Do you know those types of people?

Have you listened to them express their doubts about Port Adelaide over the course of the season? They can’t beat the top four teams, right? That was their argument. That’s what they threw at Port fans all seasons as the Power went about their business of finishing top four. They relished being able to use that line – it was their “go-to” argument.

Yes, yes… some even continued the same argument after the Power knocked over the Western Bulldogs. I was shaking my head.

“Oh, the Dogs were out of form.”

Yes, perhaps they were, and it was the play of Port Adelaide that made them appear as though they were!

And they did it again against the Cats in this one, pushing Geelong into a do-or-die game next week against the winner of the Sydney v GWS clash. It was a comprehensive belting by Port, who simply worked harder to pressure their opponents and refused to allow them to have the game on their terms. From the pulverising defence of Tom Jonas, Aliir Aliir and Trent McKenzie, to the blue-collar midfield of Travis Boak, Ollie Wines and Willem Drew, and all the way down to the finishing of Orazio Fantasia, the elusiveness of Robbie Gray, and unpredictability of Steven Motlop, the Power asked questions of the Cats they simply could not answer.

I wonder whether those people would argue the Cats were out of form? I wonder if they’re still looking for reasons to doubt Port Adelaide in 2021? And I wonder what would finally change their tune?

My guess is that it would involve a nice piece of silverware. And the Power just may provide it.

Here are the good, bad and ugly of the win that catapults Port into the Preliminary Final.

 

THE GOOD

 

THE ONE MAN GANG

Those who have read my columns on Port during the season would already know just how much I adore the game of Willem Drew. A relentless worker that builds his place in the team on the foundation of defensive pressure, he is the unsung hero of the Port Adelaide midfield.

And that foundation is as solid as it gets.

At one point during the telecast, we heard about the gang-tackling of the Power, and whilst it was impressive, there was one figure that seemed to be involved in every crash and bash tackle in the fourth quarter, effectively snuffing out any chance of Geelong getting clean footy through the middle and at half forward, and with it, the Cats’ chances.

That man was Willem Drew.

With 11 tackles to his name in this game, Drew was three clear of Geelong’s best tackler, Brandan Parfitt. Once his arms wrap around you, he is anaconda-like, squeezing the life out of you. When you get tackled by Drew, you bloody-well stay tackled!

Matching up on Joel Selwood for large portions of the game, Drew limited the Cats’ inspirational leader to just 16 touches, and whilst Selwood would continue to crack in, having someone opposing him just as determined to win the footy made life difficult. He then shifted attention to Cam Guthrie at points and was equally as good against him.

You won’t see Willem Drew’s name up in lights – he doesn’t strike me as the type of player that will sell guernseys or be the name on the lips of kids as they contest for the footy with their mates at school… if they’re still permitted to do such dangerous things at school, but football purists look at this young man and see him as the rough diamond he is. Every team needs a player like Drew – few have them, and Port would be thanking their lucky stars that they have shown faith in Drew to develop into the two-way mid he currently is. The bloke is a gun.

 

 

THE ANSWER FROM TRAVIS BOAK

No spot in the All-Australian squad… no nomination for the MVP Award…. no damn problems for Trav Boak, who may just have his gaze fixed on something a little more important than an individual honour.

In a vintage display, Boak was huge for Port in establishing, cementing, and building their lead on the Cats. His hands in close were sublime, and his ability to put the foot down and run to space once again demonstrated that he could be the hardest working midfielder in the game. And by far the hardest working 30+ year old in the game.

Boak’s stat sheet reads like the perfect midfield game. 32 touches, eight clearances, seven tackles, seven inside fifties and ten score involvements… the only thing he didn’t do was convert on the scoreboard, finishing with 0.3 for the evening, but my guess is that Port fans might just forgive the old fella for his inaccuracy – he adds so much more in just about every capacity.

I’ve written several times throughout the last couple of seasons about Boak’s dedication to get in career-best shape and give the midfield another crack. Well, if the result is games like this when the pressure is at its highest, then you can keep All-Australian squad selections, or MVP nominations. You can take all those superficial aspects of the game and do what you like with them, because performances like this in finals is what truly marks a player as a great of a club.

And with his performance in this contest, Travis Boak once again thrust his name to the forefront of the conversation when people speak of the best player of the modern era to wear a Power jumper. Maybe he and Robbie Gray can have a fight for the title when all is said and done…

Maybe after the Grand Final, huh?

 

OH CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN

We’re going to get to Aliir Aliir in a minute, but before we do, the game of Tom Jonas will most likely be mentioned in passing by the experts covering the clash at Adelaide Oval, but it deserves so much more than just a cursory thumbs up or a mention in the club’s best.

Aaaand just before I publish this, I look at the AFL website to see who they have listed as their best – Jonas’ name is not there. Nor is that of Willem Drew. They’re clueless.

Jonas played an absolute leader’s game in this one, not only taking responsibility for the player most likely to produce something special and bring the Cats back into the game, but by throwing his body into the contest with reckless abandon, getting his fist to footies that he had absolutely no right to, and generally making the right choices time, and time again.

Aliir will get the plaudits, and he’ll get a section here as well, but the work of the Port Adelaide captain should not be discounted at all. He stood up in crucial moments, put himself in the right spot and just managed to get a hand in, or put his body on an opponent at just the right time to cause the ball to come to ground. Jonas is unassuming. He is a leader who does not command the attention of a Selwood, Cotchin or Cripps, but he is a leader by example. You never, ever see Jonas shirk the issue – when it is his time to go, he does not hesitate.

That is what the Port hierarchy saw when they reverted back to the sole-captaincy and handed it to Jonas. They saw a team-first player who was willing to do the right thing, even if it detracted from his own performance or the perception of his game.

Yes, we all love the big intercept marks, but the subtlety of Tom Jonas’ game against the Cats should lose him no fans. He was fantastic.

 

BT’S BOY

Yeah, it seemed as though Brian Taylor had a bit of an unhealthy obsession with Orazio Fantasia, but bugger me if he wasn’t actually right in the end. Don’t you hate that?

Fantasia’s hands at ground level were other-worldly at points, reading the ball off packs and collecting with some of the cleanest hands outside a hand sanitising station… and aren’t those bloody things everywhere now. Am I the only one who finds it condescending that they have posters up telling you how to wash your hands? We’re not bloody apes…

Anyway, Fantasia looked deadly in this one, swooping onto the loose ball and slotting goals like he had not missed a beat in his time out with injury. His finishing skills have never been in question, but coming into this Port side after a tumultuous couple of years at the Bombers, there were definitely some shadows of doubt hovering over him.

Well, Orazio shined so brightly in this one that any lingering shadows simply vanished. With a goal in each quarter, he well and truly earned the trust of not only the Port faithful – he may have already had that – but the wider football community. On his day, Fantasia is a matchwinner, and today was one of those days.

 

THE LESSON

So, the Cats learned a valuable lesson in this one… and had obviously failed to learn it after watching teams fail all season long.

Don’t kick long and high inside the forward fifty when Aliir Aliir is lurking around.

And that’s what Aliir did in the first quarter – he lurked. I know this word has negative connotations at times, but I use it in the best possible sense. Aliir was an absolute predator in this game, and the Geelong forwards were his prey.

Matched up against Gary Rohan, Aliir caused the red-head to revert to the form line that made him the butt of many jokes when it came to finals form. Completely obliterated by Aliir in every marking contest they engaged in, Rohan was shifted away from the forward line after collecting just two touches in the first half.

Did Rohan think this was a Grand Final, or something?

Aliir took four intercept marks in the first quarter, en route to 11 intercept possessions for the game as he aided Port in establishing a strong lead. I have to add that he benefited greatly, nit just from Tom Jonas, as I mentioned above, but also from the lockdown work of Trent McKenzie, who continues to impress as a defender after being close to a forgotten man in the system.

Aliir’s eight one-percenters added to what was a wonderful night at the office for him, in a statement that screamed he belongs as the All-Australian centre half back.

 

TRYING TO HOLD IT TOGETHER

I felt for Jack Henry in this one.

He was one of the very few clear winners for the Cats as he read the ball incredibly well to chop off the incoming kick 11 times.

With his fellow defenders looking tentative or out of sorts, Henry became the central figure in the Geelong defence, and made life difficult at times for the Port attack. One has to wonder where the Cats would be without him in this one – Henry seemed as though he was the only one with the confidence to back himself in a marking contest and actually take the grab. With Lachie Henderson having a shocker, and even Patrick Dangerfield dropping uncontested marks, Henry was the only one trying to tie things together for long enough for the Cats to make a run.

Sadly, he needed a lot more than he could provide by himself in defensive fifty in order for that to happen.

 

THE BULL

I would hate to have to attempt to tackle Ollie Wines on the charge. I’ve been known to do some stupid things in my time, but standing in his way as he comes barreling through the pack just sounds like a bad idea… particularly when he feels as though he may as well shrug you off as though you’re an annoying little insect.

That’s the way Wines treats professional athletes… imagine what he would do to you?

Earlier this week, we revealed that Wines was out Mongrel Punt Player of the Year in a lavish ceremony that featured me, my computer, my daughter annoying me, and a nice cup of coffee, but really, he had the award sewn up by the end of Round 21 with an 11-vote lead coming into the final two rounds (we award votes on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis).

Wines’ 2021 has been incredible, and he continues to win the contested ball as though it is second nature to him. I had someone point out that his disposal efficiency wasn’t that great this season, because, you know… people hate celebrated something without shitting on it, but I don’t think this person actually watched the way Wines wins the footy. He is in-and-under consistently. He takes the hits and gets the footy out into space continuously for his team, and his second and third efforts are the man area his game has improved over the last two seasons.

Matched up against battle-hardened warriors in this game, Wines once again proved his mettle, getting the best of Dangerfield, Guthrie, Selwood and Parfitt at different times.

Here at The Mongrel we don’t just hand out awards to anyone. In my humble opinion, Wines will give the Brownlow a huge shake this season, but even if he doesn’t win it… the Mongrel of the Year award is almost as good, right?

Right?!?!

 

Mongrel of the Year Award 2021 – Ollie Wines

 

 

THE BAD

 

STOP GUESSING

Can we please get umpires to stop guessing when it comes to dangerous tackles?

I mean, I understand that there has to be a directive to protect the head and so on, and my guess is that the last thing an umpire wants to do is penalise a player for holding the ball when he’s whacked his head on the ground in a tackle, but for Christ’s sake… if you don’t see it, don’t call it.

It’s not rocket surgery. Take a look at the vision below.

 

 

If you can tell that Karl Amon’s tackle on Brandan Parfitt was dangerous in any way, I’ll go on a date with your ugly cousin and even buy him dinner. Did I say “him”? I meant her… I swear.

Seriously, though, this is finals footy, and we cannot have umpires guessing at these sorts of decisions. You’re not protecting the head if the head is not even in danger – you’re making the port look like it is over-umpired, and you’re making yourselves look as though you’re panicked that something could happen on your watch.

Don’t guess, call what you genuinely see, and please… please… don’t think that fans of the game don’t want to see good, hard tackles as part of the game. It is a huge component of Aussie Rules Footy. Stop trying to remove it.

 

MENTAL DEMONS

It was a bad night for Lachie Henderson.

We’ve sung his praises long and oud this season when he has stepped up and performed well, but in this one… well, he dropped his bundle almost as many times as he dropped marks. I counted three dropped marks from him (none worse than Danger’s which cost a goal to Fantasia) that allowed the Power chances to score.

It was as though we saw a man dealing with his self-doubts in front of the footy world in this game. Lachie Henderson looked more tentative than I’ve seen him, and each contest looked as though it provided another opportunity for him to screw up.

Is it fair to call this his worst game of the season? What a time to have it!

That said, seeing Mark Blicavs lining up on the wing at points, I was wondering whether Chris Scott would send his two-time best and fairest winner deep into defence to give Henderson a chop out. He did, in patches, but it was apparent that Henderson was in dire need of support, yet there was Blicavs running around in the ruck and on the wing… it was pretty frustrating for me; I can only imagine how frustrating it would have been for Cats fans.

 

THE UGLY

 

OH NO… NOT THIS VERSION?

Well, it’s finals time… what did I expect?

Gary Rohan flat out did not show up in this game. He was bullied by Aliir in marking contests, lacked the forward pressure that has aided him in becoming a vital part of this three-headed Geelong monster up forward, and had to be thrown into defence in order to get involved.

This is not what Geelong signed up for when they recruited Rohan.

Earlier in the season, I wrote about Rohan’s role with Geelong and how he was being allocated the third defender. This game him plenty of room to showcase his ability and impact the scoreboard. After Round 14, he had scored multiple goals in eight of his last nine games and was looking like a genuine threat in each and every game.

But in this game he looked more threatened than threatening. He was completely unable to get involved and trudged into the sheds at half time with two touches to his name. Half a game of footy, and he had provided the Cats with bugger all.

His move into defence could be termed a successful experiment, except that it left the Cats short-handed against a suddenly tall and powerful Port defence. With the addition of Aliir, the Power now had the strength and size to match the Cats, but with one-third of their main three avenues to goal in defence, himself, Port owned the air in their defensive fifty.

Gary Rohan has kicked goals in just two of his six finals as a Cat. He went missing in the Qualifying final last year and played his worst game of the year in the Grand Final… after having possibly the worst game of his career in the Grand Final in 2016 (or 2014 for that matter). He is viewed by many as a finals choker and had the chance to dispel that perception in this game.

He failed miserably.

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

WHAT DO THE CATS GET BACK IN ZACH TUOHY?

Oh, they get plenty back.

Whilst many are lamenting the absence of Tom Stewart, and rightly so, the presence of Zach Tuohy off half back and through the wings adds a heap to the Cats. His run, penetrating kicking, and penchant for getting forward and kicking a long goal change the dynamic and make the forwards accountable.

As much as I like Tom Atkins, he doesn’t do that. Ditto Mark O’Connor. Tuohy is a weapon, and the Cats are going to need him in order to make a tilt from here.

 

DID PORT GET ENOUGH FROM CHARLIE DIXON?

Don’t look at the stats – it’s a mug’s game.

For me, it was all about how Charlie competed in the air, and whilst I admit I was a little iffy on him early in the piece – I hate when he flies with one hand – I’m not sure I saw him outmarked at all in this game.

He was pivotal in bringing the footy to the front of the pack in instances that saw both Robbie Gray and Orazio Fantasia snap goals, so even though they will not count them as goal assists, Dixon’s ability to bring the ball down in a predictable spot allowed opportunities to present for the Port small forwards. And they could be the best in the game at taking them!

 

HOW VITAL WILL THE BUTTERS/ROZEE COMBINATION BE?

Notice I didn’t ask if it’ll be vital – rather HOW vital will it be, and the answer is “extremely so”.

Both these guys have a sixth sense, enabling them to squeeze the ball out, either by hand or foot, and make something happen. Butters’ ability to read the play, make ground and intercept a pass, or throw his body into the fray to create a path for his teammates is often overlooks… unless you’re our very own Matt Oman, who tends to take screenshots and print them out to paste into his Zak Butters scrapbook.

Rozee has worked his way back into form, and his stutter-step and change of direction as are about as good as it gets in the league… maybe outside Shai Bolton.

Together, they provide an element that can swing a game. They’re creative, bloody quick, and have embraced the defensive side of the game, as well. It shows a maturity, and with these two at the top of their games, it makes the Power very difficult to slow down, let alone stop.

 

DID PORT WIN THE WINGARD/BURTON TRADE?

Hell yeah, they did.

They picked up this bloke named Ryan Burton, who has been excellent in their two big wins against the Dogs and Cats, and they used the accompanying pick to grab Xavier Duursma. Meanwhile, Wingard, despite some decent form, is starting his offseason in a rebuilding team.

Burton seems to have recovered from niggling injuries, whilst Duursma is now looking less like a skinny kid and more like a stiff-arming running beast that’ll be around for years. A clear advantage to Port, here.

 

WHY NO LOVE FOR MITCH DUNCAN?

Come on guys, if you’re gonna lavish praise on him for his game against the Power, then make sure you do the same for Jake Lloyd when he plays the same role for the Swans tomorrow, or go back and give some credit to Aaron Hall for the way he collected the footy in defence for North.

You’ll look at the stats sheet, see 33 touches and think he had a blinder, right?

You go ahead and think that. Plenty of empty possessions here – 12 of them inside defensive fifty and just four of his 33 disposals came forward of centre. I’m unimpressed.

 

OTHER BITS

 

Does a bit of heat come for Dangerfield after this game? He doesn’t have Chris Scott to blame for this one. He wasn’t forced to go play in the forward pocket and starved of the footy this time – he was just down for the day. That dropped uncontested mark early in the third quarter opened the door for Port. Fantasia goaled on the hands from Robbie Gray, and from that moment on, you could feel the Cats were fighting an uphill battle.

Danger had a bit of stat-padding late in the game with some centre breaks, but when the game was there to be won… he was nowhere to be seen. Maybe he was hanging out with Cam Guthrie somewhere where the ball wasn’t?

Looked to me as though 52% disposal efficiency for Brandan Parfitt was a bit generous. He was under pressure every time he had the footy, and often threw the ball on his boot and hoped for the best.

I’m so torn on Todd Marshall. His defensive efforts were excellent early in the game, but that missed shot from 25 out, which would have been the sealer at that stage… you just have to nail them. My jury is out on this bloke… I really feel like he might cost Port a game over the next month. And it obviously won’t be something people forget.

Pretty disappointing effort in his 300th from Tom Hawkins. Trent McKenzie did a good job on him, but Hawkins didn’t seem right. How often do you see him drop chest marks? He was doing the hard work and getting good position – he just lacked that ability to complete the job.

Might be time to pull the pin on Luke Dahlhaus… he was moving like a glacier at times out there. For a small forward, that’s not a description you want to hear.

Pretty handy effort from Isaac Smith. You know what you’re gonna get from him each week 21-24 touches and about 550-650 metres gained. If you’re happy to live with that and try to hurt going the other way, then so be it. That said, you don’t want the bloke playing opposite him, Karl Amon in this case, giving away six free kicks in a half. Kind of put a dampener on Amon’s game this week.

Does BT resent Daisy Pearce being part of the coverage? It seemed as though every time Daisy made a point, Taylor would ignore it or talk over the top of her. His rambling in regard to a too-high free kick that he thought was for a dangerous tackle was ridiculous. Pearce explained very clearly that the decision was awarded for too high, but BT just kept rolling with his own take on it… I think he may have her on mute or something. I genuinely felt for her.

 

And that might do me. Don’t ever say you don’t get bang for your buck from these reviews… just on 4K words, people… I’m tired. Great win by the Power. They’ll enjoy the week off, heal up and get ready for the Prelim. As for the Cats… I really cannot see them going out in straight sets, but either of the Swans and Giants present a huge challenge. Looking forward to that one, already.

Massive thanks to our members. Seriously, I am humbled by your support. Thank you – HB.

 

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