TEN THINGS I LEARNT AFTER ROUND 12

 

1. If Covid doesn’t kill tourism at the snow, Melbourne will

It seems pretty much official that the Demons will go deep into September action this year. The win against the Lions on the back of a strong win against the Bulldogs was even more impressive. After half time they took complete control of the game and turned a 20-point half-time deficit into a 22-pont victory. You’ve got contributors all over the ground and Oliver all of a sudden has shot to Brownlow favouritism after what has been his most impressive month to date in his career. One would expect them to be too strong for the Magpies next week as well.

The Lions looked the goods at half time but faded pretty badly in the second half, finishing with just three goals up against nine for Melbourne. It will be a small concern although fadeouts have not really been an issue so far in season 2021. They’re still sitting pretty with eight wins and in tfourh position, but watching that second half one couldn’t help but get the feeling that the bye next week could have come along at just the right time. I could be mean and say they have another bye the following week against the Roos, but that’s not nice. I’m sure the club are not too concerned at this stage and still look well placed to finish in the Top 4.

 

2. Do great sides make it hard to win a Brownlow?

My pre-season fancy for this year’s award was Christian Petracca, and he hasn’t disappointed at all. He’s right in calculations for the major award, but we’ve all seen the scintillating form fellow Demon, Clayton Oliver is in. I recall growing up in an era where my beloved Blues were a powerhouse and were perennial finalists. In that time I witnessed just one Brownlow for a club who won five premierships in 16 years (1979-1995), and that, of course, was the mercurial Greg Williams.

More recently, we have seen Dusty win the award in a premiership year, so it is possible, although Dusty is a freak. A quick analysis of Brownlow results in the last ten years do suggest it is possible to play in a great team and win a Brownlow, although it’s evenly split between sides who finished in the Top 4 and those who didn’t. As mentioned, Dustin Martin did win the 2017 Brownlow in 2017 when the Tigers were premiers, but from 2010 he’s the only one. There has been three winners of the medal from the eventual runners-up, but in the previous 11 seasons, five awards have gone to players who played in teams that finished between 8th and 14th on the ladder.

From 2001-09 there were four Brownlow medallists from premiership teams and a further 3 from runners-up. We’ve always suggested that teams that are high up on the ladder have more A-graders who “steal” votes from their high-performing team-mates. If Melbourne continues on their winning ways, will we see a race at the top between Oliver and Petracca or will somebody from a side with less “vote-stealers” come over the top? Of course there’s many other players in contention, but it will be interesting to watch during the count how this all pans out.

 

3. Jack Higgins would not have slept well on Saturday night

You have to feel for Jack. He played his heart out and was one of St Kilda’s best, but finishing with 1.6 took the shine of a very good game, and in particular three late shots which could’ve changed the result will be haunting him. Trailing by under a goal in the last couple minutes of the game, Higgins missed two gettable shots which he clearly seemed to rush. I’m sure he’d love his time again. He’s a more than capable set shot for goal, and would have landed one or both of those shots most of the time, but the pressure really was a factor, and in the context of the season may prove the difference between a finals berth or a rest in September. The Saints now find themselves 5-7, with a poor percentage and really can’t afford to lose many more games.

Sydney had a lucky escape. Credit to the Saints who never gave up, but the Swans have won a lot of tight contests this year as most good sides do. I never had Sydney in my finals calculations and I’m sure many others would have concurred. I wondered if players like Josh Kennedy would have his final season in a mediocre side and a career that just petered out, but not only is his team competitive, his form warrants another look-in for 2022 for sure. Whilst Saturday wasn’t his best game, he was great the previous week against the Blues and looks to have injected some life back into his football. Sydney takes on the Hawks next week and will most likely have a win. Going into the break at 9-4 would have John Longmire smiling.

 

4. Collingwood need a fit Jamie Elliott

Jamie Elliott has missed a lot of football. And it’s no coincidence to me that Collingwood have been struggling to post a winning score during his absence. I’m sure he’s not going to singularly reverse all their fortunes, but I do think his value is heavily underestimated by many in the football world. He’s a genuine goalkicker and a high-marking small forward who is a difficult match-up. If he can avoid any further injury this year, it might be enough to push Collingwood up the ladder enough for the club to justify an extension to his contract to the Collingwood faithful. Time will tell.

Adelaide did have their chances. They will be ruing their inaccuracy in front of goal. Taylor Walker in particular ended the game with 2.6. It’s hard to be critical of big Tex after the year he’s having, but he will be disappointed that he wasn’t unable to convert better than that. The Crows travel to North Queensland to take on the Saints in yet another relocated match due to Covid. The Saints will be desperate for a win, but I imagine the Crows will not be a pushover. It will almost be a last roll of the dice for both teams as far as finals aspirations go.

 

5. Hitting the front against Richmond only makes them angry

It was roughly ten minutes into the last quarter when a spirited Bombers team hit the lead by two points. Watching on, I thought that Richmond might finally be slipping back to the pack and the young Bombers team might actually be capable of playing finals. However, the Tigers saved their best till last and blew Essendon away finishing with the last seven goals of the game and running out winners by a game-high lead of 39-points. It was as though the Tigers decided at that point that the Essendon boys had had their fun and it was time to get serious. Boy did they do just that.

Everybody got into the action. I watched on thinking that this may be the turning point for the season after what has been an indifferent start by their lofty standards. They have another challenge against the Eagles next week, but a win there would confirm my suspicion that they’ll win a lot more games between now and Round 23. It’s an old cliché but the 39-point margin probably didn’t reflect the true essence of the game. The Bombers were in it up to their necks until late but just faded away at the end. Another season with a few more games under their belt and the result could’ve gone either way. They’ll take plenty of heart out of that. Whilst they may miss out on finals this year, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Bombers are on a good path and, after what has been a few years of questionable recruiting, the list doesn’t look too bad at all.

 

6. Parish broke a club record

Darcy Parish is in great form at the moment. He’s averaging well over 30 disposals per match over his last six weeks and has really staked his claim as a premier midfielder in the AFL. On Saturday night against quality opposition, he managed to accumulate 44 disposals, breaking a long-standing record at the Essendon Football Club held by Barry Davis who had 43 disposals against the Bulldogs way back in 1969. That was a record that stood for 52 years no less!! It included 25 kicks and 19 handballs. And despite the Bombers losing, Parish was awarded BOG for his outstanding effort.

As great as Parish is going, the Bombers midfield depth will be tested if free-agent Zach Merrett ever considered a move to another club. I get the feeling he’s going nowhere. No doubt his thinking would’ve been whether or not Essendon were heading in the right direction. I think it’s safe to say he has seen enough to know there is plenty to be optimistic about and he will possibly see some success if he hangs around. Add Dylan Shiel back into the mix upon his return from injury and you have the makings of an ominous group. Hopefully the club have a bit of money up their sleeve to retain his services at a competitive rate.

 

7. Hats off to Perth for the Dreamtime turnout

Either there is a huge contingent of Essendon and Richmond fans based in Western Australia, or the people of Perth are just mad about football. Fancy having a sell-out crowd in Perth for a game between two Melbourne teams!! Can you imagine a home and away game between Freo and West Coast at Marvel stadium in Melbourne attracting any more than maybe 20,000? I highly doubt that. This gives the AFL plenty to think about in terms of what may happen later in the year if Melbourne’s lockdowns or restrictions somehow leaked into the month of September.

Optus Stadium has the largest capacity of any stadium currently in use outside Victoria, and if they can fill it mid-season without a home team playing, it makes sense that the Grand Final should go there if the MCG was not an option. Of course, none of us want it to come to this. I’m not speaking as a parochial Victorian who thinks there in only one “home of football” or any of that, nor am I insistent on traditions or the like. I just want life to go back to normal and for our governments to maybe look for other solutions to the Covid issue besides harsh lockdowns.

I’m not sure if our interstate readers are aware, but Melbourne has been locked down now for a total of over 140 days while most other states have averaged just six. So perhaps forgive us Victorians if we aren’t so supportive of tough measures.

 

8. Any side playing Carlton should just turn up and bank a four-goal win

The Blues now sit 4-8 after 12 rounds and have shown little-to-no improvement on last year where showed promise at times. In their eight losses, their smallest margin has been 16 points and their largest losing margin just 28 points. The average is 22 points, which has been the exact margin of their last two losses to Sydney and now West Coast. In most of those games the Blues had their chances but a lack of polish always seems to see them falling short.

In Sunday’s game they had the unfamiliarity of being favourites before he bounce coming up against an Eagles outfit ravaged with injury. Yet here we are talking about another mediocre performance resulting in another four-goal defeat. The problems at Carlton have been well publicised this year. It’s a serious deficiency in their defensive mindset. They are hopeless without the ball. The ease with which sides are able to cut a swathe through the middle of the ground and deliver to a mostly open forward line has Carlton fans in absolute despair as they watch on.

The Eagles are a side that move the ball well and have players who can hit a target. Liam Ryan had a field day kicking four goals all with relative ease and not a lot of opposition. Even without the great Josh Kennedy they were able to kick 14 goals and were never really threatened. West Coast have a very tough game next week against the Tigers. I’m guessing right now they might be regretting the decision to bring the game forward a week in lieu of players that might not be available.

 

9. Marcus Bontempelli is the best captain in the comp right now

There’s a few great captains. Nat Fyfe comes to mind. He’s very influential when playing at his best, but at this point in time none seem to have the ability to will his team across the line more than Marcus Bontempelli. Make no mistake. The Dockers were in this game, but the Dogs skipper made sure his last quarter sealed their fate in similar fashion to the game against the Blues where they came from behind in stunning fashion. He finished the match with 27 possessions and 2 goals and may have scored himself yet another 3threeBrownlow votes.

As I mentioned earlier, good sides have players who steal votes from one another, and Jackson Macrae is hard to ignore when he keeps getting 35+ possessions every week. The Dogs can look forward to a much needed week off before returning to the field in Round 14 to take on the Cats, which will be a massive game in what may be defining in terms of who can finish Top 4.

The Dockers have been good at times this year, but this game was taken away from them not just by the heroics of Bontempelli and a dedicated Bulldogs crew, but also due to being without any spare players on the bench for the final quarter. They tried valiantly but were out on their feet by the end of the game. It would be a tall order for the Dockers to sneak into the 8 from the position they’re in. Perhaps if they can win their next three games they can be back in the mix, and considering they play the Suns, Pies and Blues, maybe, just maybe, it’s a possibility.

 

10. The Top 8 looks like it may have taken shape

So here we are at the half-way point of the season, and all of a sudden a two game gap has opened up between 8th and 9th. Yes, the Giants have a game in hand so technically they are one game out, and when you consider their next two outings are against North Melbourne and Carlton, that gap may well be closed soon. So with the exception of GWS, I am struggling to see who else could find themselves in finals contention.

The order of the 8 as it looks right now may change dramatically depending on what the Cats and Lions do over the coming weeks. I’m still not writing the Tigers off, but they really can’t afford to lose many more. For the remaining sides outside the 8 currently, the Bombers look as though they’d be competitive enough to play finals, but too many losses for them will make it hard from here. The Saints’ loss to the Swans comes at a great cost due to their poor percentage. The Dockers, once again, just can’t get all their players on the park. It looks like Fyfe might be gone for a few weeks after dislocating his shoulder. The Blues are the biggest disappointment of the year. A lot of scribes had them playing finals but they’re still way off. One shining light has been Harry McKay and the whispers are that Charlie Curnow may be making a comeback in the near future. The Crows started well but have since fallen away, although they’re certainly no longer easybeats. The Suns have to string wins together to raise any hope which is something they haven’t ever been able to do. The rest, you’d imagine, are completely out of the race.

Looking at the ladder as it stands now, the only possible change to those sitting in the Top 8 could be the Eagles out and the Giants in. The Eagles only because of their injury list, and the Giants could win their next two. You will note in years gone by that most of the time the Top 8 doesn’t change much after Round 12. Time will tell.