The intensity is up. Lots of injuries. Lots of physical pain. Generally, as the season starts to reach its climax, there seem to be more of the physical stuff. The players know that there are only a handful of rounds left in the home-and-away season, and they are giving it all.
They are playing like there is no tomorrow, which will make the Match Review Panel busier than ever. Are the players being reckless, careless or fearless? Or feckless? For a whole range of reasons, the 2017 season is well and truly over for some players. And for a few champions, AFL footy is over forever, deciding to hang up their boots. But for the rest, the pointy end of the 2017 season is certainly getting pointier.
Adelaide, Greater Western Sydney, Geelong, Richmond, Port Adelaide and Sydney are now top four contenders, judging from their current ladder positions and form. Six teams, including Western Bulldogs, Essendon, West Coast, Melbourne and St Kilda (and maybe Hawthorn) are fighting for the remaining two finals positions. These are positions that used to be seen as not much more than making up the numbers and offering hope to supporters, but opinions about this have changed since Western Bulldogs ran a brilliant campaign to win the flag last year after finishing seventh on the ladder. In fact, the Dogs and others may be aiming at that precise position, lucky seven.
If you want to compare what we said in our preview with the reality of what happened in Round 20, check it out in our Round 20 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 20 Round-up – Feature Games
Sydney 16.11 (107) defeated Geelong 8.13 (61)
We love it when history repeats, and this is the exact scoreline from the 2015 Grand Final. Except for entirely different teams, different location. History also repeated in a different way, where Sydney replicated their first quarter from the 2016 Preliminary Final, and booted seven goals to put Geelong into a little box they could never get out of.
It was supposed to be a finals preview for 2017 but which final, we don’t know yet. Both teams are still in the top eight – Geelong are third, Sydney sixth – so they still may meet again in September. Geelong usually has the upper hand at Kardinia Park, where the long shape of the ground usually favours them (winning 15 of their last 16 games there), but Sydney has a good recent record against Geelong, now winning five of their last six games.
The Cats were without their champion, the suspended Patrick Dangerfield, and also were missing nine players from last year’s Preliminary Final. The Swans’ onslaught in the opening term of 7.5 left the Cats stunned and equaled their highest first quarter score against Geelong (South Melbourne also kicked 7.5 in 1948). At the first break, Geelong were down by 32, and subsequently went down by 46 points. It was their biggest loss at Kardinia Park since 2006.
They came back hard in the second quarter to be within 17 points, but their fightback lost momentum when captain Joel Selwood suffered an ankle injury just before half time. No Dangerwood, no Geelong.
The Swans controlled the midfield, even without their own skipper, Josh P. Kennedy. The Cats defender Tom Lonergan kept Lance Franklin quiet (just the one goal) but the Swans had many other options to score, with Tom Papley (three goals), Will Hayward (three) and Sam Reid (two) all threatening in their forward 50.
The Swans, last year’s grand finalist, now look like a real contender for the year, while Geelong’s position in the top four looks vulnerable. Their remaining three matches are against Richmond, Collingwood and Greater Western Sydney, and their performances in these games will indicate how deep they are likely to go in September.
Essendon 11.18 (84) defeated Carlton 11.10 (76)
An unintended nail-biter. Essendon started the game well, kicking five of the first six goals, leading Carlton by 28 points late in the opening term. Maybe the Bombers thought it was going to be a cakewalk, and became complacent against the baby Blues. They tried to bully a wooden spoon contender, an inexperienced side, or maybe practicing their version of ‘unsociable’ football, just in time for the finals.
They piled on the acts of stupid brain fades, while Carlton concentrated on getting the ball and kicking goals. After their first five, Essendon did not kick another goal – only 11 behinds – until the middle of the third quarter and by then, the Blues were in front.
Zach Merrett may miss the Bombers’ important encounter with Adelaide next week, after he gave a punch to a Carlton player in the second quarter. Connor McKenna was lucky that his intended punch missed the target, the face of Carlton’s Matthew Wright. In the third quarter, it was Joe Daniher who was seen charging late into the opposition player, flattening Blaine Boekhorst.
While the Bombers were indulging themselves, the Blues kept on playing football. And until the Bombers’ unstoppable excitement machine, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, kicked his second goal for the game at the 20-minute mark of the final quarter, Carlton looked like causing an upset. The Blues kept trying, and so did the Bombers’ full-forward Cale Hooker. Hooker was inaccurate in front of the goal, kicking five behinds, but kept on trying, and he got it right at the crucial moment. His second goal gave the lead back to Essendon. Carlton had a chance to get back in front, but Levi Casboult missed an opportunity, kicking a behind, and the game was over.
After the game, Essendon coach John Worsfold talked about the ‘drop in intensity’ and he needs to remind the players that they are playing football, and to win a game of football, they have to kick goals. Boxing is a different game altogether.
Adelaide 18.22 (130) defeated Port Adelaide 7.4 (46)
The Showdown letdown. So much was expected, but nothing was delivered. Except, of course, if you are an Adelaide supporter. Port Adelaide were just awful, seemed disinterested and dispirited. It was like their 2007 Grand Final performance where they lost by 119 points. Maybe they don’t like to be wet. Maybe the track was not flat. They are no good at playing in the wet, no good against quality sides.
Adelaide, excellent in handling slippery leather, dominated all the way. They were inaccurate, but it did not matter when they had nearly thirty more shots at the goal. Had they been more accurate, the game would have been over by half time. By then, Adelaide had kicked 5.15 to Port’s 1.3, which was their lowest first half score in their AFL history, which started in 1997. Eventually, Adelaide smashed the other team from Adelaide comprehensively, by 84 points, their biggest winning margin in the history of the Showdown.
Rory Sloane, the Crouch brothers and the Crows midfielders constantly sent the ball foward, and were well served by the dominating ruckman Jacobs, and supported by Josh Jenkins, Eddie Betts and Taylor Walker kicking goals (when they were not kicking behinds). Jake Lever was good in defence when he was bothered, which was not very often. Robbie Gray was perhaps the only one in the Power side who was not aware that their opposition was the better side.
Adelaide is now certain to finish the season in the top two, if not at the top, and are now the flag favourite. If Melbourne produces a wet month in September, we can lock in Adelaide as the team that will prevail. The Port Adelaide Flat Track Bullies will be no good in September, if their record against fellow finalists this year is any indication.
St Kilda 15.13 (103) defeated West Coast 14.11 (95)
A nail biter, and the Jacks held on. There was no deja vu for the Saints but there certainly was for West Coast.
A week is a long time in politics, even longer in football. St Kilda, who gave away ten points lead in last two minutes and handed Port Adelaide a miracle win last week, not just held on to its two points lead but also extended it in the final two minutes. They won by eight in the end, keeping their finals aspirations alive. The Eagles are still in chance, but the way they capitulated in the final quarter, reminiscent of their game against Collingwood a fortnight ago at the same venue, is a big concern.
It was a seesawing game, with many lead changes, but when the Eagles forward trio of Josh J. Kennedy, Jack Darling and Mark LeCras kicked goals early in the final terms, stretching their lead to 14 points, it looked certain that they would run away with the game.
But St Kilda was good enough to come back. Shane Savage, and then Jack Billings and Jack Steele put the Saints back in front. J.J.K. kicked another goal with three minutes left, and the Eagles were within a point. Josh Bruce (who is almost a Jack) grabbed a strong mark, 30 metres directly in front, but failed to convert. Still two and a half minutes left. The nightmare from eight days before might have crossed the minds of many players in red, black and white. But this time, the Saints were composed. Jack Billings took a mark, and kicked his second in the term to seal the win. It was the Jacks wot won it for St Kilda.
Round 20 Round-up – The Others
Greater Western Sydney 14.13 (98) defeated Melbourne 10.2 (62). Just as well Melbourne has their kicking boots on, otherwise this would have been a 10-goal defeat. Many in the media are saying the Giants ‘are back’, but we are not so sure. We are also in the media and we think Melbourne were not very good. The key question is whether players from both teams will stay in Canberra on Monday to witness Malcolm Turnbull’s last day as Prime Minister.
Western Bulldogs 14.19 (103) defeated Brisbane 13.11 (89). Not much to report here folks, except for the fact that Brisbane almost caused an upset. That’s four wins in a row for the Bulldogs, but not very convincing. They may still make the finals, but they are not playing like the team of 2016.
Collingwood 16.15 (111) defeated North Melbourne 7.15 (57). A record breaking game, but not for the right reasons. The half-time score of 5.11 to 1.9 (combined 6.20) was the worst scoring ever at the Docklands. A very poor game, and poor tackling that resulted in mini-concussions and North’s Ben Brown taken to hospital after he was tackled by Brodie Grundy. This tackling issue will need to be fixed up by the AFL. We now have the odd situation of a ‘perfect tackle’ rewarded with a free kick, but a player ends up in hospital, and the tackler will, more than likely, be suspended.
Fremantle 12.18 (90) defeated Gold Coast 10.7 (67). Our main interest in this game was whether the humble meat pie would again be the player of the match, replicating their efforts in the recent Western Derby. And we’d like to announce that the humble meat pie was pipped at the post by the trusty hot dog! 27,050 spectators at Subiaco Oval, maybe so many that want to soak up the atmosphere of the last games at this ground, because there wasn’t that much going for this game. Pass the sauce.
Richmond 13.15 (93) defeated Hawthorn 9.10 (64). The lid is starting to come off at Richmond, and they can start dreaming of a first premiership since 1980. Well, not entirely, but it’s starting to look good for the Tigers. Led from start to finish, and never seriously challenged by a team that has been in form recently. Good defence, good attacking options, midfield all sorted, Richmond are starting to look like a team that could reach the top. We think it’s the psychology that hasn’t been fully tested. Brushed away by Adelaide, coughing up a six-goal lead against Sydney, they have a big match against Geelong this weekend, which will be another big test.