AFL Review: The Pieces Are Falling Into Place

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The top eight is falling into shape at long last, with only two more rounds of the home-and-away season to go. TWO! Adelaide will finish at the top or the second spot, at least. Greater Western Sydney and Geelong likely to finish in the top four and, of course, the perennial question mark is back on Richmond again. Are they good enough?

They are currently fourth on the ladder and have a game against Fremantle next week, so they should remain there, but their form is everything but convincing. Sydney and Port Adelaide can still make the top four, but fortune needs to become part of their equations. Melbourne has secured their position in eight, beating St Kilda. The Saints have been good this season, but not good enough for long enough, and their chance to play in finals is all but gone. Eighth position is still in dispute but it seems that it’s a battle only between Western Bulldogs and West Coast.

The race for the bottom of the ladder is still on, and it’s so exciting! With a gutsy win against their fellow Queenslander, Brisbane is now equal with their fellow wooden spoon aspirants, North Melbourne and Carlton, who went down on the weekend, as we predicted. No upsets there. And now, only percentage separates those three teams. Just two more rounds and the ’spoon could be won by any of them.

If you want to compare what we said in our preview with the reality of what happened in Round 21, check it out in our Round 21 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 21 Round-up – Feature Games

Greater Western Sydney 16.9 (105) defeated Western Bulldogs 7.15 (57)

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The record suggested Western Bulldogs might stand up against Greater Western Sydney but it was Jonathan Patton early in the first quarter who represented the intention of the Giants. Patton marked and kicked goals at will, the first three in the game and setting the pace. He exposed the Dogs’ major deficiency – Western has no experienced tall defender to counter the Giants’ giants.

They missed Easton Wood. Patton didn’t kick another goal until the last quarter, but was in the play throughout the game, assisting others to score. The Giants forward line could be menacing in September, with big gun Jeremy Cameron set to return.

The Dogs have another worry too, on the other side of the ground. No goal kicking boots. They came back, dominated the most of the play in the second quarter but could not convert. In this quarter, they had 22 inside 50s but could only score 3.6. The Giants did not have as many chances – in fact, only four entries to their forward 50, but kicked three straight goals. In fact, the Dogs managed only one goal in the second half, a junk time goal late in the last quarter when the game was well and truly over, even though they had nearly twice more forward 50 entries.

The Giants accelerated after the main break, when they booted six unanswered goals while Western managed only five behinds. Goals win games, not behinds. Greater Western Sydney eventually won by 46 points, at the venue where they do not have a good record.

While the Giants are preparing for meaningful September action, the Dogs may miss out. They are still eyeing off their lucky position, seventh on the ladder, from which they launched their successful rise to the premiership last year, but to do that, they have to win the remaining two against Port Adelaide and Hawthorn and hope the stars and the moon align perfectly.

Toby Greene was back in action, back from suspension, and was doing to do his best to get more time off. He leapt into the air to receive a handball from his team mate, and his protecting feet went straight into the face of the Dogs’ Luke Dahlhaus.

But was it really a reportable conduct in the first place? The public and media could not help discussing this. Whatever Greene does, he provides entertainment. Footy cannot be played by robots. Footy needs human elements, players always intending to expand the horizon, pushing the boundaries. Toby is one of those players bringing the human elements and excitement to football. For this reason alone, he should be playing every game. Paul Roos, the former great player and premiership coach, said it was “not a footy action”. It was not boxing, it was not wrestling, it was not head butting, it was certainly not kissing. A kung fu action, perhaps?

The replay shows that his eyes were firmly on the ball, and the contact with Dahlhaus was accidental, not intentional. It does not matter though, because it was reported and reviewed. Unreasonable? Unsportsmanlike?

One of the interesting questions was raised immediately by an AFL player, none other than the Collingwood captian, Scott Pendlebury. He tweeted during the game, and immediately shown on the television coverage. A gut reaction from the current player, not the mulled over after thoughts from the commentators. “That was interesting, foot to head is a free kick but if it was knee would it have been? Never seen that before, initial thought was play on.” The Match Review Panel decided to fine Toby Greene instead of a suspension, so let’s keep the ball rolling.

Geelong 11.14 (80) defeated Richmond 9.12 (66)

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A spot in the top four was at stake at Kardinia Park, the home of Geelong. Geelong usually plays well at home, though they went down badly last week against the visiting Swans. They were stunned and blitzed in the first quarter and never really recovered. The Cats at home, and with a good record against the fellow top four aspirant, the Tigers, winning 12 in a row against them before this game, meant that they should win. But they were without some of their key players: Joel Selwood from injury, Tom Hawkins and Mitch Duncan from suspension.

Richmond were widely tipped, but Geelong had other ideas. Harry Taylor, kicked four goals, three in the first half, setting up the game for the Cats. A converted defender, Taylor was not just kicking goals but also nullifying the influence of Alex Rance, arguably the league’s best attacking defender. Rance and the Tigers could not drive the ball out of their defence into attacking zone.

Richmond played well in the second half, coming back from a 28-point deficit at half time, with Rioli, Martin and Cotchin all contributing, and got as close as to one goal at the final break. But it was the Geelong veterans, Steve Motlop and Daniel Menzel, who kicked goals in the crunch time in the final quarter, breaking away from the Tigers.

For the Cats, Harry Taylor was superb. Patrick Dangerfield returned from a week off and did not miss a beat, Jake Kolodjashnij was in just about everything. Guthrie, and an old hand Mackie also chipped in.

According to the losing coach, Damian Hardwick, the men in yellow played very well for the Cats as well.
But did the umpires play a big role? Was it the crowd affecting their decisions? Sure, the free kick count favoured Geelong, 28–17, but influence by the crowd? Hardwick thinks so, saying after the game: “The home crowd gets behind them. Have a look at the free kick count.” When a coach uses umpires for the reason for the team’s loss, what does it really mean?

The AFL coaches are not supposed to express their opinions on the men in yellow, one way or the other, because we are polite people, and are trusting in the impartiality of the judges, umpires and referees.

For the losing side, Cotchin and Prestia were alright, and Martin spent a significant amount of time in the forward line in an attempt to create a sparkle, but was not his usual influential best. The key players at both ends, Alex Rance and Jack Riewoldt, had a quiet day.

The Cats are back in top three, yet their spot in top four is not forgone conclusion. They need to win one of their remaining two games, against Collingwood and Greater Western Sydney and, as the recent record against Collingwood indicates, it may not be as easy as their ladder positions suggest.

Geelong’s domination over Richmond is a worrying factor, with the winning streak now stretching to 13 – since 2006. If they meet again in a final, surely, it will have a psychological edge. Especially, if the game is played at the Cattery.

West Coast 15.10 (100) defeated Carlton 12.11 (83)

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West Coast’s form away from home has been atrocious. Especially the way they went down in recent final quarters or, as we like to say, the ‘frequent flyers final quarter fade out – as seen in their recent matches in Melbourne against Collingwood and St Kilda. At home against a wooden spoon contender, Carlton, it was a chance to stamp the authority, heading towards September.

They showed their intentions in patches during the game, but if they didn’t have their goal kicking machine, Josh J. Kennedy, who kicked six majors in the game, they would have lost the match. Carlton started well with Marc Murphy and Bryce Gibbs showing off their skills, while for the home side, Jamie Cripps kicked three in the opening term. It was a three-point game at the first break.

Then it was Josh J. Kennedy show in the second, as the Coleman Medal leader kicked three goals, stretching the lead to 31 points at the main break. The Baby Blues surely have excellent talents, but not so much experience.

The Blues were unfazed though when they came back on the ground for the third term. One of the weakness of West Coast, leg speed, was challenged and exploited. Carlton kicked six unanswered goals in the quarter to hit the front by six points – Jarrod Pickett and Jack Silvagni (two goals) were excellent in the third term. But when the ship was rocked, there was always Josh J. Kennedy to steady it. His fourth goal for the day leveled the scores.

In the tense final term, the experience of Sam Mitchell and Matt Priddis saved the ship, well supported by Luke Shuey and Elliot Yeo. Jeremy McGovern did not flinch in defence. In the end, it was not a thrilling finish, and West Coast survived for another day.They are clinging precariously to the top eight, but with the games against Greater Western Sydney and Adelaide coming up, their position is even more precarious. Maybe Josh J. Kennedy will save them, but he may need to kick ten goals in each of those games.

For Carlton, Jack Silvagni, Charlie Curnow and Sam Petrevski-Seton played well alongside Gibbs and Murphy, and showed plenty of hope, certainly not for this season, but for the future.

Round 21 Round-up – The Others

Sydney 22.11 (143) defeated Fremantle 5.9 (39). We predicted this game would be a shellacking, and it was! Sydney were too good, too slick, too fast, too confident, too precise, too big, too strong. On the field and on the scoreboard. And Fremantle were the exact opposite. It’s hard to believe that Fremantle has all of those good players but can put up a performance that is so bereft of everything. Perhaps coach Ross Lyon is pondering life at Collingwood in 2018 and beyond? It was a shameful performance. At this rate, he won’t be coaching anywhere next year.

Brisbane 22.10 (142) defeated Gold Coast 12.12 (84). A huge loss means that Gold Coast are now in contention for a second wooden spoon in their history. After sacking their coach, Gold Coast might have been hoping for a ‘new coach’ factor to propel them towards victory, but Gold Coast are looking more and more like a failed experiment that needs a new scientist to work out a new formula. Brisbane very good, and looking like a very exciting team in 2018.

Adelaide 18.15 (123) defeated Essendon 12.8 (80). Adelaide sewed up a top-two spot, and notched up another underwhelming victory in Melbourne. A win by 43 points is still a good victory, but as good as Adelaide has been this year, something suggests that they still have a soft white underbelly that might be available to teams such as Greater Western Sydney or Sydney to exploit. And the first test of this is next Friday night, when Adelaide play the Sydney Swans. Essendon is a mid-ranking team at present but tried hard. They may have blown their chances for a finals position, but we suspect that their return to finals action was always going to be a two-season project.

Melbourne 14.12 (96) defeated St Kilda 10.12 (72). Melbourne have laid some more cement on their finals position in 2017, and we think they might almost be there, for the first time since 2006. St Kilda threw away a big chance to see their first finals campaign since 2011, butchering the ball more times than a carver at the abattoir. Melbourne made a great response to their inept performance against Greater Western Sydney, St Kilda the opposite, after their great victory against West Coast the week before. They’ll be purgatory for yet another year, but questions are being asked if Alan Richardson is the coach to lead them into the promised land.

Hawthorn 18.8 (116) defeated North Melbourne 14.5 (89). Hawthorn did enough to win the game, and North Melbourne did enough to keep themselves in contention for this years’ wooden spoon, their first since 1972. Not much else to report from this game. Players kicked goals, one team won, one team lost.

Port Adelaide 14.14 (98) defeated Collingwood 10.11 (71). Although Port Adelaide didn’t thrash Collingwood, they did keep up their fine record of defeating teams placed 10–18 on the ladder. Their record is 10–1 in this games, almost mirroring the record of 2–7 against teams placed 1–9. This game was reasonably close, but it was not of a high standard and confirms to us that Port Adelaide, unless they can make some type of miraculous turnaround, won’t achieve much in the finals.

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