Melbourne v GWS – The Four Points
With the end of the season drawing nearer, the implications of an increasing number of games become all the more important. Today was one of those games – if Melbourne won, they would continue to solidify their position on top of the ladder, staving off the growing threat of the Bulldogs for one more week, while if GWS won, it would keep them firmly entrenched in the race for finals. The stage was set for an epic battle and neither team let us down.
Early on, it certainly looked like the Giants would run away with an easy victory and I am sure many Melbourne supporters saw some worrying yet familiar signs in the way their team started. As Eddie McGuire pointed out before the match, this was a game that Melbourne, historically, tends to lose. But a goal just before half-time from Alex Neal-Bullen, as well as a resurgent effort from their midfield in the second half, showed that this Melbourne team is made of sterner stuff. While they would ultimately fall short against the valiant and mightily impressive Giants, they surely lost no supporters today in proving that if you want to beat the Dees in season 2021, you have to bring your best all day.
But, enough about the larger themes of the game, let’s go deeper with my four points.
- Mumford and Flynn v. Gawn and Jackson
Before I sit down to review a game, I like to make a few notes of things that I will be watching out for. I find it helps me to get in the right mindset to review a game, and allows me to watch the game as it happens more, rather than scribbling notes while the game is on. The first note I made to myself was to watch out for the ruck battle. Any team that comes up against Melbourne will spend quite a bit of time during the lead-up talking about one man – Max Gawn – and how to quell his influence.
Like Dean Cox before him, Gawn is a multi-faceted ruckman who presents myriad problems to his opposition, problems (truth be told) that probably can’t be solved. You’re beating him in hit outs? No worries, he’ll sit a kick behind the play and pick off any your attacking forays as he chooses. Oh, you’ve stationed someone on him behind the play? Never mind, he’ll go forward and use his elite contested marking to impact the game there.
Presented with this problem, we’ll take a quick detour for the second round of The Mongrel Punt’s masterpiece theatre. Here’s how I reckon their plan for Gawn played out in the coaches meeting.
Leon Cameron: Right, so how do we stifle the impact of Max Gawn this weekend?
Mark McVeigh: Well, I’ve been on the phone to Gill and apparently the league has some issues with Callan Ward standing on Toby Greene’s shoulders.
Leon Cameron: O H and S?
Mark McVeigh: Amongst other things.
Leon Cameron: What about you Stevie J? Weren’t you working on something?
Steve Johnson: I called the Guinness World Records and spoke to the World’s Tallest Man.
Leon Cameron: (hopefully) And?
Steve Johnson: Apparently there’s some global pandemic on, so he can’t travel into Australia in time.
*Knock at the door* Leon Cameron opens it and a delivery man is there with a clipboard.
Delivery Man: Did someone order (checks notes) three tonnes of sausages?
Leon Cameron: Three tonnes of… (sudden realisation) Oh God.
*We begin hearing the sound of footsteps in the distance*
Amon Buchanan: I mean, it’s an idea.
Leon Cameron: So is cloning Max Gawn, it doesn’t make it good one.
Mark McVeigh: He’s been training really well. He only hurt three teammates this week.
*The footsteps are getting louder as the delivery man just stands there*
Adam Schneider: He deserves the opportunity. We are only paying him in sausages for the year, and they’re not even the premium snags.
Leon Cameron: But he… he scares me.
*The footsteps continue to grow – it doesn’t sound like a human at all*
Mark McVeigh: Come on coach, you’ve gotta get past it.
Leon Cameron: Fine, but when I tell him, one of you guys has to hold him back. The last time I told him he was in, he nearly broke my back when he hugged me.
*Suddenly in the door frame, we see what was making the noise – it’s Shane Mumford!
Shane Mumford: SAUSAGES?
Leon Cameron: Yes, Shane, the sausages are here.
*Mumford turns to the delivery man and picks him up as if he’s about to start eating him*
Leon Cameron: (grabbing the delivery man) No, not again Shane.
*After a short wrestle, Mumford lets the delivery man go*
Shane Mumford: SAUSAGES?
Mark McVeigh: They’re in the truck, but coach wants to have a word with you first.
Leon Cameron: (trying to walk to the other side of the room) We’re picking you this week, Shane.
*Mumford climbs over the top of the coaches table and hugs Leon Cameron. We hear the unmistakable sound of Leon’s ribs breaking as he lets out a little shriek*
Shane Mumford: (Celebratory) SAUSAGES!!!
*As the life gets squeezed out of Leon Cameron, Mark McVeigh pulls out a tranquilliser gun and shoots Mumford, hitting him in the neck*
Shane Mumford: (going to sleep) SAU…SAGE…S.
*Mumford collapses on the ground into a deep sleep as Leon Cameron winces in pain*
Ok, so it probably didn’t happen like that, but I don’t think it was too far from the truth. In reality, I thought Gawn probably took the points, working Mumford over as the game wore on. His ability to get into deep defence quickly from a centre clearance is nothing short of exceptional, and were it not for him and a few of his other teammates today, the Giants would have won very comfortably. In saying this, I have to give Mumford his due too, as he really made Gawn earn his victory, forcing Gawn to ruck for longer periods than I reckon he would prefer, and not allowing him to influence the game too much offensively.
With regards to the youngsters, Luke Jackson continues to show why Melbourne made the initially perplexing decision to draft him at pick 3. His athleticism and general work rate is pretty phenomenal, and if he can stick a few more marks, will only continue to grow his personal fan club. At just 19 years of age, he looks a star in the making and while I am not yet convinced that he is a true key forward, he projects to be a superstar ruckman before too long. Matt Flynn, on the other hand, I thought battled manfully today. It looked like his role, when not in the ruck, was to play as deep forward as he could, forcing Melbourne full-back Steven May to match him up, and then try and provide a contest when the ball was kicked in deep. Though he only had seven disposals for the day (one kick and six handballs) and failed to take a mark, he did have five score involvements, indicating his ability and willingness to not lose contests.
- Toby Greene v. Bayley Fritsch
The one key similarity between both of these sides is that they have non-traditional forward structures. Yes, Tom McDonald and Jackson are tall forwards for Melbourne, and Jeremy Finlayson, Harry Himmelberg and Flynn are tall forwards for GWS, but neither set of talls play as traditional tall targets. McDonald plays more as a half-forward flank link-man, working hard up and down the ground and taking plenty of marks, while Jackson, and to a lesser extent Gawn, sort of float around the attacking 50, presenting an option, but not really being the ‘number one’ target. Similarly for GWS, Finlayson and Himmelberg essentially play as half-forward flanks, occasionally going deep but doing most of their best work outside attacking 50.
I named this section ‘Toby Greene v. Bayley Fritsch’, so I guess you know where I am going with this. The number one forward target on both teams are players who would normally be relegated to third or fourth banana, but their ability to out-muscle, out-think and out-play their man sees them assume the number one role. Greene, today, started the game beautifully, smothering an attempted clearing kick out of defence before receiving a handball and kicking the first goal of the game. A second before quarter time saw the Giants take a lead into the first break, and his third in the second quarter put the Giants out by 18 points, as they started to assert their authority on the game.
A lot has been made about the GWS captaincy, with Stephen Coniglio apparently making it a part of his contract that he would be made the standalone skipper once he signed. If his absence in the side has helped the midfield cohesion of the Giants, it has also helped to highlight the fact that the Giants have an obvious captain in their midst. It’s Greene, it’s always been Greene, and the fact that he is not their permanent skipper is an indictment on their leadership structure. I know that Greene can be a divisive figure, but every time I watch him play, I find myself thinking that he is exactly the type of bloke you want with you in the trenches. He is a blue collar, hard working, heart on his sleeve type of guy who will stop at nothing to ensure success. In a league full of increasingly vanilla personality types, Greene has happily picked up the ‘villain’ tag and run with it, as if to say ‘yeah, you can hate me, but what you hate more than anything else is that you respect me’. Someone always has to wear the black hat, and Greene seems to understand this better than most. After all, villains get the best lines.
Fritsch, on the other hand, did his best work in the second half today, kicking all three of his goals after half time. He led at the ball beautifully, taking a screamer when required, and kicked at goal accurately, bringing the Dees back to eight points down in the last quarter. I must admit that I was surprised to see him matched up to Conor Idun for most of the second half, as I thought Nick Haynes would have been a more appropriate opponent, but Fritsch, like Robbie Gray and Mark LeCras before him, is the sort of forward who doesn’t need too many opportunities to inflict maximum pain on his opposition. He has now kicked 31 goals for the season, leading Melbourne’s second best scorer by seven (Tom McDonald has kicked 24), and with the sort of season he is having seems a good shout for an All-Australian jacket.
- Midfield Battle
Like the game itself, today’s midfield battle was really the story of two halves. The first half was largely dominated by the Giants, as players like Josh Kelly, Tim Taranto, Callan Ward and Tom Green ran all over Melbourne. The Giants controlled the opening two quarters, winning plenty of clearances, locking the ball in their forward half and not letting the Dees get a foothold in the game. It wasn’t until the waning minutes of the second quarter that Melbourne’s midfielders started to wield some influence, bringing the margin back to three goals.
The second half was then largely controlled by the Dees mids, with the likes of Christian Petracca, Clayton Oliver and Jack Viney forcing their way into the game and bringing the rest of the Melbourne team along with them. Were it not for the ability of the Giants defenders to stymie more than their fair share of Melbourne attacks, the Dees could very well have been the winners for the day.
Petracca’s game today was a thing of beauty. He would finish the day with 30 disposals (18 contested), ten marks, six tackles and five clearances. Several times today he presented as an option either through the middle of the ground or across half-forward , and took a fantastic mark to set up a Dees forward thrust. The power he has through his hips and thighs (hello Mrs Mongrel) is incredible, and though I would argue he was best on ground today, the one aspect of his game that he needs to work on is his kicking at goal. To set the scene, it’s the start of the third quarter, the Dees trail by 18 points and Petracca has a shot at goal from 40m out straight in front. For one of the best players in the comp, this should be a lay down misere. Unfortunately, for both himself and his teammates, Petracca’s kick canon’s into the goal post, robbing Melbourne of the chance to start the second half with a wave of momentum.
In comparison, the Giants’ three best mids today (Ward, Kelly and Taranto) all kicked goals when required, and despite what the TV coverage tried to assure us was bound to happen, continued to run and present an option for their teammates until the dying moments of the match. Looking further ahead, I wonder how important a game like today’s is for a player like Kelly – does today solidify for him how important he is to his teammates, and contribute to a general feeling of harmony and goodwill for those north of the ‘Barassi line’, or does it prove to him how much he would enjoy playing in Melbourne 16 or 17 weeks a year, even if it is for North Melbourne (sorry for the drive by, Roos fans). There’s no doubting that he is one of the most skilful players in the game, and his form over the last six or so weeks has been truly exceptional, but surely knowing that you have teammates like Taranto, Green, Ward and Jacob Hopper who will do the tough work inside and let you run around outside has got to be the clinching vote for his signature?
- It’s the Defence, Stupid
Anyone who has been paying even sparing attention to the AFL this year would know that the key to Melbourne’s defence is their two key towers – Steven May and Jake Lever. For the first quarter today, May was essentially doing as he pleased, winning eight touches, seven of which were intercept possessions, while Lever had won seven possession of his own, including three intercepts. On the whole, this seems like the Dees defence was in control of the game, but what it actually showed was that the dam wall was just about to break. With May and Lever contributing for ten intercept possessions, the Giants midfield proved to be well on top, and though they hadn’t put it on the scoreboard yet, they would soon.
The second quarter saw the Giants score four goals to two, as they pushed their lead from just five points at the first change to a more correctly reflective 18 points at the long change. What happened in the second quarter? May and Lever combined for just three intercept possessions, as the Giants pushed their offence back, allowing them to work the ball through the middle of the with handball and short kicks, before ultimately getting the ball deeper inside attacking 50, allowing them to set their defence up one line closer to goal. In the modern game, winning field position is just as important as winning things like contested possessions and clearances (all three often go hand-in-hand), and the Giants second quarter will be studied by all sides who wish to take on Melbourne over the next three months.
The second half saw the Giants defence put under pressure, and boy, were they able to stand up to it! This wasn’t a defensive effort that was clinical and calculating, but rather a defensive effort that was all grit and grind, taking the best of an otherwise overwhelming attack head-on before brushing yourself off and asking for more. Players like Nick Haynes, Phil Davis, Isaac Cumming and Lachie Ash defended as, not just their lives, but the lives of all the people they loved depended on it. That they came up trumps is a testament to their fortitude.
Twice in the last quarter, Jayden Hunt was run down from behind. This sort of effort only happens when there is a belief within the team that an effort I give will be similarly matched by you. A run down tackle, I believe, is worth a goal in terms of an impact it can have on a team, and the fact that there were two for the Giants in the final quarter just goes show the level of character and spirit within this team.
- I really liked the game of Lachie Whitfield today. His run and energy off the wing for the Giants, particularly as the game went longer, was really important for them, and as the season goes longer I reckon he could be an increasingly important player for them.
- I’m interested to see what Melbourne fans feel about Angus Brayshaw’s game today. He seems to me to be an inside mid who’s being forced to play on a wing (and I know he played on a wing today – I took notes). He had 16 touches, only four of which were contested, and I wonder if the Dees could do better if they let him go on the open market.
- There was a lot of pressure in this game (can we also please get any sort of idea of what this mythical pressure gauge refers to), but I couldn’t help thinking the skills of both teams were well off in the first quarter – was it just me?
- Like all good teams, Melbourne felt like they were two goals closer than they were in the second half, or maybe it was the commentary?
- While we’re on the commentary, I have to mention Jack Buckley’s suspected ACL injury – tough luck for the young man. But do we have to get what was essentially a Eulogy from Eddie McGuire during the coverage? Just because you’re mates with his dad (which Eddie absolutely is), doesn’t mean we have to keep hearing how ‘tragic’ the injury is. You know what, the Titanic was tragic, an ACL, as harsh as it sounds, is just an injury.
- Also can Eddie McGuire please shut up? Yes, I am on a bit of a roll now, but what the hell. The guy just keeps talking during the coverage, filing us viewers in with the most inane stuff. It’s a visual medium, Ed, we don’t need you to let us know ‘a player is down’. We can see it!
- While it wasn’t a ‘typical’ Melbourne loss today, I still feel like they had a few players who had moments late in the game that they might want to forget. Yes, two of those moments belonged to Jayden Hunt who got ran down twice (how the hell does that happen twice in the same game!?), but I reckon Trent Rivers and Max Gawn would both want their moments back in the last quarter too – both should have scored, and their misses combined to the loss today.
That’s really all I have. A pretty thrilling encounter between the Giants and the Dees leaves Melbourne on top (for now) and the Giants in the eight (for now). Next week, Melbourne (possibly) travels across the border to South Australia to take on Port Adelaide in a match that might just shape up the top four, while the Giants are (probably) in Melbourne to take on the Suns.