Wow… just wow.
I know there are people who start writing their reviews at three quarter time. And if I were one of those people, I would be cursing myself. You see, there was a distinct feeling, that even with the margin under three goals, that the West Coast Eagles had this game in hand.
It was their game to lose. All they had to do was continue that run and carry that came a little too easily in the first half.
But they couldn’t. Collingwood tightened the screws and the Eagles couldn’t get space. I kept waiting for the West Coast response. I kept waiting for the Eagles runners to start getting out and hurting the Pies. It didn’t happen.
Collingwood were disciplined, determined and brutally effective in turning a free-flowing game into a slugfest, and in the end it was them landing the knockout blows.
Before we hit the good, bad and ugly, let’s head down memory lane.
YO NATHAN… WE DID IT
Any Rocky fans here?
I sure as hell hope so, or you might wanna skip straight to the next section.
What we saw tonight was a Rocky movie. We got the champs being beaten by the contender who appeared to be down and out. We saw the Apollo Creed of the competition – the West Coast Eagles- sticking and moving, landing a few on the chin of their Balboa-esque challengers. A few of those lightning quick jabs rocked the Pies back on their heels. The Jack Darling marks, the Elliot Yeo runs and carries, the Jeremy McGovern intercept possessions… they took the wind out of Collingwood briefly, and at three quarter time, the Pies were on the ropes.
But every time they were knocked down, the visitors picked themselves up. They landed a few blows of their own. Mihocek took marks and kicked goals, de Goey started to have an influence, and Adam Treloar threw himself at the contest.
West Coast still looked better. They looked classier and better skilled on the whole night. They looked like winners, but Collingwood refused to stay down. West Coast may have had the flashiness down, but Collingwood had the heart.
Never doubt the heart of a champion.
After a 12-goal first term, 11 were scored over the next three quarters as the Eagles’ finesse disappeared and they were forced to go toe-to-toe with the challenger. In a tense last quarter, the two combatants exchanged blows, with the Pies peppering their opponent with a flurry of inside 50s before Brody Mihocek marked and goaled to get the incredibly valuable first major.
And then the Eagles started to get a little rattled. They looked to their corner for support, waited for the bell to ring to give them their points win, but Collingwood were relentless. Jordan de Goey landed a heavy blow and the Eagles felt their legs wobble. Aish levelled the scores and the home side faltered. Crocker did his only valuable thing of the game and scored a point, and just like that, the challenger was on top.
As the clock ticked down and the final bell rang, Apollo Creed looked up off the canvas as Rocky Balboa had his hand raised. The champ had been taken down by someone the pundits gave no chance. Yo Nathan… we did it!
TWO MINUTES OF HEAVEN
No, I am not describing the love life of my old pal, Joe Ganino… that is way too long a timeframe to be describing him. What I am doing is referring to a two minute period that changed the momentum of the game.
With less than five minutes remaining in the first half, there was a noticeable shift in the game. The Eagles were flying high, but then the Pies took them to ground, and they did it with a couple of minutes of ferocious tackling to completely prevent West Coast from getting the ball into their attacking half.
Pendlebury, Crisp, Sidebottom, Greenwood, Treloar, Mihocek… the Pies were lining up to lay tackles and take the Eagles down. Gone was the Eagles’ composure that was on display earlier on. Rushed kicks, hit and hopes by the West Coast team to relieve the immediate pressure were all they could muster, only to see the ball come straight back inside 50 seconds later.
The Pies did not capitalise on the scoreboard, but there was a clear intent about their football as the first half concluded. They were no longer there to play nice outside footy. The game changed in the final four or so minutes of the first half, and it swung ever so slightly in the favour of the Pies. It was the hope they needed, and they provided it in that one blast of desperate, pressure footy.
I’ve been singing his praises for a while now, but the odd man out in the uber-talented Collingwood forward line continues to work his ass off to make his team competitive. I thought he was Collingwood’s best player in the first quarter by a long way, and he continued on his merry way later in the game.
I should elaborate on the “odd man out” statement, as that could be construed as disrespectful – it is most definitely not intended that way. I mean he is the odd one out inasmuch as no one else can play the role he does. No one else can lead up to the wings and double back the way he does. No one can combine that run with contested marking. In a potentially great forward line, Mihocek is close to the most important piece because no one else can do what he does for the Pies.
Five contested grabs from Mihocek equals his season-high, and every one of those marks were vital to his team. From big grabs inside 50 to get out of jail marks at half back, and finally, working his way to the front of the pack in the last quarter to get the Magpies rolling, Mihocek was the difference.
I couldn’t believe the commentators at half time talking up Jarrod Cameron and Mason Cox for their efforts – for mine, it was Mihocek that had both kept the Pies in the game, and provided a consistent attack on the ball in the air, irrespective of whether the kick to him was perfect or not.
At half time, Mihocek had three goals to his name, but was also responsible for two direct goal assists. Of the Pies’ eight goals, he had a large degree of responsibility of five of them.
He finished the game with 19 touches, ten marks and three tackles in a close to complete game as the third option. We had him at CHF in our All-Underrated team about a week or so ago, and there was nothing tonight that would see him lose his place… unless people actually start rating him highly. Then, I guess, he’s out.
Don’t look at the stats – look at the impact. Remember that; we’ll be revisiting it a little later.
Chris Mayne was given a job to do tonight, and it was not an easy one. Standing in the forward50 arc, his job was not to bob up and kick a couple of goals, or apply forward pressure – both which he is highly capable of doing.
No, his job was to nullify the influence of the West Coast Eagles captain, Shannon Hurn, and that is exactly what he did.
Hurn has had a wonderful year, and at this stage should probably be favourite to be All-Australian captain. The way he has controlled games from half back has been masterful at times, and with the West Coast defensive six at full strength, I expected more of the same.
But Chris Mayne had other ideas.
Okay, now you can look at the stats. Hurn had 17 touches, which is a decent day out, but he was under that magical 80% efficiency mark that he so often hits, and more than a few of those disposals came from stepping outside the goal square and taking kick ins. Mayne wore him like a glove and would not allow Hurn to be the second or third link in the chain coming out of defence, which has allowed Hurn to roost the ball 60 metres and get the Eagles running.
He was also diligent in ensuring Hurn was unable to zone off and clunk those intercept marks he dined out on early in the season. The West Coast captain had eight intercepts all together, but had time and space on none of them, and was held to just three marks for the game.
Stats won’t tell the story of how good Mayne was in this one, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the one glaring problem with stats.
There are some players that have a certain edge to them. Dustin Martin is one. Patrick Dangerfield is another. And then there is Jordan de Goey.
Remember about 18 months or so ago when he got caught drink-driving, and people like Adam La Porta (who will deny this) wanted him sacked? Back then, according to some, he was an idiot, a clown, an idiot-clown, and some sort of clownish idiot, but now, people realise why Collingwood were so quick to embrace him and nurture him.
They could see the oak tree in the acorn. They could see Hurricane de Goey brewing on the horizon, and when it rained down, they wanted it on their side.
There were others who had better stats than him, but I loved his attack on the footy and the sense that whenever he went near the play, anything could happen. He finished with a couple of goals, but his influence at a few centre bounces was integral at times when the Pies needed help in there.
Then there was his connections with Brodie Grundy, one of which led directly to a goal. It must be bloody hard for Buckley not to unleash him up the ground a little more often. At stoppages, he is a battering ram, but up forward, he lurks like a caged tiger ready to pounce.
He is a game changer, and at just 23 has a heap of improvement to come. He’s the sort of bloke you could see winning a Norm Smith Medal at some point.
I’ve been a little perplexed by Sidebottom this season. Not because of the level of his play, but because of the role he’s played. Last season, I thought we saw him move into the realm of the truly elite midfielders.
However, this season I felt as though a new role meant he had to take a bit of a back seat to the others in Collingwood’s star-studded midfield. He was playing a lot more outside, as a pure wingman a lot of the time, and as a result his numbers dropped significantly. He was down in disposals, tackles, clearances, inside 50s and both contested and uncontested possessions.
But when the team’s collective backs were against the wall, he stepped up in this game, collecting 33 touches and six clearances as he imposed himself on the contest.
It takes great self-belief to sacrifice for the team. In an era that seems to value individual stats and accomplishments as much as team success (in most sports – not just AFL), to see a player like Sidebottom take a different role to help the team is refreshing, and is probably lost on many.
THE RUCK BATTLE
Stick with me on this – I may get carried away.
Is it fair to say that Nic Naitanui easily got the better of Brodie Grundy? I think it is.
Is it also fair to say that Brodie Grundy gave Tom Hickey an ass kicking? I also think that’s fair.
So, in the wash up, is it fair to say that Collingwood actually won the battle? With the Eagles narrowly winning the clearances 42-41, you could say I’m full of shit.
Why does that matter? It doesn’t, really, but I like little things like that, and with Nic Nat having 11 clearances himself, the downgrade to Hickey was enormous and allowed Grundy to save face a little.
Look, I know many think of Grundy as the best big man in the league, but we saw something quite amazing tonight. In the first five minutes, Nic Naitanui was a complete force of nature. He had his way with Grundy, not only winning taps, but moving the man who will be All-Australian ruck this season out of the way with apparent ease. When fresh, Nic Nat is an absolute monster and even a competitive beast like Grundy can’t compare.
But he can’t stay fresh… much like the inside of my car. The missus always winds down the window when she gets in… it makes me feel bad. In a game like this, it’s the marathon runner who gets the chocolates usually, not the sprinter.
But what if the sprinter is exceptional?
Remember before when I said try to forget stats and look for impact? Well, here’s where you do that again. And you can do it in regard to Nic Nat.
Naitanui does the sort of things that can’t be quantified by stats. He moves entire packs forward by ten metres just by dragging two or three opposition players with him. He doesn’t just get a hit out – he claims thirty metres with it. He doesn’t just get ruck taps – he smothers, tackles and crashes into people… sometimes his own teammates! He is like a one man wrecking crew.
But then the sprint was over, and off he went to the bench. When that happened, Grundy started to feast on the carcass of Tom Hickey.
I’m willing to bet that five of Grundy’s six clearances came when he wasn't matched up against Nic Nat. He knew he had Hickey’s number and manhandled him whenever the opportunity presented. When Naitanui was opposed to him, he couldn’t do that. Truth be told, he couldn’t do much of anything, and I am as big a Grundy fan as you’ll find not wearing black and white.
Do me a favour – head back and watch the first five minutes. If you can argue that Naitanui wasn’t the most influential player on the park in that period successfully, I’ll send you a hundred dollars*.
I know the Pies won. I know Grundy is a wonderful ruckman. But in a game where he was clearly beaten by a guy who played just 57% of game time, I cannot bring myself to say that Grundy was amongst Collingwood’s best, yet I notice that the AFL website neglects to list Naitanui as one of the Eagles’ best.
They must only read the stats.
No fuss. No fanfare. Just one of the best two-way players in the game.
I love watching Yeo play footy. He is the kind of guy you throw into the middle and you know what you’re gonna get every single week. He runs hard, tackles, has meaningful disposals (see the section on Andrew Gaff below) and ensures that his opponent isn’t allowed the time and space so many others afford them.
Not only does he do both the flashy and hard stuff, when it’s his turn to go, he goes. When Levi Greenwood crashed into him in the dying stages of the first half, Yeo looked prone. He was being held by Scott Pendlebury when Greenwood came charging in, yet it was the Magpie left on the deck, struggling for breath.
Look at Yeo after the collision. He is smiling, mouthguard and all… like a competitive lunatic! I loved it.
Yeo is the sort of midfielder coaches have wet dreams over. He does everything you’d want from a player. He was probably the Eagles’ best four-quarter performer in this one, and if one of my favourites to watch every week.
MOORE AND CRIPPS
You hate to see this. Let’s start with Darcy Moore.
Darling v Moore loomed as a crucial match up in the context of this game, and early on, it looked as though Darling had Moore’s number. He marked and goaled before gaining a free kick for a hold against Moore, which he fluffed from 30 out directly in front. In between these contests, Moore had a couple of solid wins.
And then he felt for his hamstring and it all fell apart.
This is the injury that destroyed Moore’s 2018, and seeing him sidelined by another hamstring injury is a blow to the Magpies’ premiership aspirations. My hope is that it’s a strain and we don’t see him out for the remainder of the season – he was having a great year.
And then there was Jamie Cripps, whose recent form saw him jump into our Mongrel Player Power Rankings. He looked very uncomfortable as he hobbled off the field. It’s been diagnosed as an adductor injury, and given the way he was moving *puts on his stethoscope and mask* I’m thinking this might be a pretty significant injury. He looked shot.
Last week, Cripps was one of the West Coast heroes as they dismantled the Dockers. He snagged four goals and missed only one target all game. His good decision-making and ability to hit the scoreboard will be greatly missed over the coming weeks.
*Takes off the stethoscope and mask*
Yeah, I really have no idea how long this injury keeps people out. I could research it, but how could I then speculate so wildly?
ANDREW GAFF RUN BUT NO CARRY
I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, but winning wallpapers over a lot of cracks – this has been one of them.
Andrew Gaff had 32 touches again tonight – he just keeps racking them up. He ran at 72% efficiency, but of those disposals, how many actually hurt the opposition? I look at Yeo, and he hurts teams. Shuey… he hurts too. Sheed hurts teams, but Gaff… he either hacks it forward to a contest, or hits the dinky 25 metre kick backwards after he does the hard running to receive. I’m not disrespecting the run, or the effort to provide an option, but my perception of Gaff is that he is a great run and carry player – one of those 70-metre players who get it, take off and then deliver long.
What ‘m seeing this year is a guy who gets it in congestion and belts it long down the line. Gaff is better than that. He had two disposals forward of half forward, and just nine of his 32 forward of the centre.
You know what that tells me? He is getting plenty of disposals as that hard run hit up target. That’s great, but what does he do with it next? He had one inside 50 for the game. ONE! One running bounce as well. Too much sideways kicking from Gaff - way too much.
I think I may be expecting too much from Gaff. Maybe I looked at his 2018 up until he was suspended and remembered it too fondly, because what I am seeing this season is a guy getting plenty of the footy and doing nothing with it.
BEN CROCKER HAS A SHOCKER
Given the Pies won, I am not sure how much air time this will get, but aside from being the most tackled man on the ground (seriously, every time he got it, it seems like someone dragged him to the ground) Ben Crocker was involved in a passage of play he will not want to view again.
Which is why I recorded it and put it in this post in case he has a look.
So, what do you think was the worst part of that footage? No, not being pantsed by Lewis Jetta – that can happen to anyone. When on his game, Jetta is brilliant, and his ability to win the one-on-one contest was fantastic.
What irked me was the half-arsed chase from Crocker. If I were Nathan Buckley, I’d be watching that and wondering how I could give him another game. He was beaten in the contest and as his man jumped up and ran away from him, he gave the three-quarter pace chase.
But that’s not all. You see, Jetta decides to change direction at one point, and had Crocker been chasing hard, he probably would’ve caught him. Instead, it is when Jetta changes direction that Crocker decides to START chasing hard.
It’s damning vision, and the sort I would hate to have thrown in my face as a player… which I’m not.
If the Pies have any players coming back, based on that one moment, I reckon Ben Crocker does not get another game in black and white this season. You can’t control the bounce of the ball. You can’t control how fast your opponent is. You can’t control him grabbing the ball and taking off, but you CAN control how hard you then work to get the ball back.
Ben Crocker had the chance to work hard and didn’t, and should be made an example of.
So, how much did Steele Sidebottom miss Mark Hutchings? Hutch is a bit of a difference maker, and a notable omission from this Eagles line up. If he comes in, how much does he curtail the influence of Sidebottom?
I really enjoyed the duel between Oscar Allen and Will Hoskin-Elliott on the Eagles’ half forward line. Allen had his moments, but dropped a couple of gettable overhead marks at crucial stages. I personally thought the one that wasn't paid in the last couple of minutes was as close to a mark as you can get – I have seen many paid this season where a player didn’t hold it anywhere near as long as he did.
Is Brayden Sier doing enough? Nine touches last week. 15 this week. Not exactly putting a stamp on his place in the side in the absence of Adams and Beams, is he? He probably survives a week longer than Crocker.
How about Callum Brown? Just hanging on at the moment, for mine. If Daicos was being dropped, Brown might be second cab off the rank. After Crocker, of course.
Mason Cox – nice first half, but was moved off the ball too easily in the second half. There was some really nice blocking for him to create his first opportunity, and some great spacing by the Pies to have this hole for him to lead into. Can’t for the life of me work out how the Eagles didn’t see that hole and fill it up! His mark at half back in the last minute was vitally important.
Another mammoth possession game for Treloar, who is averaging 36 touches per game over his last five outings. He’d have to be one of the fittest blokes in the comp right now. He just cannot stay away from the footy.
Interesting to see Jack Crisp drifting so far forward. He and Brodie Grundy were the only players on the park to lay three tackles inside 50. Quite amazing that they’re both not forwards – what were the forwards up to?
Josh Kennedy… well, like a good racehorse, maybe he’ll be better for the run?
I thought Brayden Maynard had a really solid game. He didn’t have the same sort of run he usually does, but when confronted with Kennedy, he stuck to task and made life extremely difficult for him.
The collision with Nic Nat early in the piece really looked to have shaken Jeremy McGovern up. It didn’t look too bad, but it must have hit him right in the sweet spot in those ribs. It’s not often you see Gov stay down.
Jarrod Cameron… well, he knows where the goals are, and he isn’t afraid to lay a tackle here and there. Another seven this week to go along with his four goals.
I’m actually a little worried about Willie Rioli’s ability to run games out at the moment. He seems to have a bit of a habit of being prominent early and fading after half time.
It’s late, I’m tired and I’m nearing 4K words… next week the Eagles head to Alice Springs to play Melbourne. Look, they should win this and get their top two aspirations looking a little more legitimate again.
The Pies travel again… wait, what? I thought they don’t travel? They get the Giants on the road in what’ll be a top four-shaping contest.
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