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Seven massive overreactions to Round 1 of the AFL

Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley with forward Alex Fasolo (Photographer: Sean Garnsworthy)
Expert
29th March, 2016
16
1881 Reads

Round 1 is in the books, and as ever, the opinions are flying left, right, and centre. It is far too early to talk much by way of substance, so let’s have a bit of fun and create some headlines based on one week of footy.

The overreactions to four per cent of the 2016 AFL season are always a fun read, but that is about all. There was almost nothing which happened on the weekend that should have dramatically shifted your expectations on any team.

There are a couple of minor exceptions, which mostly centre on whether a burning question about a team has been answered; Brendon Bolton’s tactical upheaval at Carlton looks real, for example.

I’m not even ready to go all-in on the notion that fast football is in vogue. Monday’s game between Geelong and Hawthorn looked strikingly similar to any 2015 game, as the two combatants largely eschewed the slingshot stylings of their fellow competitors.

Perhaps the best news out of the round from an aesthetics perspective is that there were clear points of difference in each game: from the rebounding of North Melbourne to the wide-open play of West Coast, and the (attempted) precision play of Richmond to the immovable objects at Geelong.

That could be the biggest takeaway of the round: diversity. But as to the rest of it? Let’s have a bit of fun. Once you’ve had a read through mine, feel free to add a few more in the comments.

Pies sack Bucks
September 1, 2016

After falling to an 8-14 record, Collingwood have sacked head coach, and favourite son, Nathan Buckley, despite extending his contract before the start of the 2016 AFL season.

Make no mistake, Collingwood were irredeemably bad on Saturday night against the Swans. The Pies played with the intensity of a jar of Old El Paso taco sauce, and were made to look like a wooden spoon contender by the rejuvenated Swans.

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Some of the numbers from this game are frightening. Sydney had 76 inside 50s to Collingwood’s 45, had 76 more contested possessions, and handballed the ball almost as much as they kicked it. We’ve talked about how Sydney are trying to remake themselves as a running, gunning ball-movement machine – they got it all to work on Saturday by virtue of Collingwood’s anaemia.

Are the Pies that bad, though? I seriously doubt it. For one reason or another, Collingwood’s players were not up for the game, and never got into the positive, attacking rhythms that they unleashed in the pre-season.

More often than not, Collingwood’s inability to work back in defence saw the likes of Jack Frost, Nathan Brown and Ben Sinclair simply hand the ball back to Sydney’s pressed up defenders. There was no method to their ball movement whatsoever, and despite only losing the clearance count by seven to the Swans, the Pies got chopped up in the clinches.

Collingwood will largely put this game behind them, after a thorough review pointing out the team’s sheer quantity of mistakes. This weekend’s game against Richmond will be interesting, in so far as the Tigers also played below their potential in the opening round.

As to Buckley, well, it would require something catastrophic to see him sacked before the end of his current deal. An eight-win season – which would mean Collingwood have accumulated more losses in each successive year of Buckley’s tenure – would go close to doing the trick, but it would still be a huge call.

Ross the re-builder
August 9, 2016

Fremantle coach Ross Lyon gives the biggest hint yet that the Dockers are set to undergo a mini-rebuild following a 90-point loss to West Coast.

From one mentally absent team to another. This was by far the worst game of football Fremantle have served up under Ross Lyon in his four-year-and-a-game stint as steward of the Dockers.

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Like the Swans-Pies game, there are some compelling numbers: the Dogs almost had 500 disposals to Fremantle’s 340, disposed of it at a 79 per cent efficiency rating, and scored from almost two-thirds of their inside 50 entries.

That is utter madness, and is the antithesis of the outcomes that Lyon-coached sides aim to accomplish.

Let’s take nothing away from the Western Bulldogs though, they were insatiable in their desire for the football and the green expanses of Etihad Stadium. They are most certainly the real deal, as we discussed last week, and it would be brave to continue to tip them as a non-finalist after this showing.

As for Fremantle, nothing went right at all. Their use of the ball was cringeworthy, their structures were non-existent, and their back six looked a shadow of its world-beating best from the first half of last season. A back line headed up by Zac Dawson is, evidently, a completely different animal to one led by Luke McPharlin and Michael Johnson.

In many ways, this was a game won and lost at the selection table, with the Dogs fleet of medium-sized players both forward and back of centre a complete mismatch for the more traditional Fremantle line-up.

Will we reach a point this year where Lyon pulls the pin and sets about reshaping his team with a 2020 flag in mind? Right now it would be a long shot, because this team is still excellent and capable of playing winning football. But if the side looks like a sick dog at the halfway mark, a phone call to the vet may be forthcoming.

Best. Draft. Ever.
August 30, 2016

It’s the most wide-open NAB AFL Rising Star field in recent history, with half a dozen of this season’s crop expected to poll well tomorrow.

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There was a lot of interest in this week’s Rising Star nomination, after ten of the 2015 draft class debuted for their clubs, including the top five selections.

The AFL ended up going with Melbourne’s Clayton Oliver, as the Demons midfielder hustled and bustled his way to 22 disposals, 15 contested possessions and seven clearances in just 67 minutes of game time. But really, any of the top five picks (Jacob Weitering, Josh Schache, Callum Mills and Darcy Parish) could have won the award. OK, Schache might have been a stretch, but maybe not: kicking two goals as a tall forward for Brisbane is worthy of some recognition.

It is way too early to say that this is the best draft class in AFL history, but then again, all of these guys looked at home in their jumpers.

Weitering deserves a special mention here for the remarkable game that he played for Carlton as the team’s second tall defender. He took seven marks (three of them contested) and had 17 disposals with zero turnovers. He looks like the kind of player a team can build around – which suits both him and Carlton nicely.

Hogan ultimatum: It’s Watts, or me
October 10, 2016

A rift between Melbourne’s dynamic duo exposed as key forward Jesse Hogan tells the Dees, “It’s him, or me.”

You know what’s crazy? It took six years for Melbourne’s brains trust to work out that they have an elite half forward flanker on their hands in Jack Watts. The pairing of Hogan and Watts, with a fit Chris Dawes as the third tall, all of a sudden gives Melbourne a crew of finishers that can kick the scores that their rising midfield should be capable of enabling.

Watts’ fourth-quarter performance was excellent, and should chip away at his image of being a shirker of big moments in games. He kicked a goal, set up another, and was threatening enough that it allowed Hogan to break Phil Davis’ rear-naked choke hold.

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The two could be devastating if allowed to grow together, providing a double threat that exists at only the best offensive clubs in the competition. For Melbourne, the priority of re-signing Hogan might now extend to Hogan and Watts. But if it came down to a choice (say, if Watts started hogging Hogan’s time in the sun), the Dees would have to stick with Hogan.

North at it again
September 17, 2016

North Melbourne into their third straight preliminary final, after outclassing the fading Hawks in a semi-final blowout.

Saturday night’s Foxtel game between North Melbourne and Adelaide was one of the games of the round – in a crowded field – if only because it showed what could happen if both teams tried to play fast football. And it was close all night.

North Melbourne have been largely discounted out of the premiership market, a by-product of the sheer volume of teams clipping their heels, and the supposed age-related decline of their key contributors. I hedged my bets at the start of the season, anointing them as contenders but not much more.

Tactically, North were great fun to watch. They switched the ball at nearly every opportunity in the back half, seeking to create a cascade of overlap runners to help them get the ball into an attacking position. When the overlap didn’t happen, North’s tall players were able to stand up and either win a contest or at least neutralise it.

Drew Petrie was critical to this, and while his stat line looks like a car crash (six disposals, four clangers, four free kicks against), he was crucial to North’s forward structure. Daniel Wells’ return was better than anyone could have dreamt of, with 14 kicks, eight inside 50s and 11 score involvements.

As ever, there wasn’t a dominant performance from a single midfielder from a volume of touches perspective. Ben Cunnington was an immovable force on the inside, dishing out ten clearances and winning the ball an additional 13 times in the contest.

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We have to caveat this performance in two ways. First, the game was completely even by the end of it, with both North Melbourne and Adelaide having identical scoring shots, near-identical inside 50 entries (57-56 the way of the Crows) and near-identical disposal tallies (361-342 the way of North). The other is that Adelaide might be good, but they might be not good – we won’t know for another couple of rounds, given the significant shift in their playing style under new coach Don Pyke.

If we thought there was a gap between North Melbourne and the top sides at the start of the season, this game shouldn’t change that perception. However, reports of the death of this Roos side appear to have been exaggerated.

Hawth-over and out
September 20, 2016

Breaking: Hawthorn dynasty over as Shaun Burgoyne and Sam Mitchell hang up the boots, Luke Hodge undecided on future. Uncontracted coach Alastair Clarkson to hold a press conference later in the day with CEO Stuart Fox.

Let’s call this one a bit of wishful thinking…

It is patently fantastical to think that is how this Hawthorn team will bow out. Monday’s colossal battle showed that the Hawks still rely so heavily on their legendary veterans – when they click they stop time, but when they’re beaten, the side can be exposed.

The game also showed that the talent lurking in the Hawthorn twos is not at the same standard as the first choice line-up. That’s fine, and is to be expected, but it will mean that if Hawthorn’s injury count remains as elevated as it currently is, the league’s working assumption that they’re chasing the Hawks may need to be re-evaluated.

An alternative view of yesterday’s game is that a Hawthorn side missing Jarryd Roughead, Brad Hill, Liam Shiels, and effectively playing with 20 men given Marc Pittonet played 51 overawed minutes, and Ryan Schoenmakers played 102 completely redundant minutes, won the game up until the final ten minutes.

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An incredible streak of Geelong goal-kicking in the first half – a lot of Geelong’s early goal opportunities came by virtue of well-placed free kicks, but they still were ruthless in their direction of the ball to the most threatening point of the ground – set up their victory in the end. Well, that, and one of the best individual games of football I’ve seen in the past five years from you know who…

Danger double: Geelong superstar raging Norm Smith favourite after Brownlow win
September 27, 2016

He came, he saw, he conquered. Now Geelong’s Patrick Dangerfield has sight set on a North Smith medal after polling a record 36 votes to win the 2016 Brownlow medal.

43 disposals.
21 contested possessions.
Seven clearances.
Ten inside 50s.
Three behinds (two of which were sodas).

Patrick Dangerfield was at his pack-bursting, freight-train-running best on Monday, and Hawthorn’s veteran midfield had no answer for him. At one point, Clarkson threw Cyril Rioli onto him in some sort of bizarro reverse-mind-melt move that didn’t work at all. Shiels would have been a useful starter for Hawthorn in retrospect.

Three Brownlow votes are guaranteed, and on yesterday’s form, it won’t be Dangerfield’s last vote-winning game for the 2016 season.

Now, we can put a spin on this that says the Cats were largely a one-man team through the middle of the ground on Monday, and Geelong’s issues at clearances and in contested situations haven’t been magically solved by Dangerfield’s insertion. But then again, they might have been. If it is all on Danger, his will be a remarkable burden.

As to Geelong’s chances this year, well, as we discussed a few weeks ago, Geelong are going to be good this season. How good is still up for debate, but anyone that had them as missing the finals will likely be ruing that decision in the weeks and months ahead.

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