THE IRVINE REPORT

Greater Western Sydney and Melbourne travelled to the nation’s capital and for the first half, things were tight. With plenty of fight, each side were getting into each other and battling hard for possession. The small forwards dominated with Toby Greene kicking five for the home side while Kysaiah Pickett snuck through four in a personal-best and game-winning display for the Dees.

Unfortunately for the Giants, injuries to key players continued to mount and by the halfway point of the third term they were down to one rotation and that’s when the Demons took control and took control of the game. The midfield setup was forced to adjust and performed well as a unit as the speedy Demons took advantage of a fatigued Giants side towards the end.

 

WHERE WAS THE GAME WON?

As above, the game was won by the Demons when the Giants had three players sitting on the pine midway through the third quarter. And those three players weren’t just anyone. It was Phil Davis, Stephen Coniglio and Matt de Boer. Their best defender, an inside midfielder and a tagger who had done his role all game in shutting down Clayton Oliver.

The loss of Davis, Coniglio and de Boer impacted the way Melbourne was able to play as the Demons continuously won the ball in the middle, becoming the better users in this third of the ground, setting up well and intercepting any rebound from the Giants. The Demons covered every corner of Manuka Oval and especially in the second half, when the game was there to be won, the Demons utilised the space and had purpose in moving the ball forward.

Melbourne’s structure at stoppages in the middle of the ground worked wonders as Simon Goodwin developed a clear-cut strategy to get some outside run. At stoppages, Max Gawn would pound the ball away from the contest where a fellow teammate, in a one-on-one would be ready to receive and run onto it. At centre bounces, Oliver would start about 15m away from the centre circle, in an attempt to mitigate the impact of de Boer but also keep the space free for other players while the wingmen would wait on the edges of the square so as not to crowd the play either.

Getting the ball away from the congestion of a stoppage didn’t allow for a massive scrap that would normally result and it was because of this that players like Jack Viney and Christian Petracca could get an easy clearance while the likes of Ed Langdon and Jayden Hunt could use their blistering pace to help transition through the middle of the ground and spot a forward target or at least get it forward to make something happen.

 

WHO WERE THE FIVE MOST IMPRESSIVE PLAYERS?

Kysaiah Pickett was slightly unsighted for most of the first half, however, came in hard and fast in the first contest of the game, buzzing about and looking to tackle with force. Pickett lifted and lit up the game after half time, collecting nine possessions and three goals. Always sneaky, Pickett manoeuvred with skill to dance around his opponents and the side-steps worked wonders as he found space to kick and head towards goal. The electricity of pace and determination seen from Pickett will have Demons fans delighted for years to come. Pickett could have a Goal of the Year contender as well when in the third quarter, he intercepted a Matt Flynn kick, cutting it off but not giving up as the ball went to ground, instead gathering the ball while sliding around on the turf, getting up, side-stepping a few before snapping a goal.

Fourth-gamer Xavier O’Halloran looked like he’ll be an important cog in the Giants lineup for years to come, working himself around the ground with speed, determination and vigour, doing the little things to help and following up his efforts, always looking busy and to make an impact. He claimed a career-high 12 disposals playing off the wing and should cement his spot now, finally getting a run this year after not coming on as a medical sub during the opening round, and then being dropped from the team. He kicked his first AFL goal in the second quarter and was responsible for a goal to Toby Greene when he intercepted a Jake Lever kick across the half back flank, looking for Steven May. O’Halloran ran from a few metres away to get a hand across and followed up to get the ball to Greene who ran into an open forward line to kick his third.

Jayden Hunt has definitely shown in the past he can be an impact player and an important link-up player as the Demons look to transition the ball cleanly and effortlessly to catch their opponents off guard. It just needs to be a quick rebound and Hunt is there to gather and run. A couple of times this game Hunt would use the space in the middle to run from the defensive end to the offensive end, taking a couple of bounces each time too. He finished with seven inside 50s and four rebounds as he fell back at times but always looked lively with his 25 disposals and ability to set up the forwards with four score involvements.

Max Gawn was one of the best players on the ground but spent as much time forward as he did in the ruck. From the outset, Gawn’s plan was to gain as much meterage as possible with his hitouts to let his midfield unit do most of the work though in saying this had the second-highest clearance count of the game with seven – one behind teammate Jack Viney. He lead the way in score invovlements as his work down the line and forward, taking five contested marks for the game saw him look dangerous at every turn. Gawn kicked two goals but could’ve had three or four had it not been for some expected set shot kicking, but he was making the most of his chances when resting inside 50. Dominant aerially, Gawn had opponents worried and largely beat Matt Flynn in the ruck collecting 28 hitouts, 13 to advantage.

It’s hard to go past Toby Greene’s impact and the way he was able to work the Giants back into the game in the fourth quarter when all looked lost. It turned into a six-point game when Greene kicked his fifth (and second consecutive) goal to start the final term. He was constantly busy, squizzing about but also knowing when to wait on the ground and when to contest the pack. His two goals in the fourth were due to roving efforts, firstly waiting for the ball to drop from a Harry Himmelberg contest and secondly, seeing Jake Lever and Neville Jetta attacking the same ball and expecting a clash, he snapped up the loose ball. Matching up on Steven May, Greene’s pressure was there all game on the big man, his game awareness is not lost on anyone; always an exciting player to watch. Previous to this game, in 11 appearances against the Demons, Greene had only kicked six goals.

Special mentions go to Lachie Ash and Connor Idun who held their own down back for the Giants, each collecting career-high disposal tallies with 24 and 16 respectively. Each had six intercept possessions, followed up and performed the one-percenters while keeping their cool and rebounding with ease.

 

WHAT WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT HEAD-TO-HEAD MATCH-UP?

In the first half, it was definitely Matt de Boer v Clayton Oliver. The Giants had a plan to nullify the impact of Oliver and did so, forcing Simon Goodwin to change his plans. That’s when you know you’ve got the upper hand. Unfortunately for de Boer, he went with a hamstring injury and was off to the bench and the change allowed Oliver to run riot in the second half – he had 17 disposals in the second half compared to six in the first half. Oliver was allowed to use his running and handball game in the second half, with no other appropriate tagger able to limit his output.

Overall though, Matt Buntine v Kysaiah Pickett and Toby Greene v Steven May were the two crucial matchups after it was evident from the start that this game would be controlled by the small forwards. The mismatch in height between Greene and May didn’t really favour either as May won the ball in the air but Greene won the ball on the deck. Greene was just able to recover easier and run into areas that put distance between him and May.

May though, an intercepter (eight during the game) and calm head down back, never looked out of place – it was just that Greene was too quick and was always popping up where he was needed. The five goals to Greene is his equal career-best but still sometimes turned the ball over, resulting in an even contest between the two.

 

WHO SHOULD HAVE STAYED HOME?

Matt Buntine, now in his eighth year at the top level, really needs to work on his game awareness and what he can and can’t do, especially as a defender. He turned the ball over a few times, but not always from a wayward disposal, it was turnovers like deliberately seeing the ball over the boundary line when a more settled player may have waited for contact and allowed the opposition to carry the footy out of bounds.

Charlie Spargo was able to kick a goal after Buntine palmed it over out of bounds. Leading the chase against Spargo on a bouncing ball towards the outer post at Melbourne’s end, Buntine looked over his shoulder to see if anyone was chasing but still chose to, when a couple of metres away from the post, flick the ball to his left and out of bounds, that’s when the umpire paid deliberate. Being that close to the goal line and being chased heavily with pressure, had Buntine flicked it to his right, it would’ve been judged a rushed behind. Buntine was also responsible for Kysaiah Pickett’s third goal, mopping up an attempted spoil with the fist that Buntine didn’t get enough of, skimming off his hand and to Pickett for an easy goal. If you’re going to be the spoiler, you have to make sure you kill the contest.

One for the Demons and this may be a bit controversial but… Clayton Oliver. The Demon was tagged all throughout the first half by Matt de Boer, recording six disposals in the first 40 minutes of play. But Oliver let this get to him, becoming undisciplined on multiple occasions, giving away a few free kicks for his aggression turning into swinging arms and holding his opponents off the ball, even turning possession over when the Demons were deep inside 50.

To his credit, and partly to de Boer going to be bench with an injury, Oliver did step up and impact some contests. However, he was never truly attacking; more just waiting for something to happen first and letting the ball come to him. That waiting resulted in him just standing about and not running with the play. When he went forward, he was able to take a few contested grabs but badly shanked every opportunity he had, even from straight in front.

 

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN DONE DIFFERENTLY?

Nothing really could’ve been done differently, after Melbourne already did change up its strategy surrounding Clayton Oliver and Matt de Boer. Each team took the game on at times but also knew when to hold it up, with some critical turnovers impacting both sides on the scoreboard. There’s not a lot that the Giants could’ve done when three players were forced to sit on the bench, however Nick Shipley did play well coming on as the medical sub for Phil Davis. This was not, however, in a like-for-like position. The Giants defence was weary as it tried to cover the loss, Melbourne leading heavily in forward half intercepts, forward half tackles and forward 50 disposals. The ball movement options by the Demons opened up and with tired bodies on the field, each player was giving their all as though they sensed the fatigue in the Giants and were desperate to take advantage.

 

WHERE DOES THIS GAME SIT IN TERMS OF BEST/WORST FOR THE SEASON?

It’s doubtful this game will be totally remembered come season’s end but it could shape as being a season-defining moment for each side, even if it is Round Three.

With the amount of injuries sustained by the Giants in this game, it could be said that this was the game where things may have started to spiral with no short-term injury fixes messing with a gameplan going forward.

For the Demons, a 3-0 start sets them up nicely with the wins building which is handy if they look to compete in September again. These wins by a considerable margin will help percentage-wise but a win streak such as the one their on now will surely allow them to take that momentum into the next few games which will continue to help their case for playing finals football.

 

WHERE TO NEXT FOR THE GIANTS?

The Giants will need to assess the damage to their injured stars but as seen today, they were still able to match it with Melbourne. However, any other club and they will probably struggle. The GWS defenders held up well against a Melbourne forward structure without Davis but Sam Taylor and Connor Idun proved they could step up. Harry Himmelberg isn’t a number one forward but with Jeremy Finlayson and Jesse Hogan out, has done well to at least be someone who can contest up high.

Lacking another option forward besides Toby Greene who amassed half of GWS’ contested possessions inside 50 indicate a need to have someone else who can do the same at his level. A meeting at the MCG against Collingwood is next on the agenda for the Giants and despite the form GWS is in, previous encounters with the Pies have indicated anything can happen.

 

WHERE TO NEXT FOR THE DEMONS?

A 3-0 start for the first time since 2005, the Demons are well-placed to continue an unbeaten run of wins when it hosts Geelong at the MCG next weekend. The midfield unit are continuing its cohesion from last season and when things aren’t working, Simon Goodwin seems to have another idea. Melbourne’s stoppages work a treat, and the outside run helps them forward which has and will continue to catch opposition teams off guard. Like GWS, the Demons have key forwards Ben Brown and Sam Weideman still to come into the frame this year which will help the pressure on Bailey Fritsch and Alex Neal-Bullan but with exciting youngsters like Kysaiah Pickett sneaking through goals, the Demons will always be buzzing.

 

WHERE TO FROM HERE FOR THE GIANTS AND THEIR INJURY CONCERNS?

It’s now becoming a pressing problem that will need a serious thinking from Leon Cameron and company as to how they can mitigate the pressure they’ll be under in the upcoming weeks with an ever-growing injury list. With multiple players out in every part of the ground, it could open the door for younger players like Jake Riccardi while they may have no other choice than to rush back Jesse Hogan or Jeremy Finlayson as another tall target down forward. As mentioned, GWS can cover Davis down back well enough, but perhaps not as much in the air as on the ground. Coniglio’s position isn’t one of concern with inside midfielders all able to get in and under and provide assistance, holding up their own.

 

DO THE DEMONS CONTINUE A SMALL FORWARD FLEET, EVEN WHEN KEY FORWARDS RETURN?

The Demons have had to largely do without a key forward this season with injuries to Ben Brown, Sam Weideman and Mitch Brown. But with the emergence of Kysaiah Pickett last year and him continuing to light up games, aided by a smaller crop of forwards Bailey Fritsch, Alex Neal-Bullen and Charlie Spargo, might that be enough for the Demons to continue to win games of football? At The moment, Fritsch is the tallest player when Max Gawn doesn’t drift forward and has hit the scoreboard but you’d expect one of Brown, Weideman or Brown to come in eventually when they’re fit but at the moment, without them, the setup is working. Melbourne is improving on the scoreboard week by week and it’s due to the midfielders chipping in with goals but also the quick, attacking and never-give-up style that the Melbourne forwards are seemingly conditioned to play with at the moment.

 

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