The Alex Docherty Column – The 22 Under 22

This weekend in football has brought nothing but pain, misery and anger to my doorstep, and I didn’t even get the chance to play a damn game of local football to exorcise my aggression.

I should’ve seen the disaster that was my tips coming when the Giants beat the Cats on Friday night, I ended up only tipping two for the entire round. TWO!!!

Then watching Carlton completely botch up a golden opportunity to continue their outside chance of their first finals appearance since 2013 got me absolutely riled up for some reason.

I know they’d placed high expectations on themselves at the start of the year, but if they had even been half-serious about their chances of contending with three games to go, they would’ve put the Gold Coast to the sword, and they couldn’t even do that.

I wanted to pen something about the Blues in a fit of rage, but the truth is that David Teague will be ousted at some point by the Carlton board before too long, and it will just end up looking like that Eric Andre meme where he shoots Hannibal Buress and then asks: ‘Who would treat David Teague like that?’

But I’m not going to do that, other to say that they should blow up the Carlton board, and hopefully take some of those players with them.

Then it finished with my Bulldogs hugely disappointing me. Peter Wright has been living rent-free in my head since Sunday night and I’m quietly hoping Luke Beveridge has had a sit down with the midfielders and gave them a proper dressing down. They were defensively embarrassing, allowing their counterparts to waltz out of a stoppage so easily too often and turning two-metre-seven-seater-meat-beater Peter into the second coming of Matthew Lloyd.

Usually, when I’m pent up with frustration and annoyance, I do what any other sane writer would do and started to write out your frustrations, and well, as you can see already, a bit of that has been done.

But, in recent years, I’ve always elected to try and write with a more positive outlook on the footy. The mainstream media like to do a good enough job as it is to stick wedges in between relationships in football. Plus given the news of the lockdown extension in Victoria, we need something to keep us entertained and positive, even if it’s for five minutes.

Also, it turns out, if you speak enough praise about someone, something or a team in particular, people tend to like you a little bit more as well.

So, as I was sitting at my desk in the evening hours of Tuesday night, thinking away about something for the column this week as we prepared ourselves for another week stuck at home, an email popped up from the corner: 22 under 22 squad released.

These never fail to hook me in. The first episode of the A3 Footy Podcast started with us naming our 22 under 22. Alex Catalano, Alex Miller and I – three knockabout lads from different areas of metropolitan Melbourne coming together at Swinburne University talking footy – from the moment we deduced that we all loved the footy, it was almost like it was meant to be, in some respect.

(Is this a love story? – HB)

Every year, we’d all take turns in taking over a specific area of the ground (Defenders, Midfielders and Forwards) – seven players each and then we’d all come to the consensus of picking the 22nd man. It’s great fun, do it with your chums over a call when you can.

So I was scrolling down through the list of 40 this year and my word, aren’t there some pretty good names already on this list? Naming a final 22 was going to be a task, so after a day of slaving away on my computer doing some uni work, I got straight to naming my team!

I think that is already well established that Sam Walsh is already amongst the AFL’s elite midfielders, hence my first pick and my captain. He’s already proven to do almost everything that a midfielder can do – this year has shown that he is equally damaging as an inside mid in comparison to playing on the outside and has been capable of kicking goals on his day too.

My gut feeling is that it will only be a matter of time before we consider the best midfielder in the game… that is if the Blues don’t run him to the ground like they’ve apparently done to Patrick Cripps – still time to get yourself out of there, young man!

The other starting midfielders almost speak for themselves: Andrew Brayshaw is starting to emerge as the heir apparent to Nat Fyfe as captain at Fremantle: he’s tough, uncompromising and consistent with the contested ball.

The last player making up the centre bounce midfielders is a bloke by the name of Shai Bolton. I just think that he’s so bloody dynamic both in the middle and up forward, his speed, strength and agility always makes it a hard task for the opposition to contain – the last year and a half in particular, I think he’s really breaking out.

I wish there was room for the likes of Tom Green, Caleb Serong, and James Jordon because all three of them are going to be terrific inside midfielders.

Likewise, Jack Lukosius on the wing – I think he’s a spectacular kick over long distances and he’ll be a very good player, but I opted for both Bailey Smith and Justin McInerney.

With Smith, he can be erratic at times, but he always seems to find the footy and do some good things when he runs with it – but please tidy your disposal up. As for McInerney, there’s no denying that his speed and dare with the footy in his hands at Sydney has been one of many reasons they’ve risen up the ladder so promptly this year.

Out of Luke Jackson and Oscar Allen as the two ruck options – you’d pick Jackson 10 times out of 10, because plain and simple, Allen is not a ruckman by trade. Sure he can pinch-hit, but he is much more effective up forward. Jackson has played both roles well, although right now, it’d have to take some doing to dislodge Max Gawn as the number one ruck at Melbourne.

I was having a short discussion with a friend of mine last night over the phone about the forward line and it was arguably the hardest line to pick from the three. The abundance of talent – both big and small was quite hard to separate.

I mean, you can make a case for both Max King and Mitch Georgiades to be on here, but I went with Ben King and Aaron Naughton – both of whom have proven themselves over the journey, but it must be recognised that big Max’s form from mid-year has turned around significantly – be warned.

It has to be pointed out – yes, Naughton’s accuracy has and still does give me the shits, but his marking hands and second efforts over the course of the year has been tremendous and not many of the young bigs come close in terms of his work rate. I’ve heard the Wayne Carey comparisons, but he’s going to be a star of his own right.

Big Benjamin over on the Gold Coast was in Coleman Medal considerations not too long ago and if he’s good enough, he’s currently on 43 for the year, he could very well kick 50 goals for the season in what would just be his third year, all he needs is a big bag of goals either this weekend or next.

As my half-forward flankers go, I went with two chaps that can get it done in both the centre square and up forward with Brisbane’s Zac Bailey and Tarryn Thomas.

It’s no secret that I am a huge Zac Bailey fan: He’s just so intelligent with the way he reads plays and he always finds himself in the right positions and most importantly: he makes those scoring opportunities count. He’s actually pretty versatile and handy if you need to an exit out of half back too – very clean.

Thomas is a player that can really stamp himself as a legitimate top-five player in the league within the next five years and I don’t care if you hold me to that. He’s a man that not only has the class and the poise, but he has also shown he’s not afraid to get in and under. I know it’s another cheap shot on Carlton but go and watch that replay and his four-goal performance will show you exactly what I mean.

In the pockets, I chose two smalls that are so very dangerous on any given day in Sydney’s Errol Gulden and Melbourne’s Kysaiah Pickett.

Errol… what a bloody name that is, but not only is his name good, but his abilities as a small are unlike any I’ve seen from a first-year teenager in quite some time, he’s always calm and collected and he loves a goal as well. For the pick that Sydney got him at – that’s pick 32 for those playing at home – that’s an absolute steal.

Kysaiah is a second-year player but looks like he’s every bit of that player that Melbourne got for him with their pick 12 in the 2019 AFL Draft. Compared to last year, Pickett looks like a bloke that’s ready to take on the world with his tackling pressure and is 100 times more settled with his set shot routine and it shows in the goals column.

At the other end of the ground, the defenders were probably the easiest to pick. I’d love to say that there’s room for Jordon Butts or Charlie Ballard in this team, but the amount of work that Jordan Ridley, Sam Taylor and Tom McCartin have done this year makes it very hard.

Ridley’s already a club best and fairest winner at Essendon and is continuing to shine as that sort of hybrid between the intercept defender and the full-time defensive stopper. I mean, he did quite a solid job on Aaron Naughton on the weekend and he is not an easy man to halt.

I reviewed the Giants’ game on Friday night, so I don’t need to rattle on about Sam Taylor. He’s a brilliant defender that will give opposition coaches quite a few headaches: Hard to beat in a one-on-one, an excellent reader of the play and is quite quick off the mark.

McCartin’s move as a full-time key defender this year has been one of the best positional changes this year. Most of the jobs he’s taken on, he’s managed to do very well and help the Swans’ win games: he doesn’t give key forwards an inch whatsoever.

Rounding out my defensive six are Brisbane’s Brandon Starcevich, Collingwood’s Isaac Quaynor and Melbourne’s Trent Rivers.

Starcevich was considered as an All-Australian small defender at the midway mark of the season, such were his excellent defensive roles on the small forwards, but the noise on him seems to have faded away since, I haven’t watched a lot of Lions games of late, so maybe that’ll give me something to look at this weekend.

Quaynor continues to fly under the radar during what has been such a miserable year for the Pies in terms of getting wins on the board and continues to impress with me with his disposal and decision making – he’s going to be some kind of player this guy.

Likewise with Rivers. I remember reviewing a game here on the Mongrel late last season which outlined just how talented this boy can be. This year, he has been a mainstay in Melbourne’s defensive six, showing no regard for his own safety in going back with the flight – more obsessed with killing the ball and not allowing forwards to get a sniff.

On the bench there’s a good spread of players in different positions. Alongside Oscar Allen, I’ve named Hawthorn’s Changkuoth Jiath and North Melbourne pair Jaidyn Stephenson and Luke Davies-Uniacke.

I’ve loved watching Jiath’s progress as a rebounding half back this year. I can understand that maybe one or two of his runs may bite off a little more than he can sometimes and maybe a kick goes haywire here and there, but there’s a feeling with him that he’s going to be a special player for the Hawks down the track… I hope that wasn’t too McAvaney-like was it?

Say what you want about Stephenson’s very stupid conspiracies about Covid-19, but we’re talking about his work on the field and what he’s managed to produce this year in a rebuilding North Melbourne side as a high half-forward/midfielder type has been tremendous, exactly what he could’ve been doing at Collingwood.

And as for his teammate LDU, or UDL as Alex Miller prefers to call him, I’m just pleased that he’s managed to shake off his injury curse. We all know that as a high pick back in 2017, the potential with this kid was untapped, but this year he’s showing a renewed confidence in his body, allowing him to play to his full potential, playing 18 games of a possible 20 so far – the most easily in all of his four seasons.

Looking back at past 22 under 22 teams, it’d be interesting to see where this team stacks up. The 2018 midfield of Clayton Oliver, Marcus Bontempelli, Zach Merrett and Christian Petracca coming off the bench is dangerous, especially with Sean Darcy as ruck.

The 2019 Key defensive pairing of Harris Andrews and Jacob Weitering, alongside the likes of Callum Mills pre-midfield beast and Dan Houston, I’d pay to watch that.

I suppose thinking about and writing about the league’s best up and coming talent has cheered me up a fair bit as we head towards another week of being forced to stay home (for the most part)

But I suspect I’ll be watching Herbatron’s weekly instalment of ‘We Are Essendon’ within the next few hours just to spite myself and the Doggies… I just can’t help it, can I?


The Doc’s 22 under22 team

B: Jordan Ridley (Essendon), Sam Taylor (GWS), Brandon Starcevich (Brisbane)

HB: Isaac Quaynor (Collingwood), Tom McCartin (Sydney), Trent Rivers (Melbourne)

C: Bailey Smith (Western Bulldogs), Sam Walsh (Carlton), Justin McInerney (Sydney)

HF: Zac Bailey (Brisbane), Aaron Naughton (Western Bulldogs), Tarryn Thomas (North Melbourne)

F: Errol Gulden (Sydney), Ben King (Gold Coast), Kysaiah Pickett (Melbourne)

FOL: Luke Jackson (Melbourne), Andrew Brayshaw (Fremantle), Shai Bolton (Richmond)

INT: Changkuoth Jiath (Hawthorn), Jaidyn Stephenson (North Melbourne), Luke Davies-Uniacke (North Melbourne), Oscar Allen (West Coast)