1. Gary Rohan can kick under pressure

The stage was set. The siren had sounded. Rohan, with ball in hand, stood around 45m out on a 45 degree angle. Nobody in the football world would’ve been too critical had he have scored a behind to draw the game in what may have been a fitting result in the tight contest. But Rohan had other ideas.

As the camera zoomed in on his face, there was a look of steely resolve befitting a man on a mission. He then went through his kicking routine. Watching this moment on TV, as the ball left the boot it seemed to be a little right of the target. But it was a sweet hit that had a little bit of right to left about it and it sailed through to give the Cats a memorable victory. Gary’s place in the Geelong team had already gone up a level this year, so this was the icing on the cake. Standing alongside Hawkins and now Cameron would be a dream come true for the formidable mid-size forward who would now be getting the third-best defender to try and quell his influence. Only Dogs supporters would not have been in awe of that incredible strike.


2. Tom Stewart is elite

The Dogs made many forays into the forward line only to see Tom Stewart ending up with the ball. He was impenetrable on Friday night taking ten intercept marks and was just in the right place at the right time ad nauseam. It’s hard to see the result falling the Cats’ way were it not for the heroics of Stewart who has been one of the premier defenders in the AFL almost since his debut in 2017 as a mature-age recruit. He hasn’t missed a beat since. What’s even harder to believe is that he is playing his 100th game next week. Many would be forgiven for thinking he has played over 200.

Stewart already has two All-Australian selections to his name and is looking fairly assured for a third in 2021. Geelong recruiters must take credit for identifying a 23-year-old coming in at pick 40 in the draft in becoming the player that he is. It’s a terrific story and one to consider for younger players maybe missing out initially at 18. Kane Lambert is another who comes to mind. He was overlooked and playing VFL until Richmond saw something in him that others didn’t, and now he’s a triple premiership player and a permanent fixture in the Tigers team. Watching Stewart go about it is a real pleasure. He’s definitely in the elite class.


3. Do we rate Tom Liberatore highly enough?

The dynamics in the Bulldogs midfield have the flashy Bontempelli and the relentless ball-gathering of Macrae seemingly being the playmakers, but having watched a few Doggy’s games closely of late, I am almost thinking that their most influential player is Tom Liberatore. You won’t find a superior clearance player than Tom. He is the one feeding the ball out at the stoppages to free up his teammates, and I do recall seasons gone by where he’s been out of the side due to injury and their midfield seemingly suffered.

I’m sure he’s loved around the club, but does the football world forget about him due to the heroics of Bontempelli being a more glamorous player? Once again, on Friday night, he had 11 clearances. I would go so far as to say he is in career-best form and his importance to the Western Bulldogs cannot be underestimated. Just like his Brownlow winning father Tony, he’s the one doing the hard stuff that often goes unnoticed, and he has developed that uncanny ability to still keep his hands free enough when tackled to get the ball out of a tight situation.

Liberatore is the current clearance king of the AFL and as important a cog in the Western Bulldogs team as any going around. If you haven’t noticed what he does, do yourself a favour and be sure to check out this week’s game against the Eagles.


4. The Suns go from bad to worse

In what’s been a year with higher scoring than previous years, the Suns scored the lowest total for the season with 4.7 (31). The intensity for the first three quarters wasn’t there and the Power were able to do as they pleased. Next week, the Suns head down to Tasmania to take on an improving North Melbourne. A loss there would really signify a lack of improvement on previous years and will put pressure on Stewart Dew, who looked exasperated following the loss.

Touk Miller played another great game but seems to be one of the very few in the red and yellow who can hold his head high. The Power went to Metricon needing a win to steady the ship after some recent indifferent form. Connor Rozee seems back to his best with another three-goal haul, but the credentials of them as a contender will still remain in question as long as they continue to struggle against teams at the high end of the ladder. As I’ve said previously, their draw is favourable so they will play finals and may even finish Top Four, but a straight-sets and out result looms.

The news is that Xavier Duursma looks set to return next week but the mercurial Zak Butters still looks a few weeks away. This is a team that need all their guns firing at once to be a real threat.


5. North Melbourne are a chance to get off the bottom

Recent form has suggested that the Kangaroos are no longer the basket case that saw them lose the first eight games of the season. They’ve tasted victory against the Hawks and almost took the points in their draw against the Giants. This week they were competitive against the Lions but just didn’t have the polish to finish it off. Next week will go a long way in deciding who gets the wooden spoon in season 2021. They take on the struggling Suns in Hobart and will probably go in as favourites in that game.

So where has the improvement come from? I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that they instantly became better once Ben Cunnington returned. He seems to bring a wise head onto the playing field as well as his ability to accumulate effective possessions. I’ve also seen Jack Ziebell coming back into some form. Add to this the return of Robbie Tarrant and a few more older heads in the team, the good form of Aaron Hall, and it becomes clear that’s why things aren’t looking so bleak.

David Noble probably took a bit of time to find his feet in the role with the huge challenges he faced early with injuries and a young list. So their remaining fixture has some tough games plus a few teams outside the eight and it looks like this: Suns next week, Bombers Round 18, Blues Round 19 and Adelaide Round 23. They’ll have to win three of those four games to get off the bottom.

It’s a big ask, but far from impossible.


6. I’m still scratching my head over why Gold Coast discarded Jarryd Lyons

Jarrod Lyons was at Adelaide from 2011-2016 where he played 55 games. Then he made a move to the Gold Coast and was delisted after just two seasons where he managed 37 games and was far from their worst player. Most of the football world reacted with surprise when they learnt that Lyons was an unwanted player at Gold Coast. One can only suspect there was tension between him and the club, but whatever the case, Brisbane snapped up the discarded Sun and are now reaping the benefits.

He’s fast becoming one of their best midfielders having played 55 games since joining in 2019, and on Saturday was best afield with 36 possessions in a dominant performance. All the more telling is Lyons’ willingness to play defensively with an astonishing 12 tackles for the match.

Brisbane were a bit flat in the first half, but credit definitely goes to the Kangaroos for taking it right up to them. They will be happy to escape with the four points against a much improved Kangaroos outfit, and can now focus on their run home and their bid for a Top 4 spot. They’ll have their work cut out against the Cats next week, but a quick look at their run home shows a number of winnable games giving them every chance of acquiring the double-chance, barring a loss of form.


7. Carlton have just won the tackle count twice in 2021

For a side that was supposed to climb the ladder in 2021, this is the most alarming stat.

On Saturday night, with the Carlton Football Club under serious scrutiny, you would’ve thought there would have been a determined effort to regain some respect from their supporters and the competition in general. But by the end of the game, the Blues had only managed 41 tackles against their opponents’ total of 77 despite the Giants having 39 more disposals for the game. Throughout the season the Blues have only had more tackles than their opposition on two occasions. This has to be a concern to the coaching staff.

This game was pretty much over by half time with the Giants leading by 30 points. The Blues had a five-minute passage where they trimmed the margin back to 12 points only to do what’s become a familiar pattern and faded out once more in the final term.

The deficiencies at Carlton are glaring. They’re simply ridiculously easy to score against. They lack midfield depth, and if Harry McKay doesn’t fire up forward, they struggle to kick a winning score. Their prize recruits are underperforming, and the coach seems to be bereft of answers. Many had Carlton challenging for the finals pre-season. I wasn’t one of them, but I wouldn’t have thought they’d be 4-9 at this stage either. The club is conducting a review, as it should, but if history is anything to go by, the review won’t really bear fruit. There are still too many Carlton people involved in the process for it to be considered a truly independent review.

There are rumblings of a supporter revolt coming and they’re looking for the heads of all the board members. Things will probably get worse before they get better. This may mean that some games may turn ugly between now and season’s end. Watch this space.


8. Good to see another barrel let loose

It was on the quarter-time siren when Toby Greene had a set shot from 60m. It was clear that a drop punt would’ve been unable to cover that distance, so he set sail with a torpedo punt that sailed though at mid-post height and travelled 68m. It was a dagger in the heart of Blues’ fans but was a thrill for everyone else. My question is this: Why is it only ever used when it’s an after the siren kick? Are we playing football in such a sanitised way that a bloke outside the 50m arc will always look for an option instead of trying this party trick and possibly embarrassing himself with a miscue?

I mean, it’s not like goal-kicking has reached great heights this year with the good old drop punt failing miserably on many occasions. I think, like anything else in our great game, this skill should be practised at training. The torpedo, or barrel as some call it, has multiple uses. A kick out from full back can reach the centre circle, or a barrel going forward can break the lines and help the small forwards waiting over the back ala Charlie Cameron. However, it is considered a low percentage kick and is certainly far less likely to come off as well as the ever-reliable drop punt, but I still think it’s a useful tool and would love to see it used more than once or twice a season. Practice makes perfect…


9. Thanks to Nick Hind, the Bombers aren’t missing Saad

At the end of 2020, the Essendon Football Club expressed disappointment when Adam Saad rejected a lucrative offer to stay on choosing instead to join Carlton. Many thought it would leave a hole in their defence and his run off half-back would be sorely missed.

Enter Nick Hind in what is now looking like a masterstroke in recruiting after he was traded across from the Saints. His run is equal to the fleet-footed Saad and his disposal efficiency is arguably better. He has played twelve games out of a possible 13 and has slotted in beautifully into the Bombers defence. The game on Sunday was one of his finest with 25 touches and a goal.

Looking at the two clubs, it seems as though Essendon have ended up in front in this scenario. It’s hard to talk about this win without mentioning Jake Stringer as well. He played his best game for the club with career-high numbers including 29 disposals and four goals, but the really telling statistic was his seven tackles, including a couple at the death which helped drag his team across the line in a tight contest.

The Bombers are just a game outside the Top Eight, and they take on Melbourne next week who are coming off a bye after their shock loss to Collingwood in Round 13. These are the sorts of games that the Bombers will need to win in order to make finals. It’s not beyond them, although it doesn’t get any easier the following round when they take on Geelong.

It’s a tough ask, but if they can win any of those games, perhaps they deserve to be a part of September.


10. The AFL and their COVID protocols continue to astound me

With Melbourne slowly coming out of lockdown and regional Victoria still under restrictions, it was a welcome decision to see some spectators allowed into GMHBA to witness the clash between the Bulldogs and the Cats. It seemed a reasonable move to allow just 20% or 7000 people into the arena as a first step towards returning to some level of normalcy.

I must say it was a little perplexing to see all the 7000 people that were allowed in more or less bunched up on the wings. I would’ve thought the whole reason behind allowing just 20% of the capacity in was to space people out so that social distancing was maintained. Clearly, someone at the arena didn’t get the memo.

Before you put me into the category of a Karen complaining about people not following rules or similar, let me state quite categorically that I wouldn’t care less if they fully opened up regional Victoria or Melbourne for that matter. It appears things are more or less under control, however, I’m not totally oblivious to the notion of being a little cautious. What I find funny is the inconsistency of protocols.

In Victoria, more so than any other state, we have been forced to endure the harshest of restrictions in the nation, and despite the perception created by a few rogue members of our state, a vast majority are very much doing what is asked. So when we see things such as the seating arrangements that prevailed on Friday night, it’s a little hard to swallow. Either it’s not safe to crowd people together or it is.

As is the case for everything we’ve endured in this state, all we get told is that they’re following the health advice, but at no stage do we ever get to see what that health advice is. I just wonder who provided the advice that resulted in putting the 7000 people in a fairly confined area when there was space available all over the arena. And I’m not buying the argument that more staff would be required if the people were more spaced out. Is it about money or people’s safety?

I’ll leave you to ponder that.