The AFL is a volatile environment. One week you’re in the penthouse, the next you’re in the outhouse.

Jimmy Ayres covers both areas in this week’s On Fire/Under Fire

 

Adelaide

On Fire – Rory Laird

Geez it’s hard to look past Laird most weeks when I do this article. Watching this game, I couldn’t help but think that he would end up being the nomination, and he didn’t let me, or his team down. He’s fast become one of Adelaide’s most important players each week, and I can’t help but feel like he goes a little underrated by those outside of the club. Especially whilst the Crows aren’t playing the best of footy, his name is one that’s easily glossed over in a team that’s not currently in contention.

 

Under Fire – Brodie Smith

What a mark, but what a knock to the old noggin. For those that missed it, Smith flew for a terrific speccy on the shoulders of Harry Perryman, taking the ball and crashing back to earth parallel with the ground, causing his head to smash down hard on the turf, suffering an instant concussion. He was taken off on a stretcher and obviously played no further part in the match. Smith will now unfortunately miss next week at the bare minimum, hopefully not suffering any further symptoms of concussion.

 

Brisbane

On Fire – Lachie Neale

I’m just going to say it. The last time that I saw Lachie Neale consistently playing this well, he finished the season with a small gold medal around his neck – and it wasn’t the KBBL presents Ripper and the Shitstick’s Super Mega Ultimate Player of the Year award, either.

 

Under Fire – Joe Daniher

In what was a strange, and rather inconspicuous incident, Lions forward Joe Daniher injured his shoulder whilst approaching the contest alongside his Sydney opponent. The camera later picked up Daniher holding his arm stiffly and making his way to the beach, where the physios worked on the issue before the trainer’s attempted restrapping it. Their aid was however in vain, as the former Bomber was subbed off to take no further part in the game, now awaiting scans to ascertain the damage.

 

Carlton

On Fire – Harry McKay

Playing in a forward line suspiciously devoid of his twin brother’s presence for the opposition once again, McKay had a day out and finished the game as the highest scorer with 4.2 to go with his 11 marks (four contested). He was mercurial alongside Charlie Curnow, who if not for some inaccurate kicking, would’ve had an absolute day out as the duo again prove to be one of the best one-two punch forward combinations in the league when they’re up and about.

 

Under Fire – Lewis Young

Lucky to avoid concussion or injury, Lewis Young leapt up for a mark shortly after the whistle was blown for a free kick, only to be tunnelled by North Melbourne forward Nick Larkey and dangerously hit the ground almost horizontally. Some may remember that the AFL had a major crackdown on ‘tunnelling’ back in 2008 after Sydney’s Craig Bolton was accused by his opposition of employing the tactic as a deliberate ploy to hurt star forward Nick Riewoldt, as he leapt to mark the ball. Sydney coach Paul Roos, at the time called the accusation “insulting”, but it didn’t stop St. Kilda’s then CEO Archie Fraser, from approaching the AFL with video footage of players being tunnelled, with the offence becoming such a hot topic that the AFL moved to outlaw the practice hastily. Nick Larkey was subsequently handed down a one week suspension for his actions.

 

Collingwood

On Fire – Brody Mihocek

Whilst my love for Jack Crisp never goes unheralded, today I opted for a bloke who doesn’t gain the plaudits of some of his higher profile teammates, but I think for a late bloomer he’s become a versatile weapon up forward for the Magpies. The man set to play his 100th AFL game this year if he manages every game for the remainder of the season, was a great selection for the Pies in the 2018 rookie draft. His height places him slightly above your standard, medium-sized forward, whilst also smaller and slightly more agile than your traditional tall forward, making Mihocek a hard matchup at times for opposition defenders. He has a leap that see’s him compete in the air, but also handy burst speed to break away on a lead. He kicked four goals against the Suns on the weekend with his full array of skills on display.

 

Under Fire – Callum Brown

Anybody that’s worked in the same industry as a well renowned family member will know the pressure of expectation that comes with those circumstances. In the AFL, we see this in spades, given the game has developed to be so heavily sentimental around generations of families within clubs. Even to the point that we developed the Father-Son drafting rule in the late 1940’s as a way for clubs to keep bloodlines in-house and avoid the zoning rules of that era that saw players assigned to clubs based on where they lived. Some high profile players have shirked the notion of playing in their predecessor’s footprints. Take Gary Ablett for instance, who knocked back the offer to wear the number 5 jumper at Geelong – the same jumper that emblazoned his legendary father and namesake’s back throughout his career at the same club, instead opting to forge out his own legacy with a unique number, 29. Whilst other players, like Ablett’s own teammate Tom Hawkins, opted to toe the sentimental line by wearing the same number that his father did, both players going on to forge out successful careers, but with differing beliefs around the superstition and nostalgia of family ties. Where the hell am I going with all of this? I’ve heard many Collingwood supporters make comments in recent weeks, pertaining to Callum Brown only getting a game because of his last name, and had his father not been a legend of the club, then there’s no way he would be named in the side (given his current form). Whilst I’m remaining on the fence in this debate, I will note that his four games this season, outside of an acceptable return against the Eagles, have been subpar. Including last weekend’s effort against the Suns.

 

 

Essendon

On Fire – Jordan Ridley

One of very few players that carried they their bat, in a manner of speaking, from the first siren to the final. What I mean by that is, Jordan Ridley lined up on Aaron Naughton, one of the game’s best young forwards and contested marking beast, for as good as the entire game, and composed himself with aplomb. A distinction that few Bombers could boast. It’s been a tough year for Essendon defence-wise, and Ridley’s form has taken a hit, largely due to the ineptitude of his side when it comes to defending the opposition’s transition of the ball. But nevertheless, Ridley blanketed Naughton for the vast majority of the game, keeping the Bulldogs spearhead goalless, and limiting his influence substantially. Whilst Naughton did take a few great contested grabs and managed to fire off a few passes that lead directly to goals, his presence as a dominant forward was largely quelled, and Ridley looked in fine form doing so. Nic Martin also tried his heart out, and deserves a mention given his non-traditional pathway to the AFL, and the fact that he shows more heart and poise than 90% of his teammates that have been around longer than him.

 

Under Fire – Almost everybody else.

If you want to hear every aspect where the Bombers got it wrong, then read the dirt sheets this week. I’m beyond mentioning the same errors and faults week in/week out with this club. Every media outlet will be lining up to take their potshots, and rightfully so. What they’re dishing up is nowhere near good enough for a club with the list that they possess. I for one am sick of the copy and paste, weekly messages sent out to supporters to justify their poor efforts on the weekend. Want to avoid this week’s edition? Let me summarise it for you –

 

‘Yeah, the guys are hurting after last week’s effort. Really hurting. It’s back to basics at training this week, we need to work harder on our brand and look to produce some blue-collar footy. The fans are hurting, us players are hurting, but ahh.. we’re doing everything we can, the results just aren’t there. We’ll ahh, take our learnings from the game and come back cherry ripe next week.’

 

Sound familiar, Bombers fans? It should… you hear it every week.

 

Fremantle

On Fire – Blake Acres

I’ll admit that I don’t religiously watch Fremantle’s games through studying lenses every single week, but watching this clash against the Cats at GMHBA Stadium on the weekend was one of, if not the best game that I’ve ever personally seen Blake Acres play. He was my choice for the Dockers’ best player in the game, his decision making caused headaches for Geelong and his footwork sublime. I don’t think I ever realised how good of a runner Acres is, not even during his stint at St. Kilda. Given that he had Isaac Smith, one of the game’s more skilled, true wingmen on the opposite side, he did extremely well and is carving out a terrific individual season at the Dockers.

 

Under Fire – Credit Cards

Spouses of Fremantle fans: keep an eye on those credit card statements this month, because I hear that flights to Melbourne in late September have hit an all-time low. Plus, with the government’s $250 supplement, that’s a sizable deposit on a hotel in Jolimont somewhere, conveniently within walking distance to the MCG should such a need arise..

 

Geelong

On Fire – Tom Stewart

Not a lot can be said about Stewart’s game that hasn’t already been mentioned this week – and deservedly so. If he isn’t awarded the three votes for his effort against the Dockers, then there is no justice left in the world. This was one of the best defensive games that you’ll see this season from a bloke whose importance to his team would have to see him up there with the most irreplaceable players currently in the game.

 

Under Fire – Jeremy Cameron

Seven goals and sitting on top of the world last week, to snagless and front-row seat to the Griffin Logue defensive masterclass this week. Ok, masterclass may be a slight overstatement, but he was really good in the one-on-one contests and kept Cameron reasonably well held for the day, in a game that many had tipped Hawkins and Cameron to get on top of the Dockers defence and dominate at their home ground.

 

Gold Coast

On Fire – Touk Miller & Levi Casboult

I couldn’t look past Miller this week. I haven’t avoided selecting him out of any personal distaste, I actually love the way Miller plays, his starring role in a perrenially struggling Suns side and I honestly believe that we sports fans as a collective have become too complacent to what he produces, often glossing over just how good of a player he is and how much he brings to the table. Levi Casboult played one of his best games ever on the weekend. Despite some wayward kicking that has become synonymous with his name, he did everything and more that the Suns would’ve expected of him when they brought the former Blue over to the club. He marked the ball out in front, he marked the ball in packs, he kicked goals and provided a tall option, sharing opportunities amongst his fellow forwards.

 

Under Fire – Izak Rankine

I don’t think Rankine would cop anywhere near the heat that he currently does had he not been such a high draft pick. Regardless of that, his output on the weekend against the Magpies was just not up to scratch. The club absolutely HAS to demand more from the young forward. There is no doubt about his capabilities, there are no doubts about his skills, but there are huge shadows cast over his abilities to string it all together and produce it regularly. Is he being played out of position, or does he struggle to assert himself in games when things don’t go his way?

 

GWS

On Fire – Jesse Hogan & Josh Kelly

I had a hard time splitting them, but in terms of the game, both Hogan and Kelly were massive for the Giants. Hogan finished with 3.3 and presented well for most of the game. He was a focal point up forward and along with Toby Greene’s four goals formed a potent scoring partnership when the Giants stormed away in the first half. Now, Kelly… his game was a stark contrast to the other two, but no less effective for the betterment of his team. The Rolls Royce was in absolutely everything as he bounced back from the broad criticism that came his way last week in the most emphatic of ways.

 

Under Fire – Lachie Keefe

After watching the game I scoured the pages after the game to find out exactly what injury Keefe suffered. I thought for sure that I must have missed an incident that saw him taken from the ground. But alas, he was just a non-factor for vast amounts of the game. Admittedly, there were extended periods where the ball barely looked like going down his end of the ground. But outside of a couple of spoils, Keefe barely affected the contest outside of the first half. A dastardly quiet one from the former Magpie.

 

Hawthorn

On Fire – Dylan Moore

What a season Dylan Moore is stringing together. Whilst he was somewhat subdued for the first half against the Demons, he burst to life in the second half after a shift into the midfield, and became a driving force for the Hawks. There were 15 disposals amassed in the third quarter alone to finish with a career high of 33. Small forwards that kick goals are a sought after commodity in the AFL. Small forwards that can move into the midfield, accumulate the ball and influence the game greatly are rare and rightfully highly regarded.

 

Under Fire – Sam Frost

Poor Frosty, he had the match up on Ben Brown and looked to panic when the ball came in long and high, giving away a couple of costly free kicks that resulted in goals. There was a brilliant effort where he managed to spoil a ball whilst laying flat on the grass, but it wasn’t the best day from the Hawks defender. I liked the battle of Jack Gunston vs Jake Lever, but Gunston looking for cheap free kicks put a downer on more than one contest.

 

Melbourne

On Fire – Steven May & Max Gawn

All the plaudits will go to Gawn, Oliver, and/or Petracca for this game, and rightfully so. The three of them were incredible, led by a domination in the ruck from their skipper against Hawthorn’s third-string ruckmen. However, another person that went largely understated, who I thought was pivotal in stopping the forward press from the Hawks time and time again, was Steven May. The former Suns’ captain managed to lead off his man and direct traffic in the Demons’ backline, but also got back to chop off any entry that was less than perfect. His reading of the ball off his opponent’s boot was second to none.

 

Under Fire – Assistant Coaches

I feel sorry for the next assistant coach to take the reins of the club on matchday when the senior coach has to sit out under the league’s health and wellness protocols. Surely by now the odds of them winning are starting to slim, especially since we’ve now seen six instances from five different clubs where the assistant coach has had to fill in, and won the game. Fremantle has seen Jaymie Graham take the place of Justin Longmuir, twice, for two wins. We’ve had Ash Hansen from Carlton lead his side to a victory in the absence of Michael Voss. Brendan Lade steered the ship whilst Brett Ratten was forced to miss, and even the Bombers’ only win for the season was won at the hands of Blake Caracella. After last weekend we can now add Adam Yze to this list of winners, after last year’s Premiers easily accounted for the Hawks in the end with Simon Goodwin sitting at home, watching on.

 

North Melbourne

On Fire – Todd Goldstein

After a lot of time forward this season to give Tristan Xerri a good run in the ruck as the club’s future, Goldstein was thrust back into the centre with his younger protégé out injured. Whilst Carlton too had to deal with the adversity of missing their number one ruckman in Marc Pittonet, Goldstein showed that even in the final years of his career, he is still a more than capable number one ruckman, and a great candidate to lead the likes of Xerri and Coleman-Jones into North Melbourne’s future.

 

Under Fire – Poor Disposal

I hate to come down harsh on a rebuilding team that’s widely recognised as currently struggling, but in the second half especially, North Melbourne didn’t look like they’d manage to hit water if they kicked the ball out of a boat. I understand they’re a relatively young side and that composure is built over time, but at some point, someone had to put their hand up and stop the rot. Some of the most basic of passes were absolutely butchered and led to horrible, and costly turnovers.

 

Port Adelaide

On Fire – Ryan Burton

In a slippery, sloppy game that saw both teams combine to kick a horrendous 9.31, Ryan Burton stood out to me as the former Hawk added yet another cracking game to his CV in 2022. It was only a fortnight ago that he looked like a one man wrecking crew against the Blues, almost willing his team over the line late. This week his intercept work was sensational and his drive up the ground helped Port start their forward press. His composure late in the game was just one of many reasons as to why and how Port managed to get that final point through Robbie Gray and hold on to win the game thereafter.

 

Under Fire – Humidity In Cairns

A lot has been said about the humidity in Cairns after Saturday night’s game, and rightfully so. What a shit show that game was from a footy viewing perspective. As I mentioned previously, both teams combined to kick nine goals and 31 behinds for the game. It was absolutely abhorrent viewing. Partial credit to those that sat through the entire game, full credit to those who played it.

 

Richmond

On Fire – Tom Lynch

You have no idea how much I wanted to put Lynch in the latter category this week. Like the spoilt brat that I’m not, why should I accept 36 birthday presents when I received 37 gifts last year? Always wanting more. Lynch finished the game with 7.5 from about 43 shots on goal. He looked as if he was passing out Sherrins to lucky punters in the crowd early, spraying shots on goal to every which angle, multiple times the ball didn’t make the distance or his foot struck the wrong side of the ball and sent it towards the stratosphere in the opposite direction of the goals. All jokes, including his accuracy, aside, it was a dominant game that now sees him well and truly in the Coleman Medal race. He took eight contested marks and looked unbeatable at times, finding space to take the ball on the lead, or standing his ground and winning battle after battle with Harry Edwards. Shoutout to Shai Bolton. What a game he played!

 

Under Fire – Sydney Stack

In terms of effectiveness, Stack may as well have stayed on the plane. He didn’t touch the ball, nor register a stat in the first quarter, and by halftime had one disposal and two tackles to his name. At this point I went looking for him, thinking that maybe coach Damien Hardwick had deployed him in some kind of defensive, run-with, cooling, whatever trendy word the pundits are currently using, role on another player, but no. The rare time the cameras caught him he was usually out in space or wandering, looking lost.

 

St. Kilda

On Fire – Seb Ross

I had Ross narrowly edging out Steele in this one. I love the way Ross goes about it when he’s at full flight. Watching him set the Saints up and drive the ball along the wing set him aside and is exactly what Brett Ratten has him in the side for. What really surprised me was his ability to get behind the ball when Port began to press, win the intercept in the backline and set up a drive for his team. It’s a strange time to be watching the wings at St. Kilda this season, I saw Tim Membrey spend the majority of his game, at least what I saw of him, out on the wings running up and back to provide a capable, tall marking link between the backline and the forward line.

 

Under Fire – Hail Mary Long Bombs

Look, I’ll likely chalk this one up to the conditions and the venue that this was played at. But at times it seemed like the Saints had no better option on their agenda than to win the ball and send it forward with a thumping 50-metre kick and just hope for the best. Especially when going into the forward line. Many a forward foray seemed to be gobbled up by, or kicked directly to a Port Adelaide defender. As I said, I’m happy to concede that it was relevant to the conditions if it’s not something that becomes a constant. And that scoreline l, wowee! 4.18 will likely be the most inaccurate score we’ll see this season.

 

Sydney

On Fire – Luke Parker & Lance Franklin (second half)

Luke Parker, take a bow. After the Lions got out to a five-goal lead in the second quarter, a fightback was mounted by the Swans, and leading the charge out of the centre was Luke Parker, who up until that point in time had been deployed around the ground loosely, but thrust into the centre and showed the Lions exactly how dangerous he can be when in the middle. In that quarter alone Parker amassed 10 touches (seven contested) from 10 centre bounce attendances, won three clearances and was the beating heart for the Swans as they began to fight their way back, dashing the lead that the Lions had established. Also in that third-quarter resurgence was Buddy Franklin’s four-goal burst in a deadly ten minute period, finishing with six for the game, Franklin again reminded us exactly how damaging he can be in a game, needing very little of the ball to be a huge factor in play.

 

Under Fire – Dane Rampe (again)

Every week I seem to throw a question at the Swans about their backline, and it’s usually in regards to Josh Kennedy being wasted down there or even worse – as the sub. But the past few weeks I’ve begun to notice that Dane Rampe just isn’t having the vigorous impact on games that he has been renowned for. I questioned whether it came down to a new role being deployed with the McCartin brothers playing such a key role down back, but I’m just not seeing the damage that he used to do to teams anymore. In his defence, he did cop a nasty knock to the head late in the game that saw him spend a bit of time off the ground.

 

West Coast

On Fire – Josh Kennedy

One of my favourite players currently in the game, as an opposition supporter I’m not even afraid to show my bias towards Kennedy. In a tiresome and dogged night for his club, when effective forward 50 entries were as rare as a non-controversial opinion from Kane Cornes, Kennedy stood up and kicked four of his team’s seven goals, including the 700th of his wonderful career. In what was certainly one of the very few highlights on the night for Eagles supporters, seeing Kennedy clutch the West Coast logo on his jersey and tug it emphatically after his score would’ve been a breath of fresh air and one those tingly, sentimental moments that resonate in supporters that witnessed it for years to come, especially when times are as tough as they currently are.

Special mention to Greg Clark for a cracking debut. Had he played for the side on the other end of the scoreboard blowout, you would’ve heard a lot more about how good his game was during and after the coverage.

 

Under Fire – Poor Disposal

There were a couple of players that I was going to name, but honestly, as a whole, the entire team at times struggled. Largely thanks to Richmond’s pressure and their players’ willingness to spread and not allow the Eagles to get an easy chain of one-two disposals. It just seemed like that Blink-182 CD that you played endlessly in the 90’s to the point that certain songs would hit that loop of playing the same 9 seconds before reverting back and playing it all over again. Every time the Eagles won the ball or kicked in from defence, if they managed to spot a player on the wing or in the middle they’d kick it his way, a Tigers player would subsequently chop the ball off and intercept, then drive the ball back inside their forward 50. Also, the lack of help for Harry Edwards from his teammates was atrocious. The kid was being monstered by Tom Lynch and I can only recall once, maybe twice where another player came into the contest to help him out.

 

Western Bulldogs

On Fire – Caleb Daniel

Commiserations to Josh Dunkley who played a brilliant game, but I’ve awarded the plaudits to Caleb Daniel this week. The Bombers battled to get the ball inside their forward half and keep it there, but on the rare occasion that they did get the ball goalside, it was Caleb Daniel that did the most damage, carving them up with his ball use, speed and his ability to find time and space when under pressure.

 

Under Fire – Stefan Martin

Now I realise that this may seem a little unfair, but taking into account that Martin turns 36 this year and the fact that he has been shunted back down the pecking order thanks to a resurgent season by Tim English, you’d have to think that father time is beginning to cast a shadow over Martin’s future. A brilliant option for the Dogs when they had nothing, is beginning to look like time has started to catch up with him. The young, enthusiastic Sam Draper was quite a handful for Martin who battled tirelessly, but struggled to keep up with the young buck as the age difference overcame the experience differential.

 

 

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