Where do you start with this one?
I think this might end up being one of my longest reviews ever, as there is so much to work through. On one hand, you had a Sydney team, clearly up for the fight and with their blue collars and working boots on, and then you had the Eagles, who once again walked into Kardinia Park as Eagles and looked like a flock of geese.
As such, I am splitting this into two sections. The first will be concentrating on the Swans and their winners. And they had winners everywhere in this game! We’ll look at the moments that mattered, the players who sacrificed their own games, and those who stood out, even if it were only when the game was there to be won.
And then I’ll shift focus to the Eagles, and narrow my focus onto perhaps the most disappointing road team in the game, as they once again played like millionaires and put in an embarrassing display at a ground they simply cannot work out.
So, here goes the Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
This was a great win for you guys – make no mistake. It was a win borne of effort and commitment to the task. More so, it was the type of win that good teams have – you sensed weakness and you went in for the kill.
The Eagles were so far below their best, and it was as though the Swans were aware of it immediately. Credit must go to the homework done by the Sydney coaching staff; they were well aware of the West Coast capitulation to Geelong at this venue early in the season, and would have drummed it into their charges that all you had to do was plant the seeds of doubt, and the weeds that infest this blue and gold team would completely take over.
And the Swans did not give West Coast a chance to prune anything in this game. Enjoy.
HEWETT AND THE HANDOVER
George Hewett remains out of contract for 2022, but it is this type of performance that should have Swans honchos looking at their salary cap and forward plans and wondering whether they start trying to slot him in on a contract that befits his effort.
He went to Luke Shuey early in this game, determined to make the Eagles captain, who does not yet have full match fitness, work for every tough he picked up. And it worked a treat.
Not only did Hewett render Shuey close to redundant through the first half (nine touches and two clearances), he also hurt the Eagles with his own output. He had 16 touches and two clearances as he worked in and under with Shuey, as well as burning him on the spread.
This preseason, I got a lovely little message from a Swans supporter who read our season preview and was really impressed with the way I highlighted what Hewett – a fit Hewett – could bring to this team. After spending most of the 2020 season sidelined with injury, Hewett was almost the forgotten man in the Swans’ midfield mix. James Rowbottom had emerged as a pretty handy young player, and this season, with the addition of Braeden Campbell, many expected Hewett to fall by the wayside. Maybe a little “out of sight, out of mind” in regard to him?
But that has not been the case, with Hewett working both as a defender and as a defensive mid.
He played the latter role in this game, but only for the first half. After Shuey’s frustration started boiling over, he happily handed responsibility over to Callum Mills, who was winning a tonne of footy of his own. Together, their attention to detail in terms of positioning and negating first, and winning their own footy off the back of that, saw them combine for 61 touches, whilst restricting Shuey to just 19 possessions of his own.
It was a fantastic one-two punch from the two Swans, who were wonderfully disciplined and worked in tandem beautifully.
This is what makes good teams.
If you watch this game back again, and I am sure plenty of you will, take note of how aggressive the Swans are at every stoppage. There is zero hesitation in cracking in and throwing their bodies into the contest.
I’m not sure you can sy the same for their opponents.
Blokes like Luke Parker, Josh Kennedy and hell, even Justin McInerney were throwing their bodies in with a reckless abandon if it meant that it disrupted the Eagles, who once again sought to get the footy to the outside and run.
You had Kennedy and Parker as the best and second-best Swans tacklers on the park, and to get that type of leadership from your co-captains is EXACTLY the type of lesson you want to impart to the younger brigade coming through. Receiving the footy is great, and running on the outside is tremendous to watch, but it is in the clinches that the Swans demonstrated just how much they wanted this game, and there were plenty of young blokes ready to follow the example of their leaders.
I mentioned McInerney, and I want to highlight him again, as he is often a name that gets lost in the shuffle when we discuss the Swans’ young brigade. At 20 years old, he is displaying the composure of a player many years his senior, and with his capacity to run all day, he made a living oscillating between the half back line and the wing in this one. It was a little different from the run and carry role we’ve seen from him in the past, but it was extremely gratifying to watch him earn the hard ball and bring his teammates into the game.
RETURN OF THE LIZARD
I’ll get into the structure of the team a little more below, but in playing Nick Blakey off the half back flank, John Longmire looked like a bloody genius in the first quarter.
If we were ranking players on impact in the opening quarter, Blakey’s name would have to be right up there. His attack on the contest, hard run, and raking left foot opened the game up for the Swans, as he darted from defence and took the game on.
He picked up similar numbers across the rest of the game, which would bring a smile to many Swans supporters’ faces, but his impact was substantial in the first quarter, and that, my friends is where the game was set up. Welcome back, Nick.
HARD RUN ON THE TURNOVER
It was impossible not to notice the difference in ball movement between the teams. On turnover, or even on kick-ins, the Swans were ready and willing to make space for each other and get the ball moving quickly. Playing the narrow ground well, and using kick handball chains to draw their confused and often bewildered opponents to the contest, the Swans picked the eyes out of the West Coast structure and when they weren’t winning contests, they were getting the footy in space with room to move.
Conversely, the Swans worked just as hard without the footy, effectively shutting down the Eagles’ preferred game style of owning the possession and moving the ball through the middle with those 30 metre short passes – there were simply no options available, and it was pointed out multiple times that Eagles players would look up and see no options ahead o the footy.
That didn’t happen by accident.
Guys like Ollie Florent, Justin McInerney, Harry Cunningham and Jordan Dawson continually worked into the spots on the ground that the Eagles wanted to use, and flat out denied them access to the corridor. The result was rebound footy by the Swans and a complete mess for the Eagles, of which they were incapable of cleaning up.
THE UNSUNG MID
I touched on Callum Mills and his work off Luke Shuey a little earlier, but he deserves his own section.
What a year he is having. At over 27 disposals per game, his move into the middle has come at exactly the eight time for the Swans. I know many of you were crying out for him to be moved into the guts since 2019, but he has been given so much time to develop his game and his body to the point where he is not just another player in the guts, but a star.
With 35 touches in this game, he was far and away the best midfielder on the park. Oh, what about Dom Sheed, I hear West Coast fans ask? Yeah, well, Sheed won the ball well, but what did he do with it? Mills ran at 75% efficiency, whilst Sheed clocked in at 46% as he threw the ball on his boot and hoped.
Mills is one of the players that has not received anywhere near as much attention as he should. Much like the Swans in general, I suppose?
It was about three weeks ago I was talking about the make up of the top eight and how Richmond and West Coast were vulnerable. Someone piped up and spouted the cliche that I am sure you all heard via the talking heads in the media – “Why din;t you concentrate on Sydney… they’re the team at most risk of dropping out.”
No mate, they’re on the up and the others are on the way down. It’s the way of things. Teams rise, and teams fall, and this team, and their young midfield star had best cancel any plans they have for September, because they’re going to be pretty busy. The other two teams… who knows?
PRESSURE FOR POSITIONS
All of a sudden, with players coming back and positions at a premium, you can sense that this Sydney team is one where you simply have to play well to retain your spot. Whilst this can be daunting, it also fosters an environment of extreme competition and professionalism within the group.
Each and every player is looking to ensure they are doing everything they can to secure their spot in this side, as they know that there’ll soon be even kore talent knock-knock-knocking on the door, and John Longmire may just left a few of them in.
Chad Warner was having a great first season and is a couple of weeks away, Braeden Campbell will warrant another look in the final seven weeks, James Rowbottom – highly capable of playing the run-with role – sat on the bench as the medical sub today, Sam Reid, Hayden McLean, Colin O’Riordan, Lewis Taylor… they all want a piece of the finals pie, and those already in the side are well aware of it.
You can afford one down-game if you’re a Swan, but can you afford two?
GIVING HIM A HICKEY
As if the reinvention of Tom Hickey in Sydney wasn’t complete, he comes out and wins the battle against the most dominant force in the position in the league.
It’s quite extraordinary what Hickey has managed this season, and with 22 touches, 13 contested possessions and six clearances, he well and truly took the chocolates over Naitanui. Whilst Nic Nat was good in patches, he was running around like a park footballer out there, managing just 63% of game time.
In contrast, Hickey played over 85% of the game and really took advantage of his former teammate, Nathan Vardy, when Naitanui was off the ground sucking in the big ones. In a season that continues to provide surprises, Tom Hickey may just be the best of all of them.
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This was a disaster. An unmitigated disaster that exposed this team’s soft underbelly and unwillingness to compete in an environment that is not to their liking.
In their eight quarters at this venue, this team has managed just 8.17. People, that is not just poor, it’s pathetic. It’s as though this collection of players checks out the minute they hit Geelong. I mean, I don’t like the place either, and there is a very good reason they built a bypass so people travelling down to the surf beaches don’t have to go through the place, but for crying out loud, you are still playing professional football and your fans deserve better than the shit… can I say shit on my own site? You’re shitting right I can… they deserve better than the shitful shit this team dished up.
Eagles fans, you guys know I am not one of you, but I know a heap of you read our stuff each week because you want an honest assessment. Here we go.
THE ONE BRIGHT SPOT
Right, so whatever I write from this point on, I want to exclude one player in particular – Brad Sheppard.
The way the Eagles were playing, there would be only one Swans player annoyed that he didn’t get to feast in the same manner his teammates did – Tom Papley.
Sure, Papley would kick two last quarter goals, but while the game was hot, he was completely beaten by Sheppard, who once again played like his life depended on it. Finally getting the recognition he deserved in 2020 with an All-Australian blazer after years of being taken for granted, he stood tall in this one and was easily the Eagles’ best four-quarter performer.
I actually give the defenders a bit of a pass in this once – Hurn, Barrass, Duggan… they tried their guts out. And Sheppard was excellent, but they were let down in a big way by others who just didn’t pull their weight.
TOO HARD BASKET
This game felt like it was thrown in the too-hard basket really early in the piece.
Too windy for the Eagles? The ground is too narrow? They hate bus trips?
Or maybe, they have peas for hearts? Yep, that’s the one. This was another disgraceful performance at Kardinia Park following on from their drubbing here earlier in the season. Say what you want about the teams in this league, but even Gold Coast keep fighting. North Melbourne keep having a crack!
This mob threw the towel in, and for the second time this year will hope to scuttle home, lick their wounds and make things good again with a win on their own deck.
PLAYING ON REPUTATION
“Just wait til we get *blank* back…”
We all heard it, and we believed it, but even with the names all in the team, and let’s face it – this Eagles team is jam-packed with big-name stars, and the results just have not come.
Maybe it is the fact that teams need time together on the park to get things right. Maybe it is that players are still underdone and unable to perform at the levels we (as in you guys and myself) have come to expect. Or maybe… just maybe, this team doesn’t have the hunger to be one of the top-tier teams anymore?
It’s a scary thought, isn’t it?
I was of the belief that the West Coast Eagles were still in the premiership window, but the last two weeks have seen them more like a really fat bulldog trying to squeeze through a doggie door built for a dachshund. They’re going nowhere fast. A team with stars at the tail end of their careers – Kennedy, Hurn, Naitanui, Shuey… they’re all over 31 and will not be there, or in Naitanui’s case, will not be there in the same capacity, in two years. This was their chance, this was their time… and that time is slipping away rapidly.
Players like Dom Sheed, who tried hard all day, just ended up throwing the ball on his boot without looking – what was the point? The players up the field were basically standing still, waving their arms in a “kick it to me” fashion like under 12s.
The Eagles have some harsh truths coming their way this week. They get North Melbourne next week at Optus Stadium (at the moment, anyway) and whilst they would be banking that as a projected win, going in with an attitude akin to the one they displayed in this game may very well end up being a nail in their coffin.
WHO IS ALEX WITHERDEN?
When he was recruited, I was thinking he may be the long-term replacement for Shannon Hurn, and just quietly, despite being pretty good in this game, it would not surprise me if the realisation that the Eagles are not going to contend sees the former captain hang the boots up after this season and his 300th game.
However, in watching Witherden, who it must be noted did a relatively good job in stifling Isaac Heeney, I am having real doubts. And I am also starting to wonder whether those at Brisbane knew something about him and his commitment to the cause that everyone else didn’t?
He is still very young, but his kicking was a strength the Eagles were very interested in, and that has not been on display thus far in 2021. He is not exactly a powerhouse, so there’ll need to be a fair bit of work done over the next two years…. I’m wondering whether he becomes a powerful running half back, or perhaps someone like Shaun Atley at North Melbourne, who is just kind of… there?
I’ll be keeping an eye on Witherden over the remainder of the season. I reckon he is auditioning for Hurn’s role, and if he doesn’t prove he can do it, maybe he just becomes Shaun Atley… and nobody wants that.
WHY IS NATHAN VARDY PLAYING?
Because he’s tall? Is that it?
Yes, I know he was part of the much-replayed chain of possession that saw the Eagles win the 2018 flag. It was a wonderful piece of footage that will live on forever. He is entrenched as a part of Eagles history as a result.
And that’s where he should remain.
Let me run some numbers here for you. Since that fateful day, Vardy has played 17 games for the Eagles. In that time he has kicked three goals and gathered over ten touches just twice. The last time he had 10+ touches was in Round 11, 2019. He had his pants pulled down by Tom Hickey in this game in what should be his last for the club.
The Eagles had Oscar Allen being used as a stop-gap, whilst Vardy roamed around doing a whole lot of nothing. This season, he has averaged six touches per game and 1.1 marks a game in his six games, offering bugger all to this Eagles outfit. I understand that Nic Nat needs to rest (he is like a tired bloody grandfather!) but playing Vardy basically handed the ruck wins to Tom Hickey, and he and his Swans took complete advantage of it.
SPEAKING OF NAITANUI…
He played 63% of game time in this one. I reckon the runner spent more time on the ground them him.
Many have speculated that he needs to improve his fitness and they’re absolutely right. We’re all ready to give him the credit when he has those games where he jumps over people, gives the mids first use and has those huge second efforts, but what about when he spends almost half a game sitting down? Are we prepared to label his efforts and overall fitness as not good enough when he does that?
Or does he get a pass because of how good he is when he is “on”?
I’ve been quick to recognise when he’s been great this season, and in seasons past, but to be completely fair, you have to be ready to talk about the negative when it comes along, and with that amount of time on the pine, I started to wonder whether Reilly O’Brien’s broken phone had a little more accuracy than most gave it credit for at the time.
PLAN B FOR GOV?
When Gov gets a run at the footy and can launch at it, look out!
But what happens when that is taken away from him? What then?
Don’t be fooled by Jeremy McGovern’s 18 disposals and seven intercepts – he was a shadow of the player he was a couple of years ago, beaten in several contested marking duels and looking slow and cumbersome at ground level. He had a nice little stat-padding last quarter (seven disposals, four marks and two intercepts) but when the team needed him to be the dominant defender, he just wasn’t.
He’s played in nine games this season, does not look fit enough, and has had a big impact in one win (the game against Collingwood). At 29, several defenders have gone past him. At one stage, he put together four-straight All-Australian selections, but he is currently about as far from that as he has ever been.
What do you do with him when the opposition work him out?
WORST CASE SCENARIO
Ok, this is the second-worst case scenario.
The Eagles finish eighth and the Cats finish fifth – guess where the first final will be played?
The Eagles threw up the white flag in this one very early, and if they encounter the Cats here, they may be better off missing the finals altogether.
A FEW OTHER BITS
Tim Kelly had 19 uncontested touches amongst his 27 possessions and still managed to run at just 52% efficiency. Wasteful.
Jack Darling wasn’t bad in limited opportunities. Battled hard. As did Liam Duggan with the benefit of hindsight.
Finally, if the Eagles fall away now, is it time to blow the team up and start a rebuild? Being a middle of the road team… it does not suit this group at all.
And that’ll do me – as you can see, a bit of a long one (that’s what she said) but there was a bit to get through. Massive thanks to our members who have stuck with us this season – we are able to do this because of you.