Do you believe yet?

Are you convinced? With just one kick preventing the Melbourne Demons from a perfect 12-0 record, it might be time that you started having a little faith.

The Dees polished off Brisbane at GIANTS Stadium with a powerful second half that turned the tables on the fast-starting Lions. With a nine-goal second half, the ladder leaders were able to surge past the Lions to record a solid 22-point victory, with the lift coming from many who had their colours lowered in the first two quarters.

Tom McDonald stepped up, as did Kysaiah Pickett, whilst the work of players like Charlie Spargo and Tom Sparrow added to the class and hard-at-it nature of Oliver, Petracca and Harmes.

Yes, another week, another Demons victory to write about, and though I am acutely aware that Melbourne fans are still quite cautious, waiting for something to go wrong, this is a ride you should be enjoying, and if you’re not on yet… it’s time to get your ticket.

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

A TALE OF TWO HALVES PART ONE

As I sat at half time, trying to collect my thoughts with my four-year-old daughter pretending she needed this or that in her bed (she actually did need to go to the toilet at one point… she wasn’t fibbing!) I jotted down that this was possibly Tom McDonald’s worst output of the season to date.

He was a complete non-factor, and Marcus Adams was owning him in the air and on the deck.

I’m not sure what Simon Goodwin said to TMac at half time, or perhaps he just gave him a mirror so that McDonald could have a good, long, hard look at himself, because as soon as the ball was bounced for the third quarter, McDonald burst out of the blocks.

He left Adams in his wake as he collected six touches, took two marks and kicked a couple of goals to spearhead the Demon revival – five of his disposals were score involvements. Rhys Mathieson may call himself the barometer, but if you’re looking for a bloke to use as a gauge for the Dees, look no further than McDonald.

He went on with the job in the last quarter, kicking a third goal and nailing a ripping tackle as well as the team lifted around him.

It’s hard to believe that this bloke was close to being on the scrap heap – can you imagine how many clubs would fall over themselves right now to have a reliable, hard-working forward option that can put a bad half behind him to become a decisive factor in the outcome?

I know one brown and gold team that would be kicking themselves for not having a look at McDonald… I feel like kicking them at the moment, too.

McDonald has now hit 20 goals for the season to give him a new lease on life, and straighten the Dees up in the process. His story is one of the better comeback stories of the year, even though technically, he was never really gone.

But he just about was, wasn’t he?

 

A TALE OF TWO HALVES PART TWO

There’s this bloke playing for Melbourne who has the ability to put the brakes on an opposition midfielder. His name is James Harmes, and playing the role of defensive, accountable midfielder is what he does best. Give him a job and the job seems to get done.

So, it becomes a little perplexing, particularly for Melbourne supporters, when he heads out there and clearly, his job description has been modified from the previous week.

Brisbane had no shortage of damaging mids coming into this game. Jarryd Lyons had been in the top handful of ball-winners over the last month or so, Lachie Neale is a Brownlow Medallist, Dayne Zorko hit a rich vein of form, and Hugh McCluggage had once again given every reason to be counted amongst the best outside players in the game.

Yet at half time, I was wondering what the hell was going on? Harmes was playing well, but so were Lyons, Neale and McCluggage. He was kind of floating between them all, without an identified lockdown role at all. Was Simon Goodwin crazy? Didn’t he see what Harmes did to Libba last week? Didn’t he want something like that replicated?

Well, he did… he just wanted it a little later. It turned out to be a wise move.

In the third quarter, Harmes spent his time making a nuisance of himself around Lachie Neale. Despite Neale’s desperation, he was unable to impact the contest, and at stoppage after stoppage, I found myself smiling. Harmes would apply the pressure and it got to the point that Neale, looking as though he was feeling the heat, was offloading the ball a little quickly, in very Un-Lachie Neale-Like fashion.

Neale had just two effective touches for the quarter as he felt the pressure from Harmes around him at clearance opportunities. Running off him, Harmes had five. It was at that point I tipped my imaginary hat to Goodwin. Allow Lachie Neale to run himself around a bit, get a little fatigued in his first game back, then introduce the tag – pretty smart.

Harmes finished the game with 23 touches and six clearances to be amongst the best on the park. Neale was good, as well, with 25 touches and nine clearances, but those two effective touches in the third quarter when Harmes was paying close attention to him were the story of his night.

Neale’s hands were still clean and in the fourth quarter, his evasion looked to be back to what it was, but it wasn’t the complete Lachie Neale performance we’re used to seeing. Not yet, anyway.

 

THE BIT-PART PLAYERS

Charlie Spargo and Tom Sparrow… take a bow!

Michael Hibberd and Christian Salem, you as well.

Angus Brayshaw – you make sure you step to the front of the lot and take a big, sweeping bow!

So many people judge performances by the numbers accompanying a player’s name on a piece of paper or computer screen. We’re all guilty of it at times, celebrating so-and-so picking up 30+ touches, or someone else taking ten marks, but there was so much more to the games of each of these players.

Hibberd and Salem tag-teamed (no, not like that) Charlie Cameron to the point it rendered him close to invisible. He was awarded a very iffy late-game free kick to make his game seem respectable – two goals is a decent return from a small forward most weeks, but this is Charlie Cameron. Remember he was supposed to be the best small forward since Eddie Betts was at his peak!

He was nowhere near it in this one.

After a good start, his form matched that of his club, as he was taken completely out of the game by the desperation of the Melbourne defenders. With three touches in the second half, it was Hibberd and Salem closing him down and ensuring there were no easy kicks out the back this week for Charlie. Made to earn his kicks the hard way, Cameron didn’t seem quite so interested in proceedings.

Then there were the deft little touches, knock ons and physical pressure from both Sparrow and Spargo. Both played very intelligent footy when the ball was in their areas, with Sparrow’s ferocity at the contest and Spargo’s quick thinking in traffic the kind of highlights Simon Goodwin will be watching over and highlighting for the review.

And then there was Angus Brayshaw. This was a selfless game from him, and if you get the chance to watch back, take note of the way he spreads the field as wide as possible, dragging his direct opponent – on many occasions Hugh McCluggage – right away from the action and making him choose between covering his man or going to hunt the footy.

It was great to see the Demon defenders and mids honour his hard work when Clug and company decided to take the second option, as Brayshaw consistently found himself in space, even limited space, at half back and on the wing. He finished with 19 touches, but McCluggage, who had been in red hot form, had just four more, and was involved in just two score involvements.

It is probably just that I left Brayshaw til last. He put his head over the footy in this one and earned plenty of touches the hard way. It was a fantastic team game from someone who has been belted around for less than great performances over the last year or two, but as people become more aware of his role, as I hope they will when reading this, perhaps a little more appreciation will be afforded him.

Every great team needs players who sacrifice for their team, and I would be quick to argue that there are few players who have sacrificed more than Brayshaw. Perhaps the reward will be worth it in 2021…

 

ZAC ATTACK… AGAIN

A four goal blast from Zac Bailey once again hammered home just how important he is to the Brisbane Lions, yet he still cannot find meaningful time in the middle of the ground for long stretches.

Bailey played off half back, half forward and on the wing in this game, but it was his hard running inside 50 that will be spoken about most. He kicked four goals again in this game to take his season total to 17. It is the third time he has kicked 3+ for the season as he continues to build a case for a more meaningful role with the club.

I’ve written a few times that I thought this would be the season that Bailey usurped the wing position of Mitch Robinson, but Robbo’s performance last week probably puts enough credits in the bank to keep him there for the foreseeable future.

Bailey had three goals to half time before his fourth, and best of his quartet came in the third quarter against the flow. Arching his back and running to fifty, Bailey showed great composure to settle and slot the long major to give the Lions breathing room.

It would not last long, as Kosi Pickett nailed one at the other end, but the work of Bailey in this one, and the multiple roles he played should be given credit. It’s bloody hard to settle into a role when you’re playing three of them in the same game.

 

BANG, BANG, BANG!

With three touches and one tackle in the first half, it looked as though we may have been about to see another performance where Kysaiah Pickett promised the world and delivered an atlas.

With three goals in his last four outings, Kosi was looking like he may have hit the wall this season a little bit, but with his team bringing the heat, Pickett was right up for joining in, and he added two goals to his tally in the third, and another in the last to round out the type of game Dees fans have been wanting to see from him for a month or so.

As always, he provided fantastic run and chase inside defensive fifty, and Goodwin’s decision to have Pickett man the mark at all kick ins is a bloody intelligent one. I wrote last week that by playing him as the deepest forward when the opposition has the ball, it turns those cross goal kicks, or the playing on from kick ins into a riskier situation. He is capable of making up huge amounts of ground while the ball is in the air, so all it takes is one errant disposal and he is immediately in the play.

Pickett caused a fair few of those long bombs outside 50 from blokes like Daniel Rich. His closing speed forced normally composed players to go for the safe. long bomb option, when they’ve been able to settle and pick options in the past.

Chris Fagan will learn from this and should run a short option to either get the first kick, or provide a shepherd for Rich when he plays on the next time they meet, but he was unprepared for it in this game, and failed to make the appropriate changes when it happened several times.

Pickett should have finished with at least four, fluffing a bread-and-butter shot late in the third, but overall, this was a very solid night’s work for the young man.

 

THE USUAL SUSPECTS

26 touches and two goals to Christian Petracca, and yet, it feels like just another night at the office for him, doesn’t it? He slotted that gorgeous running goal as the Dees pressed and yet, you felt like he was always going to kick it.

That’s how you can tell he has taken his game to another level. You no longer wonder if he can do things – it’s expected that he will. We’re seeing the maturation of the star player into something all together better, and I am not quite sure how it ends up just yet.

Oliver’s 25 touches and eight clearances were, again, exactly what the Dees expect from him these days. A couple of his clearances with Gawn were spectacular, and although there is some question as to the validity of his “quick hands” when releasing the ball, we’ve gotta go with the words of Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura to sum up how Clarry gets those handballs off.

“It ain’t cheatin’ if you don’t get caught.”

Man, Jesse would have tipped his feather boa to Oliver watching a few of those handballs, in this game.

 

THE BAD

 

A CLASSIC ZORKO MOMENT OR THREE

Just when you think Dayne Zorko is past doing stupid shit for the sake of doing stupid shit…

… he does some stupid shit!

The free kick he gave away in the third quarter was classic Zorko. It is something that even Brisbane fans lament about their captain. There is no question he tries his guts out when the ball is in his area, and ten tackles is proof of that… it’s just that when it’s not in the area, he tends to drift into the territory of being… well, of being a bit of a knob.

I had an interesting comment on Twitter during the game that stated that Zorko was guilty of acting the way people think Toby Greene acts on the footy field. It was spot on. If we go back over the last couple of seasons, I reckon Zorko would have Greene covered in terms of the number of dumb things he’s done on the park.

He’s 32 years old and a club captain and here he is, off the ball, giving away free kicks and watching on as the resultant play ends in a goal to Melbourne.

In fairness, Zorko lifted shortly after and snapped a beautiful goal of his own from a forward stoppage, but he should know better by this stage of his career to be pulling garbage like that and costing his team.

 

HE’S A HURTING MACHINE?

Right, so I know this might rub a few people the wrong way, and that’s fine. Here goes…

Why the hell are the Channel Seven commentators celebrating someone wanting to hurt someone in a tackle when that is the exact thing the AFL are railing against? Don’t get me wrong – I love good, hard, physical play, and there is a large part of me that longs for the days when you could apply the tackle and the onus was on the player with the footy to protect himself. However, in this day and age, where the phrase “duty of care” is bandied about like it was the first thing written into the laws of the game, talking about someone tackling to hurt someone seems to fly in the face of what the AFL is attempting to promote.

“What do you say… he’s a bit like Luke Hodge… wanting to hurt people with his tackling, right boys? Right?”

Right BT… notice no one really agreed with him?

Look, I’d love to see tackling return to the halcyon days of ten years back when blokes could run someone down and bury them. I may be a Neanderthal, but I enjoy the gladiatorial aspect of the game. I reckon quite a few players would like to see that happen, too, but we’re no longer in that world, and when you get commentators lauding “tackling to hurt” people, only to turn on those same players as soon as a bloke gets concussed in one of those tackles, it sends a stupid mixed message not only to the fans, but to the industry as a whole. If you’re serious about this duty of care crap that seems to be dragged out whenever someone hits their head on the turf, then don’t go wrapping blokes up when they “tackle to hurt”. You’re kind of encouraging it.

And for the record, I loved Mitch Robinson’s tackle on Jake Lever and wish there were more who tackled that way more often. Not sure the AFL likes it, though.

As much as we’d hate to admit it, what they like matters a lot more than what you or I like, on any number of topics.

 

THE UGLY

 

COVID SAFE – MY ARSE

Isn’t it amazing that we have these different rules and regs for being covid safe? Sign in here, do that there.

But go to the footy, and in a stadium that can house 15 thousand or so people (I’m guessing), the people running it cram every single person, let’s say 2-3K, into one area of the ground, all on the ground floor, and leave the grandstands completely empty.

Now look, when I go to the footy, I like to sit in an elevated position. I like to be able to see what’s going on and if I was unable to do this, I probably wouldn’t go. I mean, that’s my choice, which is fine. However, if you are wanting to promote the game in Western Sydney, and you want people to come to the game, shoehorning them all in and giving them no bloody choice as to where they’re able to sit in a stadium is a massive deterrent in terms of return patronage.

We’ve been hearing about covid safe stuff for months on end, and every week there seems to be some other protocol we all have to follow, but go to the footy and they’ll squeeze you in like sardines to save a few bucks on cleaning and catering.

Makes you wonder how serious people are about covid $afety, doesn’t it?

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

DO THE DEES PERSIST WITH SAM WEIDEMAN?

Hell yes, they do.

Weed had a job in this one, and though it was not him who did the damage on the scoreboard, his job was to contest and make sure Harris Andrews didn’t pull down six or seven intercept marks. He was nowhere near that, by the way.

The thing with Andrews is – you don’t need to beat him; you just have to make sure you don’t get beaten, and Weideman was good at making sure he split contests with the dual All-Australian. At half time, with the Lions on top, Andrews had three intercepts and three spoils. That is a fantastic result.

Andrews was able to bump his numbers significantly in the second half (particularly late in the game) as things opened up, but he was scored on twice (Gawn once and Jackson once) as each big man rested up forward. On both occasions, the rucks stayed dangerous as Andrews attacked the contest, and swooped when the spoil was affected properly.

Weideman kind of needed the win in this one, and he was well on the way to getting it, but when you return eight touches and just three are effective on the night, the points go to your opponent. Andrews finished with nine intercepts and seven one-percenters for the game, which are right around his 2021 averages.

 

WHAT DID WE MAKE OF JOE DANIHER IN THIS ONE?

Started well, and from there took turns at looking motivated and completely flat.

At one point he looked completely fatigued as he gave up on a contest on the near wing, so I wound back the tape to see whether he’d been engaged in multiple efforts to get to that point. He must have, right? A league footballer that exhausted… nope. He’d just come off the bench, made one effort and then dogged it.

Fast forward ten minutes and he is running hard down the wing!

I can’t quite work Joe out, but despite 17 touches and a goal in this one, he was not a factor.

 

ARE WE JUST ALLOWING THROWS NOW?

It’s happening a lot, isn’t it?

Whether it is your team doing it or not, it is probably not the direction you want the game to go in, and I have a feeling this will get tightened up right around finals time. The AFL want to showcase their game – you can’t have repeated instances of blokes blatantly throwing the footy and the umps missing it.

No names… you know who you are. Stop it.

 

WHERE IS JAKE MELKSHAM’S CAREER AT?

I’m starting to get a bit worried about him. He just looks like he is out of step with the flow of play, which is something I have never seen from him.

Having been a bit of a fan, I’ve always paid attention to how Melksham is travelling, but this is getting to the point where it’s a concern. Five touches, and he played just 69 or a possible 123 minutes… something has to be up.

 

OTHER BITS

 

The development of Luke Jackson continues to impress. What I’ve liked best about his game is the clean hands below the knees. Rucks, and blokes over 40, usually struggle with that aspect more so than any other, but Jackson just one-grabs it down low every time.

The Lions really made life difficult for Jake Lever in this one, with Hipwood and McStay not allowing him a free run at the footy at all in this game.

In Hipwood’s case, he got out and took some marks early before fading in the second half and kicking just on goal from five shots, but that beats McStay, who must have thought it was a final, because he usually reserves these types of performances for those occasions. Seven touches and two marks for the game… disappointing after looking so good over the last couple of weeks.

The Lions get the week off next weekend, whilst the Dees front up against the Pies on Queen’s Birthday Monday for their standalone clash. In years passed, it has meant Gawn v Grundy, but with the Collingwood big man out, big Max will be licking his chops heading into this one.

 

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