There are alarm bells ringing all over the AFL at the moment, as the Brisbane Lions flexed their muscles and dispatched Port Adelaide with a scintillating third term to move into the Preliminary Final.
Alarm bells at Collingwood, Carlton, Melbourne, GWS, and those alarm bells are still ringing in the ears of Ken Hinkley and Port Adelaide, as Brisbane turned up the heat and burnt them in an electrifying third quarter surge.
This feels like a bit of a strange one to review, as some of the things Port tried to combat the Lions with genuinely worked. Ollie Lord playing as a defensive forward reaped rewards – he kicked four goals. Willem Drew, as expected, went to Lachie Neale and nullified his influence. And Port actually won the overall clearance battle, as well.
Yet, this game was all Brisbane after halftime.
Players seemed to have big moments – Zac Baley’s goal after stiff-arming Miles Bergman, Charlie Cameron’s back-to-back goals to send the crowd into a Country Road- singing frenzy, Cam Rayner powering through the middle and into the forward half. Hugh McCluggage stepping his game up as Lachie Neale was tagged. There simply seemed to be no passengers, and when you get a team firing on all cylinders like that, you know you’re in for something special.
The Lions may be walking into a situation where they have their best shot at winning the flag. With a home Prelim now secured, they’ll play the winners of the Melbourne v Carlton game at the Gabba in what should be an absolute belter, and after going undefeated at home all season, there’d be quite a few airlines bumping up their prices from Brisbane to Melbourne for the following weekend.
Before that, however, we have this game to cover. So, let’s jump into The Mongrel’s Big Statements.
THE LIONS OWNED THE PREMIERSHIP QUARTER
A complete and utter domination – that’s what it was.
Look, playing at the Gabba is evidently not an easy task. I am sure people will point at Port Adelaide and claim they weren’t good enough, or that they choked, but really, no team has been good enough to knock the Lions over at home this season. Port are in some pretty good company and it is likely that those people making big statements of their own in regard to Port are fishing for headlines. There is a reason teams get a double chance, after all.
However, what will concern the Alberton mob was the ease with which the Lions walked the ball from coast to coast to score as they embarked on their third quarter short circuit of the Power.
It’s easy to find the moment it all turned. It goes a little something like this…
Country road… take me home…
As Charlie Cameron slotted his second goal in under a minute, the crowd went into hysterics. You talk about the deafening sound at the MCG over the weekend as both Collingwood and Carlton won their games (and don’t I feel dirty for writing that…) but hearing the whole crowd singing along to what has now become the Charlie Cameron anthem… it was spine tingling stuff.
You could see it then and there – it was almost time to start the party.
But the Brisbane attack didn’t stop. Oh no… that was just the beginning. Joe Daniher got out the back, shook Aliir Aliir off his tail and goaled. Brisbane went end to end and Jarrod Berry fed Linc McCarthy for another, and then Hipwood stopped and started his way to a goal, as well. Yeah, I don’t know what he was thinking, either.
Brisbane found their groove in the Premiership quarter, and in one fell swoop, it undid all the good work Port managed to complete in the second quarter. Butters and Rozee may have had the most touches, with 19 between them in the third, but it was the work of Keidean Coleman, Jaspa Fletcha, and Connor McKenna streaming away from half-back that made all the difference.
It was Brisbane at the Gabba and at their best, and it was a privilege to watch.
ERIC HIPWOOD COULD HAVE HAD A MASSIVE GAME
Poor old Trent McKenzie had a bit of a shocker in this one – nothing seemed to go right for him and despite coming back onto the ground, he looked very proppy on a knee that was already heavily strapped.
McKenzie started the game on Eric Hipwood, who had two marks up as far as half-back in the first couple of minutes. Hipwood is fantastic when he stretches an opponent like this, working them all the way up the ground, as he is fast enough to get back and make position well when the ball rebounds back toward his own attacking goal.
Luckily for McKenzie, Hipwood was wayward with his shots at goal, or we could have seen one of the better quarters of his career. Still, it gave the indication that Hipwood was there and ready to get stuck right into the game.
Hippy ended up with 1.3 to his name and actually drifted out of the contest after halftimes (zero touches in the dead rubber last quarter) but the seeds were there – you could see the bulbs appearing in this game. I get the feeling that he is either going to have a blinder in the Prelim, or the type of game that makes you wish he was blind, so he could piss off and play something else.I’m not sure he does in-between games.
Hipwood is a difference-maker, but it is almost as though the stars have to align for him to make that difference. It’ll be interesting to see whether he gets on his bike nice and early in the Prelim – I reckon it is his biggest weapon. Taking a bloke like Mitch McGovern, or Jake Lever all the way up to half-back… he is a tough man to beat back inside 50 when he drops the hammer and goes for it.
INSTEAD, IT WAS BIG JOE WITH THE BIG GAME
There wasn’t a heap of laughing and joking from Joe Daniher in this game. It was as though he realised the magnitude of this contest, not just to the Lions in 2023, but to Chris Fagan and the players that have been so close for so long.
The time for goofing off can come after the finals. Til then, Joe Danher looks all business.
Maybe that’s because he was matched up against Aliir Aliir – a mountain of a bloke in his own right. Is there a chance Joe saw this as a chance to prove himself against a high-quality opponent? If so, consider it done. Five goals against a player the calibre of Aliir is one thing, but cracking in hard, outworking him, and beating him to the spot multiple times – that is what impresses me most.
Joe played this game like something really depended on it. As a bloke that has been guilty of appearing not to care too much over the years, he suddenly seems to care a whole lot, and his disposition and play, when combined, are a pretty damn effective package.
Big Joe slotted five goals in this one, took three contested grabs, and even spent a bit of time in the ruck.
His last three games have resulted in just over 15 touches per game to go with 3.3 goals per contest as well. They are superstar numbers, which is quite fitting, really. Because Joe Daniher is playing like a superstar. And it’s about bloody time, too.
WILLEM DREW ON LACHIE NEALE AND THE HELP
It didn’t take very long for Willem Drew to wander over and reintroduce himself t Lachie Neale, and you know that the Brownlow Medallist immediately knew he was in for a long evening.
Drew is one of those players that not only tags, but wins his own footy quite readily, as well. He seems to be aware of exactly when to push off and gain separation at a stoppage, often finding himself right in the mix when the ball comes out.
He finished with 20 touches in this game, whilst his target had 19. Importantly, Neale was unable to generate much in terms of scoring opportunities, picking up just three involvements for the game, whereas Drew was able to have six of his own.
So, with Neale being held, who was it that stepped up to the plate?
It was Hugh McCluggage.
The thing I like best about Clug is that he does not require 30+ touches to stand out. No, his ball use, ability to gain separation, and his run to support teammates usually end up with positive results for him. Of his 26 disposals in this one, 12 ended up in a score in some way, shape or form. They included three direct goal assists and a goal of his own.
McCluggage was able to accomplish this despite spending almost a quarter of the game on the bench, being assessed for a knock he received.
This was a statement game for Clug. The Lions needed someone to stand up and he responded immediately. Many would have expected prized recruit, Josh Dunkley, to be the man ready and willing to take up the challenge, but it is indicative of the growth of McCluggage that he picked up the gauntlet in the high-pressure finals and made this game his own.
OLLIE LORD MAKES IT HAPPEN
If you looked at the stats of Harris Andrews in this game – seven intercepts and 13 one-percenters – you could be forgiven for thinking he had just another day at the office, killing contests and loving every minute of it. But I am really not sure how much of this one he genuinely enjoyed.
With a good understanding of how valuable Andrews is to the Lions, Ken Hinkley deployed his young forward, Ollie Lord to stay with the champion defender and make him earn his touches. I am not sure that Hinkley expected the kid to kick four snags and be amongst his side’s best players, but that is exactly what occurred.
I’ve watched Lord play quite a few times this season and when he has been out there, he has looked tentative at times, and has been guilty of being a little lost, but after being given a directive, it was as though sticking with Andrews kept his head in the game and allowed him to make good position because he was positioning himself with the bloke who knew where the ball was going.
It was a great learning experience for Lord, who was playing in his first final, and he showed enough to convince me that his future will be slotting alongside Todd Marshall once Charlie Dixon limps off into retirement. With Lord, Marshall, and Mitch Georgiades, Port have their forward talls covered for the foreseeable future.
I’M WORRIED ABOUT XAVIER DURRSMA
He was on of the big three along with Rozee and Butters, remember? But it seems as though the Big Three from that 2018 Draft are now just the Big Two.
I don’t know what is going on with Duursma – is it an injury he is carrying? Is it a confidence thing? I am at a loss, but the weapons he possessed in his first year in the game now seem to have deserted him. He played 20 games back in his debut season. The best he’s managed since is 15, which he’ll equal next week if he plays. However, it is not just the games played that worries me – it is what he is doing, or not doing, when part of these games.
He dropped two uncontested marks in this game – and when you do that in a final, the pressure arrives immediately. He lost the footy both times, and when he did get his hands on it, he was just as likely to butcher it as hit an opponent with it.
Young players have ups and downs, but as we look at the conclusion of the 2023 season, this is year five for Duursma, and he has hardy fired a shot (not even from his bow and arrow) for a couple of years, now. Yes, he could be important if he hits the scoreboard. And yes, his hard run could be valuable.
However, right now, he is nowhere near the level everyone expected he’d be, and the longer Port wait for him, the less he resembles his 2019 self, and the more he resembles a less-efective Will Hoskin-Elliott.
He needs to lift if the Power have any chance ot rebounding.
Looking at each team’s bottom five, it is genuinely difficult to choose for Port, but for the Power, it is quite easy. Finlayson, DBJ, McKenzie, Duursma, and Farrell. You cannot carry blokes in finals, and the remainder of the Port side were ding all the heavy lifting.
Just before he did his knee a few years back, the Lions and plenty of their supporters were making noise about Cam Rayner being ready to take the next step.
Sadly, we didn’t really get to see it occur, as he went down with that ACL injury and came back in 2022, but by the time finals rolled around… well, he may have been running on empty. At 10 touches and no goals per game over his two September outings, Rayner was not looking like a finals player.
But he is now.
This game was the first time he has kicked multiple goals in a final, having gone goalless in three of the the six outings he’d had prior to this game. After making a huge difference in this game, he would be feeling a lot better about his finals resume.
Rayner did his damage early in the piece, with three goals to half-time, and seemed to take great delight in wading through the outstretched arms of would-be tacklers. Once the game was on ice, Rayner adopted a more subdued approach to the game, but Fages and his crew would have been thrilled with the way he used his great combination of strength and skill to steady the ship for the Lions.
THE OTHER RISING STAR
I’ve praised Jaspa Fletcher since I first saw him. I am sure you all remember that, right?
Of course you do… how silly of me t question your memory. Also, you would remember that you owe me five bucks, right? Link is at the bottom of the page – of course, you remember..
Anyway, with three goals to his name in this game, and a couple of beautifully timed intercepts to send the Lions off to the races, Fletcher looked every bit like a star.
This season, so much of the attention went on Will Ashcroft, and with good reason. He was electrifying before his knee injury, but the form of Ashcroft gave Fletcher the time required to find himself in the game and he is now running around out there like he owns the place.
After this game, he may have a mortgage on the Gabba.
With 16 touches and a direct assist to go with his own three snags, Fletcher was having the time of his life out there, revelling in the big win as things seemed to continually fall into place for him. Isn’t it funny how the harder you work, the luckier you get?
Brisbane will get their young superstar back next year and his development will pick up where it left off prior to his injury, but in the meantime, the work of Jaspa Fletcher should be more than enough to keep Lions supporters happy. In a team full of stars, he may turn out to be one of the brightest.
What is it with players not bothering t use their opposite foot?
Zak Butters, Willie Rioli, Xavier Duursma, Darcy Byrne-Jones… boys, you’re professional athletes. This is like a writer not knowing how to type or hold a bloody pen. I watched a quick video of Kevin Bartlett from the 70s the other day. He was kicking with both feet like it was natural to him. And then we get to see modern players having to chip with the outside of their preferred foot because they cannot, or are scared to use their non-dominant boot. It ends up in a turnover more often than not.
Remember the old drills at footy training where the coach would just boot the footy out into space and you and your designated opponent had to go and fight it out to win the ball? Depending on who you were opposed to, they were great fun. I would pay to watch Sam Powell-Pepper and Brandon Starcevich compete in those drills for a while. They both just love the contest.
SPP tried his guts out for Port, as did Connor Rozee, who looked like the only player capable of changing the game for the Power. Too much left to too few….
The Butters v Zorko incident… geez, they try to make something out of nothing during the game, don’t they? Off the ball, a bit of a bump to the back, Zorko went down too easily for my liking, possibly trying t milk a free kick… and the beat goes on. Nothing to see here.
A really impressive win for the Lions and the way they handled the Power in that third quarter was just spine tingling stuff. This has to be the year – third Prelim in four years, playing at home, undefeated all season. Bring it on.
As for the Power, they head home to face GWS. Good news – they’ll be in front of their adoring fans. Bad news – GWS are the best road team in the game. It’s going to be verrrry interesting.
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