It’s hard to believe the Giants have already been in the league for 10 years. It certainly does feel like they were only generated yesterday, but in many ways, it’s also hard to remember what the competition was like before the big big sound started coming from out West.
In any event, this game was their tenth-anniversary extravaganza, and while it may not have been the biggest game the club has played in over their relatively short history, it still would have been one Leon Cameron’s men would have wanted to win for a number of reasons. They would, of course, have to overcome not just the Eagles but their own massive injury list, with Coniglio, Greene, Davis, de Boer, Keeffe, Perryman, Preuss, and Daniels all missing from their best 22.
For the Eagles, this game stood as one they should win. While the Giants had a lot on the line, in the form of a spot in the top eight, the Eagles needed to get up here for two reasons, one pragmatic and one a little more ideological. With Geelong and Brisbane winning already this round, and Port Adelaide still to play, the Eagles would have loved to bank the four points to keep themselves in touch with the top four, with winnable games against the Bombers and Blues to come before the bye.
In addition, their inability to win away from home (their lone road win coming against the relatively hapless Hawks at the MCG in front of six people and a stray dog on Mother’s Day) continues to be… well, an albatross around their already avian necks, and a win here against the depleted Giants would at least have counted in some form as a demonstration of their credentials.
Furthermore, it was premiership skipper and West Coast legend Shannon Hurn’s 291st game, putting him in outright first spot for the club ahead of former teammate, Dean Cox. It is somewhat remarkable that no one has yet managed 300 games for the Eagles, but nonetheless, Hurn’s achievement is definitely worthy of appreciation, for a player who has been a loyal servant through a period of some downs and many more ups.
In what loomed as a huge test for both sides, with plenty of ramifications for the top eight, here’s what happened:
With apologies to Brendon Bolton.
As mentioned above, there were a plethora of best 22 players out for the Giants, perhaps most notably captain/Italian stallion Coniglio and vice-captain/spiritual leader/walking definition of antagonistic little brother Greene. It was then, pretty clearly, imperative that the experience the Giants did possess in midfield did stand up. They did, and more on that later, but the two standout players on the ground were some of the more inexperienced mids in orange.
It may not have been the T Greene we’re used to seeing kick goals but the young Tom’s kick for the Giant’s first score was indicative of his talent. He then followed it up instantly with a clearance that led to an opportunity for the future cult hero Zach Sproule, who struck the ball beautifully.
In fact, eight of his 13 first half touches were score involvements for his side, as he created opportunities for others and capitalised himself with two first half goals. He finished with a game high 12 score involvements, but it was arguably his clearance work that was most critical for his side. For a player who’s played just 15 games, his strength is unbelievable, and it was his handball out to Josh Kelly that ultimately resulted in Bobby Hill booting home the sealer from the goal line. He is the favourite for the Rising Star by a long way at the moment, and justifiably so given the body of work he has put in over the course of the first half of the year.
Jacob Hopper seems often to be the forgotten man at the Giants. After a great season in 2019, he fell off the radar a little last year, but he’s averaging 27 disposals per game this year and has stepped up given the continued absences of bigger names in the middle of the ground. He had 28 touches today including two direct goal assists (one of which being the set up for Bobby Hill’s sealer), six clearances and six tackles as one of the best two players on the ground. He was at one point trade bait, but it doesn’t seem to me that GWS can afford to let him go, given the step up he’s undertaken thus far in 2021.
With apologies to former WWE wrestler Barbara Blank. It was, I think, one of the more intriguing midfield matchups in this contest. West Coast’s absences should not be undersold, in fairness to them, and Shuey and Yeo missing probably did hurt them just as much as Coniglio and Greene missing may have helped them, but with Tim Kelly, Dom Sheed and Andrew Gaff running around it’s not as though they were lacking talent.
Tim Kelly was, I thought, far and away the best Eagle on the ground in this one. As a Geelong supporter, Tim Kelly’s kick to Kennedy early in the second was a bit like seeing your ex-girlfriend thriving. Outwardly, you’re happy for them but deep down you’d prefer they were doing that with you. Ditto his clean finish from 50 to cap off Naitanui’s clearing handball. Kelly’s cleanliness around the ball every time is just so eye-catching, and his ability to hit targets out of contests always helps. His 15 contested possessions were a game high as part of 22 overall, to go with game-highs in inside 50s (eight), clearances (eight) and a team-high ten score involvements. If the Eagles had have gotten up it would have been largely on the back of the former Cat. Which just warms the cockles of my cold, dead heart.
On the other hand, with GWS’s captain and vice-captain absent, Josh Kelly stepped into the official leadership void. He is just as smooth moving as you could ever hope to be as a footballer. 25 touches for the stand-in skipper, including team or game-highs in clearances (seven), inside 50s (seven), and metres gained (533). The mammoth contract coming his way soon is nothing short of well earned, and if GWS (who after this win sit inside the top eight) are going to go one better than their 2019 effort, Kelly will absolutely be central to that campaign.
So of the namesakes, who takes the chocolates? Tim was clearly the best Eagle on the ground, and featured in the votes accordingly. He probably just shaded Josh in terms of output, but I’m not sure the Giant would mind particularly, having led his team to one of the defining wins of their AFL decade.
Nic Nat, Mummy Whack, Leave That Brander Alone
With apologies to… well, you all, for having to read that. The secret to beating the Eagles is not a secret. When Geelong belted them by 16 goals a month ago, in their last loss, it was because Rhys Stanley managed to actually turn in a half decent performance. By utilising his capacity to work hard around the ground, as well as Naitanui’s reluctance to do the same, the former Saint was one of the catalysts.
There is almost no greater distinction between two AFL ruckmen than that between Stanley and Shane Mumford. If the Giants were to be the team to end the Eagles’ three-game win streak, it didn’t seem as though the catalyst was going to be the enormous Bunyip Bruiser, or his understudy, the Narrandera Newbie Matthew Flynn. How wrong that assumption proved to be.
First to Naitanui, though. There are times where the way he plays his game makes him look entirely disinterested in defensive run but, in fairness, when you’re as good in the air as Naitanui is, it’s probably in some cases acceptable. To be fair, Naitanui’s aerial dominance over Mumford was pretty evident early, with a tap down to Kelly allowing the former Cat to hit Jack Darling at the front of a pack.
There were times, though, where Flynn managed to get off the leash and impact the scoreboard with two first half goals. After half time, Naitanui’s effort seemed to lift, probably best exemplified by two goal assists but his work rate also seemed much more evident. It was a great run down the wing, and I for one would have loved to see him go all the way. However, despite the Eagles’ 46-21 hitout ascendancy, the Giants won the clearances 42-32, which went a long way to providing them their fifth win of the season.
From the air to the ground, and I’m pretty sure there’s a Jarrod Brander-shaped imprint in the centre of GIANTS Stadium after the man they call Sausage absolutely decked him into the turf. There was no question about the legality of the act, but it was a good, strong tackle in the third quarter which really set the tone for the Giants from there on out. He then got over Jack Redden for a nice mark that pretty much iced the game. Joey Montagna’s decision to say it was ‘as high as Mummy’s been for a while’ was… interesting, but Mummy’s physicality in the centre of the ground was pretty key to his side’s win.
And Another Thing…
Plenty left to discuss in this one…
- The Giants getting up by three goals somehow simultaneously flattered and deceived; Leon Cameron’s side were probably the better side all day but the final margin was the largest of the game, in a contest that both seed and sawed throughout. The Eagles had their chances, but more than anything it seemed like a lack of workrate cost them more than anything else. Injuries are no doubt an excuse, but good sides find a way, and it’s not as though the Eagles didn’t have plenty of talent on the park.
- Jamie Cripps continues to be an underrated player. His goal in the second quarter from just inside 50 was critical, but he then missed a shot from the following centre clearance that was easier and would have given his side the lead. Arguably made up for it with a big bender from deeeep in the pocket, capitalising on Isaac Cumming’s stubbed kick and subsequent complete lack of desire to be accountable for a man. One of the better small forwards in the league, I reckon, but rarely discussed
- Himmelberg’s game was very solid throughout. 10 score involvements from 20 touches including three direct goal assists, and could have been four if Sam Reid snapped a goal he should have iced easily on the stroke of three quarter time. Finlayson got the scoreboard return but Himmelberg’s handball out gave the Giants a 10 point lead in the first 20 seconds of the last. Could and very much should have restored some breathing room but went a snap around the corner from 45 and then tried to shake, bake, flake, cake and pisstake on the run, instead getting himself tackled.
- Kennedy to Allen to Darling a passage of play that would have made more than a few Eagles’ supporters need to readjust themselves in the first quarter. Not sure what to make of the rest of their games though. 3.5 between the three of them, showing they had their chances but just couldn’t capitalise. Took eight contested marks, but didn’t really translate that dominance in the air. Oscar Allen against Nick Haynes was probably the most notable matchup, but Sam Taylor and Jack Buckley both deserve credit for keeping the three headed monster relatively quiet.
- I thought I’d seen a miracle bounce yesterday when Dan Howe dribbled one home after the half time siren but Jeremy Finlayson’s hard spinning offie was truly unbelievable. Bounced genuinely backwards to go through, to cap off a passage of hard running coast to coast footy. At the other end, Kennedy’s snap looked on line but his snap copped an almost equally ridiculous bounce. It was, probably, indicative of the days the two sides ended up having.
- Are we prepared to put a line through the Eagles? I’m not quite sure I am yet, but they do need to start beating contenders away from home. Their next two games look winnable, and then they play the Tigers and Dogs at home after the bye. They should, once again, play finals, and with Yeo, Shuey and McGovern to come back it’s obviously not all doom and gloom. That being said, their efforts today didn’t scream of desperation.
That’s probably enough rambling from me. The Giants’ win gets them into the top eight at the end of round 10, consigning their 2019 Grand Final nemeses Richmond to ninth, temporarily at least. Brisbane at the Gabba next week present an intimidating challenge, but with North, Carlton and Hawthorn after that, the Giants could well sneak into the eight this year. For the Eagles, as discussed, they get the Bombers next week at home, followed by an intriguing trip to the MCG to play Carlton, having just lost touch with the top four.