If you are a football lover, irrespective of the team you barrack for, watching Elliot Yeo walk to Patrick Cripps at the opening bounce had to have warmed your heart.
I am a sucker for a great one-on-one matchup, and though both men would find themselves on different opponents at points, we, as footy fans, were given a rare treat this afternoon, with two genuine stars of the game going head-to-head for the majority of the game.
For the record, I support neither team, but was so enthralled by the possibilities of this matchup on the horizon that I wrote about it last week. You can have a read of me salivating over the potential Cripps v Yeo encounter here.
And once you’re done, we can move on to today.
Ready? Okay, let’s go.
There was a feeling about this game that led me to believe we could be about to see the game of the round. Carlton, under David Teague, have been given their licence to play footy, and after some success in recent weeks, would’ve been feeling pretty damn good about themselves.
The Eagles headed to Melbourne with confidence, having refused to buy into this “oh, we have to travel” narrative that other teams from outside Victoria fall into. As a matter of fact, the eagles have been perfect in Melbourne over the past couple of seasons, including a particularly impressive outing last September.
And before you jump up and down, Geelong only counts a Melbourne when you’re talking about home finals, apparently.
In perfect conditions under the roof, the Blues tested themselves against the best in the business, and though they were able to hang with them for periods, we saw some very, very impressive footy from the reigning champs to give the plucky Blues a bit of a reality check at times.
Let’s check it all out with The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
YEO V CRIPPS
I know this is first, but I’ve left it to last to write it as I’ve been savouring it.
Yes, I got my wish and we got Cripps v Yeo. If we’re going to call it, right now I give the points to the Eagle. Over the course of the game, he was the better player, and he had to come from behind to do it as well.
After a bit of a sedate start, Cripps kicked it into gear toward the end of the first quarter, and threw the challenge down to Yeo. Could Yeo go with him? Could he match the rampaging beast that was Cripps?
Well, yes, he could in fact, and over the next couple of quarters, Yeo backed himself not only to match Cripps in the clinches, but to hurt him going the other way as well.
Yeo gathered his standard 25 touches and added a game-high ten tackles to his stats as well. This is the sixth time this season he has hit double figures in the most recognisable stat for defensive mids. He is now the clear competition leader in tackles as well.
And to measure how he went on Cripps, it is probably right that we look at Cripps’ season stats before this game and measure.
Before this game, Cripps was averaging 27.63 touches, 6.19 tackles and 16.81 contested possessions. In this game, he was down in all three categories. I’d call that a win to Yeo, particularly when Yeo was up in all three of those categories compared to his own regular stats.
Each had little wins against the other as the game progressed. One would break from a stoppage as his opponent became occupied with another in the contest, but on the whole, Yeo was more than up for the challenge today, and he fought, clawed and scratched his way to the individual win.
In the end, Yeo got the better of Cripps due to hard work - it’s the Elliot Yeo way.
FLYIN’ LIAM RYAN
So, what do we concentrate on? The four goals? The pinpoint precision kicking?
Or maybe the mark? You know the one – THE mark!
In the 2018 Grand Final, there was a moment Liam Ryan would’ve liked to have over again where he didn’t bodyline the ball and dropped a mark. You can’t have that being your legacy. When it was his turn to put his body on the line, in the biggest game of his life to that point, he didn’t do it. Things like that can haunt you, unless you make good on them.
Today, Liam Ryan created a memory that may end up defining him more than his big mark with a foot in the face of Max Gawn, or his role in the passage that led to Dom Sheed slotting a goal (but probably not).
Today, when Liam Ryan ran back with the flight of the ball, launched into the air with the pack coming the other way, he dispelled any doubts anyone had lingering around his courage. His eyes never left the ball. His steps were not short. His leap was with purpose, and the mark… well, it won’t win mark of the year, but it probably should.
For all the flying Liam Ryan does, this is the mark I will remember him for. Strong, committed and courageous – it was a beauty.
Oh, and he also snagged four goals in a career-high outing. Not a bad arvo for the fella.
THE RISING STAR
A day after Connor Rozee kicked 2.5 in what could have presented one last challenge to the biggest foregone conclusion of this season (other than The Mongrel Punt becoming your favourite website, right? Right?!?!), Sam Walsh put the Blues on his back in the first quarter, en route to picking up 12 disposals to lead all players.
He was probably best on ground before he gathered the ball at 50, looked both ways like Hector the Road Safety Cat, and then drilled a goal from the arc to the delight of Carlton fans everywhere.
He finished this game with 31 disposals (second straight 30+ game for him) as he further rammed home just how far ahead of the rest of the first year players he is. He had four clearances to add to his day, but the zero tackles would indicate that a bit of muscle on that frame will be on the agenda over the next six months
Walsh seemed to pick him out a couple of times in the first quarter, and it set McGovern off and running. He read the ball beautifully in this game, and with the Carlton mids ignoring the leads of Jack Silvagni, the three-time All-Australian was able to zone off and make sure the blues were unable to capitalise on some for the momentum they created in the first quarter.
With many teams working their entire attacking strategy around limiting the influence of McGovern in the defensive arc, the big fella has found it difficult at times to have the sort of dominating presence he is used to providing.
But he had it today.
He was menacing and in control as he took marks himself and cleared space for Tom Barrass and Brad Sheppard to work their defensive magic as well.
The Eagles had the four pillars of their defensive structure in place today. Gov, Barrass, Sheppard and Hurn are four absolute starts of the defensive game, and I would be willing to bet on two of them being named All-Australian at the conclusion of this season.
McGovern did his chances no hard with a solid performance at half back today.
GIVING THEM A HICKEY
With poor old Matthew Kreuzer unable to get a clean run at it again this season, I reckon Tom Hickey smelt a little blood in the water this arvo.
With no real backup to share the load, Hickey worked tirelessly to get the better of Andrew Phillips around the ground. He had 19 touches – his second highest total of the year, and had one mark taken off him at one point when it appeared he’d taken a clean grab against Phillips.
He was behind only Patrick Cripps for clearances, notching seven for the game and ran at 95% disposal efficiency… pretty rare for a ruckman.
The Eagles are still waiting for Nic Naitanui to get some positive news about his return for finals, but should he not be able to get up, Hickey’s form indicates that not all is lost. If he can use his body similarly to the way he did today in September, the Eagles would be hard pressed to find a better back up capable of stepping into the main job.
THE RIOLI KNOCK ON
We’ll get onto Willie not chasing as hard as he should a little later, but I reckon you trade that off for some of the amazing things he does do in a game.
His knock on at half forward, when he knew he’d be collared if he took possession, was the kind of football nous that only some possess – and plenty of them share his surname. He tapped the ball to Oscar Allen and then ran hard forward. As the kick spilled, it was Rioli on the deck, gathering and strolling into the goal square to slam it through.
The stakes were obviously a lot lower, but it reminded me a little bit of when James Hird got the clearance in the middle, ran forward and then got the ball back and goaled. Too soon, Eagles fans?
Obviously the actions were different but in terms of follow up and ability to read the play, this goal was special… if only Bruce were commentating.
NIC NEWMAN’S RUN AND GOALS
Ah yes, we just spoke about Willie not chasing hard, and this is what happens as a result.
Nic Newman had a career-high four goals in this game. Two came in the first half, as he surged forward from the half back line to hurt the Eagles on the scoreboard. As the ball sailed through, Rioli was ambling around between Newman and the centre, having been drawn to another contest, leaving Newman all alone.
The second wasn’t necessarily Willie’s fault, as I can’t really tell from the vision, but as the Blues’ defender ran to 50, received from Marc Murphy and slammed it through, the action was almost identical… only Rioli was nowhere to be seen this time. I’d like to think that Adam Simpson would have pointed out to Willie at quarter time that good players run both ways.
Newman would kick two more for the day, and would have probably been in contention for best on ground had he not spend a large amount of time on the bench following what appeared to be a corked hip.
Newman is one of the recruiting success stories of 2019, which the Blues really needed to balance out the recruitment of Mitch McGovern. He finished with 24 touches and six rebound 50s to add to his goal haul in a very nice day at the office.
BRAD SHEPPARD YET AGAIN
Sheppard has excelled this season, and though I would love to see him make the All-Australian team, I doubt they will fit him, McGovern and Hurn all in. I already know who the casualty will be, and deep down, so do you.
Still, that doesn’t mean you cannot celebrate the season he is having. At one point today, after he beat Darcy Lang for… I don’t know, the billionth time, I thought I’d have a look at whether Lang had been able to do anything of note.
Nup – not a thing.
As a matter of fact, at that point in the second quarter, Lang had just one touch, and Sheppard was doing as he pleased. He is playing like a man on a mission this season, and I think we are all painfully aware of what that mission entails. Right now we are eight weeks away from his redemption, and that of Andrew Gaff and Nic Naitanui if he can get healthy. Whilst I do not think the selectors will add Sheppard to their AA22, I think he’ll make the squad of 40 comfortably, and he may end up with an honour much more important than an All-Australian blazer.
And that is the one thing he missed out on in 2018.
We’re just taking it one week at a time, right? Not looking forward to anything?
Round 22 – Eagles v Tigers in what many think might be a Grand Final preview. West Coast look like a premiership team. They have stars upon stars – they’re their own damn galaxy! And then there are the Tigers, who have the style that is set to challenge a team of stars and cause a super nova.
Can the pressure of the Tigers tie up the precision of the Eagles, or will the foot skills and line breaking of the Eagles make the Tiger pressure slip and fall away? It’s gonna be spectacular!
Oh, and next week the Eagles play the Crows and the Tigers play the Blues as well… because we all take it one game at a time. Of course we do.
With Liam Jones out due to the passing of a family member, a lot of weight fell on the shoulders of Weitering in this one, and he handled it brilliantly.
After Josh Kennedy snagged seven goals last week, I am willing to bet some Eagles fans were thinking he may repeat the dose against his old mob?
Weitering had other ideas, and was resolute in defence all game. JK had just five touches for the game and was comprehensively beaten by the former number one pick. That said, of those touches, Kennedy kicked 1.3, so if he kicks straight, I am not sure we are wrapping up Weitering with quite the same level of enthusiasm.
I mentioned above that Brad Sheppard just completely owned him in the first half, and on the stat sheet it will look as though Lang had a huge second half in comparison.
I mean, when you’re comparing a first half where you had one disposal to a second half where you had four disposals and kicked a goal… it’s a very favourable comparison.
HUGH GODDARD’S KICKING
Was that helmet covering his eyes as he tried to kick? I counted two (a bit of a stretch for me) kicks that were probably the worst of the day, that came off the boot of Goddard in the backline.
I’d put it down to first game nerves… but it’s his second game.
QUICK ON THE WHISTLE IN THE FIRST QUARTER
I don’t know whether the umps were directed to be very strict on physical contact early in the piece, but there were several incidents that had me believing that any sort of physical contact would end with the whistle blowing and a free kick awarded.
Guys, I am sure I am preaching to the choir on my site, but far out - this is a contact sport. Players are allowed to run into each other, fall to the ground, get up and play on without the umpire feeling as though he has to pay a free kick in case he saw something.
In many cases, the ump hasn’t seen anything but, for some reason, feels compelled to err on the side of caution.
The first incident came when Tom Barrass collided with Michael Gibbons on the wing. Zac Fisher handballed to Gibbons, who leapt to collect the footy. Barrass arrived on the scene and laid a bump on the hip of the airborne Gibbons, taking him off his feet. The whistle blew – “dangerous” said the ump. And that was the decision.
Not a high tackle. Not a low tackle. Not an incorrect spoil, as it wasn't a marking contest. It was simply two bodies colliding between the hip and the shoulder… which is completely legal. There was no elaboration on the decision, as though saying “dangerous” ends the discussion the same way someone uses the term “racist” to try and end a political discussion. There was no reason for the free kick other than the umpire being worried something “may have happened”. It wasn’t really tunnelling as the Barrass is completely within his rights to make contact with an opponent's hip, hence the term ‘hip’ and shoulder.
Two minutes later, Elliot Yeo nailed Sam Walsh with a brilliant tackle at a stoppage on the far wing. It was great positioning by Walsh to read the tap, but Yeo read him, and came barrelling in and crunched him. It was a great tackle by one of the best in the business, with intent to take him down. Yes, the ball was jarred free in the tackle but I am convinced that tackle was penalised because it was hard, not because it lingered – another instance of genuine contact, and forceful contact being penalised.
The third instance was also in the first quarter, and involved the two main characters in the story of Carlton v West Coast; Cripps and Yeo. A centre clearance saw Cripps trail the ball back toward his own defence. With two hands, Yeo pushed Cripps in the side – an action you see dozens of times in any game. You guess it – a whistle, and a free kick to Cripps for in the back.
In the back? Only if he has back fat like me and it extends around his side! I’m pretty sure he doesn’t, but this was another guess in the Homer Simpson-esque realm of decision-making.
Uh oh, something happened… not good…
Better blow the whistle.
I love physicality in our game. I love the gladiatorial aspect. What I don’t need is umpires exerting their influence, whether they’re directed to or not, because they are trying to control a situation that does not require controlling. I really felt the umpires were attempting to set the tone for the game in the first quarter and really, that is something that the players should be doing – not them. If something is there, pay it. If not, don’t guess at it or wonder if it’s a good look for the game. Those things will work themselves out. There was part of me that thought, as two of these free kicks were against Yeo, that they were sending him a message to be less physical in this game.
I’m glad he didn’t listen.
And if you need this whole section captured in one meme for you, here you go.
The amount of times Jack Darling was able to get two hands to the ball in the air, and not quite drag it in was alarming. I’m not saying he played poorly – he was a big part of the Eagles breaking the game open in the second – I am more talking about his timing being right, and had a few more of them stuck
Did Ed Curnow go to Gaff at stoppages early in the game? I kind of felt like he did, but then I reckon he was released relatively quickly. It was good to see Gaff get a bit of room either out the back, or in front of stoppages today. This is how I was hoping he’d be used; as the release once the stoppage was won, and when he was able to get a bit of space, he can really damage by foot. It was a part of his game that was missing early in the year as I felt he was being drawn too close to the contest.
With only five of Gaff’s touches coming in the contest, I reckon they have got the balance exactly right for him at exactly the right time.
Hope I wasn’t the only one that enjoyed Luke Shuey dropping his shoulder into the exposed back of Patrick Cripps at one stage? Crippa took a while to get up, and I am surprised,. given how often he leaves himself open, that more teams don;t work him over like that.
Harry McKay’s hands looked good again today. 11 marks as a forward is exactly the kind of output the Blues need from him, and his searching leads up the wing really provided a great target for the half backs.
Not really like Kade Simpson to get a bit fired up, but there he was, basically giving away a goal with some behind the play action today. Very unusual… might be getting grumpy in his old age.
And then the Carlton fans booed Oscar Allen?
I was a bit here and there on Marc Murphy’s game today – I really like when he gets out on the wing as he is a beautiful ball user… usually. He uncharacteristically missed a fair few targets going inside 50 today. Did anyone notice he used that same sidestep to kick the first quarter goal as he used to seal the game a few weeks back?
The young kid, Angus Schumacher had a bit of a rough start, being isolated on Liam Ryan in the first quarter, then having his deer in the headlights moment with Elliot Yeo closing in on him later on. Great tackle by Yeo.
How was that Willie Rioli hip and shoulder on Sam Petrevski-Seton right on the siren! Not much was made of it, but that was niiiiice. For a bloke who had one touch for the quarter, Rioli was sure involved in a bit.
Lachie O’Brien makes too many costly errors. He is the Tim O’Brien of last year at Hawthorn – that bloke was making me pull my hair out…only because I wasn't allowed to pull his hair out. Lachie O’Brien’s dropped uncontested mark at half back was the sort of error that gets coaches sacked and players dropped – this one cost a goal to Luke Shuey.
And that’ll about do me. I’ve probably waffled on too long as it is. I really enjoyed this game. We got to see plenty of what the Blues will have to offer, and plenty of what the Eagles currently do offer. West Coast take the points, eye that top two spot and look to make an assault on another flag. Carlton have waged war against one of the best teams in the land and will do it again next week. It’s a great way to see where they’re at under David Teague, and a great test for Teague to get the best out of his guys against the best teams in the land at the moment.
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