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The Good, Bad and Ugly - West Coast v Adelaide

If there is to be a game the Adelaide Crows look back on in 2019 as “the one that got away”, it will be this home fixture against the reigning premiers. Up by almost six goals, the Crows allowed the eagles back into the game in a performance that will have them scratching their heads.

For West Coast, even their most ardent supporters should acknowledge that they’re simply not playing their best football. Yes, this was a gutsy win, coming from behind in hostile territory, but they are playing ugly football, and are winning ugly as a result.

The Eagles are good enough to play 40 minutes of decent football and get wins at the moment. It says a fair bit for them, but I am not sure how much it says for their opponents. Ostensibly, the Eagles are winning in third gear at the moment, shifting only into fourth for short periods to power them over the finish line.

If you’re a West Coast supporter, are you concerned at 7-3? Or do those numbers alone make you nod sagely, knowing that you finally got a good win in conditions the team is not adept in?

If you love the Crows, is this capitulation a clear indication that the team is nowhere near many (myself included) thought you would be this season?

The Mongrel will get stuck into most facets of the game in the good, bad and ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

THE SUPER SMASH BROTHERS

Elliot Yeo and Luke Shuey, take a bow.

Yeo first – his efforts to lay tackles in order to combat the rampant Crows midfield in the first half were so important in keeping the Eagles in the game. He bounced from one opponent to another, dragging players to ground left, right and centre. Finishing with an equal game-high 15 tackles (after 16 last week), Yeo started making Adelaide mids look over their shoulder at stoppages. When they got their hands on the ball, yeo wasn’t far behind them, laying the tackles.

But Yeo wasn’t just chasing and tackling, though you could be forgiven for thinking that with those sorts of numbers. He had 27 touches and eight clearances on the night as well, to round out another excellent game.

And Luke Shuey… wow. What a last quarter from him! Shuey was very good in the first half, and probably the only Eagle to be able to match it with Ellis-Yolmen, Greenwood and Sloane at stoppages. As the Crows dominated stoppages, Shuey was trying to stem the flow.

And that’s what he did. He held the Crows at bay before taking over himself in the last quarter. As the Eagles surged, Shuey led the way. He finished with 11 clearances for the game, igniting the Eagles in the last quarter, and breaking the hearts of Crows fans as he took the ball from multiple centre bounces and drove West Coast forward.

The Norm Smith medallist and the John Worsfold medallist were two of the absolute best players on the ground in this one. Both put their heads over the ball, both flat out refused to accept that their team was going to be beaten, and both willed their team into the contest when things seemed all but lost.

If the Eagles needed heroes, Elliot Yeo and Luke Shuey provided them with two in this game.

 

BRAD SHEPPARD

If the left one don’t get ya, the right one will. I’ve been writing about Shannon Hurn in these reviews basically every time I cover an Eagles game, so it’s refreshing to have another defender to start praising.

Brad Sheppard played on Eddie Betts at times, but zoned off to cover for Hurn for the first time this season, with his captain having his output somewhat stifled. I say that, yet I then realise that Hurn had 13 rebound 50s for the game… well, I felt as though he was stifled.

But you know who wasn’t stifled? Brad Sheppard. His dash off half back, particularly early in the game, was instrumental in keeping the Eagles within striking distance of the Crows. I would not hesitate to state that without his efforts, the lead may have been unsurmountable at half time, and we may very well be writing about a fantastic Adelaide victory had Sheppard nit been on the park.

He finished with 16 touches and nine marks but most importantly, had eight intercepts on the night. He is an unsung hero for the eagles, though I have no doubt that his praises are sung loudly within the confines of the West Coast inner circle.

If the Eagles needed any impetus to lift their game to have another tilt at a flag, most people would think that it would be so that Andrew Gaff or Nic Naitanui could have a premiership medal, but I reckon the majority of those want to see Shep with a medal around his neck as much, or even more so than the other two.

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ADELAIDE’S BIG BODIED MIDS

In the first half, the Eagles midfield looked overmatched against the bulk and power of the Crows’ gigantic-bodied mids in Cam Ellis-Yolmen and Hugh Greenwood. They won clearance after clearance, and had it not been for the aforementioned Luke Shuey, West Coast would have been in enormous trouble.

Ellis-Yolmen is a beast of a man, and when he gets even a half-head of steam, tackles start falling off him. He is virtually impossible to move off the ball, and has a great pair of hands at ground level.

Whilst Greenwood is also a bull, he attacks the contest differently, and immediately after touching the ball, raises it above his head to prevent his arms being pinned in a tackle. He is so strong through the hips, that he takes the tackle and dishes off without missing a beat.

Between the two, they had 34 contested possessions, 15 clearances and 23 tackles.

This was their sort of game. It was rough, it was contested, and it brought out the best in them. They dared the West Coast mids to take them on, and when the challenge came, they just didn’t have enough left in the tank to get their team over the line.

Look at them this way – yes, they are huge units. While you’re running mids might be four cylinder machines, maybe six at a stretch, these two are V8s. they have power to burn, but in doing so, they use a heap of fuel.

Greenwood in particular can rest forward. Ellis-Yolmen, not so much. So, what can the Crows do to preserve that tank of his? The answer may provide the key to winning the next game when things are a little slippery underfoot, and the big bodies are required at the end of the game.

 

WILL SCHOFIELD

It wasn’t exactly a great night to be a big forward, but in saying that, Jack Darling managed to take a couple of contested grabs and with Josh Kennedy, managed to kick six goals between them.

So, why couldn’t Taylor Walker do the same?

Now I know that is setting myself up for you guys to add in “because he’s shit”, but I reckon that’s cheap. He is a powerhouse, and I thought he worked hard, if not smart today. That said, he was soundly beaten by a bloke who has made a habit out of beating blokes throughout his career, to little or no fanfare.

Taylor Walker made the Schofield list today.

Schofield finished with five touches for the game. Only two of them were effective. He had two turnovers, just one mark, and those who read stats and rate players based solely on them will tell you that he had a poor game.

And they’d be completely wrong.

Schofield played a blinder as a pure defender, ensuring his man had little to no impact on the game. Sometimes when a forward is held goalless, there are other aspects where he excels, and they contribute to the team’s success. Score involvements are usually a good indicator of whether someone has had a significant impact on play in general.

Taylor Walker had two score involvements for the game.

His name is now on the Schofield list, and I think there could be a few more names to add before all is said and done.

 

THE NEED FOR SHEED

There were those who tried convincing me to put some coin on Sheed for the Brownlow this season, and after his blistering Round One performance, I started to think they may have been onto something, but he levelled out pretty quickly and settled into the midfield rotation without carrying on too much from his outstanding 2018 finals.

Well, Sheed was adding something else to his repertoire, with a career-high 22 contested disposals. I am used to seeing Sheed on the run, receiving from a teammate and taking off, but he was as tough in the contest as any player on the park this afternoon, and deserves credit for putting his body on the line in the clinches and earning kicks the hard way.

 

THE BAD

 

NO SHEPHERDING ON THE LINE?

So, are we not allowed to shepherd the ball through for a goal now? Seriously, I had NFI what’s going with the rules at times.

Wayne Milera had a long shot for goal in the second quarter. It was a booming kick and it sailed through for a major… only there was a problem. You see, Taylor Walker laid a shepherd in the goal square and whichever umpire it was, saw some contact… COMPLETELY LEGAL CONTACT – and saw fit to blow the whistle, wave off the goal and award a free kick.

It was one of those decisions that makes you think back to some of the other goal-line shepherds we’ve seen in the years, months and even weeks before. Over the years there has been shepherds on the goal line where players have held, scragged, fallen on top of, and tripped over their opponent, but as it has no impact on the ball going through the big sticks at a height that even the other player on the line can’t reach it, no free kick is paid…

… because that’s common bloody sense!

I know the in-thing to do is bag out Tex Walker, and from some sections of the media he’ll probably cop heat for costing his team a goal at that point in the game, but the decision to award a free kick against him wasn’t a courageous call by the umpire. It wasn't the sort of decision that could’ve gone either way.

It was a stupid, unnecessary decision, and if you’re picking them out, I reckon you’re looking for a reason to pay a free kick. Put the bloody whistle away.

 

WILLIE RIOLI

I know I’m walking a fine line here, with the outrage community looking for something to be upset about, but here goes.

Willie Rioli does not look overly fit to me. I get that he may have the Rioli body, which we saw Dean Rioli play with for years, but Willie doesn’t look in great shape.

Blunt? Yeah, I suppose. Hypocritical? Yes again – I’ve put on about three kilograms since I stopped the keto diet I was on (and hated), but I am not a professional sportsman.

Before the season, I thought Rioli had all the tools to be the AA small forward this season, but injury conspired to limit his time on the park, and has all but put that possibility to bed. But seeing him run around out there today… I wonder just how good he could be if he were in immaculate shape?

His hands are magnificent, and the way he gathered the ball at ground level early in the game demonstrated that he has lost none of the touch that he possessed last year. He is an x-factor in a forward half that at times this season has been predictable, and has the potential to be the most important player in any given game, but of all the players out there tonight, Rioli looked the least fit by a long way.

Is it an optical illusion? Was I seeing things? Is he not flattered by a tight-fitting yellow jumper? Hell, I don’t know, but he had over a quarter of game time on the bench today, and if you’re a West Coast fan, you’d want him out there more than 75% of game time, right? Especially because he is so damn good!

I reckon there’s a lot of work in front of him this season if he is to play as big a role as he is capable of playing in September.

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THE UGLY

 

TEX SHIRKS THE CONTACT

I really feel as though I am going for the low hanging fruit here, but in a pretty physical game, this one stuck out.

Truth be told, I am a bit of a Taylor Walker fan. I like that he wears his heart on his sleeve. I like that he takes to task those who don’t give of themselves to the footy club. I like that he is outspoken and a little bit on the reactive side when things aren’t going perfectly.

But the thing is, when you’re all those things, and you have the chance to set an example, put your head or body over the ball and either initiate or take contact, you have to do it.

In the second quarter of this game, Walker had the chance to crash into Shannon Hurn… an unwise idea at the best of times, or at the very least, bodyline the ball, take the contact that was inevitably going to come, and demonstrate that he doesn’t just talk the talk.

But Tex didn’t walk the walk on this occasion, and it really pissed me off.

I want him to do well. I want him to make statements with his on-field actions, but this… putting your hands out and avoiding the contact, and leaving the ball there for West Coast defenders to swoop onto… I think he’d like that situation over again.

It made me think back to one of the first articles I wrote for The Mongrel, following the 2017 Grand Final. Remember that, Crows fans? I’m sure you do. At a point in the game, Tex had the opportunity to put Nick Vlastuin into the middle of the following week as the Tiger defender went back with the flight of the ball. He didn’t, of course, and at a pivotal time of the game, Richmond were able to go forward. Within a minute, they’d scored a goal, and Vlastuin had not been touched.

It was the time for the captain to stand up, as it was in the second quarter of this game. Sadly, it was Tex Walker who was confronted with the opportunity, and not Rory Sloane. I have no doubt Sloane would’ve put his head over it.

I get what he was trying to do. Grab the ball, feed off to a teammate and still be an option to get it back… yeah, yeah… I get it. But that didn’t work out, did it?

 

QUICK BITS

What a strange match-up early in the piece, seeing Wayne Milera drifting forward to duel with Jeremy McGovern. And what unexpected results!

It didn’t take too long for McGovern to find his groove, and once he did, he went close to securing the defenders’ double-double (double figures in intercepts and 1%ers) with 11 1%ers and nine intercepts, but for a while there, when the ball hit the deck, Milera was a nightmare to deal with.

I still get the feeling that Andrew Gaff is a little out of sorts. He had big numbers again today, but when he’s at his best, he is running, carrying and making space. Too often it seems as though his kicks are under pressure and rushed. I’m looking at him out the back of packs, and that’s where I think he is best suited, as the second or third possession in a chain to release the Eagles. If he gets first hands on it, you’re getting distance, but not much else.

Limited opportunities for Josh Kennedy today, but he is a player that can make something out of nothing pretty quickly. He was playing on Daniel Talia, who I rate very highly, and he managed to slip by him to mark on a couple of occasions, and to finish with the standard Kennedy three goals means he did his job.

Did Nathan Vardy find a form of redemption this week after all the flak he copped for giving Max Gawn a bit of a shove last week? I thought his ruck work was impressive in this game, and though O’Brien was more than serviceable around the ground, Vardy, after a very slow first quarter, more than held his own.

Let’s be honest, he is the Eagles’ third-string ruck at the moment, and once Naitanui gets back, he will be battling Tom Hickey for the back-up spot. Tonight, he started his campaign to remain in the team.

Brad Crouch continues to impress in the Crows midfield. I’m not sure they’ve got the balance completely correct just yet – I actually thought that Bryce Gibbs was the player they needed in there; some silk to finish off the hard work of Sloane, and the other big fellas, but Don Pyke obviously thinks differently.

Loved Paul Seedsman selling candy at 60 metres and goaling from 50… that’s the sort of thing that makes you smile as a neutral fan.

I know I already wrote about him above, but if you want to see what midfield leadership looks like, go back and have a look at the first five minutes of the third quarter and watch Luke Shuey in the guts. It’s right then and there that the Eagles got themselves back into the game – not on the scoreboard at that point, but in general play.

Shuey looked like a man that simply refused to allow his team to capitulate.

I reckon that might be the one game Jack Petruccelle gets to cash in on the credits he has in the bank from early this season. I know it’s easy to pick on the new guy, but his efforts today were pretty ordinary. One kick out on the full as the goals beckoned – he looked completely confused, and then another with no composure as he blasted the ball inside 50 where only Daniel Talia was hanging out.

He’ll learn from this, and hopefully we don’t see a repeat, lest the WAFL come calling.

The Crows head to the Northern territory next week, where Melbourne gave them an absolute pulverising last year. If they drop that one, they’re basically looking at the 8-12 spot on the ladder as the expectation for the rest of the year.

The Eagles welcome the struggling Bulldogs to Optus Stadium, and will probably be feeling as though they can head into the first of the bye rounds with a strong 8-3 record. As average as they’ve been, if they can get to that mark next week, you’d almost have to install them as outright premierships favourites. They have been so far off their best that once it clicks (when the nice Spring weather arrives) there’ll be some shellackings in order at the hands of the Eagles.

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