For many, the last memory of the Round One clash between the Cats and the Demons will be of Max Gawn hooking the potential game-winning set shot and handing Geelong the win. Whilst it was a pivotal moment, and will deserve the press it gets, it was a game with many highlights, and a few lowlights, too.
Usually, with the Good, Bad, Ugly columns, we’ll only list three of the really positive aspects of the game. Today, given it was such a brilliant contest, I feel it’s only fair to list a few more. So instead of the good, bad and ugly, we’re going with the GREAT, the GOOD, and the BAD. Not as catchy, but more fitting.
1 – Joel Selwood
I swear this guy is made of iron. Late in the third quarter, Selwood had his leg trapped under him in an excellent tackle by Josh Wagner. You could see by Selwood’s expression that something was wrong. His face was a mask of pain as his knee bent in a direction it’s just not designed to.
It was the sort of incident that would normally see trainers, doctors and physios rush onto the field and aid the player to leave the game. Did Selwood go off? What do you think?
He went down into the forward pocket, and was back at it again in the 4th quarter. He finished the game with an equal game-high 39 disposals in his 250th game. Selwood is a true warrior. People can hate on him all they like for ducking and drawing free kicks, but when it comes to playing through pain and showing absolute guts, Joel Selwood is as tough as they come. If you were a fan before today, your love for the man would only be enhanced. If you hated him prior to today, you’ll now have to begrudgingly respect him even more.
2 – Christian Petracca
I sat up and took notice as Petracca and Ablett stood side by side early in the game, hopeful that this would be the match up for the majority of the day. It wasn’t to be, but we did get to see glimpses of what the young Demon is capable of, and those glimpses were enough to fill any Melbourne supporter with a lot of hope.
He finished the game with 24 touches, including seven clearances and 13 contested possessions. Though only finishing with four tackles, all of them stuck, including two on Ablett. What was telling was that Ablett couldn’t shrug Petracca’s grip; a great indication that he is getting stronger. He had the chance to turn the game on its ear with a mark inside 50 as the third quarter wound down, but his kick let him down. He finished with 1.3 for the day, so plenty of room to improve, but Dees fans, rejoice – you have a genuine star on your hands.
3 – The Little Master
There were many who thought Gary Ablett’s move back to Geelong was one that would fall over. His bung shoulders and dodgy calves were an issue, apparently. They may still be, but we saw no evidence of this in game one of the 2018 season.
Ablett ran his backside off all day to match Selwood as the leading disposal winner on the day. He was collared a couple of times early on in the game, but the longer the game went, the better he seemed to get. A roar echoed around the MCG as he collected his first touch back in the hoops, and he added another 38 touches to that one before he was done.
Ablett’s calf muscles may tighten up. His body may not be what it once was, but we can only judge him on what we saw, and what we saw today was vintage Gary Ablett.
1 – The kids coming to play
They’re not household names… yet, but the young talent on display for both teams was certainly a high point of the game. Tim Kelly jumped into everyone’s Supercoach calculations with 27 disposals and a goal, Brandon Parfitt had 22 touches and a couple of goals, Lachie Fogarty collected 20 touches and a goal.
Particularly early, the talents of the debutants were on display.
After a blistering start, Esava Ratugolea drifted out of the game. I’d say this was more a fitness issue than a skill or endeavour issue. Bayley Fritsch was the last in the line of young men who impressed. His opening overhead mark between two Cat defenders set the tone for what was an excellent overall game.
Late in the first quarter, Fritsch got a fist to a ball in a marking contest, the ball spilled to the Hulkster Hogan who kicked truly. It was a small piece of play, insignificant in many cases, but in this one it was big. It was a two on one scenario, and his contest allowed Melbourne the chance to stay in the contest. Fritsch made the contest, the ball spilled to Hogan, and Jesse went bang!
2 – Nathan Jones steals a high five
As the players broke for three quarter time, Gary Ablett made his way over to his teammate to congratulate him on the work he’d just done. He raised his hand to high five him – enter Nathan Jones.
Jones snuck in and stole the high five, before Ablett’s teammate could claim it. You’ve gotta watch these bald blokes… they’re sneaky.
3 – The Menzel tap on.
Jordan Murdoch may have kicked the goal. Gary Ablett may have been the one to handball to him and get the assist, but it was a deft tap from Daniel Menzel that set it all up.
With two defenders bearing down on him, Menzel knew that taking possession would see him dumped and, most likely, the ball cleared. Instead of grabbing the ball, Menzel tapped the ball back into the path of the charging Ablett. He gave off the handball and Murdoch finished the job from the goalsquare.
Champion Data rates Menzel as elite at his position. Moments like this emphasize why.
1 – Late game kicking at goal.
We’re not just going to whack big Max here, though his miss did, in effect, cost Melbourne the game. It’s amazing what fatigue can do, isn’t it? Earlier in the game, he nailed a goal from a much more difficult angle, an extra twenty or-so metres out, but with time ticking down, things tend to tighten up a little. It was a terrible miss for a professional footballer. Let’s leave it at that.
Another miss that will not be spoken about anywhere near as much was one that would’ve iced the game minutes earlier. Daniel Menzel is one of the most difficult match-ups in the game, and he proved that again today. He was poised to be the hero in the last quarter when he marked right in front, between 15-20 metres out.
He missed terribly. Moments later he had the chance to redeem himself as he took another contested mark around 40 metres out. This was a much more difficult kick and it drifted off for another behind. Menzel could’ve killed the Melbourne momentum, but failed when it mattered. He did the hardest part of the job and then botched the easier part, particularly the first shot. His overall game – 4.2 from 15 disposals was an excellent return, but when needed, he didn’t deliver.
2 – Late game out on the full kicks.
Time ticking down.
Game on the line.
Precision kicking was required.
Sadly it was not happen. In the ensuing next few moments, Jordan Murdoch, Alex Neal-Bullen and Zach Tuohy all put the ball over the line and out on the full. Was it fatigue or was the moment a little too much for them? Either way, a good kick in any of those situations may have made for a different outcome.
3 – Free kick against Ratugolea for putting his head over the ball.
There were some terrible interpretations of the rules over the weekend. There were protected area 50 metre penalties, tackles that were ruled dangerous that were actually good tackles, and of coirse the inevitable line-ball decisions that have one set of supporters upset irrespective of which way the call goes.
But the decision to award a free kick against debutant, Esava Ratugolea was an absolute howler. The first-gamer went as low as he possibly could’ve without diving at the legs of his opponent, and got his hands to the ball. It appeared as though he shoulder connected with the thigh of the almost stationary Josh Wagner. The umpire awarded the free kick to Wagner for, what he described as, “forceful contact”.
Forceful contact? Bloody hell! Of course it was forceful – physical contests in footy are meant to be! I am pretty sure he meant to say it was something to do with contact below the knees, but even then, it didn’t appear to be the case. The stakes were high, the kid went hard, and was punished. It sends a terrible signal to aspiring AFL players.
Seriously, from an early age you’re taught to go low and hard. Ratugolea did and was penalized – have a good, long, hard look at yourself, AFL. This is not the way the game should go. To Esava Ratugolea, who has only been playing the game for five years, I apologise – that should not have been called against you.
Max Gawn had a horror moment earlier in the game as well. A man of his size should not be halving aerial contests with Joel Selwood.He should've either marked it, or put Selwood on his backside.
Christian Salem had a very nasty fall as Joel Selwood shepherded the space he was leaping into. He got the free kick, but that could've been very nasty - as bad as any sling tackle, or hit below the knees could ever cause. Both players were lucky.
Jordan Lewis was on the angry pills in the second quarter. I liked it. He plays well when he's on the edge.
Bernie Vince knocking Parfitt right on his backside as he ran out of defence was great. To his credit, Parfitt was straight up.
Cats did a great job early of nullifying Jake Lever's biggest attribute. He was hardly involved in aerial contests in the first half.
A few umpiring decisions where a player was obviously trying to draw a high tackle were let go. GREAT umpiring. Should be more of it.
Cats a man down on the bench from early in the game with Harry Taylor out. They looked cooked late in the game. Won the game on heart, and a bit of luck. Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good.