With Brisbane coming off a nine-day break and an emphatic victory over premiership-aspirant Geelong, and Adelaide falling short against Carlton last Sunday, you would have to be a fairly optimistic Crows fan to throw some hard-earned on an Adelaide upset, and despite the final scoreline they certainly were in the match for far longer than they may have feared, especially after losing the on-field leadership and voice of Taylor Walker.

While there may be some area of the media keen to stick the boots into Adelaide, it’s not all doom and gloom, especially considering they were capable of hanging with Brisbane for so long.

The start

Brisbane looked like they were not taking Adelaide lightly, with Marcus Adams matching up on Taylor Walker and Harris Andrews going to young gun Riley Thilthorpe. The fact they chose to put the dual (and possible triple this year) All-Australian backman on a kid who has played less than a dozen games shows just how seriously they take Riley as a threat, and putting a bigger body on Tex to match him in strength was equally an A-game strategy.

Unfortunately, Adelaide found themselves immediately under pressure, with Charlie Cameron showing he was up for another game at his former home ground with a deft touch but only a minor score. Further forward pressure kept the ball pushing towards Brisbane’s goal, when finally they opened their account with a major through a Jake Kelly handpass to the feet of Doedee just outside the goalsquare, which saw him hassled to the ground by Charlie Cameron and McStay to give Zorko the six pointer from point blank.

When Cameron adds that forward pressure to his flamboyance and talent, it’s easy to see how he adds another dimension to this Brisbane attack. The lad loves a goal, but his best games seem to be where he loves to tackle and hassle too.

Shortly after, McHenry managed to find some space to break the lines and run down the wing, providing a quick handball to Seesdman who had the time to steady and shoot from around 35 into an open goalsquare.

The back and forth continued for much of the game, with a goal to Daniher matched with a quick response through Walker. A textbook snap from Lincoln McCarthy saw Brisbane go into the first break with a nine point lead and plenty of the ball, but struggling to subdue an Adelaide defensive structure that seemed determined to hold every forward accountable at every contest.

The Balance

The second quarter was much of the same, with plenty of ball in dispute and desperation footy. A great tap’n’snap from Zac Bailey and an agile goal from Daniher gave Brisbane a break that should have given Adelaide a reason to drop their head, but they managed to dig in and stop the charge before rallying in the third quarter to mount a bit of a comeback. They started to show a little fatigue in red time of the third though, and Bailey, Cameron and McCarthy combined with some beautiful plays to pile on some late goals to enter three quarter time with a four goal lead.

Ruthless aggression

A smart team knows when the game is won. They ease up a little, rest players who have done the bulk of the running and ice up those with minor niggles, and if this was round 23 and Brisbane had locked in a top two spot, that may have been what would happen, but unfortunately for the Crows, Brisbane is also looking for percentage.

They managed to pile on eight of the last nine goals of the match to put Adelaide to the sword and show people at the ground and at home that they are capable and willing to put a hurting on you, whether your mum is in the stands watching or not.

Daniher reaping the whirlwind

No one likes being made to look the fool, so when Daniher copped a token fine for staging, you could almost hear the collective clenching of fists of umpires around the nation. Umpiring Aussie Rules is a tough gig. Few other jobs require someone to make split-second decisions on the motivations of a person. Were they trying to keep the ball in? Did they intend to contest a mark or were they blocking? Did he get pushed or has he had sudden-onset osteoporosis? Does he realise that his moustache should have its own place on crime stoppers?

With all that in mind, the lads and ladies in the offensively fluorescent yellow often have to make a judgement call on what has happened. 50/50 calls are common, but when a player goes from a gentle attempt to milk a free to full on attempts to corner an ump in the pen of a dairy farm, they are less inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Daniher got two frees for the day, and they were plainly there, but there were a couple of 50/50 calls that he may have been given in the past that it seemed the umpire decided were not worth a call. Joe also seemed to take his fine under advisement, as he put a bit less melodrama into his free kick appeals, so with a bit of luck he can avoid the sort of reputation that kills careers (see: Lindsay Thomas as an example. Deserved or not—and I for one believe that it was not, as plenty of other small forwards could challenge for his title—once he got that reputation it was hard to shake).

In the middle

Laird, Keays and Sholl put in a herculean effort for their team, but had a bit too much to do against a midfield that may have lacked their number one star in Neale, but more than made up for it with contributions from Lyons, Rich, Bailey, Birchall and McCluggage, with Marcus Adams jumping in for a bit of a burst after Walker went down.

Adelaide actually won the hitouts 45-31 for the match, and almost broke even with their centre clearances, but around the ground Brisbane just had too much power at the stoppages, winning 40-29, and with a lot more even contribution. They had seven players with four or more clearances versus Adelaide who had just four in Laird, Keays, Sloane and Schoenberg able to say the same.

This was really the story of the match with Brisbane able to rotate their mids for the whole match where Adelaide would looked vulnerable when they tried to do the same. It worked for a while, but as the game wore on and the legs started to feel heavy, Brisbane’s rotational approach paid off and they took control. If you watch the game closely, you can see that after almost every goal, their midfield structure changes with different players on the wings each bounce and at least one rotation on the bench. Smart strategy to keep them rested and avoid injury.

Reilly O’Brien managed to keep Oscar McInerney honest all day without either really establishing dominance. Both are ruckmen that I personally rate very highly, so their battle was an interesting one. ROB won the hitouts, McInerney won the clearances and both had similar stats across the board. The contest was a draw for me, as every reason I had to award one ruck the victory was countered by a reason to the other guy.

Forward Craft

Brisbane’s ability to play the classic tall forward with dynamic smalls around them is obvious, but there aren’t many teams that can also boast the aerial ability of that forward line and combine it with midfielders able to press up and hit the scoreboard with such frequency. McCarthy kicked four for the match, but Bailey, Zorko and McCluggage all chipped in handily too. It makes it so hard for defenders to match up when players are willing to loop back so quickly like Cameron, fly high like Daniher and Charlie too, play the tall stay-at-home forward as McInerney does when he’s up there, or simply shoot from mid range as all their mids do. You can’t be too close and risk the double-back lead, you can’t be too far to let them run into space, and you can’t play in front comfortably and risk being turned into a stepladder for a screamer.

With all that in mind, you absolutely have to credit the Adelaide backline that kept them on the leash for most of the match. There are forward lines with more star power and more raw physical strength, but few can boast such a broad range of options.

Recruiting and raising

Faganism has practically become a religion for the Lions supporters, and there is plenty of evidence to show why. Along with exciting young talent such as Bailey, McCluggage, Rayner, the Colemans, the Berrys and such, they’ve added top-level talent from other clubs. If you add Lachie Neale, Charlie Cameron, Marcus Adams, Jarryd Lyons, Joe Daniher, and Lincoln McCarthy to any squad, you’d be pretty happy, not to mention the other trades that have potential such as Nakia Cockatoo, Cam Ellis-Yolmen, Ah Chee, and veteran Grant Birchall.

Brisbane may well claim the best trade-table performance of recent memory. We can only hope that they might have some free time in the off season so that they can negotiate some COVID vaccines. With their track record, we may well end up with half the medical research industry working from clinics in the Gold Coast by Christmas.

The injuries

Anyone who has read my reviews will know I’m an unashamed Tex Walker fan, so to see him come off with what looked like a neck strain was a bitter disappointment for a bloke that some people seem to forget is still well in the hunt for the Coleman. That may be more difficult now with some potential time off, but I won’t accept it’s beyond his reach until we get the medical report back.

Tex had also just inked a new deal, but he’s just not the type of player who will ever be happy sitting on the sidelines while his mates are out there having a kick, and I think that’s what I like most—he seems to love the game and realise he’s living his dream.

In his desperation for the ball, and possibly with a bit of added momentum from some body contact he collided with Daniel Rich’s hips, which is the same as saying he barrelled into the hind quarters of a well-fed and braced rhinoceros. Some people may brag about being able to crack walnuts with their glutes, but I think Rich could crack foundations of large buildings with his. Shakira famously said her hips don’t lie, but Daniel Rich’s hips will lie to you, gain your trust, marry into your family and then abscond with your Mum while spending your inheritance on cocaine and hookers. They are potentially one of Lucifer’s most insidious attempts at world destruction/domination, and on this fateful day, Tex Walker collided with them.

I make light of the incident now, but I was honestly concerned in real-time as Walker lay still, attempted to get up, only to collapse back down repeatedly. I heard some commentary concerned that he was not aware of where he was, but I think it looked like the opposite. He knew exactly where he was, and he knew his team needed him, so he tried to get up. Failed. Tried again. Failed. Tried again, and would probably have kept trying if the trainers had not told him to stop. There is little doubt he would have been in pain, but he kept trying to get back up to play his part. When he was walking off in the hands of the trainers and the ball started moving towards him, I found myself hoping the trainers had a good grip on the lad, because I don’t know if he’d have been able to stop himself going for the ball if he had to.

After half time, he seemed unable to move his neck at all, but was determined to be out there for his teammates. Hopefully it’s just swelling and inflammation, it’d be a shame for his Coleman campaign to be over. Well, unless you are Harry McKay that is.

Brisbane were not without their own injury issues, with Neale a late withdrawal due to a calf issue. Fagan has said he should be fine to play next week against St Kilda, but the ever-mercurial Saints could recall not so long ago a few Brisbane players hassling Nick Reiwoldt as he attempted to play injured, I wouldn’t expect they’ll give Neale an easy time of it if he chooses to play at less than 100%.

McCluggage also seemed to dislocate a finger during the match, and after a couple of tries at getting it back in himself, he went off and got it popped and strapped. It’ll be an irritating injury for a while, but may not have much of an effect of the game of the young star.

 

Other bits

I absolutely love Adelaide Oval as a venue. Back in the day, I used to go to Footy Park occasionally and sitting on the cold aluminium bench seats was the opposite of a fun time, yet getting to the oval itself was an even bigger pain in the posterior.

Contrast that against the revamped Adelaide Oval and it’s night and day. New facilities and stands yet they kept the old heritage scoreboard and even the grassed hill. Maybe I’m just a bit nostalgic from sneaking goon bags in to watch test cricket during the post-tea free sessions while I was at uni, but there aren’t many grounds that manage to blend the old and new as well as Adelaide oval. Kardinia Park is up there too, but someone nicked my spare tyre off the back of my car last time I was there, so on my venue rankings it’s now down below Roxby Downs public oval number 5, which is more bindii prickles than grass.

The reason I bring it up is that it was a big disappointment to see the hill empty in this match. The logic behind allowing people to sit right next to each other unmasked, yet forbid them from sitting on a blanket on the hill seems odd to me. I understand that there must be rules around this sort of thing, and there will always be muppets breaking those rules, but so much of that decision seems like it didn’t have a lot of medical input. I’m no virologist though, so I can be wrong on that. Also, don’t take medical advice from footy blogs, we’re all nuffies here.

How good is Jarryd Lyons in 2021? No doubt some will point to his form and claim that Adelaide and Gold Coast botched badly in letting him go for very little in return, but that may not be entirely fair. His form at Adelaide was nowhere near what it has been at Brisbane, and while his time at Gold Coast was better, it wasn’t the revelation they needed. Perhaps it was a mistake to expect too much of him, but whatever the reason, this Brisbane side seems a much better system for his talents.

OK, OK, I didn’t want to stick the boot into the Gold Coast when everyone else already has, but yeah, it’s hard to justify dropping him and then delisting him with a year left on his contract. Maybe he pissed off Stuart Dew by winning the pie-warmer at the club raffle or something, but I’m really struggling to understand this one.

What next?

Adelaide drops below Gold Coast on the ladder, and will have to travel to Marvel stadium to take on an Essendon team riding high on recent form. This match will tella  lot about both teams, with Essendon needing a big win to keep hopes of finals alive, and Adelaide looking likely to be without Tex’s influence for at least this match, perhaps longer.

Adelaide will need more on-field leadership to avoid a blowout, so I would expect experienced campaigners like Seedsman, Sloane and Laird. I also think it’s a chance for young Ben Keays to step up and show he’s ready to take on some of the leadership burden, he seems to have a good footy brain and the players around him have faith in his ability to earn the ball and use it well.

Essendon though are on fire at the moment. I can’t say I’d put money on them making finals, but they will win a few more this season to keep the option alive, and I think they’ll do it against Adelaide here.

Brisbane host St Kilda in a very interesting match up. The Saints blow so hot and cold it’s a wonder they haven’t formed a cyclone. A brilliant win over Richmond and a loss to Adelaide both within the last few weeks show that their best is good enough to trouble any team, but their ability to screw the pooch is right up there too.

Like Essendon, the Saint’s aren’t completely out of finals contention, but their percentage is going to hurt them a lot. Brisbane are a well-drilled side with that bit of ruthlessness and physicality creeping in that will make them a tough ask for any team. I’d have to say Brisbane will take the four points, but I hope the Saints can stick with them for most of the match.

 

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