There are some games of footy that are classics from the first bounce. This was not one of those games.
This game built slowly, with both sides trading jabs early before Sydney began to assert its dominance, keeping their little brother at bay with flashes of brilliance from Buddy Franklin and Will Hayward. By midway through the second quarter, the game seemed to have fallen into a pattern, an ebb-and-flow like-pattern that would continue until late in the last quarter – the Giants would get close, but just as it seemed they were about to grab control of the game, the Swans would kick a couple of goals and stay a step ahead.
But don’t let the second sentence fool you – this game was a classic. For just as it seemed like all was lost, the Giants, led inspirationally by the archetype of a little brother in Toby Greene, rose up and snatched a famous victory from the jaws of defeat. Here are my six points.
If there was something that both coaches would leave the ground feeling pretty thrilled with, it was the youth that was on display. Yes, I know Logan McDonald struggled today, and Connor Idun looked a touch out of his depth, and Sam Wicks looks like he needs a rest, but they’re kids in their first or second year – lay off them. Besides, when the other young players were as impressive as they were, who cares that a couple struggled.
Braeden Campbell’s left foot almost needs to be insured by Lloyds of London. Coupled along half-back with Jordan Dawson, some of the foot-passing was other-worldly. Both players look to have an almost spin-bowlers ability to just drop a foot-pass onto a team-mates chest. With Campbell being 19 and Dawson just 24, Swans fans have at least a dozen seasons worth of elite kicking out of their back half to look forward to.
I really liked the game of Xavier O’Halloran. I enjoyed watching him play pre his draft 2018, and I must admit I was a little worried when the Giants drafted him – not that I thought the Giants couldn’t develop midfielders (clearly they can), but I worried how he would get a game. By half time, I was worried again – he hadn’t touched the ball! This worry was only compounded when, early in the third quarter, Josh Kennedy stripped O’Halloran of the ball in the centre of the SCG. That in itself is not something to get down on the kid about – Kennedy is a bull and one of the best midfielders of the last decade. O’Halloran, however, wouldn’t have been the first player to shrink back into his shell after this happened. Instead, the young fella soared, and capped off an impressive second half with a crunch goal in the last quarter.
I reckon from now on, teams are going to try and make the Swans pay as high a price as possible for their Academy players at draft time. Errol Gulden’s (pick 32 in last year’s draft) game today wasn’t flashy by any means, but was a testament to continued endeavour and tenaciousness. When I reviewed the Swans victory over Adelaide in Round Two, I remarked how I thought only a few players (Chris Judd, Joel Selwood and Matt Rowell) looked like they belonged in the AFL more than Gulden in their first season. His performance today does nothing to contradict this. He’s a hard-working, highly-skilled half-forward flank, and if I was in charge of starting a hypothetical 19th team in Tasmania, his would be one of the first numbers I would call.
Memo to Leon Cameron from all Fantasy football coaches – Tom Green is an inside midfielder, and must play there for the rest of the season! Green was a force of nature today, looking as composed as Scott Pendlebury (did you know he has a basketball background?) in the contest, and seemingly choosing his fourth or fifth – and ultimately correct – option every time he got the ball. In a game where so many possessions were under immense pressure, Green rose above most other midfielders with his class and decision-making, never looking rushed or bewildered. Please, Leon, keep him in the team.
There were other youngsters playing today too – Lachie Ash, Sam Taylor, Chad Warner, Bobby Hill and Conor Stone to name a few – and I thought they all had their moments. For a game that was high in pressure and intensity around the ball, the youngsters all showed promise, and I think their fans should be both proud and excited.
- GIANTS FORWARDS
Was it just me, or did the Giants forwards seem to be wanting to play behind for most of the game (I’ll touch on why that might be the case later)? So many times it seemed like the Giants midfielders would deliver the ball into the forward line, only to hit the chest of the leading Swans defender – generally, either Lewis Melican or Tom McCartin, who I thought were both tremendous today. I know that the Giants lost their best tall forward (Jeremy Cameron) in last years trade period, and have essentially only brought in the highly talented yet questionably dedicated Jesse Hogan as his replacement, but it shouldn’t be too much to ask of Jeremy Finlayson and Harry Himmelberg to just get in front in their contests, right?
Speaking of which, I wonder what Giants supporters made of Himmelberg’s game today? It started poorly, got a lot better, then got bad again, then got better again, and then I thought finished really badly – his last set shot missed the goal by the best part of 50 metres. I’ve had an hour or so to think about the game (and one or two sherbets – sorry Mongrels), and I think the problem with Himmelberg is one that often besets guys around his height (and if you’ll pardon my expression) – he’s neither your arse nor your elbow.
By this, I mean that he’s a key-position height, but he plays like a half-forward flank. He’s almost cursed by being a couple of inches too tall, and I think a performance like today shows just how unsuited he is to playing as either a key target or even a second tall forward. If the Giants can draft, or preferably trade in, a key tall forward, Himmelberg could become a dangerous mid-tall forward option.
- HANDBALL HAPPY
I know the above section laid a lot of the blame at the Giants tall forwards’ feet, but I’m going to spread the blame of their poor attacking forays to their midfielders. Is this inconsistent and an example of the footy media flip-flopping? Maybe, but I contain multitudes (and thanks to rhetorical me for calling myself a member of the footy media).
The Giants looked like they were trying to handball their way from half-back to half-forward today. This can serve a couple of purposes. Firstly, it often burns the key forwards who may be making promising leads out of the attacking 50. Secondly, and this is what I think the Giants were going for, it draws defences forward – largely because of what I just said (key forwards leading up the ground, and their defenders following them) but also because footballers are human and get drawn to the ball like a moth to a flame. This means that
The major drawback to this plan is two-fold. Firstly, it has a high rate of attrition – if your forwards are leading up the ground, that means that in order to score they’re going to need to race back. At the start of a game, this isn’t an issue. By the end of the game, however, it can mean that the ball comes back out of the attacking area faster than old guys can say the phrase “kick the bloody thing”. Secondly, it can mean that instead of releasing pressure for your team, a handball at half-back may only compound it. This happened a few times today for the Giants, as they turned the ball over at half-back rather than kick long into their forward line.
Perhaps it’s a game plan thing, perhaps it’s as a result of a lack of belief in their tall forwards. Either way, it’s not a great idea, and certainly not the way to win premierships.
- BUDDY AND WILL
My little brother, Scotty, lives in London. He can’t watch too much of the footy at the moment, but we stay in contact via various messaging apps, and recently he messaged me a video package of Buddy Franklin highlights against Essendon. After the video, he remarked how much he missed watching Buddy play.
Scotty would have loved it today.
It was (almost) the best of Buddy. Yes, he doesn’t have the speed he once had, and yes, he doesn’t have the power he once had, but boy, when he’s close to the ball in the forward half, I reckon defenders’ sphincters tighten a considerable degree. He was head and shoulders the most dominant tall forward on the ground today, and reminded fans of just how good he could be – if Braeden Campbell should have his left leg insured by Lloyds of London, then I reckon Buddy’s should be on display in the MCG museum after he shuffles off this mortal coil.
Almost as dominant as Buddy was Will Hayward. It’s always really nice to see a guy come back into a team and realise how good he can be. The start of today’s game could have gone either way for Hayward, but kicking the first goal seemed to remind him that he is amongst the most dangerous mid-forwards in the game. I know the Swans lost, but one of the positives they can take is that the longer the game went, the more Hayward seemed convinced of the fact that his best is elite and that when he’s on, there’s very few who can stop him.
- HICKEY AND MUMMY
I know, it almost sounds like a crime fighting duo, but I can assure it’s not. When he went off injured early in the last quarter, I thought Tom Hickey was just about the most damaging player on the ground. This doesn’t mean that I thought he was the best – not quite anyway. But he was completely dominating Shane Mumford in a way that was very intelligent and refined. Mumford, if you’ve ever listened to anyone commentate a game he’s playing in, is a bit of an oaf. Hickey, meanwhile, is a bit different.
As a West Coast fan, I am acutely aware of the battle between Wayne Carey and Glen Jakovich, and the strategies that Jakovich used to try and conquer the North Melbourne great. Essentially, Jakovich, being the stronger of the two, would try to play to Carey’s ego and engage him in wrestles as often as he could, knowing that if Carey made it into a running game, ‘Jako’ would soon be up the proverbial creek. I reckon Tom Hickey, for as long as he was out there today, tried a similar tactic. He tried to run ‘Mummy’ off his feet, and I reckon Mumford was starting to tire significantly, and Leon Cameron was starting to question his decision to play Mumford in front of Matthew Flynn by late in the third quarter.
You see, Hickey’s strategy worked beautifully, until it didn’t.
In a ruck contest late in the third, the ruckman clashed knees, with Hickey coming off worse for the wear. His absence for the majority of the last quarter certainly impacted the Swans and meant that Mumford, who had little effect in the first three quarters, would be a huge player in the last.
I don’t know if this contest was the difference in the game, but the lack of a contest when it mattered certainly was.
- TOBY ‘F$CKEN’ GREENE
Look, I’m definitely a biased judge. I love Toby Greene. If I was 10 years old right now (or had a 10 year old son or daughter who loved footy) I would be putting up a poster of Toby Greene on the bedroom wall. I love him and think that if he was the captain of a team I played in I’d walk a foot taller knowing he was walking out with me. He’s not always the best player, but he’s the player that embodies the spirit of a club that any football fan would love to support.
Many football publications will make a lot of the fact that Toby Greene kicked seven behinds today. These people are stupid and should not be allowed to reproduce. Greene, like any great leader, lifted when it mattered most. Greene, like any great leader, took a courageous mark running back into traffic. Greene, like any great leader, took his kick quickly and put it through the big sticks – the Giants would need every second that they could get.
As Colonel Slade once said, ”some guys run, and some guys stay”. I don’t think you’ll find a Giants fan anywhere who wouldn’t be glad that Toby Greene stayed.
- There was a couple of times in this game where I thought Giants players (namely Mumford in the second quarter and Ward in the last quarter) won’t like the vision on Monday morning. They need to focus on getting back in the space of the leading forward.
- I know it’s trite, but how good is it watching a close game of footy while a huge crowd is there. Last year makes us all a little nostalgic for the good times.
- Bobby Hill could have had a huge start to the game. As with a lot of half-forwards he drifted in and out, but could have had a big start.
- I wonder if the Swans (and the umpires) may regret the ‘team marks’ that seemed to be paid to the Giants late in the last quarter deep in defence – one to Mumford, and one to Taylor. Could one of these ended in the goal that might have sealed the game?
- Once Papley kicked his goal early in the last quarter, I almost started zoning out of the game – it wasn’t until a couple of efforts from Bobby Hill a few minutes later awoke me from my near-slumber that I began paying attention again.
And that will just about do me – the Swans face the Suns next week on the Gold Coast while the Giants host a grudge match against the Bulldogs – I’ll be sitting front row on that one!