How good is footy!

There is always something wonderful about a live ladder game when both teams are aware of what is at stake. For the Brisbane Lions, they needed a win by a certain number of points, largely dependant on how much West Coast was able to score against them. For the Eagles, well, they needed a win to give themselves a chance of grabbing a spot in the final eight and an unlikely run through September.

With minutes left in the contest and the game comfortably in hand, you could be forgiven for thinking that the four points were still in the balance. Despite their season being over, West Coast were throwing themselves in with desperation usually only reserved for the closest of contests, whilst the Lions, knowing well that a double chance relied on just… one… more… point… attacked with relentless ferocity.

It was a final stanza of a poetic game, with Lincoln McCarthy making amends for Daniel McStay’s deplorable shot at goal only moments before, to score a behind to send the Lions supporters into raptures, and break the hearts of Bulldogs fans across the country. Of course, Charlie Cameron put the icing on the cake after the final siren with a lovely long goal, but in the frantic moments of the pulsating last quarter, it was McCarthy giving Brisbane the precious score to get them into the top four.

So, what did we learn from this contest? How do we assess where this Lions team is headed, how their players are travelling and whether they can make noise n the finals? And what of West Coast – what did we learn about their heart, their drive and their kids? And what does that mean as they head into their offseason?

Let’s jump in and find out.

 

 

THEY SHOULD STOP CALLING THEM RUCK CONTESTS WHEN NIC NAITANUI IS INVOLVED

Maybe ruck massacres is a better term?

As much as I am sure some would like a Brisbane player to lead off this report, there is no getting around the dominance of Nic Naitanui in this one – he was a complete beast!

In recent weeks, I have written about Nic Nat’s lack of game time and how his time on the bench can hurt West Coast as much as his time on the field helps them. Well, in this game, the scales were heavily tilted toward the positive, because when he was out there, the Eagles were able to extract the footy from stoppages at will.

Whilst Luke Shuey had 12 clearances to lead the game, I reckon Naitanui’s tap work was just as responsible for eight of those 12, whilst adding 11 individual clearances of his own. Playing a respectable 100 minutes of the 127 minutes of game time (roughly 73%), Nic Nat did something that I thought could no longer be done – he made the Big O look pretty ordinary.

There is no shame in this for Oscar McInerney – he is more a finesse ruckman than a power player, and Naitanui’s bulk and ability to move competitors off the spot is second to none in the AFL. McInerney tried, and had some important touches late in the game, but on the whole, he was cast aside by the rampant West Coast big man.

So, does this mean I was wrong over the past couple of weeks when I criticised West Coast – not Naitanui – for the lack of game time from the big man? I don’t think so… but I would say that, wouldn’t I? I still believe the Eagles have a big job ahead of them to get Naitanui up to 80% game time as a regular occurrence, and yes, yes… I know he has had two knee reconstructions – I am no stranger to the procedure – but unless the Eagles can acquire someone a little more able to fill the void left by Nic Nat when he rests, this off-season will be deemed a failure.

Imagine Nic Nat was fit enough to play 80-85% of game time in this game? Could the Eagles have pinched the game? Maybe… maybe not, but I am pretty sure the Lions would sitting outside the top four if he did.

 

TEAMS NEED TO MAN UP ON DANIEL RICH

All season long, Daniel Rich has been having his way off half-back. Permitted by every man and his dog to run around without someone to deal with in a one-on-one contest, Rich has compiled his best season to date, and is a shoo-in for an All-Australian jacket next Thursday night.

Sitting second in our Defensive Player of the Year Award, Rich did his chances of surpassing Jacob Weitering no harm at all as he racked up 29 touches, nine intercepts, seven rebound fifties, eight inside 50s and a mammoth 874 metres gained. Basically, another day at the office for Rich.

Put yourself in the shoes of the opposition coach. Knowing what you know, and being smacked over the head with reports on the damage Rich inflicts off half-back, would you think it prudent to… you know… try to limit what he will do to your team?

It’s common sense, right?

What a pity common sense isn’t all that common.

Rich’s play in 2021 deserves to be respected, and in the world of AFL, respect comes in many forms. One way is the handshake before and after the game. Another is in the way teammates and opponents alike speak your name. And the last is how they treat you on the field. Great players get defensive attention, and from what I can gather, teams are not showing Rich anywhere near enough respect as he carves them up week in and week out.

Looking at this game, you had Mark Hutchings coming off the wing and heading to Lachie Neale whenever he could. Was it effective? Kind of, if you call limiting Neale to 29 touches and a goal, but whilst Hutchings is a good tagger, and there was a point where he was a great tagger, could his skills have been better utilised in shutting down Rich and making someone like Grant Birchall take the responsibility of driving the Lions forward? This is not a knock on Birchall, but he has looked a lot more uncertain than Rich has this season, and has had moments where things have unravelled. Locking down Rich and forcing a 17 on 17 game would have removed one of the largest threats in the Lions’ arsenal.

If Adam Simpson wasn’t going to give Rich the respect he deserves, maybe we’ll see someone do it in the finals?

For the record, I thought Connor West really lifted after quarter time, and started to make Rich a little more accountable, but the damage was well and truly done by the end of the first quarter – Rich had ten touches, a goal and four inside fifties as he ran forward with impunity. If Adam Simpson didn’t see that coming, I really don’t know what Eagles fans should be thinking. It was a painfully obvious thing to most.

 

DAYNE ZORKO HAS WON BACK WHATEVER RESPECT HIS ANTICS LOST HIM EARLIER THIS SEASON

Dayne Zorko has had his critics, and yes, I would count myself amongst them at times.

You see, when I look at an AFL captain, I hold them to the highest standard. Are they something akin to Joel Selwood or Luke Hodge? Something like Trent Cotchin, or maybe Jack Steele? Or are they a little garish, a little undisciplined and lacking direction at times.

I suppose it comes as no surprise to Lions fans that their captain sometimes fits into the last category.

However, in recent times, we have seen some inspiring efforts from Zorko and with the Lions needing a lift in the last quarter of this one, he stepped up to the plate again. With nine touches and three tackles, Zorko set the tome for his charges to follow, and his hard run, combative clearance work and refusal to allow passage out of defensive fifty gave the Lions every chance to sew up that top four position.

It seems at times as though Dayne Zorko builds momentum, builds respect and then loses it in one fell swoop. This finals campaign for the Lions, now that they have the double chance, can be every bit about the leadership and gritty determination of Zorko as it is about the Demons, Cats or Power. His will, his channelled aggression, and his damn hard work will go a long way to pushing this Brisbane outfit as far as they can go.

Hold it together, Dayne… four more games until the chance to hold the gold is yours.

 

ZAC BAILEY IS THE TYPE OF PLAYER THAT CAN WIN A NORM SMITH MEDAL

He does not need 30 touches to hurt you, and that’s a great thing… considering he has never had that many in a game.

Zac Bailey is a moments-player. He stands up in key situations and makes a difference with quality over quality. At 21 years old, it feels as though Bailey has been around forever. As such, he is often not cut the slack of others his age, as our expectations of him are much higher.

He has clean hands, beautiful disposal, runs to the right spots and knows how to spot up a target inside 50. From his 19 touches in this game, ten ended up in score involvements, and three were direct goal assists. When you consider that he did not have one touch inside 50, it makes those numbers all the more impressive.

Finals wars are won on two fronts. Known knowns, and known unknowns (and maybe unknown unknowns… but who knows about them?). With the Lions, teams are aware of what they’re going to get from the usual suspects. Lachie Neale will pick up a heap of the footy. Joe Daniher will fly at everything. Harris Andrews will kill contests, and Daniel Rich will drive people crazy with his delivery and composure off half-back. However, it is the known unknown of Zac Bailey that can completely flip a defensive gameplan on its head and cause chaos on the opposition bench. Bailey can do everything well. Need a runner? He can do that. Need someone to get into the guts and get his hands dirty? Call on Zac B. Need someone to bob up and hit the scoreboard? That’ll be Zac Bailey, mate.

In a game where control is power, Bailey can emerge as an uncontrollable element, and he is the type of player that can slip under the guard of the opposition and before they know what’s hit them, he has put the Lions up by a couple of goals.

There is a long way to go in the 2021 Finals Series, but with Bailey running around out there, the Lions possess a young man with a genuine x-factor. Coaches often tell their charges not to be beaten by what they know, but with Zac Bailey, they’re always guessing… and that would scare the shit out of them.

 

JOE DANIHER EARNED HIS MONEY

Sometimes with Bg Joe, I don’t know whether to give him a pat on the back or a foot in the backside.

There have been contests this season where Daniher has looked like he could not care less about what is going on. He has sat out the back, tried to take hangers and flat out refused to apply any defensive pressure.

And then there are days like this one, where he crashes packs, picks up plenty of the footy, and even lays his goal kicking ghosts to rest. His goal right before three quarter time served as the springboard for the Lions to mount their last quarter surge into the top four. His ability to cover ground, run to the right spots and execute makes him the type of player that could win you a final with a withering blast of power footy.

But he is also the type of player, if you get him on a bad day, that can drag your team down with him. In this one, we got the good version of Daniher. He was engaged, busy, somewhat reckless in the air (in a good way) and effective inside 50. Seven of his 12 touches came within the attacking arc as he continually provided a target and brought the footy to ground.

Last night, I wrote about Charlie Dixon being a little too content to just bring the ball to ground at times, as opposed to trying to mark it – I don’t think we’ll ever have that issue with Joe. He tries to mark everything.

He finished with four goals and a couple of shanks for the night and with Eric Hipwood’s absence, and Daniel McStay not the most reliable fella in the footy world, Daniher will need to be on this September for the Lions to give the flag a shake.

 

TOM COLE PUSHED THE LIONS INTO THE TOP FOUR

Where do you stand on Jarrod Berry going down like a sack of spuds after missing a sitter in the last quarter?

Are you of the opinion that Tom Cole is a complete and utter idiot for giving him the opportunity to draw a free kick (right in front of the umpire, I might add)? Or do you think Berry hit the deck a little too easily, and sucked the umpire in?

Me, I think both are correct.

Berry had just completely fluffed a shot at goal that he should have kicked, and whilst Tom Cole had every right to let him know about it, was it necessary? Did he have to run over, put his arm around him and give him a soft, little fairy push in the back?

No, he didn’t. But he did, and given the second chance, Berry made no mistake and made Cole out to be the villain, and not some sort of evil genius type of villain… more like a Doctor Evil type of villain.

Cole can whine and cry about how soft the decision was – and it was incredibly soft given the stakes involved in the game, but geez, son… if you don’t act like an idiot, people won’t treat you like one! What Cole’s actions did were force the umpire to make a decision. He put the bullets in the gun, handed it to the umpire and then had a sook when he got shot. Mate, if you’re going to initiate situations like this, then you have to wear it, and as much as I hate blokes throwing themselves to the ground to milk a free kick (it was weak by Berry), putting yourself in the situation where you have the free kick paid against you is just about unforgivable.

 

THE LIONS MAY HAVE FOUND SOMETHING IN NAKIA COCKATOO

Okay, so there is a lot of work to be done around his tank, and his ability to chase, but in terms of what he will be able to offer in the long term, the Lions and their list management team may have picked up a little gem here.

Let’s concentrate on the first quarter, because if we decided to concentrate on what happened after that, there’d be a lot of blank space in this review.

Cockatoo had six of his seven touches in the first quarter of this game, helping the Lions establish a pretty strong base. Dangerous around goals, the former Cat conjured three direct goal assists in the first quarter as the Lions slammed on seven majors to the Eagles’ three. He was a real headache for the defence, and started to demand their attention. The problem was that once he got their attention, he was unable to shake it, and was taken right out of the game as a result.

I don’t believe we will see much of Cockatoo in the finals – he is a liability when the footy is turned over at this point, but with a solid preseason under his belt, and a clean run at 2022, he could very well find a permanent home inside Brisbane’s forward 50.

 

JACK DARLING ALMOST HAD AN ’18 GRAND FINAL MOMENT AGAIN

You know, Jack Darling has had a few moments where his vice-like hands have malfunctioned over the years, causing the footy to bobble out. Sadly for Jack, it has happened in big moments on the grandest stage in footy. Though this stage was slightly less prestigious, he almost added another one to his list in the last quarter.

With the Lions trying to get the margin they needed to push into the top four, Darling got out on the goal line between the goal and point posts. He did the hard work, got separation, and got both hands to the footy, but almost repeated the action that saw him ridiculed in years passed.

Luckily for Darling, this time he tried to mark the footy in front of face, which allowed him to use his face as a third appendage to keep the footy in his grasp. He went back and kicked his third goal of the game, despite playing most of the second half with a leg injury. Darling was forced to play a lone hand at times, given the absence of Kennedy and the early departure of Oscar Allen and overall, he was pretty solid.

But he almost had another classic Jack Darling moment in this one

 

THE DANGEROUS TACKLE RULE IS BROKEN

For the most part, the tackles are not dangerous. Players bounce up like their arses are on fire to take a free kick, knowing that all they have to do is land with their head on the deck, irrespective of force, and they’ll win a free kick.

Last night, we saw it with Tom Jonas and in this one, it was Grant Birchall, tackled hard but fairly by Nathan Vardy and awarded a free kick.

You can tell just how polarising the decisions are because you can hear audible groans from former players on commentary when the whistle blows and the free kicks are awarded. In most cases, the free kicks are simply not there…

… but that does not stop the umps from paying them. It is obviously a directive that needs addressing. Here is a great way to assess it – if the tackle is good, it cannot be dangerous. If the tackle is dangerous, it cannot be good. Use that as your guide and work from there. And send me my consultant’s fee quickly – I am stuck in quarantine.

On that, I actually am. My daughter is tangled up in the Glenroy West Kindergarten garbage that is going on in Melbourne. We’re stuck at home because an educator refuses to be tested for Covid – not get vaxed – just tested. So to that person, who is paid to teach my child, a big fuck you for putting yourself first and forcing my daughter and our family, as well as dozens of other families into quarantine. You’re an arse hole.

 

THE EAGLES DON’T NEED A REBUILD

They need some intelligent recruiting, and they need a genuine preseason for their big guns, but to launch into a rebuild right now is probably unnecessary.

Looking at their list, their 26 and under brigade is not poor by any stretch.

Liam Duggan, Dom Sheed, Tim Kelly, Oscar Allen, Willie Rioli. Tom Barrass, Liam Ryan, Jake Waterman, Alex Witherden are all coming into their peak, or have just hit it. Sure, their top-end talent is getting on a little, and with Shannon Hurn, Luke Shuey, and Josh Kennedy leading the charge of Dad’s Army, I am sure many think that a rebuild is inevitable, but what is the trade value of their top tier players?

Anyone over 29 is not going to fetch  first rounder – no chance. So that leaves you with Gaff (29), Yeo (27) and Darling (29) as the three best options if you’re wanting value. You have to ask, given their age, is what you’re going to get back worth giving up what they currently provide?

I don’t think you’re going to get value there. Maybe 60c on the dollar if you’re lucky. Maybe Jarrod Brander has currency? Maybe Jackson Nelson might be tempted with an offer to head home as well, but really, the Eagles would be best suited to retooling, developing the kids already coming through and concentrating on getting players fit, not just fit enough, to play.

They showed heart in this one, and that is worth a heap.

 

MARCUS ADAMS IS A GREAT INSURANCE POLICY

I am sure a hearts leapt into Brisbane mouths when Harris Andrews was announced as a late out in this game. I mean, Andrews is a killer- a cyborg-like defender hell-bent on destroying contests. The two-time All-Australian full back has been mounting a strong case for a third selection in the second half of 2021 and his absence would have had Jack Darling smiling a little, even without Josh Kennedy to keep him company.

However, into the side comes Marcus Adams and off he goes on his merry way, compiling nine intercepts, nine one-percenters and providing the Lions back half with a string defensive pillar in the absence of Andrews.

I know numbers have been thrown around for Adams’ performances this season, but I like to trust the eye-test when assessing a defender’s game. How does he read the footy? How does he hold his position in a contest? Does he zone off at the right time?

Adams got a tick in all categories in this one as he mounted a strong case for inclusion in Brisbane’s first final next week.

 

OTHER LITTLE BITS

 

We’re very close to seeing Elliot Yeo back to his best, and with a full preseason under his belt, he will be ready to hit the ground running in 2022. Some of the contested footy he obtained in this game was ridiculous. He just muscled his way through tackles and ripped the ball away at times. Loved his battle with Jarryd Lyons at stoppages – two genuine tough nuts.

Tom Barrass ended up with 14 one percenters – I reckon this number could have been substantially higher had he not tried to mark the footy so often and did what he was in the team for – kill the contest.

Dan McStay will most likely be remembered for squandering that late shot to kick Brisbane into the top four, but a few of his marks were excellent in this one, and once again, he started fast. He had ten of his 15 touches in the first half of this one, and is a player that needs to be contained early. Do that, and I reckon he drops his bundle.

That might do me, guys.

Really fun game to watch as a neutral – felt like it was important to all who competed, even when the game result was determined. I reckon that is a nice tip of the hat to the Eagles – they could have easily thrown the towel in.

Looking forward to the finals. Keep an eye out for our Wingman of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and Mongrel of the Year awards all coming this week, as well as the final version of Matt Oman’s All-Australian Team, and Trent Adam Shields’ Mongrel Rising Star award.

Members… you know the drill – without you, there is no us. Thank you.

 

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