West Coast v Fremantle - The Good, Bad and Ugly

The West Coast Eagles despatched their cross-town rivals in a game that took a spiteful turn after half time.

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

 

THE GOOD

The Eagles small forwards

Four goals for Jamie Cripps, three for Liam Ryan and two for Willie Rioli showed just how potent the Eagles’ small forward brigade can be. It also demonstrated that West Coast do not have to rely completely on the Jack Darling/Josh Kennedy combination to kick a big score.

Cripps was the surprise packet for me, and he has kind of snuck up on me this year. He now has 26 goals for the season, and really could’ve had five or six goals today.

Ryan looked classy whenever he got near the ball. He was found down back early in the game, but quickly made his way forward and did his damage. He not only kicked three goals, but had two direct assists as well, and was involved in 10 score involvements.

Finally, Willie Rioli may have had the lowest goal count of the three, but there was one moment of selflessness I really liked that handed a goal to Ryan. The ball came in high and long in the first quarter and Rioli knew that if he didn’t go, the Dockers would take an intercept mark, so he threw himself into the contest and caused the spillage. Liam Ryan stayed down and was able to run onto the loose ball for a goal.

The Eagles may not get Josh Kennedy back next week as they travel to Adelaide to take on Port Adelaide, and possibly put their season in jeopardy, but even if he does sit out, the smalls around the feet of Jack Darling may be enough to get them over the line.

Mark Hutchings v Lachie Neale

I’ve rated Hutchings all year and I am a campaigner for Lachie Neale to be an All-Australian. Their clash today was tough and spiteful in its own right, and it was a huge test for Neale. Usually the attention would be on Nat Fyfe, but in his absence, Neale was the recipient of Hutchings’ efforts.

Neale worked hard, as per usual, and finished with 22 contested touches in his total of 26, indicating that Hutchings was not giving him an inch. Neale added nine clearances and six tackles.

Hutchings was no slouch, gathering 21 touches going the other way, and adding six marks and seven tackles.

I know a lot of people dislike the negating roles in footy, but when an elite mid like Neale has a challenge thrown down to him, and he rises to that challenge, it becomes a highlight.

Brad Sheppard

How much longer can Brad Sheppard fly under the radar? Whilst McGovern and Hurn get the plaudits, and rightfully so most of the time, Sheppard’s season has been excellent, and once again tonight, he was amongst the best on the field.

He had 26 touches at 81% efficiency, , seven intercept possessions, and drifted forward to get a shot at goal in the last – I admit I was barracking for it to go through as it would’ve been a nice topper on an excellent game. His spoil against Walters at full stretch in the third quarter was about as good a one-on-one spoil as you’ll see all year, and he had a beauty on Taberner as well where he looked as though he had no chance of making up the ground.

Sheppard’s ability to halve contests and deliver the ball well to teammates is so underrated by everyone who isn’t an Eagles supporter, and he will be vital as the team heads towards September.

The Michael Walters mark/s

A bit of light-heartedness late in the game saw Michael Walters take a hanger on Jeremy McGovern, with Gov smiling before Walters even hit the turf. We haven’t exactly been spoiled with big marks in 2018, and this one will be right up there when the votes go in for mark of the year.

Walters looked as combative as anyone after half time. When he was nailed in a tackle by Venables  early in the last, he looked like he was more than happy to go on with it if his opponent chose to take him up on it. From what I hear, that would’ve been a bit of a mistake on Venables’ part.

But the skying mark in the last quarter wasn’t his only high quality mark he took for the game. His effort in the third quarter, using his body to shield the drop zone, getting rid of Tom Cole in the process, and marking overhead was a cracking effort. He converted that one for a goal, and probably should’ve went back and had a shot after he took his big hanger over Gov.

Just so we could’ve watched it only replay a few times as he lined up.

Andrew Brayshaw’s first half

I thought he was headed to a Rising Star nomination, as he sat on 15 touches at half time and most of them were of high quality.

He was showing clean hands, and a bit of dash and in the third quarter, took the game on through the middle, broke a tackle and really started looking like he had the makings of an elite AFL midfielder. He had a career-high 25 touches last week against Hawthorn, and could very well have topped that this week had he kept going the way he did in the first half. His reading of the ball coming off the pack in the second quarter kick started the Docker attack that ended with a Ballantyne mark and goal.

We’re going to get to the Gaff incident, as if we could ignore it, but the young fella was having a terrific game up until that point. Sadly, it’ll be the last we see of him in 2018.

Elliot Yeo

He had a pretty quiet start to the game, but when the emotion crept into the game in the third quarter, I reckon it was Yeo who went to another level. He usually looks so calm and collected, and really, he was the last person I thought would rise to the occasion, but rise he did.

After only 11 touches in the first half, he elevated his game to collect 15 after half time, many after the game’s biggest talking point.

He finished with two goals, eight inside 50s, five tackles and a mammoth 14 score involvements. When Yeo touched the ball, good things happened. He walked away with best on ground honours on the day, but I reckon he was behind Brad Sheppard.

Still, Yeo has continued his stellar year. You think he has done enough to be All-Australian this season? It’s gonna be touch and go.

 

THE BAD

Clumsy big forwards early

I don’t know what the big guys were doing early on in the game, but delivering wasn’t it.

Jack Darling kicked like a mule early, failing to convert from two shots at goal in the first quarter, and channelled Nick Smith at one stage when he went to kick the ball and changed his mind AFTER the ball drop. He had to pick it back up and then make a better decision.

But as iffy as Darling was to begin the game, Cam McCarthy and Matt Taberner decided to make him look good. Taberner got his hands on it a few times, but just failed to glove the ball. His one shot at goal missed everything by a long way, and when he did look to have a good chance to clunk a mark, he and Brennan Cox spoiled each other.

Then we have Cam McCarthy, who couldn’t allow Taberner and Darling to be the only players to completely shank shots at goal. He also missed everything with his first shot, but then got a little nervous about his second shot and completely coughed it up trying to pass inboard despite being in range.

Between these three, they missed five chances to score for the result of just two behinds in the first quarter. All players improved as the game progressed - Darling in particular put his stamp on the contest with four goals, but in the first quarter, none of these blokes could hold their head high.

 

THE UGLY

There can be only one… incident

So I went back and watched this a dozen times, hoping to see an angle where it didn’t look as bad as it did on first look.

I couldn’t find one. I was hoping that Gaff  had intended to hit Brayshaw in the arm, or shoulder, or… anywhere else, but it was a left hook to the jaw, and there was no other way to look at it. I asked the question on The Mongrel Punt Facebook page as to how long we could expect Gaff to be on the sidelines and it was met with a range of responses, but 5-6 weeks seemed to be the most common numbers that came through.

The news that Brayshaw was sent to hospital with a suspected break in his jaw is not encouraging. The last player to blatantly whack someone in the face was Thomas Bugg, and he was sent on a five week holiday. Gaff can probably expect the same, at least.

For a moment, let’s assume that 5-6 weeks is the penalty. He would miss the final three weeks of the home and away season. If West Coast finishes top four, he’ll miss at least two finals. The Eagles would have to win one to see him back in the side in the very best case scenario.

He may be treated a little more leniently as it is the first time he’s been reported in 175 games, but I can’t see the penalty being less than Bugg’s.

You could see on his face that he was remorseful. For the next ten minutes of the game, he seemed like he was in a daze – half thinking about the game at hand, and half thinking about the ramifications of his actions. If only he’d been half thinking when he threw the punch, because it was apparent that he simply wasn’t thinking at all.

The ramifications

The game took on a sinister tone following the Gaff incident. Players like Ballantyne and Walters looked as though they wanted to exact revenge themselves, but it was Michael Johnson who got to sit Gaff on his backside.

To be honest, it was a horrible kick from Redden that set Gaff up – in the circumstances it was probably the worst kick he could’ve sent Gaff’s way. It went over his head and forced him to commit to a contest with both Johnson and Luke Ryan coming the other way, and they both had revenge on their minds.

Credit Gaff here – he did not shirk the issue, and he knew what was coming his way. He dished it out, and this was his turn to cop it. He ran at the ball, gathered and kicked, and had his chin introduced to the shoulder of Michael Johnson as a result. Gaff hit the deck and was helped off.

At this point I thought ‘Well, he’s  copped his right whack’ and that he should probably spend the rest of the game on the bench. I’m not sure what Adam Simpson was thinking in sending him back out there. Even if Gaff insisted, I’m not sure it was the right move. The game was well and truly over, and the Eagles had nothing to gain at this stage. The only thing I could see coming of Gaff going back onto the ground was more opportunities for Fremantle players to line him up.

This is the first game in a while that actually felt a little dangerous to me. I reckon we’re lucky that it wasn’t a Fremantle home game, as relentless booing of Gaff would’ve added to the sense of danger and malice.

Gaff was lucky to walk away from this contest intact. It reminded me of the feel the Carlton v Geelong game had when Milburn destroyed Stephen Silvagni.

As remorseful as Gaff may be, you can’t undo what is done, and his mistake could prove to be incredibly costly both to his own finals chances, and those of his team.

We may have seen Andrew Gaff in Eagles colours for the last time today.

 

OTHER BITS

Amazingly, I thought the first half was a played in a very benign way. Stacking it up against the Crows-Power game 24 hours earlier, it looked sedate. It was less urgent, and felt as though it was less important to those involved. The crowd was not as into it as their South Australian counterparts, and as a neutral viewer… it was a bit flat.

How things can change with just one left hook.

There are some players I look at and think ‘Man… that guy would make an awesome schoolyard bully.’ I reckon Jeremy McGovern would score his fair share of lunch money if he was attending AFL school. The way he just ripped the ball away from Brennan Cox on the boundary in the first quarter was too easy.

In around 2013, I remember thinking that Michael Walters could’ve been the player to rival Cyril Rioli as the premier pressure small forward. Whilst injury and time have prevented that from happening, he is still bloody dangerous. I kind of like his hint of arrogance, and would love to see him string a full season together in 2019, and I’d love to see him play close to goal.

Interesting to see Luke Shuey get pinged for holding the ball after employing the patented Shuey/Selwood shrug. Now, if only they start paying it against Selwood as well, huh?

Some of the clearance work, and handballing in close from David Mundy was first class. He had eight clearances today and 15 contested touches, but his ability to see the game unfold and make quick decisions is vastly underrated.

Wonderful to see Lachie Neale push back hard when Hutchings drifted forward. His spoil and recovery to clear the ball from the defensive area was excellent, and proved that he is not a player to drop his head just because he starts getting attention from the opposition. There are a few around the league that could take a page from his book.

Great outing for Jack Redden who has really stepped into the void this season left by the retirements of Matt Priddis and Sam Mitchell. 33 touches at 82% efficiency is a nice day at the office.

Good to see Jack Darling employ a shepherd as opposed to making space to get the ball himself. His shepherd was so effective that it seemed to give Jamie Cripps too much time, and he missed a snap from 35 metres.

Big goal from Scott Lycett on the siren after Brad Hill threw his boot at the ball a little too carelessly.

Speaking of Brad Hill, did you see him unable to gain ground on Elliot Yeo in the third quarter. People seem surprised when this happens, but I remember watching him at Hawthorn for a number of years. He doesn’t have blistering speed, and great closing speed. What he does have is amazing stamina, and he’ll run at a good pace all day long. He isn’t as quick as people give him credit for over a shorter distance.

Been a few players caught whilst trying to sell candy this weekend. Michael Johnson was one, caught trying to sell candy to Mark LeCras. LeCras has sold his share over the journey, and you know the old saying – you can’t sell candy to the candy man.

Want to know the value of Brad Sheppard? His intercept mark from an ill-advised hack inside 50 from Crowden saw the ball fly up the other end, and finish with Gaff hitting Willie Rioli 40 metres out. Sheppard’s positioning today was top notch, and when he gets it, he knows when to go, and when to hold it up.

Loved the quick thinking of Jack Darling to know the ball off Sean Darcy’s boot and earn an out on the full free kick. After missing a couple early, maybe he needed a tougher kick? His curl around the corner for his first was beautiful.

Matt Taberner moved like a statue in the second quarter. After Shuey had his kick cut off by Brad Hill, he got the ball to Taberner who just went into slow motion mode and allowed Shuey to close in and catch him. Shuey won the free kick and went long to see Rioli rove the spill inside 50 for another goal.

I have no idea how the umps are interpreting this “holding after you release the ball” rule that saw a free kick to Brady Grey. The 50m was for apparently holding Walters, but looking at the replay, no one held him. So what does that mean? The ump paid it for a push? Then it is a simple downfield free, right? I don’t know where they’re plucking the 50 metre penalty from.

Brandon Matera is the ultimate ‘almost’ player. Seriously, he’s ALMOST there so many times, whether it be a pass that almost hits the mark, or a shot at goal that almost makes the distance. It must be both tantalising and frustrating to watch him at times.

There was a bit on an outcry when Darling was caught holding the ball early in the third quarter by Grey. No prior opportunity, called some. Well, he did have prior opportunity – he had the opportunity to take the chest mark and dropped it. How much opportunity does a bloke need?

I really think the Eagles were in a no-win situation once the gaff incident took place. It was evident that the Dockers wanted to go down a dark path, but with finals looming, every Eagles player had to be careful. It was as though their hands were tied, and as Ballantyne tried to bury players in tackles, and tried to generally spark an incident. The Eagles had to remain under control, and that can come across as passive. It should come across as smart.

Rioli’s stiff arm on Brad Hill in the centre as he ran through the guts was beautiful. Geez Dustin martin has a lot to answer for. You should see how many kids are doing that these days.

Liam Ryan’s hip and shoulder on Neale just after he released the handball was paid a free kick, but it looked about as fair as you can get with a bump these days. Personally, I loved it, even though I am a big Neale fan.

The start of the last quarter was really interesting. It looked to me as though Freo came out with intent. Having played a bit of footy, I’m wondering what went on in that huddle at three quarter time? What am I insinuating? Well, we’ve all been there and got a rev up from the coach before. We’ve all read between the lines in what a coach is saying, even when he is very careful not to say it. So, what I believe is that Ross Lyon went to great lengths to tell NOT his players that they couldn’t fly the flag.

Watch Walters at the start of the fourth. He is ready to go. Watch Ballantyne – he cones running in off the back of the square looking for Gaff, and finds him in a tackle. Whether they were instructed to even up or not, they wanted to, and they wanted it most right after they were spoken to by their coaches.

So it’ll be lost in everything that happened, but Gaff ended up with an equal game-high 33 touches today. Six clearances, 12 contested touches, eight score involvements and seven inside 50s. Not a bad day at the office if you discount him knocking a teenager into next week.

 

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