to have to turn it on. If he has a blinder, the rest of the team seems to rise around him. Lynch is in some ominous form as well. He’ll prove a handful, and I don’t think he’ll have two weeks in a row that will mirror his inaccurate 2.5 in front of goal this coming week.

I still think the week’s break, playing at home and having a coach like Hinkley who will no doubt get them in the right mindset that will prevent them from coming out flat after a break means that Port will be pretty hot favourites, but if the last game was anything to go by, not only are the Tigers a chance, boy this will be some game!

 

  1. Has Jordan de Goey played his last game as a Pie?

 

There’s a bit of conjecture about the future of the star Magpie, and I, for one, am a little confused. If he was at my club, I certainly wouldn’t want him gone. He’s one of the true match winners that Collingwood has. I know at this time of year there’s always all sorts of speculation that turns out to be false, and this could well be one of those cases, but if there’s any truth in it, I’d be moving heaven and earth to keep him in the black and white.

There has been talk that de Goey has been linked to the Blues. Whatever the case, if de Goey was to move on, one can only wonder if it has to do with his off-field issues. With that in mind, would it be wise for any club to take on somebody who, despite his talent being undisputed, comes with what could be some serious baggage?

Whatever the case, his final game for this season was a disappointment, as were many of his teammates’, but one can only wonder if his mind is elsewhere. Some are even suggesting Jaidyn Stephenson might not be at the Pies next year. You have to love end of season rumours.

 

  1. Dangerfield is so dangerous when playing forward

 

We all know what a dynamic midfielder Patrick Dangerfield is, but boy does he hurt teams when he goes forward. In a perfect world, you’d have him bursting out of the middle and then kicking it to himself on a strong lead! His marking is as good as any power forward going around.

I guess the knock on him has been his set shot kicking for goal, but on Saturday he seemed to be kicking them from everywhere. He’s even somehow become the perfect exponent of the banana kick all of a sudden, booting two such goals with apparent ease. What other tricks does he have up his sleeve that we don’t know about?

Next week’s game against Brisbane will be interesting, particularly in the midfield. Do Geelong put a hard tag on Neale? I don’t know if Brisbane can subdue Dangerfield, but if they do so in the middle, he’ll probably go forward and hurt them on the scoreboard.

I reckon Fagan will be studying the Port v Geelong Qualifying final closely to see what they did. Dangerfield still had it 22 times and kicked a goal in that game, so his form-line is solid. And you’d like to think Hawkins won’t kick a bag of points again either. You can’t write the Cats off.

 

  1. Should Gary Ablett go on?

 

It has been an amazing career. But one gets the impression that the seasons get longer each year for Gaz. Even in this shortened season, and having missed a few games, as predicted by some, his latter part of the season has been well below the standards we know he sets for himself. If, somehow, the Cats can come through and win the flag, you’d almost bet he’ll be making the call.

So if the Cats fall short, then what?

If Ablett was to play on in 2021, it would only be in a bit-part role. He turns 37 in May, and like all players his age, with perhaps the exception of a freakish Shaun Burgoyne, he has lost a yard in pace. If Geelong are still in a premiership window, is Ablett going to assist the Cats in any way to get there as a pinch-hitting small forward? These are the sorts of questions one needs to ask. Nobody likes seeing players go on for that one season too long. But I am OK with Ablett making the decision himself.

Deep down, we all know when we’re done. I assume he makes the call himself in accordance with how he feels. On Saturday, he battled hard and helped set up some goals early, but the remainder of the game he struggled to have an impact. If the Cats lose to the Power, and Ablett has a similar game, I think he’ll make that his last.

 

  1. Ten Collingwood players had ten possessions or less.

 

The Collingwood players just couldn’t get their hands on the ball. In fact, Geelong had 158 more possessions than their opposition in what was truly a smashing in every department. Inexplicably, the one area they did win was in the hitouts department, but they were subsequently annihilated in the clearances.

To say the Pies were off the boil is an understatement. They were asleep. Not only did ten players fail to get more than ten possessions, their highest possession getter was Adam Treloar with just 18. For the Cats, just three players had ten possessions or less. Buckley will probably put this down as just one of those games. Seven days to recover as opposed to Geelong having had nine, and also time spent travelling to and from Perth took its toll. Even the evergreen Pendlebury seemed way down on energy. They were soundly beaten in all but a few positions on the ground. Their deficiencies were laid bare, and I imagine Buckley will be trying desperately to fill some holes over the trade period. Bear in mind, next year will be his tenth as coach, and were they to slip out of finals contention, there’ll be pressure mounting on his future.

 

  1. What the hell was that third quarter on Saturday night?

 

There’s something very wrong when a semi-final between two of the competitions higher ranked teams yields just three behinds. I can excuse, to some extent, Geelong for taking their foot off the pedal after holding a commanding 54 point lead at the long break. They’ll need all their energy in reserve to be competitive against the Lions.

Collingwood tried to will themselves back in the game but still only managed to score one behind after an easy miss from Elliott. I guess my point is this: We’ve seen this happen way too often this year. Goalless quarters, ultra-low scoring and congested football resulting in ugly games. I’m guessing numerous people walked out on many such games well before they ended in greater numbers than any other season.

The AFL must know there’s a problem. They’ve tried in vain for years to try and keep the game looking like a good spectacle by tweaking rules and all manner of initiatives, but as you can imagine, it has failed.

I blame coaching, to be honest. Once coaches started focusing too heavily on defensive style play, flooding and extreme numbers of interchanges, the game suffered. We still get a few good games that invariably play out as throwbacks to the 90’s style of fast-paced and high scoring affairs. But those games are quickly snuffed out with lockdown tactics. I’m sure there’s some out there who like the modern style of football, but many yearn for the speedy, chaotic and rampant style of football many of us grew up with.

Will it ever come back?

 

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