It was quite amazing to sit back and watch one team lose all belief in itself at the MCG today, and the other find it.
In a game of wild fluctuations and swings in momentum, the Bulldogs found their groove at the right time as the hawks slowed to a walk, despite being up by five goals in the last quarter.
There will be a lot written about how the Hawks blew this one, but credit must be given to the Dogs, who simply refused to believe they were out of the contest, and there was a very good reason for that – they weren’t out of the contest.
There were heroes, villains, reasons and excuses, and we’ll cover them all in the good, bad and ugly of a remarkable afternoon at the football cathedral.
With the Dogs up by a goal and around four minutes left on the clock, Libba went a long way in reminding the Bulldogs just what they lost when he was out of the side all last year. With the ball in dispute, he swooped in and slammed the ball on his boot. It sailed through and put the game out of reach.
But there was so much more to Libba’s game today. He led the game in contested touches, with 15 of his 28 disposals coming in the contest, and his seven tackles helped the Dogs keep the pressure on Hawthorn when it mattered most.
What a shame the Hawks wasted what was probably Henderson’s best game for the club. He took four contested marks and amassed 29 disposals for the day, and was instrumental in the third quarter push that seemed to have given Hawthorn the space they needed to put the game on ice.
His hard run and willingness to make repeated contests is an underrated aspect of what he brings to the table at the Hawks, and at times when his teammates were showing little to no urgency, it was Henderson making the hard yards and putting his body in harm’s way to get the side moving.
Henderson has always been known as a long kick, and the Hawks were able to use his penetration to get players open over the back, running toward goal. His 65 metre check-side kick set up a goal beautifully for Puopolo to goal in the opening quarter, and aside from one miskick that was ruled deliberate out of bounds (ugh...), he was right on the money for most of the game.
In a world full of super athletes, I feel pretty happy to see Dickson succeeding. Truthfully, he’s got a bit of a body like mine (settle down, ladies) and doesn’t look like he’s going to be winning any of the time trials in the near future, but he is in the team because he flat out knows how to play, has beautiful hands, and can kick with the best of them.
He had 20 disposals and did what few man can do – collect a pair of clear individual wins against Ben Stratton. He also notched three goals and had seven overall score involvements to be the most productive forward for the Dogs over the course of four quarters.
With Dickson patrolling half forward and drifting down toward the goal square, Alastair Clarkson was forced to pay him the respect he deserves, and sending Stratton to him is the ultimate compliment from the hawks’ coach. Taking the chocolates against Stratton… that just confirms that Clarkson was right to be worried about Dickson.
I’m not sure there is a better sight for Hawk supporters than seeing Jaeger O’Meara sweep across the centre and collect the ball at a centre bounce. Maybe Tom Mitchell returning to full training? I’m sure they would’ve liked to have seen O’Meara break from the guts once or twice in the last ten minutes, though.
O’Meara has worn the title of “chosen one” a little awkwardly since he was chosen by Gold Coast before the draft all those years ago. It’s only now that he is starting to live up to the lofty expectations everyone had for him.
He went over 30 touches today, but a little too often fell into the trap of trying to get distance on his kicks rather than lowering his eyes and hitting targets, which should be right up his alley. His skills are beautiful, but I think he might get caught up in going long a little too often due to urgency or wanting to get one-on-ones for his deep forwards. Almost a third of his touches ended up in turnovers today, and he’ll need to address that if he is to be Hawthorn’s number one mid this season.
He had his moments today, and most of them were good. He had 32 touches at 87% efficiency, refusing to waste the ball when he got it in his hands.
The thing I like best about Daniel is that he doesn’t panic and throw the ball on his boot just to get it out of his area. He holds it, takes stock of what’s happening, and makes good decisions. He found himself thrust into the role of defensive sweeper on quite a few occasions, and that led to some matchup problems that will need to be addressed (see below) but what you get when Caleb Daniel is in the contest is 100% effort.
He turned the ball over just three times, which is nothing to sneeze at, and sent the Dogs rebounding outside 50 on five occasions as well.
He played big today, and he made those around him walk taller in the process.
He was gifted that goal in the last quarter, but prior to that, he’d been very handy. The fact that he finished with four goals, and a new career-high in the process, is enough to get him a mention in this section.
I was a little bemused with the move of Aaron Naughton to the forward line to start 2019, given the Dogs recruited Schache to fill that spot, but with Naughton commanding the attention of the best defender, Schache is now free to have a gallop around without some of the best defensive players in the game breathing down his neck.
Though he stayed at home for the most part, he got on his bike in the third quarter to help stem the Hawthorn flow of goals, and worked hard back inside 50 to provide a target when the Bulldogs were able to get things going their way. He had nine score involvements for the game, and his three grabs inside 50 were telling.
I still have the feeling that Naughton may be moved into defence at some point in the near future, but for the first time in a long while, I believe the dogs have a decent option up there to cover.
His name is Josh Schache.
SILLY FREE KICKS DUE TO A SILLY RULE
Jarman Impey, Jaeger O’Meara, James Sicily… they all did it. They all fell victim to the softest rule in the game, and they all got sucked in by their Western Bulldog opponents.
In another move to crack down on something that didn’t need to be addressed, the umpires are now being instructed to pay free kicks for any sort of forceful impact to the chest, whether that be a fist, an open hand, or a rather strong gust of wind.
Whilst it is probably pretty evident that I think these free kicks are absolute garbage, the fact remains that the umpires are going to pay them as this is the AFLavour of the month, and they’re watching for it. Why would you tempt fate?
O’Meara, who was electrifying early, gave away his free kick a the Hawks were ready to launch into attack. Impey was exchanging shoves with his opponent when the umpire plucked his free kick against out of thin air, and then there was Sicily… we’ll get to him soon enough.
Hawthorn supporters have a right to be pretty pissed off about those decisions, and footy fans in general should be looking at them and wondering how long it will be until it’s their team penalised for something so soft that Neil Kerley would be rolling in his grave…
… and he isn’t even dead yet!
Yes, the Hawks were silly for giving those free kicks away in an environment that seems to indicate that those who run the game are wanting to outlaw all sorts of contact in a contact game, but if we’re looking at this from the perspective that there are 44 grown adult men out there, competing as hard as they can for one football, we have to accept there’ll be the occasional push and shove.
This shitful rule should be scrapped.
ROUGHEAD’S NON-EXISTANT OVERHEAD MARKING
Look, I know he’s a favourite son and all that, and yes, he did manage to beat Caleb Daniel overhead in one of the two occasions they were matched up inside forward 50, but for a guy who has a great pair of hands… why the hell does he run so far under the ball, giving himself little to no chance of taking the mark?
I get a little frustrated watching Rough, and I shouldn’t as he is just fantastic in almost every way… except his judgment when trying to mark overhead. He is so far out of contests at times that he is almost like that poor woman who has no chance of catching the bouquet at a wedding, sticking one hand up in hope she might get a touch of it as another woman grabs it.
And speaking of one-hand… why one handed, Rough? Why does he continually stick one paw up there to try and mark it?
Are there any wrestling fans here? Have you ever seen what happens when Ric Flair goes to the top rope? He gets thrown off there almost every single time, yet back he goes, each and every match to try and climb the top rope. He just keeps failing. It’s the definition of insanity to do the same thing over and over and expect different results, yet there is Roughead every time I watch the Hawks play, running under the ball and throwing one hand up in the hopes it sticks. Rough… two hands! You’re not Ric Flair… whoooooooo!
ALLOWING CALEB DANIEL TO GO ONE-ON-ONE
This happened four times that I saw during the game. Twice against Jarryd Roughead, once against Jack Gunston, and once against Jonathon Ceglar.
To his credit, Daniel was able to split the contests, although in both where he was able to bring the ball to ground, I thought it was obvious that he’d given away a free kick. Alas, they did not get called.
So, even though most teams have a team defence that moves whenever there is a rotation, how in the hell can the smallest bloke on the park be left to contend with forward monsters like Roughead and Ceglar in marking contests? It seemed crazy that no one on the Bulldogs identified this as an issue and made the change with him. Do they really need a runner to point out such a blatant mismatch?
The Dogs were extremely lucky that they paid with just two goals from these errors, but sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
Now, whether the free kick for dropping half a shoulder/arm into the chest/side of Josh Schache was there, or just a figment of the AFL’s non-contact sport dreams, the fact remains that James Sicily played a large part in the Hawks’ downfall at the MCG.
As the minutes wound down, I counted three separate incidents where mistakes from Sicily cost his team significantly.
The first came when he was knocked off his kick on the half back flank too easily with 5.23 remaining and the Hawks up by two goals. The resultant inside 50 saw the Dogs goal on the back of a great Bont assist to Toby McLean and move to within six points. In fairness, this could’ve happened to anyone – it just so happened that it happened to Sicily, so it’s in here.
The second was the most costly – with the ball in the centre after the Bullies drew level on a Macrae snap, Sicily made contact (far out that sounds so weak) with Josh Schache. There was very little in it – half a bump at best that hardly moved Schache, but the whistle blew and the penalty was huge. A free kick to Schache right in front resulted in his fourth goal, and at that point, the game was gone. The momentum had completely left the Hawks and with Sicily on edge, the Hawks looked lost.
But Sicily wasn’t done yet. As time ticked down, Billy Gowers got out the back. Sicily went with him and tried his best to spoil, but infringed going back with the flight. It was there, and was the correct decision, but being pinged for that set Sicily off. After swearing at the umpire, he was pinged for a 50 metre penalty which made certain of the goal and inflated the margin.
It was no accident that the cameras were trained on Sicily as the Hawks trudged off the park. His slip ups, whether they warranted free kicks or not, were one of the defining factors in a comeback Bulldogs fans will remember for a long time, and a game that got away that may come back to haunt the Hawks.
Sicily has history. Hawk fans, are you willing to tolerate his crap to revel in his brilliance?
There are so many things in this section we could’ve thrown in the other categories.
Jack Macrae… he just keeps getting the pill. Whilst others talk up “name” players, a few of those would die for the kind of numbers Macrae regularly racks up. 36 touches with 27 of them on the outside means that every touch he gets is dangerous because he can get and go.
The Bont… you could sense he was almost ready to grab this game by the balls. He finished with 26 touches but his ball use probably let him down a little.
There was a touch of 2016 about the Dogs in the last quarter, with players standing up and performing way above what anyone outside the club would expect. Mitch Wallis, Lachie Hunter, Daniel, Macrae, Bont, Libba… I think it says as much about the Hawthorn midfield’s lack of accountability as it does the Dogs’ run, but to see the Dogs in full flight... wow!
Now they just need to get Liam Picken out there.
Luke Breust is a great footballer – dual All-Australian, but he misses far too many shots from 25-30 metres out.
Jack Gunston looked great. He had 11 score involvements and four goals of his own for the day. He kicks the ones Breust misses.
I thought Ben McEvoy and Jonathon Ceglar monstered Tim English in the ruck, but English was able to do a couple of nice things at ground level. He has a bit of poise about him, but the Hawk tandem are just mountains. Ceglar looked to have a bit of aggression about him today.
Pretty good start by James Worpel, but he faded badly. He may need another pre-season under his belt before becoming a truly potent mid.
I really liked Taylor Duryea’s game against his old team – he stood tall late in the game to take a strong mark, and would be pretty damn pleased with his decision to head to the kennel.
And that’ll do from me. Great, great, great comeback from the Bullies. I loved the never say die attitude, as opposed to the roll over and die attitude of the Hawks.
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