It was no fluke.
The Eagle run. The Eagle pressure. The big Liam Ryan mark. The calm Sheed shot at goal with the pressure of the last quarter on his shoulders. It didn’t happen by accident in September, and just in case anyone thought it did, the West Coast Eagles did it all again at the MCG, and bowled the Magpies over for the fourth straight time in under 12 months.
The star-studded Collingwood midfield, led by the clearance machine, Brodie Grundy, couldn’t halt the wave of blue and gold as the Eagles, led by a gut-running performance from Andrew Gaff, stretched the lead out to 22 points as the final siren sounded.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
I’m a big fan of redemption, and whilst so many were talking about the redemption of Collingwood this week, I wasn’t buying it. I was more interested in redemption of another sort.
With Andrew Gaff returning to the team for the first time since he was suspended last season, I was very eager to see how he’d go. The emotions must have been running high for him. The same two teams, at the same venue where his mates held the premiership cup aloft. He was there with them, but he wasn’t part of it – not in the way he wanted to be. you could see it on his face at the time - what might’ve been…
His redemption started today, and it started with a huge bang!
As the boos rained down on him, Gaff went about his business, and collected the standard 35 touches, and ran at 71%. If you forgot how good Gaff was, did this game remind you? If you already knew how good he was, you’d be smiling right now. You would’ve seen this coming, and you would’ve been looking forward to it..
He had five clearances and 13 contested touches, and he did what Gaff does – he ran.
Gaff is back, and he is a driven man. He has some unfinished business, and with him as one of the returning stars to this team, West Coast demonstrated that those who dismissed them as a potential back-to-back threat in the pre-season may not have been thinking straight.
THE DEFENSIVE SWITCHING
There was a point in the third quarter where I was watching the workrate of the Eagles in defence and across the centre. It was amazing.
Collingwood transferred play from side to side across their defensive 50, and they simply could not find a way through the hard-working Eagles defenders and mids. Back and forth they went, trying to find something, but the work of Barrass, and Cole, Hurn and Sheppard was impeccable. It left them with no choice but to go long down the line, and that’s the place where Jeremy McGovern dwells, waiting like a bear to gobble up a salmon trying to swim upstream.
You see, the bear knows where they need to go. If they could go around him, they would, but with his teammates cutting off all other avenues, you know the bear will eventually feed.
It was perfect defensive pressing, and whilst Collingwood were disciplined in not trying to risk a kick into that West Coast web, they just couldn’t get through it. Impressive stuff by West Coast - so well drilled against a team that absolutely picked Richmond apart last week with their foot skills.
The thing is, West Coast ARE able to pick teams apart with their foot skills and clamp down on any team attempting to do the same. It is a rare combination.
There’ll be a lot of focus on that brilliant pick up late in the game, and justifiably so – it was so fluent, so effortless, and so indicative of the way Lewis Jetta went about his footy tonight, but it was his field kicking that was the absolute highlight for me.
I just wrote above about Collingwood not wanting to take the risk against the Eagles’ defence; Jetta has no problem trusting his skills to take those risks. There was one of his kicks, on the half back flank, where he just turned and kicked that dangerous diagonal kick into the guts, hitting a 50 metre dart to open the game up. They’re the kind of kicks that can break a game open either way, but you’ve got to have guts to try them, and you’ve got to have skill to hit them.
Jetta has both.
He had 19 touches across half back, and ran at 95% efficiency for the game. He had five score involvements, indicating that when he got his hands on it at half back, he’s going to make things happen.
Against the Lions in Round One, I watched Jetta play on Charlie Cameron, and though he did a decent job, I think he was playing a somewhat selfish game, and went into self-preservation mode when Cameron started to look dangerous. There was none of that today.
He was given licence to use the ball as he saw fit, and use it he did. Excellent game from Lewis.
A lot of the attention was on the returning Gaff, and you can understand why, but how good was Jamie Cripps on his return!
In his first hit out of the season, Cripps was a handful in the forward 50, kicking four goals and giving away another. His presence flies under the radar too often for my liking, and with Willie Rioli on the sidelines, Cripps took the bull by the horns and made sure that those hard-earned inside 50 deliveries were not going to be wasted.
He pumped the ball inside 50 on six occasions, himself, and combined beautifully with Josh Kennedy and Dom Sheed to make up for the quiet day from Jack Darling.
JORDAN DE GOEY
Is he now the most dangerous forward in the game? He’d have to be close.
De Goey is a game changer. He is a raging bull, reminiscent of Dustin Martin before he decided he can’t be bothered working hard. He has beautiful hands, quick reflexes and looks likely every time he goes near it.
Watching him in the second half, it was obvious that he was frustrated with the lack of delivery inside 50, as he worked all the way up to half back to help his team. As much as I liked the workrate, it was a bit of an indictment on Collingwood. Their number one forward wasn’t getting anywhere near enough opportunities, and he had to go and find some, himself.
Someone mentioned to me during the week that de Goey could easily win the Coleman this year. While I am not sure about that, what he is, is one of the most exciting players in the game right now, and has the capacity to turn a game in a five minute blast of power football.
I look forward to watching several of those moments over the next 20 weeks.
For all the flair and excitement of de Goey, this bloke provides the blue-collar grunt.
Mihocek had another solid outing, continually presenting as an option for the Collingwood midfielders. He clunked nine marks, with two of them contested (I’d like to see what constitutes a contested mark, by the way – I reckon he may have had one more than that) and managed to get back inside 50 to kick a goal.
Mihocek is the perfect complimentary player for the spectacular de Goey and the enigmatic Mason Cox. He works hard, does the run-of-the-mill stuff, and does it very well.
He was charged with keeping Jeremy McGovern occupied, and whilst he was unable to do that early, he worked into the game nicely to be the Magpies’ best lead up option.
I liked the game of Scott Pendlebury in the first quarter. He racked up nine touches and was very influential, doing the kind of creative things that Pendlebury does so well.
Enter my old favourite… Mark Hutchings.
Hutchings started the second quarter on Pendles, and went to work. He paid the Collingwood captain close attention, limiting him to just four touches in the quarter. It halted the Magpie momentum significantly, and once again, it was the negating play by Hutchings that helped the Eagles turn the game.
When I threw together our 2018 West Coast Eagles e-book after last season, I was amazed how often I mentioned Hutchings amongst the best players in the games I reviewed. Of course, Champion Data proved that they’re a bunch of number-crunching buffoons by rating him as “poor” in their useless AFL Prospectus (seriously, don’t waste your money on this crap) this year. It is one of the glaring errors in their method of player assessment.
They don’t see what he does, and have no system in place to effectively rate the impact of run-with midfielders. Hutchings has crippled the Collingwood midfield on several occasions now. He has a major influence every time the Pies and Eagles have clashed.
Stick that up your backside, Champion Data. When Hutch is on his game, it means someone else isn’t.
I rate Jack Darling as one of the best forwards in the game at the moment, but he lowered his colours tonight to Howe.
Howe had 21 touches at 91% efficiency, whilst limiting Darling to just seven touches and a solitary mark for the game. Howe ruled the air (except when Ryan made his high-flying appearance) and took two contested marks amongst his seven grabs for the game. He also had a game-high nine intercept possessions as he read the ball beautifully when the long ball came in.
Howe looked to be the preferred kicker from defensive 50, exiting the ball himself on seven occasions, and with Jack Crisp having a quieter game than usual, Howe ramped up his output.
I was waiting for Darling to have another “third quarter” but it didn’t come, with Howe sticking to his task and ensuring the big eagle had no real influence.
TOM COLE ON JAMIE ELLIOTT
I think I saw Jamie Elliott do two things of note this evening.
One was a great running goal in the last quarter, and the other was a nice squaring ball that gave Tom Phillips the chance to absolutely cock up a set shot from 30 metres out directly in front.
For the rest of the game, Elliott belonged to Tom Cole.
As much as I am a rap for Tom Barrass because you never hear about him, you hear even less about Tom Cole. Hell, last year I wrote about him and knew so little that I called him Tim!
That was actually a typo – I swear it.
He is never going to get you big numbers. He’s probably never going to win a Norm Smith, or a club best and fairest. He is surrounded by absolute class in the backline every single game, and yet tonight, when the spotlight went onto the Collingwood forwards, there was one will dark spot out there, and that was the hole that Tom Cole buried Jamie Elliott in.
BRODIE GRUNDY’S CLEARANCE WORK
Brodie Grundy had 11 clearances tonight, and Tom Hickey was no slouch, picking up five. This is the sort of impact I expected the ruck rule changes to have. I looked for a place taking bets on who would have the most clearances for the season a month ago, but couldn’t find one. I wanted to throw a few bucks on Grundy. He added 22 touches and five tackles to his night’s work.
Hickey was serviceable around the ground, but I did not expect him to be so comprehensively beaten in ruck contests by Grundy. He had just seven hit outs for the game. Yep… seven. I really had no idea Grundy was THAT dominant in ruck contests, but on a second viewing, it became very apparent that Grundy was a bit too physical for him.
Even with Grundy dominating taps, the Eagles’ mids were up for the challenge, splitting clearances 37-37. With 15 of Grundy’s taps going directly to advantage, and adding in his own 11 clearances, he had some responsibility for 26 of the of the 37 magpie clearances.
Last season, Grundy averaged five clearances per game. the new rules have him averaging eight this season. Hickey’s average is down on last year, but that has been impacted by his inability to handle the slippery ball at the GABBA in Round One.
I fully expect Grundy to be top five in the league in clearances this season - he is definitely making a decent start.
JAIDYN STEPHENSON’S DISPOSAL
I’m just putting this out there – is he having second year blues?
His disposals are up +3.4 per game currently, but in terms of having an influence, I feel as though Stephenson has gone backwards. He’s not using that pace, or he is not being used in a manner that allows him the space to run and use his pace, and tonight, his kicking was atrocious.
In the JLT series, he looked like a world beater, and with 38 goals last year, he was deadly anywhere inside forward 50. This year, he has two goals from his three games, and doesn’t look like the same player.
What the hell is happening?
The Pies had this amazing forward combination last season. Stephenson, de Goey, Will Hoskin-Elliott and Josh Thomas all got bags to their name, and all contributed on a weekly basis. The Pies have reshuffled the deck, and now sit at 1-2, with a forward line not focusing on the quick, young blokes, but rather the tall timber and a returning Jamie Elliott.
Maybe it’s time they shake it up again, and maybe it’s time they shake some life into Stephenson, who looks like he’s forgotten how to kick.
BOOOOOO MK II
I just have to ask – what did Andrew Gaff do to Collingwood supporters? I mean, besides tear them a new one this evening? Do they have a deep affinity with Fremantle supporters? Personal friends of the Brayshaw family, perhaps?
If you wanna boo, go right ahead, but when a guy is ripping your team to shreds, and working harder than anyone you can throw up against him, just be quiet. Don’t give him more ammunition, more impetus to run harder and beat you even more.
Be like that bloke who realised what Dom Sheed had done in the Grand Final. Nod and give the thumbs up, because it seemed to me as though the more they booed, the harder Gaff ran. The harder he ran, the more they booed.
You see where this is going?
I remember watching an NBA playoffs game back in the 90s, and sitting at courtside was director, Spike Lee. Lee got into it with Indiana Pacers star, Reggie Miller. Well, Reggie went off, and dropped 25 points in the last quarter, winning the game for his team. He fed on the negativity of the crowd, and of his antagonist. He used it to propel him.
Whilst there was no individual fan that Gaff could single out, the cacophony of boos drove him tonight. They would have been music to his ears.
I hope he gave the Collingwood fans a wave as he walked off the park… whichever ones were still there at the final siren.
I’m not saying Liam Ryan checked out against the Lions in Round One, but in the first quarter alone, I reckon he demonstrated more hunger for the contest than he did the entirety of the Lions game. I liked his willingness to throw himself at the contest, and how could you not love him turning the tables on Jeremy Howe and using him as a stepladder?
A classic Jeremy McGovern start to the game, clunking three intercept marks before Collingwood realised that “oh, hey… we shouldn’t just bomb it to where he is hanging out.” They stopped doing that, but it took a reminder from Gov.
How is Dayne Beams fitting into the Collingwood midfield? He had the third highest disposal count on the ground, yet I can’t say I thought he was even remotely influential. Got that junky junk time goal, but I can’t help thinking at times that his recruitment pinches midfield minutes from Taylor Adams, who really came on last year. Or maybe I’m just annoyed at the way he left Brisbane. I’m not too sure. I’ll let you know when I get a better sample size of games.
I hate the dangerous tackle rule so damn much! Treloar was pinged for one on Tom Cole, and I basically just turned away from the TV. I hated it – absolutely hated it. Cole was fighting to stay on his feet and get the ball away. Treloar was trying to prevent him from doing that, and took him to ground. It should have been play on, but a free kick went to Cole… for being tackled well.
Chris Mayne might get some hate for that late game fumble that saw Jetta swoop and feed Cripps, but the kick to him was horrible. I don’t want to even look up who did it (it’s late, and I’m tired) but it was one poor effort.
The Sheed goal… another thing of beauty. Are they calling him the iceman yet? How long until they do? That goal, in the last quarter, with nowhere near as much on the line, conjured some images of his feats six months ago. Same result… he eats the pressure!
Saw some really good signs from Josh Kennedy. That stretching overhead mark in the goal square in the second quarter is what you pay to watch footy for. Tom Langdon is no slouch, but Kennedy is a class act, and you have to be very, very good to beat him one-out. Quick shout out to Luke Shuey for his quality kick to Kennedy from the boundary, as well. Perfect kick.
The below the knees free kick to Cripps? I hate it. I hate it more that it also cost a 50 metre penalty, and I hate that the AFL hasn’t looked at this terrible rule and modified it to only punish players who slide in.
Steele Sidebottom appears to be playing really wide this season. He is a great ball-user, and with the glut of quality mids Collingwood have, I can see why he is playing so outside, but 17 of his 25 touches were uncontested today, and he is much better when he has closer to a 50-50 split.
No mid-air collisions between Sheppard and McGovern this week… made for a nice change from last week where they crashed into each other on four separate occasions.
I glanced at the score in the third quarter to see the Eagles leading by 16 and thought it must be wrong. Jumped on the AFL app just because I’m paranoid, but no, the core was correct. I just felt at that point that West Coast was playing all over the Pies. If there is a negative for the eagles, it’d be that they failed to capitalise on just how much better they were in the third quarter. It felt like they were 5-6 goals up.
Some good stuff from Petruccelle and Oscar Allen again this week, and the new fella, Josh Rotham, didn’t do much wrong either. Amazing when you throw a young fella into a good team, huh? He ran at 90% efficiency and had five defensive 50 exits, so he trusted himself to get the ball out of danger.
Pretty glad Darcy Moore got back on the park after commentators speculated that his hamstring had blown apart. He deserves a good run at it this season.
And as I am about to wrap up, I’m looking through my notes and I see I have hardly mentioned Hurn, Redden, Yeo, Sheppard or Shuey… this team is packed with genuine stars! Hurn was excellent, Yeo and Redden quiet, and Shuey was great, pumping the Eagles inside 50 nine times. I suppose I could’ve added him and Hurn to the ‘good’ category, but how many ‘good’ players can one team have? And how many ‘good’ players can I add?
Great win by West Coast. They came, saw, and conquered.
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