Brisbane v Melbourne – The Big Semi Final Questions

The Demons and the Lions were coming at this one from very different places.

Many expected Brisbane to fall over in the first week of September, but they demonstrated something that the doubters were questioning – they showed heart.

Melbourne were out-pressured and outworked by a hungry young Swans team and were desperate to atone for a performance that saw many of their better players fail to play to their potential.

And so it was that these two teams met on the hallowed turf of the MCG in the cutthroat final on a Friday night.

 

A minute before the halftime break, all seemed to be going to plan for the defending champions.

With a 28-point lead, and the Brisbane Lions playing a stagnant, safe brand of football, the Dees picked their spots and probably should have led by upwards of six goals. A last-minute goal to Callum Ah Chee narrowed the gap, but the Lions had plenty of work to do.

Can we be honest for a moment here? Can we talk about where we thought the game was going?

I thought it was starting to shape like the formulaic Melbourne game we saw earlier this season. I know I wasn’t the only one. The Lions played the first half like a team that had no mongrel about them. However, after the main break, a shrewd move to send Jarrod Berry to Clayton Oliver saw Brisbane come to life.

The Berry v Oliver battle will be covered in detail, but the Lions lifted as a team with Berry doing the tough stuff. Lachie Neale started winning the footy, Eric Hipwood and Daniel McStay combined beautifully, and Harris Andrews again made those who doubted his defensive prowess STFU with a dominant spoiling performance.

The Dees panicked. Their kicking efficiency deserted them, as did their structure in defence. The Lions hammered the ball inside their attacking zone with either bullet passes or hack kicks, giving no air to the footy, which prevented the Demon talls from helping out. And as the goals started to pile up, the feeling that we could be seeing the last hurrah of the 2022 Demons gathered momentum.

In the end, the Lions sat 13 points clear at the final siren, thanks largely to a Jake Lever brain fade that cost 50 metres, but you could argue the game was out of reach at that stage, anyway.

It was a famous win for the Lions, who had lost 12-straight games at the MCG, and sets up a blockbuster against the Cats next week.

Let’s jump into The Mongrel’s Big Questions.

 

CAN YOU GIVE JARROD BERRY MORE THAN THREE VOTES?

He changed this game.

Actually, you could argue that Chris Fagan changed this game when he made the move to shift Berry from the wing into the guts.

Three weeks ago I wrote an article that called for two young Lions to step up to the plate and make a difference down the stretch of the season. Those two players were Zac Bailey and Jarrod Berry. Bailey had a quiet first three quarters before coming to the fore, but it was the move of Berry onto Clayton Oliver that completely turned this game around.

Oliver is a beast – he wins footy in places on the field that other players cannot even get to. All he needs is a split second to hurt you, and if he finds it, those quick hands can get the Dees off and running.

Playing on Oliver can be a nightmare if you’re not switched on, and at halftime, the Melbourne contested-footy beast had 12 touches and six clearances to his name, opposed to Dev Robertson. We all like Dev, and he will be a wonderful player, but Oliver was just too strong in the contest. He was hurting the Lions and needed to be curtailed. Berry was the best man for the job.

Amongst the Mongrel writers, we were discussing the level of mongrel in the Lions. One writer raised the point that without Mathieson and Robinson on the field, the Lions were struggling in that department. The move of Berry into the guts added so much mongrel that it became contagious. The Lions started tackling harder, running harder at the contest, spoiling with intent… they switched on!

It would be unfair to others to state that this all occurred due to Berry’s influence, but hell… it played a pretty significant part in it.

Oliver had nine touches after halftime – just three of them were deemed effective, and I reckon Champion Data are pretty lenient when they assess whether a disposal is effective. Berry helped himself to 22 second-half touches in what was as complete a form of dominance as you are going to find against a player the calibre of Oliver.

Though he was challenged by the work of Hipwood, Berry was far and away the best player on the ground. If you use a three-vote system, give him four. It reflects his impact on this contest.

 

 

WHERE WAS THE HELP FOR CLAYTON OLIVER?

Ahhh, and now we get to the crux of the matter – where was the blocking, Demons? Where was the switching, and making Berry work hard to restrict Oliver?

There are little things that you notice in a game that give very big indications that something is up. And around halfway through the third quarter, you could watch any stoppage to see Jarrod Berry giving Clayton Oliver a very hard time. Nothing illegal, but it was as though the two were joined at the hip… or the pelvis… bum chika wow wow.

Oliver had some mates in the middle – Jack Viney makes a cat’s head look soft. Christian Petracca is commonly referred to as “The Bull”, and Angus Brayshaw loves to put a body on the opposition.

But did they help Oliver get loose from the maniacal grip of Jarrod Berry?

Nope… not a bit.

Occupied with their own role and their own opponent, they left Oliver on an island to work out his own issues and even when it became apparent that he wasn’t going to work them out to the degree the Dees required, they still offered sweet bugger all.

Melbourne fell down in a lot of areas in the second half of this game, but their failure to look after their best ball winner is probably the biggest one. When Oliver collects under 30 touches, the Dees are 4-4 in 2022. Maybe they should have had that stat handy before the game?

 

AND WAS THAT AN EYE GOUGE?

The first three sections are all about Berry and Oliver – this could be a record. I told you I was thorough.

Look, if there was contact to the eye of Oliver from Berry, it was fleeting. Listening to the commentators, they were already speculating how many weeks Berry was going to get, but I don’t think it is that straightforward.

I am sure Berry will argue that he was trying to get Oliver off him, and pushing his face away made sense. I mean, he didn’t have a bag of salt handy to throw into Oliver’s eyes like Mr Fuji would have, but in his post-match interview, he said that any contact was unintentional. Whilst I am not completely sold on that, I don’t think that level of contact from Berry should result in a suspension.

If someone was on top of me and I was in a wrestle, firstly I’d make sure it wasn’t Mrs Mongrel… otherwise things could get sexy. Secondly, if it turned out it wasn’t her, I would be attempting everything to get that person off me. Face, eyes, balls… I’d be grabbing onto whatever I could to ensure I wasn’t pinned under him.

I sound like I’ve been an inmate, huh?

Well, I haven’t been, but you don’t have to have been in a compromised position in jail to know you don’t want another bloke on top of you in a wrestle. Give Berry a thousand-dollar fine and let the boy play footy.

 

IS THIS THE GAME THAT DEFINES ERIC HIPWOOD FROM HERE ON?

He had some huge wins in this game and did it playing against some of the better defenders in the game.

Steven May has been a monster all season, and with a second-straight All-Australian nod, cemented himself as a modern great of defence. Looking at the two standing side by side, it appeared like Hipwood was a male model, and May was the burly security guard employed to make sure nothing got near him all game.

But something did get near Hipwood, and it was the footy.

In the third quarter, three goals from Hipwood opened the game right up and took it from being a potential Melbourne cruise to victory, into the tight tussle that unfolded before us. Hipwood marked strongly, presented well, and made The Dees pay on the scoreboard.

His efforts were aided by a couple of pinpoint passes from Dan McStay, whose kicking in this one was hit and miss, but when he hit… he hit very well, indeed.

Hipwood finished with 17 touches and six marks, but none were as impressive as the contested footy win against Jake Lever on the wing that saw the Brisbane forward turn, have a bounce, and then fire a long ball inside 50 to Charlie Cameron. His goal round the corner set the Lions alight and with two direct goal assists amongst his ten score involvements, Hipwood took on the role of number one forward in the absence of Joe Daniher, and made it his own.

His return from his ACL injury gave us a bit of indifferent form, but evenings like this make up for them. A brilliant game from Hipwood.

 

DID MELBOURNE DRAG THEIR FEET ON SWITCHING THE LACHIE NEALE MATCHUP?

A little, yeah.

Angus Brayshaw did an excellent job on him through the first half, but as the third quarter progressed, you could see Neale becoming a factor in the game.

Now, it is easy to sit here in hindsight and state that the Dees should have done something, but take my word for it, I was wondering when the switch was going to be made and the Demons’ best stopper deployed to stop the rot.

Only, it never happened.

James Harmes continued in his role frequenting wing, the middle, and half forward, but paid scant attention to Neale, with Tom Sparrow being handed the job on the Brownlow Medallist. Problem was, that after just nine touches in the first half, Neale exploded for 18 in the second, and some of his clean takes of the footy and quick dishes were integral in the Lions moving the footy unimpeded.

 

DID DAYNE ZORKO WALK THE WALK?

I watched Zorko with a particular interest in this game, given what transpired just a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to see whether he would play the role of aggressor and invite the pressure on himself, or allow the game to come to him. In the end, he probably sat somewhere in the middle.

Zorko was huge for the Lions in the second quarter. As the game shifted onto Melbourne’s terms, Zorko put his head over the footy and worked hard in the clinches to give his team some hope. There are those who have questioned his leadership because he said some nasty words (the same people who went a bit quiet when it was revealed that Zorko had copped similar abuse during the same game that he made Harrison Petty cry… it seems so strange writing that), but the way he stood up in this one, as the boos rained down on him… it may not be popular, but it was a captain’s knock.

I will happily admit that I am a fan of players who walk the fine line between what is and isn’t acceptable in the game. I like Toby Greene. I like Jack Ginnivan. And I like what Dayne Zorko is doing at the moment. Not only can he get under the skin of an opponent, but he can also hurt more than their feelings with his pinpoint kicking and ability to stand up in tackles.

He finished with 22 touches and four clearances in this one, and was responsible for the centre clearance that led to the Ah Chee goal on the halftime siren. That goal doesn’t occur without Zorko’s flat-out attack in the guts and though many will not bother to mention it, it was his will that drove the footy forward to create that opportunity.

Zorko gets whacked when things go awry. Hell, I have whacked him, myself, when he has done silly things to the detriment of his team. But, when he uses his powers for good instead of evil, he is a weapon that be decisive in big games. And he is a captain that bleeds maroon, blue and gold.

 

WAS PETRACCA WORTH THE RISK?

Absolutely, he was.

Petracca was huge through the first three quarters before fading quite significantly in the last quarter. I suppose you cannot begrudge him the fade, given he was playing with a broken frigging leg! Right?

Some of his second efforts and little touches in traffic were superb, but on one leg, that only continues for so long before the slowdown comes.

What really surprised me, particularly in the first half, was the lack of genuine physical pressure on him at stoppages and in the clinches. I know we’re all good sports these days and like to sit around and have a beer with our opponents… everyone’s friendly, blah, blah, blah… but part of me really misses the ruthlessness of a team that senses injury and makes like really tough for the player.

I remember the Brisbane teams of the past making Nick Riewoldt cry on the bench after crashing into him after he hurt his shoulder diving for the footy. He chose not to go off – he was fair game, and those successful Lions hunted him. I was wondering whether these Lions would do the same to Petracca – they didn’t.

Maybe it says more about me than it does about them, but personally, I would much rather be a villain playing in a Preliminary Final than a gentleman sitting at home watching it, and if that means I test out the injured bloke, then so be it.

All is well that ends well, however, and the Lions go through to the Prelim without having to put Petracca under duress. In hindsight, the injury, itself, seemed to do that of its own accord.

 

WHO WAS THE BEST DEFENDER ON THE PARK?

It comes down to three blokes.

Harris Andrews gave Ben Brown a complete bath in this game. Looking at their matchup, Brown is just about the perfect opponent for Andrews – slow off the mark, a bit of a plodder, and doesn’t really clunk too many contested grabs. Also, he likes to reside inside 50 as often as possible, meaning Harris doesn’t get stuck in those annoying switches when his opponent ventures up the ground every second play.

Brown had just two touches inside 50 all game, with Andrews completely owning the space. One of his free kicks up the ground seemed to come about because he was slower and weaker than Andrews, who simply got rid of Brown when they were near the ball.

*Whistle blows…* “Free kick Ben Brown… being slow and weak.”

Andrews finished this game with 18 one-percenters in the type of performance that conjures thoughts of the way he attacked contests in his younger days.

Harrison Petty played a mighty game for the Dees, often finding himself taking the deepest forward and winning plenty of contests. He gave up a couple of goals as h switched onto Eric Hipwood in the third quarter (why, I do not know, considering May had Hipwood in the first half) but his first half, in particular, was pretty special.

Petty finished with 18 touches, 11 intercepts, seven one-percenters, and seven rebound fifty disposals in a very well-rounded game.

The other excellent defensive effort came from Darcy Gardiner, who gave Bayley Fritsch a bit of a seeing to.

I have to admit; I am not the biggest Gardiner fan, and when I saw he was going to be responsible for Fritsch in this game, I thought it may be pivotal.

It was… in favour of the Lions. Gardiner held Fritsch to seven touches for the game, as the man with the Pidgeot hairstyle made the most of his chances to finish with two goals, however, on the whole it was Gardiner who reigned supreme in their clash.

And the verdict?

Harris Andrews, mate. Time for people to get off his back.

 

HOW POOR WAS JAKE LEVER DOWN THE STRETCH?

Forget the brain fade that cost his team the sealer – Dan McStay was set to milk thirty seconds off the clock and just about put it all to bed anyway. However, after tweaking an ankle earlier in the game, he appeared to be running up and down on one spot for the remainder of the game.

He was isolated three times late in the game and lost every contest quite clearly. With the Lions pressing, it was almost as though they identified that whoever had Jake Lever on them was going to receive the footy, and Lever just could not go with them.

When we look at the Demons’ defence this season, Petty is the one that has improved out of sight, but if we’re looking at where the drop-off has come, look no further than Lever, who has been up and down more often than Joe Ganino’s pants in the male changing rooms at the City Baths (we used to go there for swimming when we were at school… horrible place).

I am sure he takes the time off he obviously needs to get right following this season, comes back in 2023 and re-establishes himself as the best intercept mark in the game, but the 2022 version of Lever has been bog-standard ordinary over the entire season, and when you throw in the fact that Christian Salem has been horrid as well, you can see why the Dees leaked goals at times.

 

DID MAX GAWN DO ENOUGH?

Nope. It looked like he was going to – he was obliterating Darcy Fort in the opening ten minutes, but credit to the fill-in ruckman from Brisbane – he fought back hard.

Gawn ended up with just a +7 advantage in the ruck in a contest he should have dominated, whilst Luke Jackson looked like about a dollar and fifty cents as opposed to a million-dollar man.

Gawn and Jackson took just five marks between them and their effort seemed to capture the Melbourne effort for the night – they both appeared to be completely gassed.

Whilst Fort was nowhere near dominant around the ground (his 12 touches could have been 15-016 if it didn’t take him 12 minutes to drop the ball onto his boot), he was workmanlike, and made the contest against Gawn a lot closer than it should have been.

For Gawn… this was not an All-Australian ruck performance. This was a tired bloke looking for a rest.

You’ve got it now, big fella.

 

GOT ANY QUICKIES, HB?

 

Story of my life, mate…

Alex Neal-Bullen may have been the best player on the ground after the first quarter. With seven touches , five marks, and a goal, he ran rings around the Brisbane defence and caused chaos as he went. He would add another goal, but only six touches through the next three quarters.

Three goals to Charlie Cameron was a great reward after being beaten by Michael Hibberd so convincingly the last time they met. The only thing missing from this game was a rousing version of Country Road as he slotted that goal from the boundary in the last quarter. Just five touches for Charlie, but with three goals, including that game breaker… he should have been in the AA side.

Good to see Zac Bailey step up in the last quarter. He could still be a matchwinner in a final, but he was absent a little too much from the action for three quarters of the game.

Big numbers for Daniel Rich, with 30 touches and nine rebound fifty deliveries, but a lot of his touches early were very rushed, and it wasn’t until later in the game that he genuinely started hurting with his disposals.

Geez, Jack Viney hacks at the footy. I know he wins the hard ball, but his kicking in this one made me want to go next door and throw the remote at my neighbour’s TV… because I kind of like my TV now that I have worked out all the little things it does.

Solid game for James Harmes in the guts and out wide for the Dees. He has made himself a Mongrel favourite over the last couple of seasons and rarely gets the credit he deserves as a two-way player. He had eight score involvements from his 20 touches in this one.

Does anyone else think that Ed Langdon looks a bit like Christian Slater? No? Just me, then?

Oh well…

And finally, congrats to Clayton Oliver, who topped 400 contested possessions in a season for the third time in his career. Only one other bloke has managed that – Josh Kennedy at Sydney.

 

And that may just wrap things up for this one.

What a win for the Lions. They had a line put through them two weeks ago by the footy experts, but they have responded better than anyone expected. Two finals down – two to go. Dare to dream…

As for the Dees, going out in straight sets after the start to the year they had… that makes 2022 a failure. Sorry, but it’s true. They are a good side but they have got a few things to iron out for 2022. Maybe Brodie Grundy in the ruck can help things along?

 

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