With a top-four spot on the line, and a 6-1 record beckoning, there was a heap to play for between the Lions and Swans at the SCG.
Buried in the late Sunday timeslot, this game deserved marquee billing. Instead, we were treated to Richmond pulverising West Coast on Friday night. Yay for fixturing!
Regardless, the Lions showed up ready to play, and with a water-tight defence, held the Swans to a single goal in each of the first two quarters before a Lance Franklin-led rally in the third threatened to flip the script. With the momentum against them, and the Sydney crowd getting behind their charging home them, the Lions stood up when it mattered, fired back at the Swans and not only regained control, but re-established the lead they worked so hard for in the first half.
It was a mature, controlled, and professional effort from the Lions, who sent a strong message to the league-leading Demons that there is at least one team ready to knock them off their perch in 2022.
Lachie Neale was enormous, Dayne Zorko moved back into the thick of it and hit the scoreboard, and Hugh McCluggage provided hard run out of the middle as the Lions steadied to run out four-goal winners.
Let’s jump into The Mongrel’s review of Brisbane’s most important win of the season to date.
THE WRONG HEADLINE.
Yes, Buddy this, and Buddy that… I fell into that stuff as well, right? Look above – the first name I mentioned in the intro was that of Lance Franklin as he dragged the Swans back into the game in the third quarter.
But I was wrong to do that.
And Fox Footy was wrong to do that at three-quarter time as they returned from their mandated commercial breaks. When previewing the last quarter, they started yapping about how Buddy could do this and whether Buddy could do that.
What they should have been talking about was how Lachie Neale stood up and reclaimed the ascendancy for Brisbane with a third quarter of his own to remember.
Neale was dominant, and was far and away the catalyst for the Lions settling, composing themselves, and regaining control of a contest that threatened to slip from their grasp. Take a look at this stat-line.
12 disposals, nine contested possession, three clearances, three inside 50s, three tackles, and one vital goal.
Anything that Brisbane did of merit in the third quarter started with their Brownlow Medallist. When Brisbane players looked around at each other and wondered what the hell was going on, it was only when their eyes met those of Neale and saw him respond the way champions of the game do, that they settled, themselves.
Whilst all the talk this season has been about the form of Patrick Cripps – and it has been outstanding – the work of Lachie Neale is starting to shape nicely into another fine season. Now averaging 32 touches per game and 17 contested possession, Neale has recaptured the form that earned him footy’s highest honour just two short seasons ago, and given what was on display in this one, it would not be unwise to plonk a bit of dough on a Cripps/Neale quinella in the 2022 Brownlow.
I’ll get to Buddy in a minute, but a Rocky quote leaps to mind when I think about Neale and his Lions in the third quarter.
It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!
And when you watch back that third quarter, watch Lachie Neale and the way he takes the best the Swans can throw at him, gets up and keeps moving forward. And as the quote states – that is how winning is done!
TEN MINUTES OF GREATNESS
Oh yes, we often hear old fellas like me tell stories of how Wayne Carey used to swing a game with ten minutes of power football that would see him take contested marks, kick big goals, and turn the game on its head.
And today we saw that from another champion of the game – Lance Franklin.
The Swans emerged from the halftime break with just two goals to their name, and after being blanketed by Darcy Gardiner, Franklin would have been determined to make an impact of some sort in the second half.
This usually plays out in one of three ways.
Either the players starts to demonstrate some real aggression at the contest and gives away too many free-kicks.
He takes it a step too far and gets reported.
Or he channels his anger and frustration into a place where he produces some breathtaking football.
Luckily for all involved (except maybe Gardiner), we witnessed the best of the three options, with Franklin dominating a ten-minute period to kick four goals and drag the Swans back into the game. It was a scintillating display by the best forward of his generation as he marked strongly, kicked beautifully, and created opportunity after opportunity for both himself and his team.
As he slotted his fourth goal, you could not help but get the feeling that the Swans were going to roll over the Lions in dramatic, Buddy-led fashion, but as detailed above, the Lions were not going to sit idly by and allow Franklin to tear the game away from them. Chris Fagan had other ideas.
MAKING THE SWITCH
I laughed when I heard one of the Fox Footy boneheads wonder aloud why Harris Andrews was not moving over onto Lance Franklin in the third quarter. Do these guys actually watch the footy?
Harris Andrews is only used on the biggest and baddest forwards when all other options have been exhausted. What he provides to this Brisbane team in the form of being the defensive general means that he is too important to be standing there, solely focused on one bloke unless it is absolutely necessary, and when Chris Fagan started to ponder other options to take on Franklin, he did not have to think too long until he switched Marcus Adams over onto him.
Whilst I like Gardiner, his confidence would have been shot by that point, and the strong body of Marcus Adams was the perfect guy to step in and do some heavy lifting. It actually contributed to the Lions wrestling control of the contest back again, as he was able to push and shove with Buddy over the next couple of quarters, whilst allowing Harris Andrews to play his natural game of killing contests all over defensive 50.
Andrews was able to finish with ten one-percenters to go with seven intercepts, whilst Adams took one for the team.
In the last quarter, a clearly increasingly-frustrated Franklin gave away a couple of free-kicks to Adams, who positioned himself beautifully to win the contest against the Swans champion. Fagan must have been just a little bit tempted to throw Andrews onto Franklin – he is a magical elixir for all that ails the Lions in defence at times, but on this occasion, he placed his faith in Marcus Adams, and it was faith placed well.
THE UNSUNG LOCKDOWN
Not sure you’ll see this mentioned anywhere else, but the role of Ollie Florent in curtailing the influence of Zac Bailey deserves some recognition.
Playing mostly from half-back, Florent was quite attentive to his dangerous opponent, and after Bailey snagged six goals last week to tear the game to shreds, it was obvious that John Longmire wanted to avoid an encore performance from the talented Lions star.
Bailey did hit the scoreboard for a goal, but was consistently under pressure for the entire game, unable to find the space that makes him so dangerous. He finished with 12 touches, but ran at just 33% efficiency, whilst Florent sacrificed his game to end with 16 touches and very little influence of his own.
Normally, I would point out the same thing I do every time the Swans lose and Florent doesn’t perform – there is a correlation between the two – but on this occasion, I am well aware that he had a role to perform, and with Bailey fast becoming one of the more dangerous half-forwards/mids/half-backs/wingers… hell, he is dangerous wherever he plays, it was a sacrifice from Florent that was worth making.
AND ONE THAT WILL GET A LITTLE MORE ATTENTION
The inclusion of Tom Papley in this team was always going to be hit and miss. Coming off a lengthy layoff and playing his first game since the 2021 finals, Papley was either going to hit the ground running, or take a bit of time to find his feet in the contest. By starting him at the centre bounce, I guess John Longmire hoped to get him a few touches early and light the competitive fire underneath him.
Credit where it’s due – it is a good tactic. It just didn’t come off.
Played tightly by Noah Answerth, Papley struggled to get involved in the game, failing to hit the scoreboard and notching just ten disposals for the contest. Though he was constantly on the move, it was clear that there was an element of rust to his game that this outing will have helped scrub away.
Pity it will be too late for it to benefit the Swans in this one.
Answerth was diligent in his task of stopping Papley and took advantage of the Swan’s lack of match fitness to run off him to receive on several occasions. It was intelligent play from the Lions defender, and his efforts in this game should not be forgotten when handing out the plaudits.
STANDING UP IN THE RUCK
In the extended preview I wrote on Thursday, I flagged the ruck contest between Peter Ladhams and the combination of Oscar McInerney and Darcy Fort as one of the more important aspects of the game to keep an eye on.
It was, but for a vastly different reason than I anticipated.
Peter Ladhams really won me over in this game. I expected him to give up and resort to wrestling whichever of the Brisbane ruck pair he was matched up on, but he surprised me, using a variety of taps, clearances, and creative handballs to players in the open to keep the Big O and Fort on their toes.
Ladhams recorded 25 hitouts, collected 23 disposals, and had four clearances as he rucked all day for the Swans and faced huge odds. If we’re looking at bang for buck, Darcy Fort was probably the best ruckman on the park , picking up eight clearances in his role of backup to McInerney.
Still, I was expecting the Brisbane duo to carve Ladhams up. He’d had a good couple of weeks, but was coming up against a genuine ruck and an excellent backup. Turns out, Ladhams can flat-out play!
With Tom Hickey still a little while away, I get the feeling that a Hickey/Ladhams dup could give teams a real headache late in the season.
TAKING THE REINS
The injury to Joe Daniher may prove to be significant, particularly given his wonderful health since moving from the Bombers to Lions. Last season, Daniher did not miss a game for the season, and was looking fantastic early this year, as well, but his sure looked like it was giving him a heap of issues, and as a result, he was subbed out of the game.
This meant that the focus of the Brisbane forward line went to Daniel McStay, and not for the first time this season, the big forward delivered.
McStay finished with three goals, and added two big “get out of jail” marks down the line for the Lions as he continued to be the best in the business in that aspect of the game. Take it from me – I chart this stuff and he leads the AFL at the moment.
Can we play prophet of doom here assume the worst here for a moment? Let’s say that Joe misses the next three to four weeks (I know that’s not the worst – I am a terrible prophet). What d the Lions do? How do they cover him?
McStay will have to maintain the high standard he has set for himself through the first seven games. His hard leads up to the wing have been brilliant in breaking down the opposition zone defence, and giving his fellow forwards a chance to run into space.
Cam Rayner continued to show great signs in this one. Though he only had ten touches, his overhead marking looks to be improving and with it will come increased confidence in his body.
The last one is Charlie Cameron, who finished with three goals despite being beaten pretty bloody soundly for most of the game by Harry Cunningham.
While Joe gets his shoulder right and gets back, those three, with perhaps a couple of cameos from Zac Bailey, have to prop up this forward line and continue to provide options going forward to spread the defence. With the return of Eric Hipwood getting closer, by the time he gets back, we could witness the power of this fully operational death star!
Errr, I mean “forward line”. Sorry… been watching a bit of the Star Wars series with the five-year-old and I find myself inserting quotes in randomly here and there, you bunch of nerfherders…
I want to put my hand up and admit I was wrong, here.
A couple of years back, when both Jarryd Lyons and Callum Ah Chee moved across from the Gold Coast Suns to join the Brisbane Lions in consecutive years, I really didn’t pay much attention to the work of Ah Chee. It seemed to me that he was a fringe player at the Suns, after playing one game for the year in his last season with the team, and I expected him to fade into the background pretty quickly in the competitive Lions outfit.
So yeah… I was wrong. I apologise.
The work Ah Chee has put in to become one of their more reliable wingman has given the Lions plenty of options through the middle of the ground. Whilst Ah Chee holds down the wing on one side of the ground, Hugh McCluggage has been able to move into the middle and perform admirably in his new role.
Now, I have to stress – I much prefer Clug out on the wing, but if it is going to be him and Mitch Robinson out there when both play, it forces Ah Chee into another role… and I like what Ah Chee is doing out there, as well!
He was excellent in this game again – a low disposal/high impact player, he can make a difference with one kick whilst other players jerk around giving each other back and forth handballs that make their numbers look great, but really, they just waste time.
The mid-term question as to the wing role will be what happens when Mitch Robinson returns? Forced to go through the seconds this week, Robbo will likely be pushing for selection next week. That will mean that Jaxon Prior (nine touches, two tackles and a knee injury that I have my fingers crossed is not serious) will not play, but Jarrod Berry has been quite good on the wing as well. He has more strings to his bow than Robbo, so I expect to see him deployed elsewhere. Still, it is good to see some competition emerging for these spots. At 32, Robbo won’t last forever, and the Lions are making plans for someone to succeed him.
BACK IN THE MIX
If you listen closely, you will sometimes hear an AFL commentator point out the blindingly obvious – Dayne Zorko is one of the best kicks in the league.
Be it a running shot at goal, a kick off two steps, or a perfect field kick to get a teammate off and running, the role of Dayne Zorko in this team makes others around him better.
This was on display early in this game as the five-time, five-time, five-time Merrett-Murray Medallist not only kicked a couple of goals, himself, in the second quarter, but used his sublime kicking skills to set up his teammates as well.
He finished with eight score involvements in another polished performance as he once again proved it doesn’t matter where you play him – he will always find a way to be effective.
After stints at half-back this season, Zorko’s move up the ground this week may have been more determined by matchup than choice, but he plays whatever role allocated him as though he’s been doing it all his life. Two snags and 22 touches (19 kicks… when you kick like him, why not kick it?) punctuated a solid day at the office.
HOW MANY ALL-AUSTRALIANS PLAYED IN THIS GAME?
Let’s play a predictive game. I’ll say which players I think should be in the AA side at this point of the season, and if you don’t agree, dispute it all you like. Got it?
Callum Mills – He has become the consummate midfielder. Pays attention to his man and wins his own footy. Finished with 30 touches, seven tackles, and two direct goal assists amongst his eight score involvements.
Lachie Neale – He is a maestro. I raved about his third quarter, but it was part of a game where he accrued 37 touches, 26 contested possessions and 11 clearances
Joe Daniher – That injury hurts, but at this stage, his consistency would make him one of my two key forward selections. Other forwards have had huge days to propel them up the Coleman Ladder. Daniher and Tom Hawkins – they’d be my two key forwards based on their ability to perform every week.
Isaac Heeney – Not his best day, but that hybrid forward/mid combination is deadly. Gets thrown around a bit like a dwarf at the St Kilda Footy Club Mad Monday, but with three goals and 18 touches, did himself no harm again. How is it that “not his best day” equated to a ripping game for someone else?
So, anyone else you think should be in? Any of these four that shouldn’t?
SOME QUICK TAKES
Not a good night at the office for Jake Lloyd – 24 touches at 88% may sound good, but there were some real boneheaded decisions from him in this one.
I suppose it is indicative of how underrated Luke Parker is that I get to this point of the review and finally mention a bloke that had 33 touches and 21 contested possessions, right? He is an absolute warrior and was one of the players that continually stod up for the Swans, even when things were not going their way.
In regard to Lachie Neale, in the preview, I floated the idea of James Rowbottom tagging him. Whilst this didn’t occur, Rowbottom did go with him at stoppages in the first half before spreading. After halftime, it seemed to stop. Why?
Maybe it was the five clearances Neale had in the second quarter?
Maybe, but two of them came from centre clearances and Rowbottom was not attending them. I thought it was worth persisting with, particularly given what occurred in the third. I reckon Longmire tucks that one away for September.
Keidean Coleman is looking more natural at half-back every time I see him. I don’t think we’re ever going to be talking about him like he is a star, but as a complementary player, the Lions have definitely found one in him.
Three goals from Charlie Cameron, but his pressure was just as impressive. For tackles inside 50 are elite numbers, but are too often missed when assessing the little blokes. Again though – I still feel Harry Cunningham did very little wrong.
Two good teams, here, people. Would love to see a September battle between them.
The Lions get the ailing Eagles at the Gabba next week, whilst the Swans should regroup against the Suns at the SCG again.
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