AFL Review: Round 19 Was Poetry In Motion

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What a classic round of AFL football. Yet again. We’ve scanned through the dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus, and we’ve officially run out of the superlatives that can be used to describe season 2017. It’s the 121st season of the VFL/AFL and we’ll run a few numerology tests to see if there’s any significance in this number, because there’s no other reason to adequately explain why this season has been such a thriller. It’s either the numbers or a planetary alignment, but we’ll get to the bottom of this.

The standard of football is getting even better and it’s hard to believe the home-and-away season will come to end soon. This round was again full of thrillers, heart stoppers, nailbiters and boilovers. And a draw. The third in five weeks! But AFL is not like soccer, where the draw is a good result. AFL is different. This season is shaping up to be one of the best in the living memory, as we keep pointing out. Is your heart still pumping?

If you want to compare what we said in our preview with the reality of what happened in Round 19, check it out in our Round 19 preview. Or listen in to our great podcast. It’s one of the best AFL podcasts going, we would like to modestly point out.

Round 19 Round-up – Feature Games

Hawthorn 10.12 (72) defeated Sydney 9.12 (66)

What a game. Lots of passion, incredible skills. Football at its best. And some kissing too. How cute!

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A tough match which replicated the earlier result between these two teams at the SCG – in the end Hawthorn with so many players with sure hands, taking many contested marks at crucial times, won by six points. This match had everything – tough uncompromising football, high-pressure, and a result that was in the balance up until the final seconds. Sydney coach John Longmire was clearly out-coached by his counterpart, Alastair Clarkson – no match for the uncontested possession strategy and, as you’d expect in a battle of the birds, whoever controlled the sky won the game. Hawthorn had more contested marks than Sydney, and the big man Ben McEvoy controlled the ruck.

Hawthorn was kept goalless for the third quarter where Sydney pegged back the margin. Sydney, albeit briefly, came on top of the Hawks and looked like they would run away with the game. Even for a long period without scoring goals, Hawthorn led for most of the game. Sydney snatched the lead only for a brief period, around eight minutes of the game in total.

Hawthorn’s James Sicily was one of the best, and entertaining. Some people may be critical about the way he plays his football. He gave away a silly 50-metre penalty in the third quarter, which resulted in Lance Franklin’s only goal for the evening. Could have been costly in the tight game, but Sicily’s intercept marks in defence and launching counter attack in the final quarter was simply brilliant.

For two weeks in a row, the swingman Sicily’s actions on the field have been questioned. Last week in the match against Fremantle, he had a agitated argument with, not just umpires and opposition players but also with teammate Taylor Duryea. This week, he had to be calmed down by the former captain and retiring great, Luke Hodge, twice during heated moments. But the way he played in the final high tense moments showed he is not just a hot-headed temperamental brat. Quite the opposite: on the inside, he is a cool headed, skilled player.

Hawthorn’s make-shift defence, including Sicily, was impressive. Kaiden Brand, Ryan Burton, and another forward-turned-defender Jack Gunston, all played well. Hodge kept not just Sicily but the whole defence together when the Swans threatened. Hawthorn may need to rethink the retirement of Hodge. The young defence needs him.

In our podcast, we talked about Sydney in red and white hot form, and how Hawthorn would have a big say in the make up of the finals, but the Hawks may still make it into the finals themselves. To do that, they need to win all four of their remaining games, against Richmond, North Melbourne, Carlton, and Western Bulldogs. It’s doable.

They are expected to regain some seasoned campaigners in Birchall, Rioli, Puopolo and Gibson, and maybe even Jaeger O’Meara in coming weeks. Maybe at the right time? Hawthorn may become this year’s Western Bulldogs, winning the flag from seventh spot on the ladder. Whatever the result, Clarkson is proving that he is one of the greatest coaches of all time.

Collingwood 15.13 (103) drew with Adelaide 16.7 (103)

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As we suggested in our Round 19 Podcast and follow-up Preview, Adelaide has struggled at the MCG this year, and we wondered how they would go. They struggled again, behind by 50 points early in the third quarter, but at least eventually they did not lose. Collingwood carried their gritty resolve from their last-minute win against West Coast into the first half of the game. They were electric. At half time, Collingwood led Adelaide 9.6 to 3.4, and this battle of the birds seemed to be won by the black and white variety.

But it is 2017 and in this season, a game is not over until the final siren.

Adelaide stormed back in the second half, kicking seven straight goals to Magpies’ three in the third quarter, and the 50-point margin was reduced to three points early in the final quarter. The tempo of the game increased, the intensity was almost too much for the players, and they fumble and made crucial turn overs. And then there were the ‘posters’, three of them.

The momentum swung like a pendulum in the wild wind.

The momentum briefly came back early in the final quarter to Collingwood, who kicked three goals in a row in two minutes. The margin back to 22 points at the 15-minute mark. Then the momentum went again to the Crows, and Andy Otten kicks his second goal, assisted by Walker, his fourth of the game, bringing the margin to five points. Then Daniel Wells delivered a perfect pass to Darcy Moore, but he missed. Another behind, and only a straight kick was separating the birds. In the dying seconds, Mitch McGovern grabbed a huge pack mark right in front of the Adelaide’s goal, kicked the fourth major after the siren. A draw. No winner here from the game… but football was the winner. The first drawn game for Collingwood since the 2010 Grand Final and only the second time ever for Adelaide, their other drawn game occurring in 1994.

For Adelaide, Matt Crouch was excellent, but he probably missed his brother. Rory Sloane was well held by the Collingwood tagger, Levi Greenwood. Josh Jenkins, as well as McGovern converted well in the second half.

For Collingwood, Daniel Wells was outstanding, along with Taylor Adams. Jeremy Howe was good in defence with intercept marks, although he did not take any high marks.

In our podcast, we talked about the ‘Daniel Wells’ factor – if he is on the ground, Collingwood wins. He played one of the best games: he was in everything, kicking an all important three goals, but could not win the game today. But at least he didn’t lose. Collingwood will meet North Melbourne next weekend and Adelaide play Port Adelaide in the Showdown. The Showdown could not be any bigger than this.

Port Adelaide 9.9 (63) defeated St Kilda 8.13 (61)

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This turned out to be slimy weather classic. Aside from some very inaccurate goal kicking by St Kilda, it was a high pressure game and a joy to watch, if you’re into tough low-scoring spectacle replicating chess on speed.

Who needs the last two minutes of the game, when 10 seconds could be enough? The Patrick Ryder and Robbie Gray combination snatched a victory for Port Adelaide out of the jaws of death with barely 10 seconds left on the clock. How good was that!

In a scrappy low-scoring affair, a typically tight ‘eight-pointer’ game, Port Adelaide led for most of the game. The Saints came back hard, kicking four goals in a row in the final quarter, came on top, and were 10 points in front with 1:04 left on the clock. Everyone at Adelaide Oval, and everyone watching it the broadcast thought the Saints had sealed the game when Tim Membrey kicked his third goal for the match. The Port faithful at Adelaide Oval were seen exiting in masses.

Then the miracle happened. First, Port went from coast-to-coast, and the ball was extracted by sheer determination by Westoff, quickly to Aaron Young who snapped the ball truely. Less than a minute to go, the Saints still by four points. The ball went back to the middle, transferred quickly to the Port’s half. The ball was in dispute, the ball-up in the Power’s forward area, with 30 seconds to go. Jake Carlisle was cool as cucumber, kicked for the boundary, and was not called ‘deliberate’ by the umpire. 19 seconds left. A boundary throw in, Port’s ruckman Ryder tapped ‘centimetre perfect’ to Gray, who then ran towards the fifty, and kicked the goal. Game over. And Port Adelaide fans were cheering from the car park.

Ken Hinkley after the game said: “we train that sort of stuff to hopefully get one of those wins”. They should train for other things too, if they can do this sort of thing, like playing decent footy against the quality sides.

The Port were indeed ordinary, except for that memorable last two minutes. If the Saints had been a little more accurate in front of the goal, the game would have gone the other way easily but they only have themselves to blame. They could have also played a bit more of a defensive game towards the end.

For the Saints, defender Jake Carlisle played a great game – he was unimpressive in the game against the Swans previous week, conceding five goals to Callum Sinclair, but on this night, he played beautifully, grabbing contested marks everywhere.

Maybe not as lengthy as North’ Melbourne’s 17-game winning streak against Melbourne, but Power has the upperhand against the Saints, now winning their past six games over more than six years. Adelaide Oval is not St Kilda’s favourite ground either. Maybe the shape, the locker room, the crowd? Overall, they’ve lost their last eight there. Adelaide teams can feel safe playing at home against the Saints.

Port Adelaide has been known as the flat track bully all through the year, meaning they can beat up the lesser opposition, but falter meekly against the quality opposition. Port were living up to that reputation and they were only saved by the brilliance of a handful of players in the end. The question mark still hangs over their heads. Next week, the massive hometown showdown against Adelaide will show where they are really at. For the Saints, the signs are not good, and face a fellow finals contender, West Coast next week.

The boilover: North Melbourne 11.10 (76) defeated Melbourne 10.12 (72)

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We know North Melbourne are in the race for the wooden spoon against the fellow contenders Carlton and Brisbane, and it they win, it will be their first win since 1972, BB – before Barassi! That would be some kind of achievement, but on Saturday in Hobart, maybe North Melbourne had some other record in mind. The record was the 16-game winning stretch against Melbourne which goes back, not as far back as BB, but at least it’s more than a decade – North Melbourne had not lost a game against the Dees since 2006. Melbourne, currently eyeing September finals action, had the best chance to halt the losing streak. In recent times, they’ve adopted ‘unsociable’ football to overcome their psychological baggage of the losing culture, but it proved on Saturday that it was not enough. They need to be ‘extra unsociable’.

At a windy North Hobart Oval, North Melbourne had the first advantage, kicking four goals in the first term. Not as many as the 10 goals they kicked when they stunned Adelaide earlier in the year but then again, Melbourne ain’t Adelaide and North probably did not need that many to win the game.

North Melbourne should seriously consider moving to Hobart. Brad Scott said after the win: “we’ve got a big advantage playing down here. We know how to play it and we know how to score at both ends and how to defend at both ends so the players have got real confidence regardless.”

If they know the ground so well, and how to play the both ends, then why not relocate to Hobart? It could become their House of Windy Pain, and North Melbourne could go up the ladder a bit as well as confusing people by going south to go north. A blueprint for success in 2018 could be for North Melbourne to do a direct swap of coaches with Collingwood, then relocate to Hobart.

Another Tasmanian treat for North Melbourne was their big forward, Ben Brown. He was on song and is in the hunt for the Coleman Medal. With his four majors, he shared the lead, along with Sydney’s Lance Franklin, until Joe Daniher’s stole the lead with six goals on Sunday. Brown could have kicked his fifth goal, when he marked early in the last term, but he opted for the team thing and gave the ball off to Shaun Higgins.

The result was always blowning in the wind. The game seesawed, as the wind kept favouring the side kicking to the southern end. North Melbourne were ahead by nine points at the final break, and were expected to be blown away by Melbourne who were going with a huge breeze at their back. But the Dees were without forward Jesse Hogan who managed to kick only one goal, but contested well until he broke his collarbone in the third quarter. North Melbourne hung on, despite the stiff wind, and won by four points at the end.

North Melbourne may miss out on wooden spoon this year, while Melbourne’s wild dream of finishing top four seems to have gone out of the window. Hogan’s injury will not help its campaign in September either.

Round 19 Round-up – The Others

Greater Western Sydney 13.20 (98) defeated Fremantle 13.8 (86). This was one of the worst games we’ve seen for a while, with only the threat of an upset and the close scores maintaining the interest. The first half had so many turnovers, missed targets, dropped marks – all happening on a perfectly still day in western Sydney – that it was hard not to be frustrated and hard to believe that Greater Western Sydney are a top-four team. They will have improve on this effort it they are to be a challenger.

Richmond 14.14 (98) defeated Gold Coast 10.5 (65). Not much of a spectacle, with Gold Coast’s Gary Ablett a late withdrawal, and Jack Riewoldt missing the game due to a poked eye. Richmond won, Gold Coast lost. That’s probably all you need to know. And Richmond starting to shore up their first top-four finish since 2001.

Geelong 18.15 (123) defeated Carlton 8.10 (58). Not much to report from this game either, except that Geelong’s Tom Hawkins kicked a career high six goals and Patrick Dangerfield will probably be suspended by the Match Review Panel for his sling tackle on Carlton’s Matthew Kreuzer. Carlton back in the game for the wooden spoon title.

Western Bulldogs 19.13 (127) defeated Essendon 13.19 (97). We suggested this mid-table clash could end up being the match of the round, and it certainly was an excellent display of fast-moving, high-skilled high-scoring football. At times, it was like a tennis match (without the rackets and with a much larger ball), the ball going back and forth so quickly that if you squinted slightly, it looked a lot like a Federer–Nadal match at Wimbledon. The game was still in the balance with two minutes to go, but Western Bulldogs iced the game with the final three goals. Will Western still make the finals? It’s still difficult, but they are giving themselves a good chance.

West Coast 17.11 (113) defeated Brisbane 8.9 (57). We suggested this would be a yawn-fest in this special graveyard shift, and so it turned out to be. Josh J. Kennedy led the way with another six goals and saved the game from the ignominy that occurred in the recent Western Derby, where we nominated a meat-pie as the player of the match and awarded it the three Brownlow votes. West Coast are still in the hunt for a finals spot, Brisbane are planning their end of season holiday.

 

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