Melbourne v Carlton – The Mongrel Talking Points

Don’t underestimate the heart of a champion

It was the 1994 NBA Finals. The confetti was still falling from the rafters following the Houston Rockets’ Game Seven victory over the New York Knicks and the Rockets coach wanted to send a message to all those who didn’t believe in his team along the way.

Many expected the Knicks to win the title. They had done their time, falling to the all-conquering Chicago Bulls for three straight seasons and their time was now. Only nobody told Houston that. All Houston and Tomjanovich knew how to do was win, and that’s exactly what they did.

With under three minutes to go in the Melbourne v Carlton clash in Round 22 at the MCG, you may have been forgiven for thinking it was over. Charlie Curnow finally shook off Harrison Petty to take a mark and kick his only goal for the evening. It gave the Blues a two-kick buffer. All they had to do was hold on and the finals appearance they so coveted would be theirs.

However, Melbourne obviously didn’t read the script. A massive contested mark to Jake Melksham saw the Dees pull back to within a point, and as Melbourne surged forward again with under a minute to play, you just got the feeling that they were inevitable. They were going to do… something.

The Blues tried. They did just about everything right, but as the Ben Brown marking contest spilled to the front of the pack, Kysaiah Pickett swooped. Jake Melksham, again, into everything, managed to shovel the ball out of a contested situation and Pickett, snatched it up, turned onto his right foot and snapped the goal to give the Demons the lead with 11 seconds remaining.

Was it robbery?

Was it luck?

Was it meant to be?

Never doubt the heart of a champion.

Let’s jump into the Mongrel Talking Points.

 

CLASH OF THE TITANS

As much as mids tend to dominate headlines in the AFL these days, there is nothing like a clash between one of the best forwards in the league and one of the best defenders, and we were treated to just that as Steven May wandered over to attempt to stifle the reigning Coleman Medallist, Harry McKay.

Both men had their moments in this clash, with May doing a stellar job when he was able to go body-to-body with McKay, but the Blues’ spearhead evened things up whenever he had space in front of him to lead to – May went with him a few times, but such is the reach of McKay, when he extends his arms and uses his torso to protect the ball, spoiling becomes close to impossible.

McKay finished with three goals, which would normally be enough for me to say “well, he is paid to kick goals and he did it” and give him the chocolates, however, when scoring shots are the result of downfield free kicks, there is bugger all a defender can do about it (I’ll get to you, Clayton Oliver) and for the most part, I found that May had Harry’s number.

 

A VERY PETTY MAN

Speaking of having someone’s number…

Harrison Petty is kind of like third the person in the room with a couple. The focus of the Melbourne defence is now, and will remain on the exploits of Jake Lever and Steven May. They’re like the happy couple, frolicking together, drawing the eye of those jealous people wanting to be one of them, playing great footy on a winning team…

And Petty… well, he is like the daggy mate that hangs around with them and makes things awkward.

The good part is, he doesn’t make things awkward for May and Lever – no, no… he makes things bloody awkward for whoever is unfortunate enough to command his attention on any given day.

Charlie Curnow was the unlucky one this week, with Petty wearing him like a cheap suit. Sure, Charlie kicked poorly and we could be sitting here talking about things in a very different light had he kicked straight, but the fact remains he didn’t, and we can guess why if you like?

Petty refused to allow Curnow access to the corridor.

Curnow battled hard, but he was forced wide way too often. With May and Lever lurking around like my mate, Adam West at a public urinal, Petty positioned himself so well that Curnow had no choice but to head to the boundary and attempt to find an avenue to goal that way.

Petty doesn’t play beautiful footy. He plays a smashmouth type of defence that is not to be trifled with, and if we’re looking at the Melbourne defenders that stood up in this one, anyone who fails to mention Petty’s name should receive a swift foot in the arse. The AFL website doesn’t even have him listed as one of the best. That’s because they’re knobs.

 

SHUTTING DOWN THE RUNNING MAN

I enjoyed the work of Matt Cottrell in this one, working his backside off to run with Ed Langdon and make life tough for him.

Other teams have demonstrated that when you can find someone with a tank to keep pace with Langdon, he doesn’t win a heap of the footy. The Blues were obviously paying attention, and deployed Cottrell to stifle the run and carry of Langdon. He had 13 touches in this one, with Cottrell picking up 18 of his own – this is a huge win for the Blues who can use Cottrell in this role next week on Josh Daicos now they know it is possible.

For what it’s worth, Langdon just doesn’t stop trying, and when he got forward in the last quarter to snag his goal, it was the result of him simply running his guts out to get back inside 50 and to the fall of the ball before everyone else.

 

WORTH EVERY PENNY

So, six years for Angus Brayshaw… it’s a big investment, but watching the way he handled himself in this game, at 26 and with the ability to play basically anywhere on the ground, Brayshaw gives the Dees a huge amount of flexibility as they navigate through changes to their team with retirements, recruits, and trades over the next few years.

Look at where he was lining up in this one.

He started in the guts early, winning four clearances in the first quarter. Then you see him running around on the wing, or at half-back. It seems as though he has licence to go wherever he feels he is needed and makes the decision to go there correctly every time. His hands were beautiful and clean in this game, even under pressure, and though he is as guilty as anyone on the park for some poor disposal, there was some wonderful in-close work where he drew the tackler in order to free up a teammate that allowed his team to move the footy freely.

He finished this with 12 clearances from his 38 touches, which matched his turnovers, sadly. However, in a high-pressure game, the way he was able to take the footy cleanly whenever it came his way separated him from every other player on the park.

 

THE MELK MAN

You could be forgiven for thinking Jake Melksham was cooked halfway through this season.

After his altercation with Steven May, at 31 years of age, you wouldn’t have been too dirty on Simon Goodwin if he pulled the pin and sent Melksham back to the VFL to finish off the year, right? Irrespective of whose fault it was, it was still two teammates having a bit of a punch on.

But the Dees are a bit bigger than that.

Petty squabbles aside, they know when to reward a bloke for the hard work he is putting in, and despite a plethora of players knocking on the door of this Melbourne team, it is Melksham that has pushed his way to the front, and he looks damn sure he is not going to be leaving.

A couple of his contested grabs inside fifty during this game were freakish, but really, I wasn’t all that surprised. Having watched him up close in practice matches at points over the last few years (one back before we were all locked down… ), he always just looked a cut above other players out there. One particular practice game against North Melbourne at Arden Street, he had the ball on a string and made others around him look like a bunch of confused kids when it came to leading and running patterns. You don’t lose that, and Melksham inside the Demons’ attacking fifty presents more of a problem than anyone thought possible.

He finished with 4.2 in this one and looked like a man on a mission to be front and centre if and when the Dees make it to the last Saturday in September this year. Personally, I’d love to see him atone for missing out in 2021 – every team needs a couple of great stories like that and Melbourne have Melksham, Jordon, and a few others that would be salivating at the chance to get out there and experience what their teammates did last year.

 

NO ICING ON A TERRIBLE-LOOKING CAKE

Sometimes when a player is having a bad day, there is an instance late in the game where he redeems himself and all the crappy things he did before that get washed away by this one moment.

That was not the case for Jack Newnes in this one. He had a shocker and it got worse right at the end.

For the most part, the Blues were excellent and displayed a great combination of pressure footy and composure with the ball in hand, but whenever Jack Newnes was involved, things tended to go down the gurgler pretty quickly.

He dropped uncontested marks on a couple of occasions, which invited the pressure on both himself and his teammates and looked unsure of himself way too often.

Thus, it was only fitting that when Kysaiah Pickett grabbed the ball in the dying seconds and snapped the winning goal, it was Newnes who was responsible for him. He’ll be looking at putting this game behind him very, very quickly.

 

UNDISCIPLINED OLIVER OFF THE HOOK

There is not a lot to dislike about Clayton Oliver’s game. When all is said and done, he will go down as a legend of the Melbourne Football Club, right up there with the heroes of decades ago. However, there are little things creeping into his game that may cause some to frown when his name comes up.

I have addressed his flopping in earlier reviews or columns, and I hope he has addressed it, but in this game, he fell into the trap of trying to deliver little cheap shots to the opposition, and it cost 50 metres twice. Luckily, Carlton cannot kick straight and the scoreboard impact was minimal, but a frustrated Clayton Oliver is bad for Melbourne. If word continues to circulate that you can get to Clarry and suck him into doing silly things, then it could be disastrous for the club at the pointy end of the year.

The thing is, these little cheap shots don’t hurt anyone. They don’t do anything other than incur the wrath of the umpires and perhaps your coach. It is an aspect of Oliver’s game he needs to bin quickly.

 

THE LATE OUT SHUFFLE AND WHAT IT MEANT

I didn’t think I’d ever see Will Setterfield as a Carlton onballer. As a matter of fact, I was wondering whether we’d see him in a Carlton kit again after this season, but drastic times call for drastic measures.

Adam Cerra was a late out in this one, joining George Hewett and Matt Kennedy on the sidelines. It left a gaping hole in the middle for the Blues (Insert Joe Ganino joke here – you guys can do it for me this week). Carlton remedied the situation somewhat by moving Sam Docherty into the middle where he quickly found plenty of the footy, but also found he did not have the time and space he is used to at half-back.

Forget what you’ll read in the papers or on a site that just reads stats and writes their reviews accordingly; too many of Doc’s touches were wasteful and either hacked forward without looking, or kicked to space. Yes, he was thrust into a role where he was under constant pressure, but even when he drifted back, his kicks out of defensive fifty were aimless and it was obvious they were “GTFO” kicks. Still, with an adjustment to the hustle and bustle of the middle, he could do that job again should the three mids on the sidelines not make it back next week to face the Pies.

The job of Will Setterfield to limit the influence of Clayton Oliver was quite interesting, and I reckon the Blues would claim this one as a win.

Whilst it was not on par with the jobs Ed Curnow would routinely perform for the Blues, Setterfield was just about as effective as the Melbourne star and made Oliver work for his touches. Setterfield managed this whilst collecting 26 possessions of his own. He added five clearances to his numbers which stacked up quite nicely against a player the calibre of Oliver (29 touches, six clearances).

This could be the opportunity Setterfield has been waiting for. Often, he gets stuck on a wing, or a flank and really doesn’t get to strut his stuff in the middle. Maybe this turns Michael Voss’ head a little?

 

TWO MENS BEATS ONE MENS

Thank you to former WWF manager Slick for that title. He had quite a way with words…

The Blues’ decision ot to go with Tom De Koning, and instead have Jack Silvagni play as the backup ruckman was an interesting one.

Marc Pittonet held his own in ruck contests until the latter stages of the game when it appeared as though he couldn’t jump over a piece of paper, but he was destroyed around the ground by the Max Gawn/Luke Jackson pairing, who combined for 32 disposals and a goal.

The issue with Pittonet, which everyone already knows, is that he doesn’t do much of anything once the ruck contest is over. He kind of just stands around being big, smiling and pushing opponents. That’s great if you’re in the business of intimidation, but when you’re unable to do anything else other than push and smile, your opponents quickly become aware that they have it over you.

He managed just four disposals for the game in what would be marked down as a huge loss… if not for the fact that Carlton actually won the clearances, meaning all those ruck taps from Gawn and Jackson didn’t really amount to too much.

The Silvagni aspect was more intriguing, still.

He was playing a bit of a defensive forward role on Jake Lever, which was very effective, restricting Lever to just seven touches and four intercepts for the game. Last season, they were the types of numbers Lever was getting in a quarter, but teams have wised up and Lever now has to beat an opponent.

When Silvagni moved into the ruck, it was his second efforts – the type Pittonet seems incapable of – that made his presence work. Whilst I am sure he would have liked to hit the scoreboard more meaningfully (he finished with 1.3), Silvagni’s work at ground level provides the Blues with what amounts to an additional midfielder.

Personally, I would have preferred De Koning out there, but that does not mean I cannot see what Voss was trying to do.

And it almost worked, damn it.

 

GONE HUNTING

Jayden Hunt picked a good time to step up, didn’t he?

His last five minutes, with his hard run and desperation, were a highlight for the Dees. His dash from half-back as he racked up 19 touches was impressive, but his last gasp efforts to propel the Dees forward as time ran down and the goals were needed really embodied the belief that this team has.

 

I REMEMBER YOU…

Jack Martin… welcome back, son.

I remember you from your debut game for the Blues back in 2020 when you kicked four goals and had the Carlton fans wetting themselves with excitement.

And then…

… yeah, it hasn’t been great since, has it?

Not only has he not kicked four again, but he has also only kicked three once until tonight and maybe this could be the start of something for him? At 27 years old, he’d want to get a wriggle on.

Jack Martin was one of the most talented kids in the country when the Suns took him as one of the players in the weird mini-drafts which absolutely cocked up the integrity of the actual draft. After years of underachieving, he moved to Carlton… and continued to underachieve, but if this is his turning point, maybe he can make some Blues fans forget his last couple of years with a big finals campaign?

 

And so, the Western Bulldogs now sit a game and 0.9% behind Carlton. They play the Hawks in Tassie in the early Sunday game, so at some point in the second half, Carlton will know what they have to do. If the Dogs win, Carlton simply has to win against Collingwood and they’re in. If they lose, well… the pressure is off and Carlton can play footy freely for the first time in months.

As for the Dees, on a late Kysaiah Pickett goal, they jumped back to second place and are perfectly positioned for a run at back-to-back flags. There were points this season where people started to question this team. Whilst some will point to a reduction in training loads as a reason for the Demons’ semi-slump after the bye, now is the time this team needs to get to work.

A dozen other teams would have thrown the towel in if they found themselves in the place Melbourne did in this one, but the Dees kept fighting. They kept competing, and they kept creating opportunities for each other.

Why?

Don’t underestimate the heart of a champion.

 

 

Want more of this kind of stuff? Join The Mongrel to get it!