If you were to ever sit down with someone who had not watched an AFL game and wanted to show them some of the best our sport has to offer, you’d probably be best to avoid this game.
Unlike reports you’ll read elsewhere, I don’t want to bullshit you. This was a very ordinary game of footy, but there’s an old saying… or a saying I just made up; they don’t ask HOW you won. They ask IF you won. And the Dees can smile knowing they played a pretty ugly brand of footy and still managed to walk away with four points.
The game was riddled with skill errors and inaccuracy, as both teams struggled to hit the scoreboard, despite conditions as good as they get for a Friday night in June. With 14 goals between the sides, the Dees played ugly and won. Mainly because they were a better team, but also because the broken Carlton Blues played even uglier!
As harsh as the above sections were about the game, there is still plenty to get through in terms of individuals, tactics (both that worked and that failed), and where the teams go next. Time to jump into The Mongrel’s Talking Points.
Many Melbourne fans spoke glowingly about Jacob van Rooyen before the commencement of the 2023 season, saying that he was going to take the league by storm, he was their future, he should play every game this season… you know, the regular chatter as people start getting excited about the new season.
I was a little harder to convince. I always like to see how a bloke adjusts to the pace of the highest level and whether they can stand toe-to-toe with a season key defender before I start singing their praises.
I think it is high time that I acknowledge that those track watchers from the red and blue army are pretty good judges. Sure, he hasn’t taken the game by storm, but there is now zero doubt that JVR is the real deal and will be a constant in the Melbourne front half for the next ten years .
What d you like best about his game?
Was it the contesting?
The work up the ground?
The second efforts?
The whole damn package?
He is starting to look very comfortable at the level, now, and his timing and leap at the footy is getting better, as is his ability to continue to work late into the game. With 16 disposals and seven marks to his name, this was likely his most-rounded game of the year. I know he has a couple of games with three goals to his name, but the way he moved from contest to contest and provided that marking target around attacking 50 for the Dees was impressive in this game.
My jury is out as to how high his ceiling is, but with the right players around him, he has definitely shown enough for Demon fans to think that, as he fills out and gets even stronger, they’ve found their number one key forward going forward.
And as we’ve seen, good ones are pretty damn hard to find.
THE OLD FIRM
Back in the halcyon days of 2021, the Melbourne defence was the envy of the entire league. As much as we remember the blistering clearance work, the big Max Gawn goals in the Prelim, the bursts from the front of stoppages, the defence was the bedrock this team was built on. At the heart of that back six were Steven May and Jake Lever.
May would take the big job, leaving Lever to patrol defensive fifty in order to pick off any lazy or misdirected forward entry. Over the last couple of seasons, injury, form, and punching the occasional teammate has kept the pair from becoming that potent force again. They were also forced to hold the fort as their third wheel, Christian Salem, was dealing with his own injury issues.
But in this game, it seemed as though they were just getting the band back together. Were they on a mission from God? Well, being called the Demons likely indicates they weren’t, but I am desperately trying to milk this Blues Brothers reference for all it’s worth.
May controlled Charlie Curnow in this game, limiting his influence to outside attacking fifty for all but two of his disposals. Curnow finished with the solitary goal, taking a back seat to his partner in petty crime, Harry McKay.
Meanwhile, May used his combination of size, power, and ability to read the ball in flight to muscle Curnow out out the contest before Charlie even realised where the ball was going to drop. There were several instances where Curnow, despite being the intended target, just found himself ten metres away from the drop zone, almost as though he was shunted into that pointless space by May without even knowing he was headed there. It was quite amazing to see, with Charlie half looking at the umpire for help and half realising that he needed to stop trying t physically engage with a bloke that has eaten larger things than him as a mid-morning snack.
May finished with 18 disposals, six intercepts, and four spoils, as he handled Curnow a little too easily for Carlton fans’ liking.
With Tomlinson having his hands full with McKay, Lever was the main beneficiary. He floated around for 12 intercepts and added eight one-percenters in close to his best outing for the season. Playing the third man up role, Lever found little pressure from the stagnant Carlton forward line, who seem to contest once, and then shut up shop, as though their job is done, irrespective of the outcome.
Here’s a couple of stats for you.
Harry McKay – five scoring shots. Six score involvements
Charlie Curnow – one scoring shot. Two score involvements.
Outside their own shots at goal, these two do bugger all for anyone else. You only need to stop them getting shots at goal and they’re pretty much cooked.
This was a huge confidence boost for the old firm, as they played a brand of defence close to that which gave the Dees such a list in 2021. Now, they just need some other pieces to fall into place…
The Dees have found one, here.
Sometimes, you watch a game and you start to see little signs from a player. Well, we didn’t see little signs from Judd McVee – we saw some pretty significant ones in this game.
His run and carry, combined with some handy intercept work made him a strong rebounding presence for the Dees, and he didn’t mind taking the game on up the guts, either.
He finished with 17 touches and four intercepts in this game, but it was his balance and decision-making that I was most impressed with. Yep, the Dees have found one, and at just 19 years of age, he has a heap of growth to come.
Add to the fact he is playing alongside another defender who is just 21, but looks completely at ease in the hustle and bustle of the Melbourne defence, and you have a solid pairing that the Dees can build with, going forward.
Trent Rivers was rock solid on the rebound fro Melbourne, clocking in at 24 disposals and five intercepts. He tended to kick for distance to get the ball the hell out of there on occasion, but he is definitely a defence-first, worry about the fancy stuff later type of player. Really, there aren’t enough of them around.
BIG MEN DON’T GET ANY SMALLER
That was a niiiiice last quarter from Max Gawn, as he and Brodie Grundy made the most of the undersized Carlton ruck division.
Gawn went forward and left a lot of the tap work to Grundy. Tom De Koning battled hard but there was a distinct lack of second efforts from him in this one and the Blues ended up -9 in overall clearances despite being just -5 in hit outs. De Koning battled hard, but he looked buggered by the end of the game.
Looking only at hit outs can be very misleading. Whilst TDK did manage to find Patrick Cripps with a few taps, the way Grundy and Gawn managed to find a teammate in stride with their hit out gave the Dees a distinct advantage numerous times.
Gawn, with a freedom to move around half forward, took three contested marks in the last quarter and kicked what can only be termed as a captain’s goal from outside 50 to all but put the game to bed. Carlton had to resort to playing Lewis Young in the ruck at points, and whilst their hands were tied, it rammed home what an advantage Melbourne possess, particularly if an opposition ruck is injured during a game.
Their duo did not completely take over in this one – Grundy was rather subdued – but when it was time to step up, having Gawn loitering like a weirdo with intent (come on… put him in an overcoat and he’d absolutely look like a flasher) around half-forward, Melbourne possess a weapon that becomes harder to nullify the longer the game goes on.
We started this game with the intriguing prospect of the Blues playing Sam Walsh on the outside. Teaming him on the wing with Blake Acres gave Carlton a running pair that could match it with the dynamic Demon duo (sorry, my six-year-old is learning alliteration and I need to show her an example) of Lachie Hunter and Ed Langdon.
That experiment lasted until halfway through the second quarter, when Walsh was summoned into the guts and such luminaries as Lochie O’Brien took up the role. That’s like trading in a Ferrari for a banged up Datsun.
Anyway, at quarter-time, Langdon and Hunter shared 17 touches whilst Acres and Walsh had 15. It was a great tussle, but the Demons were far more disciplined, not being drawn to the contest and holding their width – it is something that Simon Goodwin has insisted on since he started at Melbourne. He loves his runners having the space to run and demands they stick to their side of the ground. It worked a treat in this one.
O’Brien had four just touches in the second half, as the Blues lost all run on the outside. Let’s face facts – LOB is a battler. If he is the answer to any of the Blues’ questions, they’re asking the wrong damn questions. He is not a wingman and should not be asked to be one. Acres only had seven touches after halftime.
In response, Langdon and Hunter combined for 22 disposals after halftime, with Langdon finishing with 25 touches due to his continued hard run, and Hunter notching 22 after a week off.
Walsh was in the guts – he had 13 second half possessions but truthfully, didn’t do a lot with them. He looks a step slower than this time last year and was consistently under pressure when he wasn;t being caught, but you cannot hold that against him. He is coming off back surgery. He will take time to be himself, again.
The damning this here is that Michael Voss robbed himself of one of the more capable outside players when he felt he had to throw him into the middle. Walsh played what you’d term an okay game. That’s about as nice as I can be about it. On the wing, the Blues’ combination had the capacity to hurt Melbourne as much as the Langdon/Hunter combination was hurting them, but Voss blinked, moved Walsh, and replaced him with O’Brien.
That’s a loss. Any way you slice it, it’s a loss.
And it was a loss of their own making.
THE PROBLEM NO ONE TALKS ABOUT
So, here is the big issue for you, Blues fans. I am sure I am preaching to the choir, but some of you are convinced that the scoring, or lack thereof, is somehow Harry McKay or Charlie Curnow’s fault.
If you think that, you must be a graduate of Bovine University or something.
The fact is simple – the Carlton midfielders are simply not dangerous. NONE of them pose a threat running forward. Have a look at them – not one of them strike fear into the hearts of the opposition. Need proof?
I got ya.
How many goals came from the Carlton midfield in this game?
That was from a wingman. From the blokes starting in the middle – Cripps, Cerra, Walsh, Kennedy, Dow… the Blues got sweet bugger all, and that is not a new thing. Not at all.
Here are the Carlton onballers’ results in front of goal this season
Patrick Cripps – He’s kicked one goal this season.
Adam Cerra – He’s kicked three.
Sam Walsh – He has three, also.
Matt Kennedy – Two goals
And if you want to be pedantic, George Hewett has one goal, as well.
That’s ten goals between them all season. They just don’t punish teams.
Christian Petracca has 11 by himself. Jordan de Goey, Josh Daicos, Tim Taranto, and Connor Rozee all have nine or more. And the Carlton midfield have ten between them.
Not good enough.
So, whilst you sit back and lament Harry McKay falling victim to the little man sitting on his shoulder as he tried to kick around the corner from 40 metres out, give the bloke a break and have a look at this “powerful” Carlton midfield that once again failed to push forward and do anything of note.
They’re the least threatening midfield in the game, and not by a small margin, either.
ONE DOWN… ALL OKAY
I was wondering how the Melbourne midfield would fare against the Blues, given Clayton Oliver is such a contested footy beast and he was on the sidelines again in this one.
As it turns out, I should have worried, as the Dees have this other bloke named Christian Petracca, who seems to do a bit of okay, and they also possess this hard nut who makes life a living hell for the opposition at stoppages. His name is Jack Viney.
Together, these two combined for 52 disposals and 14 clearances, as they put the brakes on Patrick Cripps and won the ball, themselves. Cripps managed 23 touches, but with just seven kicks, he averaged only 6.6 metres per possession.
That’s a lot of touches going nowhere, isn’t it? Same for Sam Walsh, really. Under seven metres per possession from him.
Without Oliver in the middle to take on Cripps, Viney did a lot of the grunt work, and though his stats won’t reflect it, he should probably be assessed on how effective Cripps was at stoppages. With five clearances, the Carlton captain was well down on his best, so you walk away from this one with the knowledge that Viney’s pressure and cracking into the contest was able to subdue the might of Cripps to the point where he was not influential, at all.
And that is a huge win for the Melbourne midfield without the best contested footy player in the game.
A FEW QUICKIES
I haven’t said much about the Blues in this review, huh? Not much to say, really. Their supporters must be hurting, watching them waste such a talented top end of the list.
What would you like me to say? You’re still a chance at making the eight? Yeah, mathematically, but you don’t belong in finals. This was abysmal and even the big ball winners were ordinary. The best were Brodie Kemp, and Fritsch ended up with two goals and should have had more, Harry McKay, and Adam Cerra, who must be thinking he has walked out of a team on the way up and into a shitshow.
Zac Fisher is too weak to stick a tackle.
Adam Saad has put the cue in the rack. He is offering very little in gut-busting run. Not with the footy – he still wants it, but without the ball, he doesn’t run hard to position to receive. He is a three-quarter pace man at the moment.
Not sure where James Harmes plays next season, but he is 27, has a fair bit to offer, and would be a nice addition to a team needing an accountable midfielder. I’m not sure he and James Jordon are on this Melbourne team after 2023, only due to lack of opportunity and plenty of it available elsewhere. Jordon would be a great acquisition for any team.
A shame about the knock to Jake Bowey. He was busy compiling quite a solid outing and now it looks as though he misses next week, as well.
Kozzie Pickett goes missing for way too long in games.
Speaking of next week, Carlton get the Bombers, who will be licking their lips at the thought of knocking the Blues completely out of contention. Meanwhile, the Dees front up for some Royal Public Holiday business against the Pies.
I have to say, if they bomb the ball inside 50 like they did in this game, Darcy Moore might break the record he was robbed of last week for intercept marks. They need to hit some players on the lead.
I’m leaving this one open this week for all. It’ll likely be the last one I do this for this season. I don’t think it’s fair to make people pay to be a member to read about such a horrid game of footy, and it was a horrid game of footy.
If you like the analysis or the dumb jokes, please feel free to buy me a coffee at the link below. God knows, I needed one during this game. Cheers – HB