With top eight spots at a premium as we pass the first third of the season, few games are as defining as eighth versus ninth. Collingwood sit a game clear of Richmond, but the Tigers are four percentage points ahead, meaning a win will see them overtake the Magpies (unless the Bulldogs thrash Port Adelaide or Hawthorn blow Essendon out of the water, which in all honesty isn’t entirely unlikely).

Richmond come in having an extra day’s break but having to come all the way back from Perth after demolishing the continually undermanned and disrupted Eagles outfit, while Collingwood cruised to victory against a brave Gold Coast Suns side that kept the contest interesting, but rarely threatened to take the game away from them.

Collingwood welcome back Oliver Henry and Trent Bianco for the match, which will have pleased the black and white army, but nowhere near as much as the return of Cotchin and Martin did for the Tiger supporters. It’s a good week when any team can welcome back two Brownlow medal winners, and it could not have come at a better time for Richmond.

Quick start

A tight opening quarter saw both teams playing with a focus on forward momentum at all costs. Richmond preferred a narrower transition, bringing their wings in towards the centre to give them space to run into, while Collingwood kept wide to allow lead ups and lateral movement.

With the ball spending a lot of time in dispute due to both teams looking to play on and surge at every opportunity, it took a bit of time for the first goal to come as a high inside 50 cleared a pack and fell at tom Lynch’s feet while opponent Darcy Moore went to spoil the mark. Lynch’s gather and snap foreshadowed that he was on form for the day, and the fact he had the sense to hang back rather than crash a contest that already had two teammates in it showed admirable restraint that was rewarded.

Collingwood levelled the score through Ginnivan’s first of his three for the day, but as the quarter came to a close Richmond put on a burst of play that gave them majors to Castagna and Soldo, while McCreery’s shot just at the end of the quarter brought the margin back to a single straight kick.

The Middle

The tight contest of the first quarter had the 65,000 strong crowd well invested in the game, and the ones with the yellow to go with the black rose as Cotchin kicked his first within the first minute of the quarter through a great forward 50 tackle from Maurice Rioli. Cotchin looked fresh after deciding to stay home from last week’s trip to Perth, and kept himself busy all day. No word whether it was a case of him needing the break or the team just felt that West Coast’s current woes meant they could get games into new players, but it seems to have worked out for them either way.

Tom Lynch then stepped up, finding a purple patch of form as he kicked Richmond’s next four goals and was giving the Collingwood defence a major headache, especially direct opponent Darcy Moore.

Collingwood managed to get a few in themselves during that period, with Mihocek giving his side absolutely everything he had. Watching his movement, he was zig-zagging with layered leads into space, doubling back, backing into packs and when the ball hit the deck, he swooped and picked it up despite the damp ground and slick ball. His gather and snap was deceptively easy in a game where the slippery ball and sliding turf caused many players to come unstuck in similar circumstances. It also broke the heavy momentum Richmond had at the time and gave the Pies a reason to think they could get back into the game that was threatening to slide away from them. It won’t get the credit it deserves, but it’s that sort of reliability that will serve him and Collingwood well in the future.

At the halfway mark, Tom Lynch was the player with the greatest impact. Five goals and 18 touches is a decent result for any player, but in a half of footy, it really showed how he can hurt teams that don’t give him the respect that he is due. He could have had seven goals already if it weren’t for some easy misses, such was his form.

Just on the half siren Riewoldt marked and lined up for a shot, kicking truly to register his 727th goal to equal AFL legends Wayne Carey and Peter Hudson, later kicking his second in the third quarter to surpass them.

With a 24-point margin after the main break, Collingwood changed to a type of press that stacked the near-side of the ground and kept players at the ball. It did help stop Richmond’s movement a bit, but their ability to keep pushing forward was actually helped by the slippery ball.

A defining moment in the game came within the first few minutes of the second half. Lynch marked easily 70 metres form goal and found Riewoldt closer in. It should have been a regulation shot from Jack, but with Dusty Martin pushing forward, he gave the ball off to set up a mark in the pocket, much to the disgust of Jason Dunstall in commentary. Isaac Quaynor did all he could to spoil the ball, but Martin was too well positioned and marked easily.

The crowd hushed as he came in for his kick, he took a few steps and slotted it cleanly, resulting in every single player ruching to welcome him back and even Collingwood supporters cheering for him in his return. Dusty is famously fairly reserved with displays of emotion, but it looked like it was a little overwhelming in the moment as he wiped his eyes when teammates surrounded him. After they’d given him a chance to breathe, you can see him look up to the sky and slap the black armband he was wearing while mouthing something. Maybe he was just psyching himself up or maybe he had a little something to say to his departed father, that’s for him to know, but if it was a bit of a tribute, it was a great one.

Collingwood had enormous difficulty getting back-to-back goals, something they only did twice in this match, despite some great work from Mihocek and Ginnivan in the third quarter.

Crunch time

A five-goal margin in the final term made Richmond feel safe enough to take their foot off the gas, but Collingwood kept bringing the pressure at every opportunity. Goals to Pickett and Lynch’s sixth put the result to bed, but it’s to Collingwood’s credit that instead of accepting the loss, they worked hard to take advantage of the opportunities they had to put a bit of doubt into the Richmond supporter’s minds. Plenty of them will remember the dark times not so long ago when blowing leads was as Richmond as finishing ninth, so despite plenty of recent success, some level of trepidation might still be lingering.

After Martin kicked his second of the match, Collingwood got a run on with goals to Ginnnivan, Adams, Hoskin-Elliott and Henry to put them just over three goals behind with around six minutes to go. Richmond consolidated the ball though, and denied a frantic push from Collinwood with some classic tempo football, finishing with a goal to Bolton in the final moments of the game to run away with a 27 point victory, and taking Collingwood’s spot in the eight.

Ruck battle

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. The same is true for this ruck battle. Soldo and Nankervis are serviceable rucks, but hardly likely to be names thrown around in the All-Australian discussion for 2022.

But, Cameron and Beggs are hardly likely to have a look in either. Beggs looked like… well, like a first gamer last week, which is no surprise considering that’s exactly what he was. Collingwood would probably have planned on giving him a lot more time in the VFL before dropping him into a game or two against some lower-rung teams later in the season, but with Grundy injured it’s been a s good a time as any to let him taste the big leagues. Last week he attended 31 ruck contests but managed only one hit-out to advantage. This week he did slightly worse with 32 attendances to get no advantageous taps, and only two hit-outs.

Cameron fared slightly better, giving his mids first use five times from 46 contests and winning 14 hit-outs, but they were far behind Nankervis’ 33 hit-outs (12 to advantage) from 53 contests, let alone adding in Soldo’s stats which were almost equal to Cameron and Begg combined.

It is an expected result though, and not one that will worry the coaches too much, though it wouldn’t surprise me if they dropped Begg back to the VFL before too long. Getting beaten might be expected, but it won’t help him in the long run to be totally disheartened, especially when Mason Cox can pinch-hit if needed. I know Cox seems to be out of favour at the Pies, but I’m willing to give him a break on account of him being a top bloke, even if he is a Seppo.

Best on ground will likely go to Lynch for his seven-goal haul, but Jayden Short’s efforts shouldn’t be ignored either. After inking a five-year deal Friday morning, he showed why he deserved the faith of the club with a great outing, amassing 27 touches (10 contested) and a staggering 704 metres gained.

Return of the commentator’s favourite

Not to be too flippant about Dusty’s recent absence, but it’s not impossible that his return was hastened by the continual texts from BT, Huddo and Healey begging for him to suit up again. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Channel 7 sent Dusty a massive cake and Bruce Macavaney popped out of the middle of it wearing nothing but a loveheart-shaped merkin and sporting a fresh tattoo of Dusty’s face on his chest with “Speecial” inked on his knuckles.

Dusty quickly showed what he’s all about, fending off Josh Daicos with a palm that was undoubtedly high, but the umpires know that no one paid their admission to see them blow the whistle.

Early in the third, Martin found himself in space while Riewoldt had a shot form 40 that he probably should have taken, but passed to Martin in the pocket. Quaynor did all he could to spoil, but Martin defended the drop of the ball too well. A little cheeky creep to open the angle and he kicked his first goal since round one almost two months ago, and the players flooded to him to congratulate him.

It was great to see, and as mentioned earlier, the little moment he had to himself was a touching tribute.

Dashing Daicosese

OK, this one might be one that gets Pies fans up in arms, but I stand by it; Nick Daicos isn’t causing enough damage for the role they’ve given him.

Before you rush down with the vitriol, hear me out.

Nick is a smart player, he has plenty of clean disposal, but it’s almost always a short-mid option, and rarely taking the ball out of a contest or through traffic. He had 25 touches in this match, but only four were in traffic. As one fellow Mongrel commented: “He’s being eased into things as gentle as the first night with a virgin”. While the visual might cause a little pearl-clutching for some, it’s not inaccurate.

There’s a lot to be said for the playmaker role, but the most successful playmakers can also break lines. Nathan Buckley is a great example, he’d earn plenty of his own ball and weave through packs as well. At the moment, Nick is more of a link in a chain than the player who creates the chain.

Now, it’s rough to compare a first-year player to one of Collingwood’s best of all time, but that’s the potential that has been put on the kid’s shoulders. If there’s one thing that people will point to when his name comes up in the rising star discussion, it’s the ability to create his own play instead of being the second or third link in the chain.

Does that matter? Well, we’ll find out when the winner is announced at the tail end of the season, but with Horne-Francis becoming exactly the type of in-and-under playmaker that can break lines (albeit in a side getting belted just about every week) whoever wins the award could depend on how much the judges value the class vs crash of the two players.

Regardless who wins though, we all win when we get to watch those two go at each other for the next decade or so, especially if they both end up with the captaincy in a half-dozen years or so, which seems highly possible. Maybe they’ll be fighting it out for the Brownlow one day. Both have the potential.

Josh Daicos on the other hand had a very quiet game, amassing only nine touches. Over the last month, he’s found some fantastic form, but was well beaten when on the wing by Rioli and McIntosh. I’m hoping it’s just a little J-curve on his upward trend of form, because he seems like he could develop into a solid, reliable player, complementing the occasional brilliance of his sibling.

OK Pies fans, that’s my critique of Collingwood’s current favourite sons, feel free to let me know if you disagree in the comments below (and I do mean that, I’m far from assuming my opinion is the only one).

True Equalisation

The AFL needs to stop dawdling and make the hard calls. There can never be an even, equitable competition—a truly national league—until all clubs are given a chance to succeed. With that in mind, I think it’s time we put an end to the inherent bias in the system, and discuss the inevitable; there needs to be a dedicated Rioli draft.

Maurice, Cyril, Willie, Daniel, Dean, Maurice (again)… it’s a multi-generational dynasty with more flags than you’re average American pick-up truck. I would not be surprised at all if the AFL had commissioned the CSIRO to do genetic sequencing on the Rioli bloodlines, in hopes of splicing it with the Ablett, Daicos and Silvagni DNA to create a clone army of footballers that dominate the league.

Maurice Rioli showed exceptional footy smarts, with a rundown tackle in the second quarter that gave Cotchin a goal, as well as a couple to Tom Lynch off his forward pressure that caused turnovers. For all the match his positioning was nothing short of perfect. He worked around Lynch and menaced the Pies defence regularly, splitting the attention between the marking contest and the spilled ball.

And the forward pressure… it’s the sort of hunger to be involved that makes coaches smile and bask in the joy of having them on their side. Then there are the instincts. Late in the game, Martin went for an aerial ball, only to be spoiled by Howe. The ball ricocheted off to Rioli who had around a tenth of a second to sum up the situation, but he immediately tapped the ball in front of Martin, who gathered and kicked into the forward 50. Seriously, watch hat play, it’s not something that can be taught.

It’s low-hanging fruit to say that he’s worth keeping an eye on—anyone with his pedigree will always attract interest and be likely to develop highlight-reel worthy content—but even by that standard, he looks like a veteran player already. Whatever his contract is, there should be multiple clubs willing to throw a bit more at him, though I wouldn’t expect it to move him from the club that he seems to enjoy being a part of.

DeGoey contract talks

A few months back, you’d have been forgiven for thinking DeGoey had finally made himself unemployable, yet right now he’s one of Collingwood’s best and looking like he could ask a huge price during negotiations. Collingwood would be keen to keep him too, after wearing the scorn of the media and much of the public for their stance on DeGoey, though there are also plenty who think it was the right move to provide quiet support and point out that the end result was that the main charges were dismissed, though he did admit guilt for harassment.

Despite having a decent (but not exceptional) day, DeGoey’s on-field form warrants a big contract, to get the dollars there needs to be other clubs willing to poach him if Collingwood offer unders. Will other clubs have a chat with his manager? Absolutely they will. A chance to take on a talented player that is quickly realising his potential while laying blame for his past indiscretions at the feet of his old club? That’s a win-win in modern footy.

No doubt the Collingwood faithful would be absolutely ropeable if DeGoey were to leave the Pies after they (kind of) stood by him during his off-season problems, and they’ve got cause to feel that way, but every player is just one bad season, one bad injury away from retirement. In DeGoey’s case it’s also probably one more police involvement. It may sound mercenary, but as nice as titles like “loyal”, “reliable” and “one club player” are, few people are willing to wear them if it costs them hundreds of thousands of dollars to do so.

I think he stays at the Magpies, but I would not be at all surprised to hear a few clubs making enquiries on his asking price.

A slump or a dump?

The title of “Team of the decade” is a two-horse race between Richmond and Hawthorn. The Hawks are currently rebuilding nicely after dropping out of their premiership window, but the question remains whether Richmond’s 2020 flag was their peak and now they must reload, or if they need to make hard calls on star players to extend their chances at a flag.

History tells us that teams will almost never dump premiership players unless they are on the fringe or completely cooked, yet players with 2-3 years left of quality football and with a medallion or two around their necks will have a lot of draft currency. Despite his best footy being behind him, you’d think plenty of teams would be interested in getting Jack Riewoldt into their side. Ditto with players like Cotchin, McIntosh, Prestia and others.

If it was your AFL fantasy team, you’d be tempted to swap them out for cheaper players with more potential upside, but no one wants to see club legends walked out the door the minute they’re struggling.

The question remains though; do Richmond risk committing to another flag tilt too long and suffer because of it, or worse still, do they pull the pin on some club legends and then find themselves with a chance to go deep into September, but falling short and asking themselves “what if?”

History tells us that they will stick with their stars right up until it’s impossible to justify it any longer, but you really cannot take anything for granted when it comes to AFL contracts. It’d be a brave person to say that you can put a line through Richmond’s premiership aspirations, but it’d also be fairly ambitious to bet the farm on the current crop of senior stars to continue their form for more than a year or two.

A bit of personality

Ginnivan was oddly subdued in the match. His goal just before three-quarter time was remarkably quiet. He took a clothesline to the neck, and no teammates remonstrated to “flew the flag”, and when he kicked the goal he just kind of ambled back to position while teammates wandered off. The goal brought it back to a five-goal margin, and could have been a spark to generate momentum, but instead it was…. Nothing. Even after when Mansell and Gibcus would bully him off the ball, few people seemed keen to give him some support. They only jumped in when Mansell jumped on top of Ginnivan’s back and put a couple of forearms into the back of his head. Even then, it seems like it was more of an obligatory push and shove rather than any real intensity.

The kid has copped a fair bit of flack for his celebrations and having a couple of social drinks during a six-day break, but based on this small sample, maybe there’s something to be said for letting players be a little more human and a little less watered down, provided he doesn’t emulate his teammates dramas with a night out on the… beers….

Speaking of, DeGoey was likewise quiet, but he’s been keeping his head down a lot since the season began, so that’s not entirely surprising.

Off-field distractions

For some Collingwood fans, the name Héritier Lumumba creates a strong emotional response. Again this week, he’s called out the lack of progress in his old side after the “Do Better” report, and with Leon Davis and Andrew Krakouer willing to go on record with their complaints too, his voice is being amplified by the media.

While the club is quick to point out the positive engagement it has had with people from indigenous and African backgrounds, it seems plainly obvious that Lumumba isn’t going to go gently into obscurity, and is instead pushing for visible, meaningful change.

Now, I’m not here to comment on whether he’s right, wrong, noble, mistaken, benevolent or misguided. That’s a whole article in itself. What I will say is that despite plenty of noise to the contrary, the continued focus on the historical racial issues at Collingwood has to serve as a distraction. If it was just Lumumba, their method of quietly keeping discussions under the radar and putting out a united front of ‘we’re continuing discussion’ might have been enough, but now with Davis and Krakouer joining in, it’s no longer enough to say they’re doing something, it needs to be visible and impactful. When you have two premiership players and another indigenous player standing up, the noise is too great to ignore.

No one outside the club really knows what happens away from the cameras, so it would be stupid of me to make the claim that I know who is right or wrong here, but I would point out that Lumumba seems fairly satisfied with the way he was treated in his two seasons at the Demons, despite having a record of 8-16 in the games he played in the red and blue.

It’s at the point where even though the current leadership can claim they played no part in the incidents and culture that is the centre of the complaint, it might be worth doing everything they can to put this matter to rest, just to the team can properly move on. If not, the culture, character and even sponsor appeal may be negatively impacted.

Pies fans may feel differently, and you’d be well within your rights to feel however you like about Lumumba, Davis and Krakouer, but it seems that they will be continuing to highlight their cause for as long as they feel the need to. If they can outlast Eddie and Buckley, they may just outlast anyone, so waiting for them to lose interest is a fool’s errand.

Lessons learned

For a start, I’d say Collingwood should stop trying to make an accountant out of a sculptor. Let the innovative youngsters do their thing and support them with the reliable KPPs. For inspiration, see how Maurice and Daniel Rioli fit into the Tigers’ structure.

For Richmond, they’ve learned exactly the type of succession plan they have on their hands. Balta, Short, Rioli(s), Pickett, Lynch and so on. Believe me, I would love nothing more than for Richmond to spiral into a decline that would make North Melbourne’s form look stellar, if for no other reason than to see Caro tie herself into knots explaining how they’re still deserving of prime-time slots and sponsors, but it’s just not looking like that will happen any time soon. As much as it hurts to say, nothing short of a Carey-esque situation looks like it will destroy the house Hardwick has built, and even then, it’d have to be someone shagging someone else’s missus while wearing an Essendon guernsey or something, because the group seems that tight.

For the rest of the teams, they’ve learned that there may be some hunger in the Tigers for a while yet.

Coleman chance?

With seven in this match and seven against West Coast, Lynch moves into the lead of the Coleman race ahead of the Geelong pairing of Hawkins and Cameron. With Richmond looking forward to taking on North, West Coast and Essendon (twice) before the end of the season, there’s no reason Lynch couldn’t kick a few big bags and get well into 70 goal territory.

The Cats don’t play Essendon again but do take on West Coast twice and North as well, with two of those games at GMHBA. It will be very interesting to see if Geelong favour one forward for the award or if they let the chips fall where they may in search of September success.

Other bits

Modern defence is all about zoning off and getting players at the ball, and that’s fine. But Darcy Moore’s decision to give Riewoldt 20 metres of space when stoppage was around the 50 metre mark is an odd choice.  He just signed a six-year contract extension last month, and he’s worth every dollar, but the choices made on Lynch and Jack are confusing. I’m expecting that his problems came form trying to cover them both without the appropriate structural support, because he’s a lot better than the goals kicked on him in this game suggests.

Team culture is a huge thing. Players that support and play for each other build a successful culture, and it was shown with the support of Dusty. His goal celebrations looked like friends welcoming a loved one back form a hard time. A flag will definitely bring people together, but it comes across as genuine camaraderie for the team, and it’s spreading to the young players coming through. With that culture taking root, Richmond look like any temporary plateau in form will soon turn into another ascent up the ladder again, which is great if you’re a Tigers fan. Less so for the rest of us.

How good is Gibcus going to be? It says a lot that despite Richmond trading in veteran defender Robbie Tarrant, he’s being kept out of the side in favour of the young draftee. Key Defenders are probably the rarest of all specialist players, so to have some depth in that role shows exceptional foresight from the list management team.

On a final positive note, I just love Dave Rodan in the goal square. The bloke looks absolutely stoked that he gets to continue to be a part of the game he loves. I truly hope that he’s a trail blazer in this way, and that many, many more players will follow him into the fluoro yellow after their careers are up. It is always nice to see players continue to help the game after they’ve hung up their boots, and it is another bridge between the players and umpires that might help grow a bit more understanding between the two. Plus, if some bigger names make the move, it may also inspire the grass-roots players to do the same thing, helping the umpire situation in local footy much more than any rule or edict form the AFL ever could. Next Commissioner, please feel free to steal this idea.

Up Next

With the result of this match, Richmond move into the eight, and with the Bulldogs going down to Port on Friday night, unless Hawthorn can defeat Essendon by 20 goals, they should stay there. It would be a fun situation if Hawthorn did manage to win by enough to approach Richmond’s percentage though, as their clash at the MCG next week would bring added interest with the top eight spot consolidation more important than ever.

Hawthorn are looking very good this year at a time when they’re building towards something, but I think Richmond are just a little too keen right now, and should handle them well enough to keep their spot.

Richmond by 19

 

Collingwood have another six-day turnaround before embarking on the long journey to Marvel stadium to take on the Bulldogs. With both teams coming off losses, it’ll be a game that both teams need to win if they want to mount a push for finals footy before the mid-season break.

Both teams look like their best is good enough to challenge any team in the comp, but their cohesion can be problematic when things get frantic. The winner will be the one who can make the most of the surges in momentum and convert the easy shots into goals instead of points. With that in mind, I’m tipping Collingwood in a close one.

Pies by 9.

 

And that’s all from me. Big shout out to all the mothers out there—thanks for all you do. Footy exists the way it does in part due to every Mum who takes their kids to the game, washes the jumpers and other footy gear, helps out with their local club and tirelessly encourages their kid to keep working on their game and have fun doing it.

So lads and ladies, give your Mum a hug for Mother’s day, and some breakfast in bed if you can. And to my own Mum, thanks for all you’ve done.

 

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