The Kangaroos made it a lot more difficult than the Swans would have liked, but the Road Warriors of the AFL notched yet another win away from home to consolidate their position in the top six.
The Swans looked a cut above through the first half, but a third quarter fightback from North kept them within touch, and a last quarter surge saw them move to within a kick. North managed this on the back of a pressure-game, which shut down the normally free-flowing Sydney chain of possession. When the Swans forced the action, North rebounded through the middle.
It took a couple of minutes of inspired footy from Will Hayward to settle the visitors, who then locked the footy in their forward half and hit the scoreboard to run out 14 point winners, a goal after the siren to Charlie Comben wallpapering over a crack or two.
Plenty to get through in this one, as always. Here are The Mongrel’s Big Questions.
WHAT MADE THE DIFFERENCE IN THIS ONE?
There were two aspects that made a difference in this one. One set up the win, and the other almost pinched it. Allow me to explain.
I heard someone on commentary – Gerard Healy maybe – yapping on about left footers in the Swans’ team, and likening it to the Hawthorn teams that had a plethora of lefties as they experienced their golden age of the modern era, but I am not interested in which foot they kick with – no, no – I am interested in how well they use it.
The Swans have several players who, despite what the Champion Data stats say (as I don’t consult them), I rate as elite kicks of the footy. They can spot up a teammate, kick to position and really carve a team up through the middle if afforded any space.
Nick Blakey, Braeden Campbell, Errol Gulden, Jordan Dawson, Isaac Heeney, Justin McInerney, and Harry Cunningham are all players I rate very highly in terms of their ability to hit targets. Throw in Franklin, who is an exceptional field kick, and Jake Lloyd, and you have nine blokes who you would have a huge amount of confidence in when they have the ball in space. I’d consider adding Ollie Florent to that mix as well, if he practiced with his left foot now and again.
Through the first two quarters, the Swans’ ability to hit targets on the move and set their teammates up to score was the difference.
But then North made a bit of a difference of their own. Rather than go for precision, North attacked like a bunch of orcs, with a bit of a mad scramble through the guts on the rebound. They tightened up on their defence and launched from half back without hesitation. Once the ball headed inside 50, their defenders pushed up effectively to prevent the Swans from making space and using their skills, and for a good ten minutes in the last quarter, this was anyone’s game.
Sydney steadied, able to get out into space enough times to hit Will Hayward, and he slotted two vital goals to allow some breathing space
WILL OPPOSITION TEAMS LEARN A LESSON ABOUT SYDNEY IN THIS GAME?
They’d be stupid not to, wouldn’t they? And they’d be stupid not to take note of how St Kilda stifled the Swans’ precise ball movement last week. Against a team that has a better overall pressure unit (I’m thinking Melbourne, here) it will be interesting to see whether Sydney can get the spread they need to execute well.
If they do, they are capable of ripping the game open, and at 38 points up, were in the process of doing just that in this game. However, once an opposition adjusts, how the Swans react will be very interesting. They floundered against the Saints and looked as though they were going to allow it to slip against North, as well.
IF YOU HAD A CHOICE, WHO OF BEN MCKAY OR TOM MCCARTIN WOULD YOU PICK?
Watching these two in this game, McCartin comes across as a player with a lot more confidence than McKay. That may come from playing in a better team, or from playing alongside Dane Rampe and knowing that he has your back, but at this stage of their careers, we should probably see McKay taking the steps that McCartin actually is.
McKay is 23… amazingly, the same age as his brother at Carlton… whilst McCartin is a baby in terms of key position defence, at just 21 years old. If either of them should appear a little tentative at times, you’d think it would be McCartin, however, he seems to attack the ball with the intent to their mark it or kill it every single time. McKay reminds me of an Oscar nominee who has no real chance of winning – at this stage of his career, he seems as though he is just pleased to be nominated.
If I picked right now, I am taking McCartin. Two years younger and playing a more refined game than McKay, he would add a couple of dimensions to a team. With eight intercepts and eight one-percenters in this game, he is coming along beautifully.
As for McKay – this is no slight on him at all – he is still coming along well… I just believe McCartin is coming along faster.
DID TOM PAPLEY ALLOW KAYNE TURNER TO GET UNDER HIS SKIN TOO EASILY?
Yes, indeed he did, and it was during a time when the Swans were transitioning from dominating the general play to giving up the advantage to the Kangaroos.
Is Papley a dumb man? I don’t think he is, but then again, I don’t know him. Surely, he must have known that Turner would try to unsettle him at some point, but when that time arrived, Papley reacted the exact way North and Turner would have been hoping. He started acting like Dayne Zorko.
In the space of five minutes, Papley gave away three free kicks to Turner, who really started to shift the momentum for North. With the Swans over six goals up, Papley’s antics gave North the chance to pull back the lead. They entered halftime down five goals, but the momentum the Swans had built was eroded by Papley being baited.
He finished the game with 2.2 but he really needs to keep his desire to “even up” with his tagger in check. A better team, and I mean no disrespect to North when I say that, may not have let him off the hook so easily.
WHAT DO THE SWANS HAVE IN HAYDEN MCLEAN?
I’d say they have a lovely, pre-assembled bridge to use between the end of Lance Franklin’s career – likely after 2022, and the beginning of the Logan McDonald era in Sydney.
McLean is what I’d call a really honest footballer. He is probably not going to blow a game to smithereens, but he is going to give you a genuine contest, clunk a good mark or two, and possibly snag a couple of goals here and there.
He was good in their in this game, pulling in four contested grabs for the evening, and he really made Ben McKay earn his money. Despite his solid play, he most likely comes straight out for Buddy next week, but looking forward, if he has the patience, I am sure there is a permanent home for him in the Sydney forward line.
One of a few Swans out of contract at the end of the season (according to footywire, at least), it will be interesting to see whether he stays the course, is patient, and waits his turn, or if he looks somewhere that could see him slot in immediately as a regular forward option.
THE CHAMP IS HERE…
Wait, that’s not a question. Let me try again.
The champ is… here?
For the uninitiated, we have this little thing at The Mongrel Punt called the Midfielder Championship belt. Basically, dating back to 2017, each week the champion defends this title against the opposition mids. You can only lose it if your team loses, and you must be convincingly outplayed by a midfield opponent to lose it.
Right now, our reigning champion is Luke Parker, and tonight marked his fourth title defence, seeing off the challenge of Jy Simpkin and LDU. Not a bad little run for Luke Parker, if I may say so myself. He had 25 touches, eight tackles and a goal in another excellent game and added six clearances to round things out.
Next week, Parker defends against the Suns, and barring a disaster, will head to finals as the champion… but things tend to get a little hairy in finals. The only way he can ensure he holds onto it is… to win the damn flag.
IS AARON HALL A GOOD KICK OF THE FOOTY?
Yes, and no.
He reminds me a lot of Jack Lukosius at Gold Coast at the moment. When they’re able to sink their boot into the ball and roost it, they kick it beautifully. Anything over 40, or maybe 45 metres travels beautifully, however, when both Lukosius or Hall try to bite off a 25 metre pass, things tend to start coming undone.
In the NBA, there are some players that are better three-point shooters than they are free throw shooters. They feel more natural when they can shoot from a distance, whereas pulling the shot a little, or in this case, the kick, means that things start to get a little tight, and they miss the target.
Hall is North’s designated kicker from half back… for now. At 30, North needs to start looking at a replacement to move the ball effectively from half back. Sounds easy, huh?
Who can they get to perform that role that can settle in and give them three or four years service? I’m sure Jared Polec was considered when he moved across from Port, but he is a shadow of the player they recruited. Shaun Atley has reached his peak and won’t get any better… and that peak was pretty low to begin with. I’m actually open to suggestion as to who could be the heir apparent to that role – looking at North’s list, no one other than Aiden Corr fits the bill, and I’d want someone a little more reliable than Corr pulling the trigger on kicks through the guts.
HOW THE HELL DO THEY WORK OUT THE ‘PRESSURE GAUGE’?
I’m buggered if I know. It is one of the more bemusing aspects of the coverage. Here’s the gauge…. wow, look at Sydney – they’re off the chart.
“How do you calculate it?”
We don’t need to know, right? That’s why they have those fancy little arrows and stuff to distract you. Just remember… pressure is goooood.
But for those of you who like a bit more meat on the bones, or a few charts to confuse you, as they did me, here are some you’ll love/hate to work out the pressure gauge.
IF BLAKEY IS HURT, WHAT DO THE SWANS LOSE, AND HOW DO THEY COVER IT?
This is interesting. Hopefully, the ankle isn’t as bad as Gerard ‘Take him out the back and shoot him’ Healy thinks and Blakey is back in action quickly, but on the off chance he’s not, let’s look first at what they lose.
They don’t lose run – that can be covered, but what the Swans really lose here is the willingness to take a risk. Blakey wants to take the game on and will happily tuck the ball under his wing, even in traffic, and force the opposition to stop him. That draws the opposition to him and creates chaos. Sure, his replacement may be a great kick of the footy and may like to run as well, but he will not have the aggressive run and carry Blakey provides. He is a disruptor.
So, how do you cover that? Do you ask Justin McInerney to become more daring with the footy in hand? He is really good, but what he doesn’t do is careen into trouble as part of his run like Blakey can sometimes do. He is more reserved.
How about Jordan Dawson heading back to half back? Both he and McInerney could share the role of taking off like a rabid dog with the footy. That may provide an answer. They could switch the role of Harry Cunningham and have him run from half back more often – we saw a little bit of that today, or do they entrust Braeden Campbell with the role, using that left foot of his to it’s full extent?
The good news is that even if Blakey has to sit for a while, the Swans have plenty of options, and with Chard Warner (one of my faves) almost right to come back, they can shuffle the deck a little if need be.
WHO DOES WILL HAYWARD REMIND YOU OF?
I’ve said this a few times, but he just screams “Stevie Johnson” to me.
Now, I am sure that this could be used against either of these blokes, with Hayward stating he doesn’t want to be compared to a dinosaur, and Stevie refuting that Hayward has a tenth of the talent he possessed, but before either man heads down that path, I am talking about the x-factor both players undoubtedly possess.
It has taken Hayward a while to truly find his feet in this Sydney side, and perform to the level expected of him, and the immense talent he possesses, but in the last quarter of this game, he really stepped up and gave the North Melbourne captain a bit of a touch up, with 2.1 over about a four minute span as he used his superior pace to put distance between him and Jack Ziebell, and his elevation to ensure that even if the North defender made the ground, there was no way he could spoil.
Hayward’s back-to-back goals shut the gate on the Kangaroos and exposed Ziebell’s weakness in the pace department in the process. Much better-suited to being third man up, or dropping back to help a teammate, Ziebell was forced to be accountable for Hayward, and he did not seem to like it at all.
Hayward may not get votes in this game, but if they handed out awards for which player made the largest impact on the contest, it would be difficult to go past his five minutes that blew the game open in the last quarter.
WHO WON THE BATTLE OF THE BIG MEN?
I’m tempted to cop out here and say it was pretty even, however, I am leaning toward Tom Hickey due to a couple of factors.
Firstly, his last quarter was excellent, with his six touches around the ground part of the reason the Swans were able to steady. The second reason… that one-handed pick up off the deck in the last quarter… wow.
Guys, I’m a bit banged up at this stage of my life. Not in a good way, either. To watch a bloke of Hickey’s height swoop in, pluck that footy off the deck like he a hungry stork swooping in and pinching an egg from a rival nest, and the vision of LDU chasing him and making no ground… it was beautiful.
Big blokes should not be doing that.
Goldy battled hard and won the hit outs quite comfortably, but the clearances went the way of the Swans, which tells me that Hickey was doing enough to upset Goldstein’s mojo. A solid game for both, but Hickey marginally better.
IS THE GAP BETWEEN NICK LARKEY’S BEST AND WORST JUST TOO WIDE?
Yeah, it is, but I guess young key forwards have these games where they’re pushed under the footy and easily outbodied from time to time. He cannot be snagging seven every week…
… be three or four would be nice.
Larkey tangled with both McCartin and Rampe and but for a couple of free kicks, would have had a really dirty day. On the flip side, Cam Zurhaar continued to attack the contest like they were going to kill his dog if he didn’t. I’ll tell you this – if you put Zurhaar’s mongrel in Larkey’s frame, you’d have an exceptional forward player each and every week.
Zurhaar finished with three, and it is the 13th straight week he has hit the scoreboard.
ANYTHING ELSE, MONGREL?
Oh, yes, yes… loving the way Justin McInerney is now standing under the footy and running with the flight. As a wingman, you don’t expect to see that too often, but as a defender, when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go.
Good signs from Curtis Taylor. At just 21, I get the feeling he could be a high-quality half-forward for many, many years for North.
Luke McDonald can take a hit, can’t he? Took one from McLean early in the game, and then rode a bump from Sam Reid late as well. No remonstrating – just got on with the job.
Good little outing for Eddie Ford. When I hear or write his name, I think of someone who might hang out on the set of Happy Days with the Fonz… eyyyyy.
And that may just do me, my friends. To our members, thanks so much for jumping on and supporting our work in covering the AFL. We don’t accept betting agency sponsorships, so your membership is greatly appreciated as it keeps us afloat. Also, we’re not massive hypocrites… most of the time, anyway.