Is bad kicking always bad football?

What about when the other facets of the game are so good, that they overshadow the bad kicking and make up for it with stellar defensive pressure, clean hands, intelligent positioning, and the best overlap run in the game?

I guess then it’s just bad kicking, and if that’s all it is, then the Melbourne Demons can live with it.

With more than double the scoring shots of their opponents, the Dees were far too much for the Tigers, their inaccuracy the only blight on another dominant performance. Richmond threatened, and they did indeed make the most of their early chances to place scoreboard pressure on the reigning premiers, but it seemed as though their tidal wave of red and blue was eventually going to wash over the yellow and black army and drown them under the constant barrage of inside 50s.

The Demons were +22 for Inside 50s for the evening – a clear indication that they were doing the hard stuff and falling down when attempting to slot the ball through the big sticks. The Tigers, on the other hand, made the most of their chances, and even extended the lead out to a couple of kicks early in the third quarter before the Dees buckled down, applied the pressure, and ran out deserved winners, by 22-points.

In a lot of ways, this reminded me of a former champion boxer, wrestler, MMA fighter going against the current champ. There was a lot of respect for the former champ, but the current champ was always going to put a few on his chin, and as former champs age… they just don’t take punches as well as they used to.

I thought about going the Big Questions for this review, then maybe thought I’d go with the old favourite Good, Bad, and Ugly… and then, I decided there was a lot I wanted to cover, and I preferred to do it a little more randomly.

So, here are HB’s Talking Points on the Dees’ win over the Tigers.

 

YOU CAN NOT PLAY LIKE THAT AND WIN ALL THE TIME

Yeah, I know they did everything else really well, but teams have lost Grand Finals with poor kicking, and though the Tigers are still a ferocious opponent (at times), it is becoming apparent that they are a middle of the road team. Missing 70% of your shots at goal is not going to hold up in a final when your opponents start to convert their opportunities and the momentum swings in their favour. It’s pretty difficult to arrest momentum when you cannot create some of your own.

Hell, the Tigers were nine points up early in the third quarter – if that is a better team right now – one that is not double-grabbing and fumbling every second possession, they really could have made the Dees pay for their inaccuracy.

As it stands, Melbourne rolled on, picked up four points again, and people will look to next week and their clash with the Hawks. But those who watch closely will have seen quite a bit they did NOT like about this game from the Dees, and would be hoping this is little more than a speed hump along the way to a premiership defence.

Because it could be a little more than that.

Simon Goodwin has gone on record stating that Melbourne are not looking to play perfect football. Just as well, because after escaping with this win, an OCD-affected coach would be up all night looking at things that did not go as planned.

 

CLAYTON OLIVER IS THE MAN

Are we getting close to peak Clayton Oliver yet?

We’d have to be, right? I mean, he is 24 years of age now… how much better can he get?

In the section above, I mentioned that the Tigers double-grabbed and fumbled way too much to legitimately challenge Melbourne, and it is only when you look at the way Clayton Oliver handles the footy that you start to realise just how far ahead of the game he is. Everything he does is clean – he one grabs the footy in the dry, the wet, the muddy, if he is in the nude, if he has lube leftover on his hands,  if he had car batteries attached to his nipples… I cannot see a circumstance when collecting the footy is not a simple task for him

With 22 contested touches amongst his 41 disposals, 13 clearances, ten score involvements, and nine inside 50s, Oliver was the catalyst for the Dees making their charge at Richmond in the third quarter. Between him, Christian Petracca, and Ed Langdon, they gave the Dees 36 touches as they ran the legs off their Tiger opponents.

The thing is, Richmond could see it was Oliver doing the damage – they just had no means of stopping him. Players like Jack Graham did not have the pace, players like Shai Bolton do not have the defensive side, and players like Trent Cotchin no longer have the endurance or the bust speed to stay with him. Clayton Oliver has continued to see his star rise in 2022, and if it gets any higher, we may as well start pencilling his name in for every major award over the next few years.

 

THE TIGERS WILL NOT CHALLENGE IN 2022

If you’re still trying to convince yourself that you’ll sneak into the eight and make some amazing September run, it’s time to think again. The run has been great, and I have appreciated it for what it is was – one of the best teams of the modern era strutting their stuff, but this side is now like 2016 Hawthorn… just holding on, hoping that something will happen and they’ll be propelled back to relevancy.

You cannot do it with a team full of blokes who are incapable of taking the ball cleanly.

I believe it was during the Gold Coast v Brisbane game earlier in the day when one of the boneheaded commentators finally said something that rang true – this is now a no-fumble league. Looking at the Tigers, if it were indeed a no-fumble league, they’d be out on their asses pretty quickly.

They were messy, fumbly, and continually missed targets, which meant they simply transferred pressure from the fumbler to the next person in the chain. And in doing so, they increased the pressure on each person receiving the footy until… bang. It was taken off them and the Dees went the other way with it.

It was almost as though the Demons were giving the Tigers a taste of their own medicine, with Richmond spending a few years punishing any team who was unable to play perfect football against their encroaching defensive zone.

We’ll name a few names pretty soon, but for the most part, to misquote Michael Corleone, “every time they thought they handballed their way out of trouble, they fumbled their way back in.”

They played an excellent team and got within 22 points – I am sure many will make that assessment, but this could have and should have been a 50+ point game. I reckon you know it, too.

 

HOW CAN YOU HAVE LEAKS EXPOSED IN THE BACK HALF AND IT STILL REMAIN WATERTIGHT?

So, sitting on the sidelines for this game were Jake Lever, Christian Salem, Adam Tomlinson, and Michael Hibberd, and if I told you it didn’t really matter, in any other season, I would have forgiven you for slapping me upside the head.

But this season… it kind of doesn’t matter – don’t put your hands on me, champ.

The depth of the Demons’ defence is incredible. They rolled out with Harrison Petty and Steven May as the two main defenders in this one, with aid from Jake Bowey, Angus Brayshaw, Joel Smith, and Trent Rivers… and collectively, they played the type of game that would lead you to believe that this was the core group of a multiple premiership-winning team. They looked as though all were comfortable in their roles, and all knew exactly where to be, and when to be there to aid their teammaes.

Petty was a monster. I remember looking at this bloke last season and wondering whether he would look to make a bit of coin and sign elsewhere after emerging as one of the great young defenders in this Demons team. As an Adelaide boy, I am sure both the Crows and Power had a bit of a look at him. But credit where it’s due; Petty re-signed with the Dees and the best defence in the game got stronger.

He finished with 17 disposals and nine intercepts, and in what could be a controversial opinion, I would have been tempted to award him the Checker Hughes Medal, as I reckon Clarry has enough medals and awards to last a lifetime – I am not sure Petty will ever match what Oliver achieves in the game, but this one would have been just as deserving as Oliver’s efforts were.

Looking at next week, and knowing that Jake Lever comes straight into the side, I reckon the unlucky one would be Joel Smith, and not that you’d pinpoint one moment to epitomise why, but his handball directly to Tom Lynch to gift the Tigers a goal was something I found myself thinking there is simply no way in hell Jake Lever makes that type of error.

 

THE RUNNING MAN

Still waiting for someone to find me a video where Ed Langdon looks exhausted at Melbourne. Does something like this exist?

The bloke runs all day long, up and down the wing,  deep into defence and all the way into the forward 50 and he… just… does… not…. stop!

I watched poor bloody Jack Ross, who was pretty good on the night, attempting to keep up with Langdon, and his tongue was almost hanging out of his mouth like Joe Ganino watching Greco-Roman wrestling at the Olympics. For the record, Joe is still devastated that they stopped competing naked in that event.

Langdon finished with 30 touches and a goal as he continually put distance between himself and anyone unlucky enough to be allocated him as an opponent. Someone on commentary said he could be the best pure wingman in the game – interesting choice of words… almost as though other wingmen are less pure? I wonder how Jordan Dawson or Karl Amon feel about that?

Anyway, Langdon was once again supreme in his role, burning off any who deluded themselves into thinking they could match it with him.

 

THE UGLY TRUTH – SHANE EDWARDS IS COOKED

Part of me wonders whether Shane Edwards is carrying an injury. Another part wonders whether he looked at himself in the mirror following the 2021 season and knew the writing was on the wall. Seeing that the Tigers were in decline, and feeling the reduction in both his capacity to run all day, and his overall ability, I wonder whether he contemplated hanging up the boots?

Surely, it would have crossed his mind, right? Or did he just want one more year to… just hang on? Because that’s what he looks like he’s doing.

At 33 years old, Edwards was one of those players that seemed to get better in his later twenties, peaking as the Tigers raised premiership cups and raised hell in the AFL.

That is a far cry from the player we’re witnessing in 2022. Slow, frustrated, angry… these are now the words used in place of the ones we used to use to describe Edwards. Gone are the words “brilliant”, and “creative” when speaking about him. It is also as though he has fallen off a cliff – it is not the fall that kills ya, it is the sudden stop at the end, and if Edwards was standing on the edge last season, he is in free-fall right now.

That sudden stop is not too far away.

Five of his seven touches for the game came in the last quarter – most after the game had been decided, and he looked nothing like the dashing player that conjured so many scoring opportunities for his team over the years. No, the play where he dragged Luke Dunstan to the ground in a clear high tackle spoke volumes around where Edwards is at.

Put it this way – seven touches is the lowest number of disposals he has had in a game since Round Three… 2011.

Sure, he might bounce back, and sure, he may make me eat my words. Maybe he is injured? Maybe he had a different role to perform? But if you think that a player of his calibre meandering about for seven touches bodes well for where he’s at and where he’s headed, you have another thing coming .

 

ROBBIE TARRANT’S RECRUITMENT WAS LIKE PUTTING A BANDAID ON A BULLET WOUND

I’ve let this ride for six weeks, as any less time would have been a little too reactive. Six rounds into the season, and I am yet to see a big moment where Tarrant has stood up and made a name for himself in yellow and black. It is like they recruited him about three years too late, and are now stuck with a bloke that is completely cactus as soon as the ball hist the deck.

It may be pretty harsh to single Tarrant out, particularly as he was supposed to be working in tandem with Dylan Grimes in defence, but has been forced to go it alone, with Grimes on the sidelines, but he does not seem to have the leap, the closing speed, or the timing about his game the way he did at North Melbourne back in 2019, when he was one of the best and most underrated defenders in the game.

But I guess that’s just it, isn’t it? It’s not 2019, anymore. Robbie Tarrant is three years older, three years stiffer and sorer, and three years past when he would have been an incredible addition to this team.

Now, it just seems as though he is a player that is just… there.

 

WHO IS BETTER – HALF-BACK BRAYSHAW, OR WING BRAYSHAW?

I won’t ask if midfield Brayshaw is in the equation, because based on what we saw four or so years back, that version is elite. Let’s narrow it down to the two for this discussion.

Wing Brayshaw was THE best at forcing his opponents to make a choice. Do they stay out there in the middle of nowhere, or do they allow themselves to be drawn to the contest? Do they weigh up risk versus reward to see whether they can help their team, but get burst over the back if the opposition gains the footy?

Wing Brayshaw made teams change the way they thought. He sure as hell made individual players second guess their positioning.

But now, all of a sudden, Wing Brayshaw is a pleasant memory and Half-Back Brayshaw is a reality.

Playing across the half-back flank, Brayshaw has not registered under 20 touches for the season. He is finding the ball often and in good spots, distributing it well and putting himself in the right places to intercept or disrupt forward thrusts. That actually reminds me of this girl my mate Joe Ganino went out with – when matched up on him, she was a defensive giant, stopping every one of his forward thrusts, yet in her next matchup, the floodgates opened and there was scoring aplenty.

Poor Joe.

The Dees are currently running with Langdon and James Jordon as the wings, with James Harmes adding a bit of hardness here and there (hardness… forward thrusts…poor Joe Ganino). Once the troops return to the Melbourne defence, and we have a full contingent of players to choose from, does Brayshaw revert to the role that saw half the dumbass fans in the AFL criticise him simply because they didn’t understand the way he was playing the role? Or does Simon Goodwin really like what he sees from Brayshaw as part of the back six?

 

THE SHINING LIGHT

I’ve had a couple of Tiger supporters call me out for not giving Josh Gibcus as much credit as they believe he deserves. Well, here we go – firstly, in order to receive credit, it is pretty important that you earn it – we can;t just be doling out plaudits like we’re Gerard Whateley talking about Geelong players, can we?

That guy has really shit me for about five years, now.

Anyway, Gibcus well and truly earned the plaudits this week, overcoming his early error of losing Ben Brown in a marking contest and allowing him to clunk a mark 15 metres out, but compiling a lovely intercept game inside defensive 50. Playing the role that would usually fall to Dylan Grimes, he collected 18 touches and 12 marks, whilst running at 89% efficiency in what should really push his name to the top of the list for a Rising Star nomination.

Gibcus is a good reader of the ball in flight and has a nice little first step on him that wrong-foots those looking to shut him down. He collected six intercepts and seven rebound fifty disposals in what is probably the best overall outing of his young career.

Many times, people talk up kids before they deserve it, but I’ve now seen enough to believe the hype around Josh Gibcus – he will be a pillar of the Tiger defence for the next ten years.

 

QUICK BITS

A tale of two halves for Toby Nankervis. He was a bit like a clumsy oaf in the first half, but rallied after halftime to match it with Max Gawn all over the park.

It’s amazing when a mid has 25 touches, ten score involvements, and a goal, yet all you can think about is how he had a quiet one. Such is the bar Christian Petracca has set for himself.

I was really digging the Rioli v Pickett on-again/off-again clash in this game. Rewatching a few bits, Rioli really played Pickett quite loosely, but it worked as Kosi failed to capitalise in front of goal.

Are three snags from Sam Weideman enough to keep him in the side next week? Pretty hard to drop a bloke kicking goals, but outside the quick kick at goal, he wasn’t actually doing much else.

Jack Riewoldt playing ruck? That was… interesting while it lasted. Not sure we’ll see that again anytime soon.

I’ve mentioned Tom Sparrow several times this season, and wish another 24-disposal game, the 21-year-old is starting to get the hang of this midfield caper. The more the Dees win, the more often they will be affording him a chance in the guts.

Luke Dunstan was combative in his Melbourne debut. Not dominant, by any stretch, but as a third option, he was certainly serviceable. That said, Jack Viney is the preferred candidate for that role, so injury/illness is really the only way we’ll spot Dunstan unless he has a monster game in the next couple of weeks.

How are we all liking the new “tighter” tackling and holding the ball assessments? They paid ten holding the ball/incorrect disposal free kicks in this one. That is from 93 tackles, so the genuine success rate is 10.75 percent. Richmond had six from their 45 tackles – that’s a 12.5% success rate, whist the Dees had four successful tackles from 45 attempts. That’s 8.88 percent.

Makes ya wonder why you bother tackling, really… look for a big standalone article on this in a few weeks when I get some more data behind me.

Jake Bowey… how good is he, and how good can he be? I’m a little reluctant to jump up and down, proclaiming him the next great small defender, given that he has been able to slot into such a powerful defence and play a role, but he really hasn’t put a foot wrong to date.

Finally, the defensive work of Nick Vlastuin… if the commentators put as much effort into explaining how he gets in the position to take marks – Who’s he playing on? How did he get the space? Where is his opponent? What could the opposition try to curtail him? – as they do into pronouncing his surname properly, the coverage would be incredible.

He and Jayden Short were excellent, with Short sneaking around for 30 touches off half-back.

 

Well, the Dees win again, the Tigers had a reality check, and I feel pretty damn buggered. Next week, the Tigers head to Optus Stadium to face the Eagles in a real danger game, particularly if McGovern gets back, whilst the Dees encounter the Hawks at the ‘G.

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