Sydney v Melbourne - The Good, Bad and Ugly

The Swans once again showed they were far from a spent force, sending the Demons to 0-7 against the top sides in the competition.

Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.

THE GOOD

Isaac Heeney

Geez, I love watching this bloke play. He was everywhere in the last quarter, drifting back to help out a defence under siege, and drifting forward to apply scoreboard pressure earlier in the game.

Heeney is the sort of player that does a little bit of everything, and you can see why John Longmire uses him all over the ground – he is so dependable. His hands are wonderful overhead, he reads the flight beautifully, and he is strong at ground level as well.

And then he does the spectacular as well. His mark in the last quarter, launching and using Jesse Hogan as a stepladder to grab what will surely be Mark of the Year to this point. As wonderful as that mark was, let’s talk about how gutsy it was. The game was on the line at this point, and look at where it was taken – deep defence where an error may have been very costly. This takes either immense courage, or immense stupidity. Maybe there was a healthy measure of both, mixed in with a good dose of self-belief.

Heeney is a star. If you take away the academy system and any concessions, where would he go if the 2014 draft was redrafted right now? Would you take him over de Goey? Over Petracca? You’d have to consider it.

Aliir v TMac

The football world has had their eyes opened in regards to Aliir this season. Actually, it took til about a month ago, and a match up with Majak Daw to bring his name up a little more often. In that game, Aliir put his stamp on the game defensively and offensively, but it is in defence that he has excelled since.

The thing I liked best about his game yesterday was not the 10 marks, or the huge spoils, but the fact he did it matched up against a high quality opponent – Tom McDonald.

T-Mac was the best forward in the game for a month a little while ago, using his size and athleticism to monster opponents. Today, these two didn’t have your classic Knights v Vander Haar match up, but when they did find themselves genuinely opposed to each other, there was a clear winner each time.

TMac finished with 17 touches, 10 marks and a couple of goals, but the run out of the backline and help defence of Aliir negated many Melbourne bombs inside 50.

Whether you think Aliir had McDonald’s number, or vice-versa, there is no question how important each of these players are to their respective teams. McDonald has been able to stand up in games against good opposition to counter the disappearing acts of Jesse Hogan, and Aliir’s leap into the key defensive spot, displacing Heath Grundy, have made their teams better.

Jake Lloyd

So you have Lloyd and Rory Laird who opposition teams seemingly refuse to man-up on. When will they learn?

Lloyd’s delivery off half back is the sort of weapon that hurts. He doesn’t settle for the safe, chip kicks across half back to bolster numbers, shirking responsibility and palming it off to someone else with a bit more courage. He takes it on, breaks the line and kicks long to his team’s advantage. He had seven rebound 50s today, and ran at 81% efficiency for the game.

It may come down to Lloyd v Laird for an All-Australian spot this season. Laird’s first half of the year was spectacular, but after he suffered a hand injury, the door opened for Lloyd, and he has made up significant ground. He has not had fewer than 20 disposals since the North Melbourne game in Round Seven, and is averaging just over 28 touches per game in 2018.

So, who do you go with when you pick your AA team? Does Lloyd get the nod over Laird?

James Harmes

If there was one Melbourne player who looked like he was capable of actually making a difference, it was Harmes. He worked hard against Josh Kennedy at stoppages and spread well to look dangerous when he got the ball in space.

He is a good, honest player, and managed to break even with the Sydney captain on the day. Harmes had 26 touches, 12 contested disposals and sent the Dees inside 50 six times.

George Hewett

There’s been one other guy this season to truly limit the influence of Clayton Oliver, and that man is Ben Jacobs. There’s now two men.

George Hewett is one of the most underrated run-with players in the game, and made life miserable through the first three quarters for Oliver. As part of a disciplined Swans midfield – we’ll get to that unit as a whole – he applied immense pressure every time Oliver went near the ball.

Oliver rallied in the last quarter as his whole team seemed to lift, but Hewett had done the hard yards early.

Angus Brayshaw

Every time I watch this kid, I start to realise why he wears that helmet.

Brayshaw is Max Gawn’s favourite target, and his hands are excellent.

He had a game-high 15 contested disposals amongst his 25 touches, and added six clearances to his game as well. The Dees may be missing Jack Viney, but Brayshaw is doing his best to hold the fort. He is not the biggest body on the park by any stretch, but he puts his body on the line and never, ever takes a backwards step.

I felt for him at one stage – whilst his teammates fell into the “hack it forward and hope” mindset, Brayshaw was in and under, putting his body on the line, absorbing contact and getting his hands on it at contests. The amount of times the Swans crunched him at stoppages was almost like a set play (see below).

The Swans’ mids identification of hits to advantage

I haven’t heard this discussed much as yet, but this was where Sydney won the game. Yes, we know Max Gawn is going to get his hands on the ball at ruck contests – all you have to do is look at the stats of any game this year and you’ll find proof of that.

But where you can stop the influence is with that first possession, and the Swans just went about their business, refusing to allow an easy touch once Gawn palmed it down. Brayshaw would get a Gawn tap and find himself inundated with tackling Swans. Petracca, Harmes, Oliver - whenever they touched it they had to contend with intense pressure from Hewett, Hannebery, Parker and Kennedy. The Swans simply refused to allow the Demons to get those easy clearances.

The end total was 33 clearances each, which indicates just how hard the Swans mids worked. When your ruck is beaten in taps by a margin of 57-19, and the clearances are even, it simply means your players are working harder, and working smarter.

Dom Tyson

You’d have to think that as soon as Jack Viney returns, Tyson could be out of favour again. It’s a shame, because if I was him, I’d think a performance like the one he put in today should cement a spot in the side. He may end up looking for greener pastures where his talents as a big-bodied mid would be better used.

That said, his focus right now has to be on solidifying his spot in this team. He had 31 touches, four inside 50s and seven score involvements on the day. Good enough for you? Truth be told, I’d still prefer Viney, and that’s the problem for him going forward.

Plenty of teams would like his services. 

Sinclair v Gawn

So we’ve talked about the Gawn ruck work, but what his other huge advantage has been this season is his work around the ground. Cal Sinclair matched him today.

Gawn didn’t help himself, dropping chest marks and not competing in the air the way we’re used to seeing. He had only seven disposals (yet the AFL website says he had eight contested possessions as part of those seven touches) and took only two marks for the game. His role of dropping back into defence to take intercept marks did not play out at all.

In contrast, Sinclair was busier. He had 13 touches (a much more mathematically workable 10 contested disposals amongst them) and laid six tackles (Gawn had one).

The Melbourne big man may have ruled the ruck skies again, but the Swans are  example 1A  in how to lose a battle and win a war.

 

THE BAD

Dees 0-7

So Melbourne… you know those things you never play… what are they called? Finals? Yeah, you know them, right?

You have to play other top teams when you reach that part of the season. Beating up on bottom eight teams is fine, and yes, good teams do it, but you know what else they do? They stand up and they win the occasional game when they are confronted with their peers!

They’ve lost to Richmond, Hawthorn, Sydney, Port Adelaide, Collingwood, West Coast and even Geelong twice. What does this tell you about the Demons? To me, I look at them and I see a group that has no heart, which is crazy because guys like Harmes and Brayshaw exude the kind of qualities you want in a team.

So what’s the issue? I’ll point the finger – why not? There’s a reason I’m not AFL-accredited, aside from being supremely under skilled and not talented enough.

Jesse Hogan is a reason. He is all sizzle and no steak, and is yet to perform against a team not languishing in the bottom half of the ladder.

Christian Petracca is a reason. He is a big body and gets his hands on it, but what is he doing with it? He was reported as being the player that’d take the next step. Well, he’s not taking any steps and seems to be the same player this season as he was last year. He’s a mark-kick man as a midfielder with no lateral movement. Zero clearances. Zero one percenters.

Nathan Jones is another. 52% efficiency for the game from his 23 touches. Nine turnovers amongst them.

If the Dees are to be taken seriously at all, they need a scalp, and they need their “stars” to play like stars. At the moment, there are too many passengers.

Bad kicking is bad football

So, if the Dees kick accurately, is all forgiven? They had 28 shots at goal to the Swans’ 21 and wasted the ball forward time and time again.

Hogan kicked 1.3 as he disappeared in the big game again, Oliver missed both his shots, as did Spargo and Tyson. They can look at their review, analyse it all they like, but it all comes back to the fact that when the moment comes, they wilt. They kick for goal and they miss. They play good sides and they fold. I am not a Melbourne supporter, but I can feel myself getting pissed off with them as I write this. I can only imagine how their supporters feel.

People will look at their pre-season camp, their reluctance to partake, their contact with the AFL Players Association, and they’ll point fingers at the lack of mental toughness and unwillingness to do what is required. They won’t be wrong.

They are a weak team.

 

THE UGLY

Alex Johnson

There can only be one ugly this week, and that is seeing a bloke who has come back from the brink of forced retirement fight his way back into a good side, only to be cut down again.

When you look at it pragmatically, it was bound to happen again. He’d done his knee five times – a sixth was inevitable (says The Mongrel with his crystal ball of hindsight). I just wish it hadn’t have happened so soon. He deserved a good run at it, and he deserved a string of games to hang his hat on.

Often I will hear people say they deserved this or that, and often I dismiss it. I believe you earn things – not deserve them. Alex Johnson earned the right to be back in the Sydney team. I hoped he’d be there longer. Good luck, big fella.

 

OTHER BITS

Buddy was an interesting one today. Looked like he could’ve torn the game apart, but he caught the disease of Melbourne, and missed too many times. I loved his physical work around the ground, and his pressure on Christian Salem early in the game set a tone for the Swans. He got Jay Kennedy-Harris in the second quarter as well. What a bully…

Heeney catching Petracca holding the ball in the first quarter is a microcosm of their current standing in the game. Petracca slow and one dimensional. Heeney dynamic and on the move. Petracca looked dangerous early but he just looks… clunky.

Franklin unlucky not to get a holding the man decision against Sam Frost early – looked like an obviously one to me, even if Buddy accentuated it.

Clayton Oliver is some kicking accuracy away from being the best midfielder in the game. He may have been subdued a bit today early, but he had a chance to hurt the wans on the scoreboard in the first quarter and fluffed it from 35 metres out.

Ollie Florent off half back was being spoken about as though it was something new. I’ve watched him drift back there to provide some speed and run over the last few weeks. Pretty sure I made mention of it in the Sydney v Collingwood game review as well. Good to see people catching on. *Pats self on the back*

Kieran Jack is obviously in the twilight of a wonderful career, but he still knows how to win a hard one-on-one contest. He had a nice one against Nathan Jones in the first quarter.

I’ve got a mate who’s not quite all there. Let’s call him Affa. Now, Affa used to jump for a mark when we were playing kick to kick and purposely allow the ball to fly through his hands, not touching the ball at all. I don’t know why he did it, other than to perhaps amuse himself, but he looked to have taught that skill to Petracca, who did exactly that on the lead in the first quarter. Petracca pulled an ‘Affa’.

I’m being a bit unfair on Petracca, I know. I expect a lot from him, but maybe I am expecting too much? He does something like the above, and then later in the quarter he clunks a tough mark in front of his face at full stretch on the wing, and I start wondering why he isn’t a top ten player in the league? Maybe it’s just a time-thing…

Tom Papley has been threatening for a while and I thought we saw flashes of what he’s capable of today. Heeney’s vision in traffic to find him for the opening goal was excellent.

Hogan marks. 25 metres out. Pretty much directly in front. Miss. Classic Hulkster.

Is it damning that I thought the most dangerous forward up til half time for Melbourne was Aaron Vandenberg? I recon it might be – check out the other names in that forward line. I’d be half tempted to throw him, McDonald and Cam Pederson up forward and allow them to go to work.

The Dees actually looked scary when they ran in numbers. Even when handballs were hitting James Harmes in the back of the head, they still willed it forward. Of course, Hogan missed the ensuing shot, but on the re-entry he got a free kick a little closer and finally converted.

More value from Heeney – his subtle block to allow Cunningham to mark and goal in the second was very good. No stat for that, but could almost be a direct goal assist.

Franklin’s hands below his knees are still ridiculous. Seriously, I am at a stage in life where I rely on finger-toes to grab stuff off the ground. Buddy looks amazing, and so clean when the ball bounces his way.

Hayward’s right-angle bouncing goal was probably enough to convince more than a few Dees supporters that it wasn’t going to be their day, particularly after all their misses early.

Good to see Dan Hannebery rise to the occasion today (take note Melbourne players). Under the pump this season after some less than stellar outings, and with rumours of an impending departure doing the rounds, he stood up and showed that while he wears red and white, he bleeds red and white… which also happens to be the colours of blood cells, so that’s a nice tie-in. Well done me.

It was around this point in the second quarter that I felt as though Sydney were staring Melbourne down. They’d weathered the Melbourne storm (haha) and were now looking them in the eye and daring them to come at them again. It was a pivotal moment. They were tackling hard, taking risks, running with the ball from half back and causing turnovers. Aliir was great in this stretch, as was Lloyd and Kennedy. They were leaders standing up as the Dees watched. Only Brayshaw looked like he was willing to put his head over it and stem the red and white tide.

Good to see the Dees finally use the same tactic against Aliir teams have tried to use against Rance this season. What’s that? To stop him getting a run at it and killing the contest, kick it high to him, and allow the forwards to run at him instead of the other way. It worked, as TMac marked and goaled.

Nice to see Jordan Lewis and Buddy Franklin reacquaint themselves in the middle, courtesy of a nice Lewis shepherd as Frost ran away from Franklin.

Charlie Spargo doesn’t look comfy at all kicking for goal, which is real turnaround to the way I thought he was playing earlier in the season. He was almost James Manson-like in his run up. Better than being Charles Manson-like, I suppose.

Nic Newman is a bit of an unsung hero in the Swans back line at the moment. Rarely beaten and providing great drive.

If you had the choice between Tom McCartin and Paddy McCartin right now, who would you choose?

Josh Kennedy’s tackle on Clayton Oliver in the middle of the ground was indicative of the swans’ spirit today. He just flat out refused to allow him to get an arm free. Holding the ball… great tackle, and it led to Newman finding Buddy for a goal.

We almost had a Buddy wing-run after he fended off Frost and took a bounce, but Neville Jetta shut it down and hurt himself in the process.

For all the talk of Gawn’s hit out prowess, and it is huge, there were a few hit outs to direct disadvantage creeping in as we eased into three quarter time.

Hewett took two consecutive high tackles early in the last quarter… play on?

I felt it was Harmes who got the Dees rolling early in the last. He is no-nonsense, and his long balls inside 50 allowed players to make good position. He was directly responsible for Garlett’s goal out the back.

Petracca finally made something happen as well, with a brilliant 45 degree kick from half back to half forward. Unfortunately, you had Alex Neal-Bullen  sitting there, waiting for the ball to come to him instead of getting it himself. It allowed Cal Sinclair to make ground, cause a 50-50 and then the Swans’ troops arrived. Go for the ball, Neal-Bullen!

How many runs did Jayden Hunt go on today? I counted one.

Funny how two marks can tell such different stories. Heeney’s climb on Hogan was immense, and brought the house down. But 20 seconds later the ball came back in and Hogan marked on his chest. Nowhere near as exciting, and it should’ve resulted in a goal, but we are talking about Jesse Hogan, and doesn’t he just stand up in big moments! No… no he doesn’t. He missed. So… which would you rather? Given the circumstances, I’d take Hogan’s. A chest mark close to goal… Jason Dunstall would be proud. Not of the kick, however.

Hated seeing Hannebery pinged for a love tap to the gut and a free kick awarded. That stuff is over-umpired, and it was interesting to hear a couple of players come out and defend the little love taps and so on during the week. Eddie Betts, surprisingly, was amongst them.

After all the great Gawn and Brayshaw connections during the day, it was amazing to see them get in each other’s’ way at half forward and botch a marking contest. Talk fellas… you’d been excellent at it all day at stoppages.

Best player of the last five minutes – Isaac Heeney. He was everywhere.

 

So, that took a while, huh? It was worth it because the Demons need a whack. They’ve had a few but seriously, there were people talking up their flag chances just last week. They’ve beaten no one and have no one but themselves to blame.

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