This was the first game circled on my Round Nine calendar. Despite the disparity in ladder positions, there were so many storylines to unfold in this contest.

Could Patrick Cripps bounce back?

Could the Dees go 9-0?

Which of the fantastic defensive duos would make a stand and put the brakes on the opposition?

How would Sam Weideman go back in the senior team?

Would David Teague throw Adam Saad onto Kysaiah Pickett to match his pace?

Would Zac Williams have the game the Blues have wanted from him since he got to the club?

There were dozens more. As always, The Mongrel watched eagerly for the story to unfold, always looking for the stories within the game, itself. Players needed to stand up in this one, or be ready to step aside. Let’s jump into the good, bad and ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

THAT’S HOW YOU SNAG A GOOD FREE AGENT

Our resident Fremantle supporter, and all-round good bloke, Matt Passmore was a little scathing of Ed Langdon when he left the club following the 2019 season. Matt did not believe that Langdon had the foot skills to hurt teams, and therefore, was not such a huge loss.

I reckon the Dockers would love to have Langdon back right now. Him on one wing, Cerra on the other… it’s be pretty difficult to combat.

But the Dees saw plenty in Langdon, and after a very solid 2020 season, he has put the work in to emerge as one of the premier wingmen in the game this season.

His 23 touches may not jump off the page to those perusing the stats on Monday morning. They may gloss over his numbers and think he slotted somewhere in the middle of the pack for the Dees. Think again, people – he was magnificent.

The 23 touches were nice, but the gut-running of Langdon has to be seen to be believed. He is a machine. If in the past, he had poor delivery by foot, it was probably because he could barely lift his legs! He runs himself into the ground for his team, and is content working end to end, all day long.

He is the first midfielder back in defence to offer a release option for the handball, and is consistently making second, third and even fourth efforts in repeated contests. This is not indicated by the casual glance at the stat sheet – this is only apparent when you use the eye-test, and in that regard, Langdon passes the test with flying colours each, and every time.

The Demons had a need on the outside in 2019. they had plenty of contested ball winners and a plethora of hard nuts, but they lacked that outside run. They recruited a player that would fill that need and had just done the exact same job for Fremantle. It was a fantastic job of talent identification, and recruiting for need.

 

TMAC HITS BACK

This is the comeback story of the season, with Tom McDonald playing another excellent game for the Dees to aid them in setting up an early lead that would not be headed.

With three first-half goals, McDonald was back to doing the things that made him such a weapon in the 2018 season. He looks confident, composed and alert to what is going on around him – it makes you wonder where his head was at during 2019-20, as he looks like a completely different player at the moment.

Working both deep forward and all the way up to half back, he collected 18 touches in a powerful performance. I have to admit… I am barracking for TMac in 2021. I want to see him do well. He was almost thrown on the scrap heap in the last trade period, and would have been shipped elsewhere…

… had anyone made a serious inquiry about his availability. I wrote last week that this may have been the kick in the pants he needed to play this kind of footy again. Being close to redundant makes you question where you’re at. TMac obviously looked at his career, his place in this Melbourne team and where he was headed, and decided to change the trajectory.

The man, himself, aside, there’ be one person happier than all others to see him return to form. Simon Goodwin continued backing McDonald when he was struggling after becoming the number one man in the forward line. He never spoke of dropping him, or shaking things up, but when the team recruited Ben Brown, the writing was on the wall for McDonald. He had to do something.

And he did.

McDonald now sits on 16 goals for the season, but it is his confidence and willingness to back himself that would be making Goodwin smile. From close to the outhouse to the penthouse in 12 months, McDonald’s story is a great one, and I am eager to see it continue deep into the 2021 season.

 

THE DYNAMIC DUOS

Coming into this game, the pseudo-duel between the two best defensive duos in the game was something I was really looking forward to.

At one end, you had Steven May and Jake Lever, who have worked together like a hand and a glove this season… although I don’t want to speculate who the hand is and who the glove is… ewww.

At the other end, Jacob Weitering and his running mate, Liam Jones have been stellar in defence as well, each covering for the other against some of the best forwards in the game. The tandem that emerged as more potent in their clashes with the big forwards would have a huge say in the winner of this encounter.

The Dees had to contend with Harry McKay and… that’s about it, really, unless you want to count Levi Casboult?

Meanwhile, the Carlton duo had to curtail quite a number of tall forwards, with Ben Brown, Sam Weideman and Tom McDonald rotating through as the deepest forward. Melbourne also had Bayley Fritsch as the leading option, to make matters a little more complicated.

What we saw were several performances that helped shape the contest, with the Dees coming out on top as much due to lack of options for the Blues, as their own brilliance.

With Steven May locking down on Harry McKay, and the Coleman leader appearing to injure his shoulder in the opening quarter… doing a hell of a lot of not much, it must be added, Jake Lever was allowed to play his natural intercept game. He collected ten for the game. For his part, May had 11 big spoils playing on McKay, who only threatened for a brief five minute period in the third quarter.

At the other end, Weitering worked over Weideman and Ben Brown at times, with both men held goalless. Meanwhile, Jones had nine spoils, but was unable to play an effective help defence role as he had his hands full with Tom McDonald and Bayley Fritsch at times. He had the four intercepts, but it was clear that the talent spread in the Dees’ forward line was too much for the Carlton defensive pillars to cover.

Whilst the Dees got great support from Harrison Petty, it was once again left to the main Carlton duo to support players like Lachie Plowman and Luke Parks in the defensive 50. In the end, it proved too much.

The Dees ran out winners, and so did the duo of May and Lever. In my eyes, we may have seen at least three genuine All-Australian defenders in this game – I pity Matt Oman and his Rolling All-Australian selections this week. It’s a tough call to leave any of May, Lever or Weitering out based on their efforts this round.

 

STAYING OUT THERE

A quick one here – a lot of respect for Harry McKay staying out there and battling on despite his injured shoulder in this one. Some blokes can play hurt, whilst others need a sit down and some counselling when their feelings get hurt.

McKay is obviously in the camp of the former.

I found it interesting that he only really rubbed the shoulder when he didn’t win a contest, but that is usually the way of things – it hurts a little more when things don’t go your way.

While I am at it, big props to Steven May for not targeting the injury. McKay was still out there – he was fair game, but the Dees defender opted to play him straight up and not start crashing into him like Chris Johnson or Mal Michael on Nick Riewoldt. That was bloody good to see.

 

DOC ON THE WING?

This was something relatively new… inasmuch as we haven’t seen it since about Round Four or Five last year.

Sam Docherty played most of this game on the wing, and it will interesting to see whether this is a segue into more midfield time for the co-captain, or whether it was just a match-up thing for this week. His rebound has been vitally important for the Blues in 2021.5.16He got a ton of the footy, with 27 touches, but with just one inside 50 and one rebound 50, he was getting most of his footy between the arcs and not doing a hell of a lot with it.

Doc has a lovely boot on him when he gets a bit of space, and if this is a trend that continues, his teammates would be well-served getting the ball to him out in space on the attacking side of the centre. With him delivering inside 50, the Blues would look a lot better. That said, if he is going to play this sideways-chipping style, he’d be better off back inside defensive fifty where his kicking from half back is better value.

 

KOSI AND SAAD

There are a couple of my fellow Mongrel writers who love sinking the boots to Adam Saad when things don’t go right. I don’t know what he did to them, but there is a fair bit of disdain apparent whenever his name comes up in conversation.

Me… I am neither here nor there on him. I think he is a decent enough player, but a well-structured and hard-working forward line will manage to keep him under control by limiting his run. I’m on record as saying he was not worth a top ten pick. Maybe a top 20 pick at best.

But that is water under the bridge. In this one, he found himself with a daunting assignment. He had to limit the influence of one of the most exciting players to hit the league in years – Kysaiah Pickett.

It was a match built for short bursts of speed and good, hard run. It was as much about Pickett remaining dangerous without the footy as it was him winning it, in order to keep Saad from his customary runs from defence.

So, how did it play out?

Saad got plenty of the footy, and covered 551 metres gained for the Blues, but when playing on a talent the likes of Pickett, you just cannot give him any room, and on a couple of occasions, Saad allowed his ball-winning instincts to get the better of him, permitting Pickett a little too much space.

That spells trouble.

Pickett has drawn comparisons to a young Cyril Rioli, and even as a Hawthorn man, I have to admit, the rundown tackle made me think of the way Cyril used to sneak up on players. You ever tried to sneak up on someone whilst running flat out? It’s bloody hard!

Pickett finished with one goal from four shots, so this could have been a little worse for Saad. If you’re a forward, you trade off two touches to your opponent for every one you get, yourself. Pickett had 12 disposals, three tackles and a couple of nimble spins out of trouble to get the footy moving the Dees’  way. My issue was that when he pulled these little party tricks, Saad was nowhere to be seen. He was just… gone. Not resting. Just nowhere near Pickett.

That was poor defence.

I noticed that the AFL website had Saad listed in the Blues’ best. I think they’re wrong. He was around middle of the pack, for mine – I’d love to see him play a genuine lockdown role on a dangerous small defender some day, and not get distracted by hunting the footy. I think, however, that is too far removed from his nature.

 

THE BAD

 

WHEN NUMBERS LIE

Did you know that the Blues SMASHED the Dees at clearances?

Killed them!

Murdered them!

Which is kind of the same thing, I know.

If you’re the kind of person who looks at things like that, you may be lulled into thinking that the Blues were a red-hot chance in this game. But they weren’t. They were wasteful, turned the footy over like it was second nature. Clearances mean bugger all when you kick it straight to the opposition!

The Blues had 19 more turnovers than the Dees as they hacked at the football like butchers at a particularly tough cut of rump, and whilst some of that can be put down to the pressure exerted by the Dees, so much more of it was Carlton just being… shit. Sorry, but that’s about as blunt as it gets – they were just kicking it and in some cases, handballing it directly to the opposition.

I don’t care how good you are at winning the footy. I don’t care how well you combine with your ruckman or shark the taps of the opposition. If you fail to find a teammate with your disposal, you’re a liability. Fogarty, who has been very serviceable recently, Cripps, Saad… they just gave the ball away too often.

 

THE UGLY

 

ROAD TO NOWHERE

It is important to remember, when assessing the Blues, that they were playing the team with the best record in the game, and not be too harsh.

It’s also important not to use the word “brave” in relation to their performance. It’s bloody patronising. They’re not a side compiled of Nadia Bartel and her friends… although it would have made for some interesting commentary from Jimmy.

Carlton’s rebuild is going to be under heavy scrutiny following this season. With three wins to their name, stating that this season is a huge disappointment is like saying the Antarctic is quite fresh, or that Big Brother kind of appeals to the lowest common denominator.

Where are they at? Why are they still there? And is there a light at the end of the tunnel, or is it just a torch in the distance held by the coaching group and list managers who are as lost as everyone else?

They’re a strange bunch, Carlton. When you survey their list, the contrast between the best six and worst six is stark. Walsh, Cripps, Weitering, McKay, Docherty… then down to others who are really just hanging onto to a list spot because they promised a lot and delivered like Australia Post.

Actually, no… more often than not Australia Post does deliver – they’re just really late.

The Blues have splashed some cash on players who may have filled a hole in theory, but have created others in their wake. That’s to be expected, I suppose, but while Carlton fans wait for these holes to be filled, they must feel like there are plenty of their own holes being filled… because this team has been screwing them over for years, now!

We’re at the point where the Blues needed something to rally around. They needed a win over a top-ranked team to point to and say “we can do this!” They needed it as much for their own belief as they did their long-suffering supporters. However, in successive weeks, we’ve seen them fall to the Dogs after having them on toast, and be handled by the Dees rather painlessly. Just when it seems this club is ready to give them something, they turn up with bugger all. They’re like a free-loading party crasher.

This is getting to the point where we’ve seen Sydney rebuild on the fly, the Lions become contenders, and Port emerge as a very good team. A few of years ago, they were all meandering down with the Blues, and now they’ve leapt up the ladder. They’ve been replaced by another bunch of teams down in the cellar. The two constants have been Gold Coast… and Carlton.

Enough is enough.

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

HOW MUCH GRACE DO WE GIVE ZAC WILLIAMS?

12 months.

You always have to give a player 12 months at a new club to find their feet, and so it is with that in mind that I remind myself not to be too harsh on him.

He was supposed to be the help Paddy Cripps needed in the middle. Right now, he is not even getting midfield minutes. He doesn’t look fit, rarely looks where he’s kicking (his 84% efficiency astounds me in this game) and finished the game with zero inside 50s and one rebound fifty. He was a bit of a seagull in this game, and Blues fans – how would you rate his season out of ten right now?

If we use 2019 as the benchmark for how good he can be, and we say that was a ten, I would have him at about 4.5 at the moment. The Blues would have been hoping for at least a seven.

 

WHO COPS THE CHOP AT CARLTON AFTER ANOTHER LOSS?

The Blues have made a habit out of dumping the same players when things go awry. Usually, it’s the young blokes getting the axe, whilst the old heads get a free pass to play the next week based on what they’ve added in the past.

But Paddy Dow and Lochie O’Brien are already out of the side. As is Jack Silvagni. Do the Blues do what they usually do and punish someone like 20 year old, Luke Parks, or 21 year old, Liam Stocker for the loss?

They shouldn’t.

Names like Marc Murphy and Will Setterfield, with numbers that look good on paper, had little influence in this game. I know Setterfield is 23, but now is the time he should be delivering. He played a fair amount of time on the wing and across half back, collecting 19 touches, but does not look sure of himself and made several errors. This is his fifth season in the league… one was lost to injury, but more is required.

As for Murphy, time’s up.

 

DOES SAM WEIDEMAN GET ANOTHER GO-ROUND?

Yeah, he does.

His numbers don’t reflect the way he attacked the contest in this one, and if I were a Dees supporter, I’d be relatively happy with what I saw from him in this game. He should have taken marks he dropped, but he led to the right spots, contested well and was not outmarked.

Weitering and Jones combined for five marks (all Jones) as key defenders, so what Weideman was able to do was split the contests with them. The fact he didn’t hit the scoreboard could be an issue for him, but when you select him, you do so knowing it’ll take a couple of weeks for him to either claim a place in the side, or lose it. Throwing him out after one goalless week is the wrong thing to do in a team that is flying.

 

HOW’D CRIPPS GO?

Just.

Plenty of the footy, tackles well, which is always a good sign, and actually got on the move at clearances again, instead of standing flat-footed like he did last week. It resulted in seven clearances for the big fella, but his turnovers kind of brought him back to the pack. Three free kicks against again this week, as well.

 

OTHER BITS

 

The Dees keep on flying along. We all saw the stat… thanks Brinan Taynlor (your name stays that way until you pronounce “Menegola” with just the one N)… going 9-0 means such and such… that’s great that we’re looking at stuff from 60 years ago to determine how this team will go for the remainder of the year.

They get the Crows next week in what is a very winnable game, however, they enter every game now with a target on their back. They may have entered 2021 with the hunter’s mentality, but they’re being hunted now. The first team to knock off the Demons claims a massive scalp.

It won’t be the Crows, though.

The Blues should beat the Hawks. Hell, everyone should beat the Hawks. Sadly for the Blues, they’re in a win/lose/lose situation. If they beat Hawthorn, they were supposed to. If they lose to them, the knives come out and David Teague had better run for cover. John Barker, too.

Never a dull moment at Ikon Park. Not many great ones in the last couple of decades, but plenty of interesting ones.

 

That’ll do me, people. Thanks for supporting The Mongrel.

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