Melbourne v West Coast - The Good, Bad and Ugly

The Demons did what many thought they couldn’t, and both knocked over a top side, and did it on the road.

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

 

THE GOOD

A win against a top eight side

This has been the big knock on the Dees all year. With their capitulations to Geelong twice, losses to Hawthorn, Collingwood, Port and Richmond, they looked like a good old fashioned flat track bully.

But they were more than that today. So much more.

Oh, they were challenged, and the Eagles threw all they had at them in the second half, but not only did Melbourne absorb the best shots the Eagles could throw, they counter-punched, and scored some big hits of their own, eventually dropping West Coast to their knees late in the last quarter.

When the Eagles hit the front just over half way through the last quarter, I’m sure there were many who though “Oh, here we go… the Dees are going to choke” and you know what? I will readily admit that I was one of those people. I expected Melbourne to roll over and die once West Coast got their noses in front. They’d fallen at the final hurdle against good sides all year, so why would this be any different? But they didn’t go into panic, or self-preservation mode today - some solid play from Harmes, Salem, Melksham and Petracca right when they needed it saw them right the ship and sail home to a 17 point win.

As much as this could be played down as “just four points”, it means so much more. People within the club will be told not to talk it up, and not to make it more than it is. The problem here is that it IS much more than they’re saying it is. It means plenty. Had they made the finals without a win over one of their top eight peers, there would’ve been a monkey on their back they may have struggled to shake. It is now a media narrative they no longer have to worry about.

The Dees are headed back to September, and they have the chance to make some noise if they play the way they did today.

James Harmes

I’m loving the way Harmes goes about his football. He is a hard nut who just seems to eat the pressure when the opposition serve it up to him.

He had 28 disposals today, with 14 of them coming in the contest. He is a strong body and is as accountable at stoppages as anyone in the game. He laid seven tackles, had seven score involvements, and two direct goal assists on the day, and I reckon he was as close to best on ground as I can think of.

Whether he is given a job, or allowed to hunt the ball, his no-nonsense style, and willingness to put his head over it when his turn comes, make him a footballer’s footballer. It was only fitting that he was involved in the play that saw Dean Kent slam home a goal from 45 metres out late in the game. His inboard kick to Kent demonstrated both vision and poise, and in a high-pressure game like this, those qualities are like gold.

Angus Brayshaw

The more I watch Melbourne, the more I dig Brayshaw.

There is no doubt in my mind that he is Max Gawn’s favourite stoppage target in the ruck. Big Max just gives him first opportunity time and time again, and he does that because he knows that Brayshaw is clean as a whistle at stoppages, even when the pressure is at its highest.

Brayshaw had seven clearances to go along with his 10 tackles for the game, and looked as though he might give the rare AFL Quadruple Double a shake at one stage.

He finished with 26 touches (14 contested), eight marks and five score involvements to be one of the best Demons on the park. It  is his tenacity that I admire most. His willingness to take the hit in order to get his hands on the ball, and do what is best for his team. He is fast becoming a star of the competition.

Brad Sheppard

West Coast fans are screaming out for this bloke to be an All-Australian in 2018, and games like today do their cause no damage at all.

He took contested, intercept marks, he hit targets out of defensive 50, and had a couple of exhilarating runs up the guts… as opposed to runs through the guts which I had the other night after some spicy Indian food. Not good.

Sheppard was rarely beaten all day, and is a reliable option with ball in hand. Whilst McGovern and Hurn receive all the plaudits from those outside the Eagles’ bubble, I am sure that those within the club know all too well just how valuable Sheppard is to their defensive structures. When the Dees were on top today, Sheppard was the roadblock. When they faltered, it was due in some degree to Sheppard’s dare and confidence. He is one hell of a player.

The Dees match the pressure

There were several times in this game where the questions were asked of Melbourne. Were they tough enough? Could they take West Coast pressure and answer? Could they stifle their run once it got up and going?

They say that fatigue makes cowards of us all, and at points, the fear was that Melbourne would wilt in the Perth sun. They didn’t, and in winning today, they answered a lot of their critics.

Oliver lifted, Petracca lifted, Hannan was excellent, and Nathan Jones played like a captain should.

They exorcised some of their own demons late in the game, and applied the blowtorch back on the Eagles. West Coast couldn’t answer, and the Dees walked off winners.

Jake Melksham

Two more goal assists and the goal to retake the lead today.

Melksham has blossomed into a match winner. His four goals, ten marks, 11 score involvements and five marks inside 50 combined to make him the most potent forward on the ground. It’s the best game I’ve seen him play since I watched him tear Alex Rance a new one all the way back in Round 5.

Granted,  I have missed a couple of games here and there, so forgive me if I am missing a great game along the way – I know he kicked five against the Blues, but… it’s Carlton. You can’t count that!

What I like most about Melksham is the way he has managed to reinvent himself at Melbourne. 21 goals last year. Up to 26 goals this year. He is the kind of forward that you can’t take your eyes off for a second. He was like the Democrats political party before they sold out. He keeps the bastards honest!

Willie Rioli

So I compile my good, bad and ugly before I look at stats so as not to be swayed. It really felt to me as though Rioli had more than just 10 touches for the game.

Yeah, he had three goals from five shots, but it was the little things he did that made me appreciate his game. His spoil on Tyson early in the game whilst running with the fight of the ball – that’s hard to pull off. His little tap to Masten to set up the Eagles’ second goal was vastly underrated, and his huge tackle on Brayshaw in the first quarter was all things that leapt out at me. Pity the ump awarded it in the back to Brayshaw.

It seems these days that the Rioli name is becoming as common as Smith or Jones in the league, and with talent like Willie’s attached to it, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more Riolis in the near future, based on potential alone.

Big Max

I’m asking Melbourne supporters for forgiveness here.

You see, I got a little bit excited yesterday after watching Brodie Grundy strut his stuff against Port Adelaide. I thought Grundy was great, and declared that I thought he should be All-Australian ruck.

And then Big Max comes out and does… THIS!

Gawn had 20 touches, five marks and a mammoth 20 hit outs to advantage gave the Dees the drive from the middle they needed. He was everywhere in the first quarter and did things in the air and the hard stuff on the ground as well.

Of his touches, 12 were of the contested variety, he had nine score involvements and three contested marks as well. And he did it all over the ground. He had seven clearances, four inside 50 disposals and a couple of rebound 50s as well.

They say it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind, and I’m doing that now… even though I’m a dude. Don’t judge me.

 I’m not elevating one over the other. The Gawn v Grundy AA Ruck argument has been going on all year, and as they both deliver time and time again, it doesn’t get any easier. To me, you’ve gotta throw both in, but there is a bit of prestige attached to being the number one ruck, isn’t there? Being on the bench with the other one the starting ruck… it’d be a bit like dancing with your sister.

Maybe a meeting in the finals will sort the boys out? I’d love to see it.

THE BAD

Jack Darling down again

Luckless. That’s the way I’d describe the second half of Jack Darling’s year.

Through the first ten rounds, it seemed as though every time I reviewed a West Coast game, Darling’s name would be in the good category. He was the dominant big forward in the league until he hurt that ankle, and since then he hasn’t been able to get a great run at it.

With Josh Kennedy still sidelined (and every round that passes without him on the park making me worry more and more that we won’t see him again this season), the Eagles find themselves relying heavily on Darling, but this isn’t the Darling from Rounds 1-10 now. This is the bloke who needs support, and what he definitely needs is no more injuries for the remainder of the year.

How far do you see the Eagles getting without their two big forwards being effective?

See contact? Pay free kick

Jamie Cripps had an awkward fall after a tough marking contest with Aaron Vandenberg in the second quarter.

It was two players, committed completely to the contest and bodies collided.

Hard!

Cripps came off worst, as he fell hard to the ground and landed on his shoulder and head. It was a big fall, and you don’t want to see a bloke get hurt… but was any of that Vandenberg’s fault? The umpire said he had no eyes for the ball, yet the replay clearly indicates that the ball was his only objective.

This means that the umpire guessed. He saw the contact, saw the fall and felt compelled to make a call. Don’t guess, mate – it’s a contact sport and these two players both demonstrated guts and commitment. To punish one is to punish the game. Physicality in a contest like this is a highlight of the game. Panicky calls slowly erode this aspect of the game.

Don’t guess, umps. If you don’t see it, don’t call it.

THE UGLY

Don’t reward ducking

This is really starting to get to me.

Ducking is not on. If you really want to stamp it out of the game, penalise it when it happens. If a player ducks into a tackle, count that as their prior opportunity and pay holding the ball against them. No benefit of the doubt, no easy way out of the umpiring decision by calling for a stoppage. If he ducks, and gets caught, PING HIM!

Late in the last quarter, Oscar McDonald clearly ducked his head into the oncoming tackle from Daniel Venables. It was as clear a duck as I have seen since… hmmmmm, possibly since the last time Paul Puopolo or Joel Selwood played.

The AFL needs to get tough on this. If they’re actually serious about head injuries and ensuring players are protected, they also need to start protecting players from themselves. If a player ducks, don’t reward them, don’t protect them. Give them some tough love and watch how quickly they learn.

Jeremy McGovern

I’m a big Gov fan, but he was like the invisible man out there at times today.

As the first quarter ground to a close, I found myself looking at the bench to see if Gov was there injured, or limping around somewhere. Turns out he wasn’t – he was just unable to find the ball at all.

Zero touches for the big fella in the first quarter as the Dees refused to kick the ball where he could have an influence. Things didn’t get much better in the second quarter, where he managed just three touches, and then he went backwards in the third with another two disposals.

So at three quarter time, one of the best intercept defenders, and one of the best marks in the league had five touches to his name.

With his team desperately trying to secure a top two position, and Melbourne throwing everything they had at his team. Jeremy McGovern was nowhere to be found. Let’s hope this doesn’t become a habit.

OTHER BITS

OK, some random thoughts and things I saw during the game.

Daniel Venables had a mare of a first quarter. He looked like he couldn’t hit a target at all. A couple of turnovers and another that was saved from being a turnover by a slips catch would’ve had him a little anxious the next time the ball feel his way.

Tom Barrass had four intercept marks across half back in the first quarter alone, which was lucky since McGovern was well and truly stinking it up. He had 12 intercept possessions for the game, but added only one mark in total after that quarter. You know what that tells me? The Demons made some significant adjustments to the way they were attacking after quarter time, and that, my friends, is good coaching.

There must have been some West Coast hearts in mouths when Scott Lycett went off injured early. Gawn is fantastic when he has someone decent opposing him, but without Lycett, imagine the damage he could’ve done?

The addition of Mitch Hannan to the mix proved to be a masterstroke for Melbourne. He was lively all day and his three goals were probably a little unexpected, but so very, very welcome.

Clayton Oliver's fresh air kick was a personal highlight for me. It's not often you laugh out loud watching footy... 

Speaking of great additions, Sam Weideman looked up for the fight early on. He drifted out of the game, but his four contested marks were quite impressive. Had he kicked a little better at goal, I reckon there’d be a few people asking “Jesse Who???”

I thought Mark Hutchings did an admirable job on Clayton Oliver. For context, there’s been a lot of talk about just how big some of Oliver’s numbers have been recently. At half time, Oliver had just 11 touches. He picked up eight in the third, and then added only four in the last. Of his 23 touches, 16 were contested, as Hutchings wore him like a glove. Hutchings finished with 14 touches and two goals of his own. Gotta give the nod to Hutchings in their duel.

I loved some of the defence from Neville Jetta. His ability to read his man is impeccable. His tackle on Rioli as the Eagle tried to manoeuvre around him on the wing was a cracker. Add to that his outstanding one-on-one defence against Mark LeCras in the third quarter when he was caught out as the deepest defender, and you have a man who should really contend for an AA spot this season.

This game was the hardest I’ve seen Christian Petracca work both ways this season.

Max Gawn’s hands below his knees are incredible for a bloke his size. This may surprise you, but I am a bit shorter than Max – hard to believe I know, and I am terrible below my knees. I can barely even tie my shoes! It makes me appreciate his clean hands at ground level.

Noticed a few little knock ons to advantage today – the kind that are in the flow of the game and allow a teammate clear passage to run onto it. Jordan Lewis was responsible for one in the third quarter that made me smile. Just an experienced little tap that good teams pull off when they’re up and running and willing to take a risk.

I thought Dom Tyson was really lucky to get away with a holding the ball non-decision as Yeo got him on the goal line.

Speaking of Yeo, have noticed him taking time to work himself into a game a couple of times this season. Only one touch in the first quarter for him today, but he was good after that, with 23 for the game and a game-high 11 tackles. He was also very close to the elusive quadruple double.

How elusive is that quadruple double? Only six players in history have achieved it. Pretty elusive, huh?

Best game of Dom Sheed’s career today. He ran his guts out and was a great replacement for Gaff. 26 of his 31 touches were uncontested this afternoon.

Liam Ryan’s over the shoulder boulder holder handball to Jamie Cripps at half forward set up Venables’ shot at goal late in the third. If you get a chance, check it out – it is so perfectly executed that not a lot was made of it, but it should’ve been.

Jack Redden’s lunging smother early in the fourth quarter was a goal-saver.

Geez Gawn cops a hiding when he drops into the hole in the backline. He looked sore after being cannoned into early in the last.

Interesting to see Goodwin throw Tom McDonald into defence in the last quarter for a little while. TMac wasn’t prolific up until that point, but he did have three goals. He was robbing Peter to pay Paul a little. Also interesting was that he got isolated on Cripps, who was too agile at ground level and managed to kick a quick goal on him.

I thought Yeo had a really solid fourth quarter and did everything he could to drag his team over the line. He is a warrior.

Finally, Eagles fans, what did you think of Tom Barrass' decision to leave Melksham and run at the ball carrier in the passage of play that gave the Dees the lead back? I have no idea what Barrass was doing... he had no impact on either action. He was stuck right in the middle with no chance of doing anything. Puzzling decision...

 

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