Footy’s back, and what a way to welcome it into our lives once again.
In front of over 88,000 salivating fans, Tom Lynch took a big mark inside 50 with 30 seconds remaining and slotted a pressure goal to tie the scores, leading to a draw in the season opener.
The game was hot early, if a little scrappy, with the Tigers somewhat wayward and the Blues making them pay at the other end. New faces were on display, old heads were back to their best, and the MCG once again heaved to the sound of passionate footy fans screaming “baaaaalllll” – damn, I have missed that.
Shai Bolton pulled down a hanger, Patrick Cripps fought through tackles like a beast, and Daniel Rioli ran like a gazelle from half-back to give the Tigers bite.
Both clubs would be disappointed with the result. The Blues left the door open, with multiple chances to secure the win, but the blood rushed to their heads and they may have steered away from the scenario they surely practiced over the off-season after the games they blew last year. The Tigers would not be satisfied with the draw, either – they were peppering their attacking fifty in the last quarter but couldn’t capitalise.
Let’s jump into The Mongrel’s Big Questions and check out the ins and outs of the season opener.
Bit of a heads-up… I am battling a touch of gastro at the moment, so if I kind of, sort of, maybe make half-sense… that may be why. I’ll edit when I am in control of my bodily functions again. Apologies – terrible timing. Maybe I got too excited?
DID THE BLUES BLOW THIS ONE?
Not to discredit the huge effort of the Tigers, but the mistakes down the stretch from the Blues were pretty significant. With a one-goal lead and the chance to ice it, we saw Mitch McGovern and Blake Acres blow marks they would probably take nine times out of ten, and then we saw the sub, Lochie O’Brien, take off down the wing with running bounces when what was really required was a cool head, some precise ball use, and retaining possession.
Michael Voss would be absolutely ruing this missed opportunity, as all Carlton had to do was apply the brakes, find a target and milk the damn clock.
Sure, it was exciting to see LOB darting off down the wing with the hopes of finishing the Tigers off. Sure, a kick t Harry McKay is usually a great idea…
… but not with a minute to go, and not when McKay is in a three-on-one contest.
Yes, it may not be popular with Tiger fans to state it, but the Blues lost this one, and whilst their opponent didn’t win, either, you have to ponder how important those two points will be in about five months’ time.
COMETH THE MOMENT…?
I’m talking about Tom Lynch, right?
Yeah, eventually, but first I am talking about Patrick Cripps, who put the Blues on his burly shoulders in the last quarter and kept them in the game.
Maybe, but all you have to do is watch the way he fought through tackles to release the footy to his teammates – the guy is like the incredible hulk, only not as smart.
Come on… Bruce Banner is a scientist or something. Cripps is a footballer – stop being offended!
With ten touches and four clearances in the last quarter alone, it is likely safe to say that without Cripps elevating his game and fighting through numerous contested footy situations, the Blues may have blown this one. They tried, anyway, with dropped marks, playing on from a mark, and turning the footy over, but in the end, you have to put it down to the Herculean effort from Cripps to keep the ball going the Blues’ way.
AND NOW ONTO LYNCH, I SUPPOSE?
Not just yet.
This is more a tale of two forwards. One delivered when it mattered and the other squandered the chance to punish the Tigers following their third-quarter flurry to open the game right up.
Harry McKay looked fitter than I’ve seen him and covered the ground beautifully, running past defenders and fellow forwards on a couple of occasions to clunk a mark just because he could. He finished the game with just the one goal, but his two misses in the third quarter could have snuffed out the Tigers had he kicked truly.
You see, Richmond had thrown their best punches at the Blues. Three goals to open the third quarter had the Tiger Army up and about, but when Charlie Curnow managed to find space to kick two on the trot, it appeared as though the patient and composed Blues had learnt something that deserted them at crucial points in 2022 – maturity.
They slowed the ball down, refused to play Richmond’s game and worked the ball methodically into their attacking zone and SHOULD HAVE capitalised.
But Harry didn’t.
It left the door open and another big forward sauntered in like a gunslinger looking for a fight.
That man was Tom Lynch.
A big ‘Get out of Jail’ mark at half forward set the tone for Lynch, as he played a few blindingly good minutes of footy. He followed that up with a big contested grab inside 50 for a goal and followed up with a clean clearance from a ruck contest to kick his second in a row.
And just like that, the misses from McKay were compounded. It was game-on again.
It was fitting that it was Lynch towering over all to mark inside 50 with 30 seconds remaining. It was his shot that missed so badly in the Elimination Final last season, costing the Tigers a chance to progress to week two. There was no mistake this time, with the Tiger spearhead slamming through the goal to tie up the score.
Cometh the moment… cometh the man. Lynch stepped up. McKay stepped aside.
WHO WON THE TARANTO V HEWETT BATTLE?
Whilst many would have their eyes on Patrick Cripps, particularly taking into account the way he finished the game, with his power and grunt work coming to the fore, I was quite drawn into the other contest in the middle, pitting George Hewett against Tim Taranto.
Whilst the commentators talked up the impact of Taranto at his new club – and yes, 32 touches on debut are nothing to sneeze at – it was apparent to me that the former Giant was not punishing the Blues with his disposals. Little dinky kicks and missed targets seemed to be the order of the day for him as he threw the ball on his boot a little too randomly for my liking. Still, he adapted better than fellow recruit, Jacob Hopper, who had moments, but failed to have a huge impact.
On the flip side, the work of George Hewett was once again sublime. It’s no coincidence that Carlton fell in a hole late in the 2022 season without him in the side – he is the perfect foil for Cripps’ bullocking work, with his defensive work around stoppages just as impressive as his offensive stuff. Reading the tap work of Tom De Koning, Hewett’s ability to extract the footy and get the Blues off and running was an integral aspect of their early lead. He finished with 28 touches and eight clearances and was the runaway best player on the park in the first half before levelling out and allowing his captain to step to the fore late in the piece.
I was genuinely worried when Hewett sat out the remainder of the 2022 season, as a similar back injury had cost him quite a bit of time when he was wearing Swans colours. Carlton knew what they were recruiting – a hard-at-it inside mid that may or may not go down with a debilitating injury at some point. Watching him out there in this one, I am happy to state that the gamble is well and truly paying off for Carlton, and I cannot wait to see what Hewett is able to conjure at the business end of the season.
As for Taranto, we can put down his sloppiness with the footy to a first-up case of getting to know his teammates. His work ethic was excellent and he will no doubt see a heap of the footy over 2023. He just needs t use it a little better.
HOW GREAT ARE DANIEL RIOLI’S WHEELS?
Is there a sight that gladdens the hearts of Tiger supporters more than Daniel Rioli dashing off half-back with the ball tucked under his arm, looking for a target inside 50?
A couple of years back, Rioli had many critics, with most of them stating he did not remain involved enough as a forward. What an amazing career transformation he has made, and with the licence to run forward to create, he is as damaging off half-back as any player in the game.
Sure, there are others that collect a heap of the ball, and Rioli did that, himself, in this one with 27 touches, but when he gets the footy, he makes things happen. Players are forced to zone off their own man to cover Rioli’s run, which sews the seeds of chaos through the middle. The only other blokes that are able to do that often are Adam Saad and Nick Blakey, but I’d back Rioli’s decision-making to have him stand out from the rest.
With Jayden Short redeployed in other roles, Rioli’s run is one of the most potent weapons the Tigers possess, and it was on full display in this one, as he tore up the middle of the ground and looked like a million bucks in doing so.
All-Australian season, perhaps?
IS LEWIS YOUNG NOW OWNING THE ROLE OF ROBIN TO WEITERING’S BATMAN?
This time last season, Lewis Young was about four deep for the Blues when it came to key defenders, but a rash of injuries saw him bumped up the order to the point where he is now the incumbent as Jacob Weitering’s defensive partner.
Young played on Jack Riewoldt in this game and notched the handy 14 intercepts as he drifted to the front spot and made Jack earn every kick he got. Sure, as a key defender, he is one of those blokes who occasionally makes a bone-headed move, and we saw that late in the game, but when viewing the game as a whole, Young was once again resolute in defence and denied Riewoldt any serious say in proceedings.
I love what Young provides for Carlton. He is never going to die wondering in a contest and is now strong enough to hold his own against even the monsters of the game. Usually a contest-killer, this game demonstrated another string to his bow, with those intercepts invaluable to the Blues.
IS THAT THE BEST AND WORST OF SHAI BOLTON?
Nah, not the best – not by a long shot, but one aspect of his game is genuinely the worst, and it was on display a couple of times in this one.
Shai… mate… stop trying to milk free kicks. Please, you’re one of the best players in the game, have hands that any other person would die for and have the footy on a string. You don’t need to try to exaggerate contact – you’re too bloody good for it.
I hate seeing the bloke throw his head back, trying to tempt the umpire to reward him with a free kick, but it is difficult not to love everything else about his game. The creativity, the instinct, the sublime skill, and impeccable timing – I’m starting to think there is nt much he cannot do on the field.
His mark in the first quarter was the perfect sit – not close to his enormous grab that won mark of the year in 2021, but good enough for the big crowd to rise from their seats.
Also, Shai… stop screwing around in front of goals. Get that stuff out of what is close to a complete game.
HOW WELL DID JACK GRAHAM BUILD AFTER A SLOW START?
Putting this out there immediately – I love the work of Graham as a bustling mid. He is like a fridge with arms and legs out there at times, and he tackles like a man possessed.
As a matter of fact, a couple of his tackling efforts in the last quarter stopped the Blues in their tracks as they looked to run and carry the footy… the one on Adam Saad – I may have cheered!
… but his kicking inside 50 is abysmal, or was early in this game, at least. Add to that the two missed running goals and Graham had a bit of a shocker in the opening quarter. The good news is in the way he redeemed himself later in the game, to the point where he was likely one of the Tigers’ best, but missing those targets early cost Richmond shots at goal and scoreboard pressure. Still, one of my favourite Tigers to watch in the contest.
HOW THE HELL IS JACK MARTIN A BOTTOM-SIX PLAYER AT CARLTON?
I don’t know, but he is at the moment. With six touches for the game, he was barely sighted until the last quarter when he admittedly won a tough free kick, attacking the footy hard at ground level, but for the remainder of the game… he was a nowhere man.
I remember the fanfare about him when he was picked by Gold Coast in the mini-draft. He has failed to live up to that potential. There is simply no way a player of his ability should be touching the footy six times as a half-forward. None, nada, zilch!
Yes please… the best sort!
Four big ‘Get out of Jail’ marks for Harry McKay in this one, as he led hard to the wings and opened up space behind him. The Get out of Jail mark is a Mongrel special and it is when a player takes a grab down the line or in a pack, between the arcs, with no other options available. The record, all-time, is ten from Wayne Carey against Glen Jakovich all those years ago, but last season, the highest recorded was four. Harry was doing the work.
Wasn’t sure Sam Docherty had the leg on him to go the journey from 60 metres out, but he absolutely flushed that shot at goal. A thing of beauty that reminded me of the goal he kicked in his comeback game last season.
I know Charlie Curnow finished with three goals, but some of the defensive efforts from Dylan Grimes and Nick Vlastuin to curtail him in the air were absolutely superb.
Not the greatest debut for Blake Acres, who will be lamenting his butter fingers at half-forward in the last quarter. If he takes that mark at that stage of the game, the Blues could have killed the clock, and the Tigers.
Did Dion Prestia run out of steam a little? He was wonderful through the first three quarters but looked to be labouring later in the game.
Zac Fisher started well and completely disappeared.
Jack Silvagni attacked the contest hard in the first quarter then vanished.
Loved the work ethic from both Ollie Hollands, but the effort of Tom De Koning to cover the ground probably deserved its own section… but I am getting sleepy. One instance saw TDK collect at half-back and work hard to remain involved, snapping at goal moments later. THAT is what you want to see from your young rucks. Get his signature quick before those glorious bastards at Geelong come knocking.
Does Ben Miller look a little like Big Boy McEvoy to you? Maybe we should tape his head up and see?
Baptism of fire for Lachie Cowan, standing next to Shai Bolton in the first quarter. A big ask for the young fella, but he did some nice things.
Sometimes, I’d like to see Maurice Rioli Junior give the first option instead of going into his moves. I’m sure fellow forwards would appreciate quick ball movement inside 50, as well.
And that might do me. Not a bad warm-up for the rest of the round. Massive props to all who got out to the ‘G to watch. Love seeing a massive crowd at the footy. Almost makes you forget all that stuff a couple of years back, huh?