It was a strange feeling at the start of the last quarter at the MCG on Queen’s Birthday.
The game felt over. The Magpies were clearly the better team, yet as so often happened with Richmond last season, they’d allowed the opposition to hang around long enough that if a few things went their way, they’d be back in the game.
At the 15 minute mark, Tom McDonald had the chance to pull the Dees within three kicks, but as has been the script thus far this season, he squandered his opportunity, continuing a season of complete ineptitude from him.
Collingwood then decided enough was enough and dropped the hammer on their foes, with four consecutive goals to finish off the Dees, and completely destroy their season, if it wasn't in enough pieces already.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
THE BEARDED PHOENIX RISES
I’m guessing most of the people reading this review will be Collingwood supporters… or you’ll at least have someone read it to you (I kid… I kid… you won, be happy) so you may want to skip this section.
I was really looking forward to the Gawn v Grundy matchup, and I thought it would play out as follows. Gawn would dominate the hit outs and intercept marks in defence, and Grundy would make up for it with clearances, tackles and winning the ball around the ground.
And Max Gawn blew that out of the water with a career-high disposal game. I watched the contest pretty intently, and whilst Grundy was far from disgraced, Gawn just had this incredible knack of getting to the right position – the ball just kept finding him. Whenever rundy fumbled, it inevitably ended up in Gawn’s hands. it was as though the ball was drawn to him.
Not only did Gawn excel around the ground, with ten intercept possessions, he also did what Grundy usually does, and won his own clearances, and he did that the lazy ten times. This wasn’t just a good display in the ruck – it was a dominant one, and when you consider the calibre of his opponent, it becomes all the more impressive.
Collingwood fans, don’t worry – Grundy is still the All-Australian ruck favourite. He has a body of work behind him to this point that will be very hard to overtake, but Gawn’s last month has been sublime. Melbourne have struggled with him – imagine what would’ve been happening without him?
I think the true Gawn v Grundy wars commenced last year – here’s what I wrote prior to their 2019 clash.
As it stands now, this battle may be over, but the war for ruck supremacy rages on. We’re tied up at 1-1 with another round later this year. People, we often lament the lack of true one on one matchups in our game, but this is as good as it gets, and every time these two lock horns, or beards, or any other part of their bodies (ewww), the clash deserves your attention. Their clashes will be something speak about for years once they’re all said and done, and you get to say you witnessed them.
THE MAN OF STEELE
Talk about starting the game well – Steele Sidebottom did just that, racking up a game-high 11 touches in the first quarter en route to finish with 27 for the game, but though he had plenty of attention to deal with, his ability to run to support his teammates and provide consistent run and carry, mainly off half back, were a delight to watch.
No Collingwood player has sacrificed his own game this season as much as Steele Sidebottom. With the arrival of Dayne Beams, the continued emergence of Adam Treloar, the rejuvenation of Scott Pendlebury and the need for midfield minutes for Taylor Adams, it was Sidebottom who stepped away from the hustle and bustle of the midfield to play on the wing. And as a result, his impressive 2018 numbers took a hit this season.
Down almost five touches per game going into this contest, Sidebottom’s move to the wing also saw a dip in his contested possessions. He adapted and slotted into his new role without one wrinkle becoming apparent. That, people, is called leadership.
When the game was there to be won, Sidebottom was leading the way. He may not be the captain of this club, but there are many forms of leadership at a footy club. If you watch Sidebottom’s first quarter today, watch his defensive pressure, his willingness to chase and smother, and watch the way he does not give up on a play. There are plenty of stars in the league that could learn a thing or three from it.
Ah yes, the unsung hero.
When you think of the Collingwood defence, you think of Darcy Moore crashing packs and making spoils. You think of Jack Crisp delivering the ball outside 50 with precision, and you think of Jeremy Howe kicking people in the back and taking great marks (oh, we’ll get to that!).
But how many people think of Jordan Roughead? I’m willing to say that at the beginning of the year, not many people would’ve, but if they’re not thinking about him yet, they may want to reassess how they view defensive play, because he has done a splendid job in defence all year for the Pies, and today was no exception.
I find it amazing how often I see names listed in the best players, and Roughead doesn’t get a mention. The fact he didn’t get one for today’s game is probably indicative of where the AFL media is at – they want sizzle, but sometimes they don’t like the steak.
Rough did the heavy work when tom McDonald played deep forward and wasn't acting as a stepladder for Jeremy Howe. He killed contest after contest to lead the game in spoils, and was equal leader in intercept possessions. He was a wrecking ball in defence again this week, and sooner or later, when people start naming the best lockdown defenders in the league, his name is going to start being mentioned.
Hell, it’s mentioned often at The Mongrel already.
ANOTHER 30-DISPOSAL OUTING
Adam Treloar is an animal. An aerobic, hardworking, gut-running animal that simply refuses to take his foot off the accelerator.
That can end either of two ways – either with him burning off an opponent who can simply no longer go with him, or with a blowout, as we saw last year. To this point of the season, there has been a lot of opposition midfielders left in his wake.
He had another 34 disposals in this one – the ninth time he’s eclipsed the 30-disposal mark in 2019, and looks like he has no intentions of slowing down.
Eye-catching runs, clearances, tackles… these are the things, when done in volume, that attract the attention of the umpires. With the Pies winning so often, could Brownlow votes be something that occurs often for him this season?
THE MAKING OF A DEFENCE
It wasn't all doom and gloom for the Dees. Today marked the first time Jake Lever and Steven May patrolled defensive 50 together, and whilst both were able to avoid the dreaded one-on-one match up with Jordan de Goey, there was enough to show that with these defensive pillars in place, the Dees can now start building again.
Lever took a quarter to adjust to the cut and thrust of the top level again, and for a brief second looked to have reached for his knee after a great smother by Travis Varcoe, but he pulled up well and worked into the game nicely, his efforts punctuated by a great mark with the flight of the ball in the second quarter.
May was given the job of curtailing beanpole Mason Cox, and performed admirably when directly opposed to him. He nullified Cox’s huge reach advantage with some good body work, and it soon became apparent that May was a little too seasoned to allow Cox a free run at the ball, and the big man was moved up the ground.
If you’re looking for positives, Dees fans, look no further than these tow getting through the game unscathed, and with just a splash of what they’re capable of on display.
There’s plenty more to come from them.
THE PRESSURE MAN
If I were handing out votes at half time, I would have given him three.
Travis Varcoe is the Collingwood equivalent of Gary Rohan at Geelong. Same, same… but different. Same inasmuch that they are both minimal possession players, but maximum impact with everything they do. Different as in they play what could be a very similar role quite differently.
Varcoe’s pressure on the ball carrier in the first half was elite. He threw himself across the boot of two kicks inside attacking 50 in the first quarter that resulted in repeat scoring efforts from the Pies. His attack on the ball was relentless and uncompromising. In a day and age where players reach, turn side on and protect themselves, Varcoe attacks the ground ball contests like a man possessed. He does not deviate, does not shirk the issue, and though it will at times get him into trouble via the MRO, he created the momentum for Collingwood in this game by throwing caution to the wind.
His stats are modest – 10 kicks and two tackles, but it was the heavy work, the little things he was able to do that made such a big difference. He is no superstar in a team full of very good players, but when it’s his turn to go, you’ll never see him think twice.
Every team needs a player like Trav Varcoe. Luckily for the Pies, not many have anything like him.
You know what – at least I didn’t hear the commentators salivating over “how hard he is” every time he went near the ball this week. It was as though they got a memo stating that they should actually wait for Jack Viney to do something before they started lavishing praise on him.
If such a memo existed, and Viney got wind of it, he responded with the kind of game that has become all-too common for him over the last 12 months; a meandering, mediocre outing with little to no impact.
As I’ve watched him this season, I’ve started to wonder whether Viney was actually superfluous to Melbourne’s midfield. They have great ball winners in Oliver and Brayshaw and what they need is some good ball users. Jack Viney doesn’t fit that bill.
Whilst he ran at 82% efficiency in this one, what impact did he have? When was the last time you saw him grab the ball, look inboard and hit a 45 metre pass to a running teammate to open the game up? He’s another inside mid on a team that doesn’t need one, but he wears the title of captain, so he does not have the pressure of keeping his spot. He is just… there.
Now I write all that with the understanding that Viney may be carrying an injury. He strikes me as the sort of bloke that wouldn’t complain, and wouldn’t want to miss if he was suffering from a range of ailments, but I also think there’d be dozens of players just like him who are performing so much better.
He is -4.5 in disposals on the season, and more concerningly, even with Gawn dominating ruck contests, his clearance numbers have fallen by half, from 7.2 down to 3.6 per game. At the moment, he is taking up space, and now that the Demons’ season is well and truly done and dusted, if he needs some surgery, or time to recover to get right for next season, get him in to have it done now and get him right for 2020.
That’s not tanking, is it?
Okay, we could look at Jeremy Howe’s mark over Tom McDonald as an isolated incident, or we could put it side by side with the actions of Toby Greene and compare the two.
One will probably get one response as to whether Howe’s actions should have warranted a free kick, and the other will put things in perspective.
The AFL has once again rushed in a rule in response to one player, or incident. They’ve once again not bothered to think things through and make a considered decision. They saw what Toby Greene did in 2018 and made a knee-jerk reaction, in a similar way they did when Gary Rohan had that horrible break of his leg. What we saw after the Rohan incident was a new rule go from a “no sliding in” rule to a ”contact below the knees” free kick, which has left many players who make the ball their primary objective on the short end of a free kick decision.
And now here we are, with Jeremy Howe judging the ball better, using his foot in the back of McDonald to create both lift and space, and being pinged for “prohibited contact”.
That’s already my most hated phrase of 2019 – prohibited contact. It sounds like a fucking netball ruling. “Prohibited contact… wing defence… stand beside.”
Is this really what we want to see at the footy? And if this is outlawed, how long until someone cops a big knee in the back of the head and gets knocked out and then using your knees in marking contests is outlawed? And then running with the flight of the ball is banned, because, you know… that’s how people get hurt, right?
Remember Michael Mitchell? I know the name, and I know the mark he took is iconic, standing on his opponent’s back. Well, would that now be a free kick? Using the bottom of his feet to stand on the shoulders of an opponent? If not, how far away is it?
The more we prevent things like Howe’s mark from happening, the more we lose what makes our game great. I can’t see many looking at that today and thinking “yeah…I don’t want to see that as part of our game – good decision, umpire.”
But then again, maybe I’m just an old fart who likes the occasional big mark.
THE GHOST OF TOM MCDONALD
Long term readers know I was saving this column idea for use on Jack Darling, but I’ll be buggered if McDonald isn’t making the West Coast forward look like Tony Lockett.
So much of what Melbourne wanted to achieve this season relied on TMac holding down the key forward position and matching what he did last season, if not bettering it, but what we’ve got from him has been an unmitigated disaster.
Let’s have a look at what he’s been able to do. The list is below.
And now let’s look at what he hasn’t been able to do.
Kick goals – He has gone from 2.65 goals per game in 2018 to 0.66 per game this season. Yep, that poor.
Take contested marks – he took 1.70 in 2018, and that has fallen to 1.25 this season.
Gather possessions – Down from 15.50 to 11.83.
But surely if is offence isn’t clicking, he’d be applying himself defensively, right?
He averaged 2.35 tackles per game last season, and this year he is sitting right at 1.58.
Tom McDonald is the most disappointing forward in the game at the moment. He promised so much last season, but maybe he was just the beneficiary of a team playing at their absolute peak, and now that perfect supply has dried up and he has to earn his kicks the old-fashioned way, he’s being found out as an ordinary option up forward.
Irrespective of the reason, TMac is in this team on reputation alone. In contrast, Sam Weideman has comparable stats, yet he was sent back to the VFL without hesitation. The Dees have been gutless in terms of sending McDonald back to the seconds, and it epitomises their season.
I haven’t even mentioned Jaidyn Stephenson yet, huh? Well, where would you have liked me to slot him in? The Good, for his ability to win the ball inside 50? The Bad, for not making the most of his chances? The Ugly, for finishing with three goals from ten shots at goal?
That’s right, he had ten shots at the big sticks and didn’t score on four of them. He finished with 3.3 for the night, but if you want praise heaped on you, you’ve gotta travel at a little better than 30% accuracy. Who does he think he is – Dylan Shiel?
The Dees have found a player in Marty Hore. With 21 touches, he finds himself in the right place at the right time often, and doesn’t look panicked when he gets the ball.
Pretty big outing for Angus Brayshaw in this one, but he still can’t hit targets. When you consider that your midfield, consisting of Viney, Oliver, Harmes and Brayshaw, none of them are elite kicks… what are a pair of average forwards to do?
What an incredible weapon Will Hoskin-Elliott is to have as a fourth option in the forward line. Great running, a beautiful pair of hands, and the ability to finish… he’d be a clear second option on plenty of teams at the moment.
A nice little return for Brayden Sier, grabbing his chance with both hands, finishing with 14 contested touches amongst his 23 disposals. Looked right at home straight away, but as the Pies get troops back, you know he’s going to be squeezed out. You think he’ll hang around to play fifth or sixth wheel in a stacked midfield, Pies fans?
Finally, loved the little duel between Oskar Baker and Tom Phillips in the second half. Those two looked like they really wanted to gain a personal win every time they went after the same ball. I reckon Baker found that he may be quick, but he ain’t Jaidyn Stephenson quick. The tackle Stephenson laid on him in the last quarter as baker tried to dodge and weave away, was an absolute pearler.
And that’ll do me. Before I run, I just want to touch on the comparison I made at the outset of Collingwood to Richmond last year. I am still a big believer that the Tigers were the best side of the year… they just fell over in finals. What Richmond did last season, including a couple of times to Collingwood, was do just enough to have a lead but not put the game away.
At times they’d slam on three quick ones in the last quarter to ice the game, but they should’ve been a big margin in front before having to do that. I reckon the Pies are similar this season.
There is no way in hell Melbourne should have been as close as they were in the last quarter. Had they encountered a bit of luck, or had Tom McDonald not fluffed his only chance to do something meaningful for the game, we may have been talking about Collingwood’s wastefulness a little more.
The Pies will need to be careful with that.
Both these teams head into the bye next week. The Pies will reload, and the Dees will reassess their season and who has surgery early this year.
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