It’s been another heart-pumping, heavy-breathing week of footy in Round 15. In 2017, that’s just par for the course! Here’s my quick takes from the week.
Forget Jeff Horn, Eric Hipwood is Queensland’s real hero
Who would’ve thought that Jeff Horn could beat Manny Pacquiao and only be the second biggest sporting upset by a Queensland representative on Sunday?
Coming into Round 15 Essendon versus Brisbane was billed as being pretty much the only straightforward tipping decision of the week, and if you’ve been following the 2017 season at all you can probably guess how well that turned out.
The young Lions were down by 27 points early in the last quarter but they turned it on and amazingly ran out the winners by eight, a 35-point turnaround.
It’s all the more impressive that they did it without Dayne Beams, their captain and arguably best player.
Many of them deserve a good thumbs up for their contributions. Sam Mayes and Tom Cutler continue to improve, Alex Witherden is having a brilliant start to his career, and the Ryans, Bastinac and Lester, have really lifted their level.
However the highest of praise has to go to native Queenslander Eric Hipwood. Everyone played their part in the Lions’ win, but his bag of four goals was the lynchpin of a season-defining victory.
The math comes back to bite Fremantle
Fremantle’s run of six wins from seven games earlier this year was heavily helped along by three wins of less than a goal – now they’re feeling the other side of the sword. Two close losses in a row has made it five straight defeats for them.
There was talk then about how the Dockers were smarter than other sides when it came to those late-game moments, but are we going to backflip on that now? No, of course not.
I talked a fair bit about how close results are misleading last week, and I stick by it.
Simply put, if you’ve got two sides that are close to evenly matched it’s going to come down to a little bit of luck – and sometimes you’ll be lucky a few weeks in a row, and sometimes you’ll get the opposite.
There! Don’t worry, I promise not to rant on about it again too much in the future. Wink.
Have to give a quick thumbs up to Michael Walters though. A career-best haul of six goals, two of them being lead-changers in the final quarter, was the best possible way to respond to last week’s disappointment.
It didn’t deliver the Dockers a win, but that’s through no fault of his own. He’s a star.
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Time for Collingwood to make a call on the coach
Now that Collingwood’s finals hopes are officially just a pie in the sky, the time has arrived where the club must make a call on whether or not to retain Nathan Buckley.
With five wins and nine losses, Collingwood would need to win seven of their last eight to even be a chance at making the eight, and that’s just not going to happen.
Buckley has spent the entirety of this season haunted by his words at the end of last year when he said he didn’t expect to keep his job without making finals.
He has said a few times that he wishes that quote wasn’t brought up so much, but if you put that kind of ultimatum on yourself, people are going to remember it.
I’ve said a few times during the season that I reckon Buckley deserves the chance to coach Collingwood for another couple of years and see if he can bring his plans to fruition.
You could debate whether or not his “mini-rebuild” was the right path to go down, but regardless, Collingwood have made their bed now and must decide whether or not to lie in it.
My opinion is still that Buckley should be backed in, but the Pies finished third-last in an AFL coach satisfaction survey, and the Collingwood big wigs may decide differently. Watch this space.
Soft fixture won’t help if Essendon can’t win it easy
When I tipped Essendon to make finals at the start of the year, a key factor in my belief that they could make it to September footy was the fact they had an easy fixture this year.
However having lost to bottom-four sides in Carlton and now Brisbane, they’ve now completely undone any advantage they ought to have gained from that.
Essendon are certainly still in with a chance at finals, but would have to display a greater level of consistency from here on out than they have so far this year, and what reason is there to believe they will?
They can only afford to drop two more matches for the season at most but have plenty of dangerous teams left to play.
It probably wouldn’t bother the fan base too much for the Bombers to miss out on finals this year, after all, they’ve had some good wins and will just be glad to have moved past an ugly chapter in their history.
Still, it’s something they certainly could have achieved, and if they do fall short they should be disappointed.
Gibbs’ Adelaide audition impossible to ignore
If the Adelaide Crows were umming and ahhing at all about whether or not they want to go at Bryce Gibbs again this off-season, his performance against them on Sunday must surely have piqued their interest.
30 disposals, 15 tackles, seven clearances and a pair of goals – it was another superstar performance from him and one the Crows would love to be seeing him do in their colours.
I felt during trade time last year that two first round picks was more than Bryce Gibbs was worth. I still feel that way – he’s 28.
However, while it would have been overpaying, there’s an argument can be made that it’s wortwhile to overpay if you get something you really want.
And of course, there’s the flag principle – if it wins you a flag, you can pretty much rub that in the faces of the naysayers from here to eternity. See Tom Boyd.
The Crows would be mad not to have another crack at Gibbs again this year and it’ll be fascinating to see whether or not they fold and pay Carlton’s price.
If they come close but not close enough to winning it all in 2017, that might tip them over the edge.
Adelaide should have given up two first rounders for Bryce Gibbs y/n?
— Josh Elliott (@JoshElliott_29) July 1, 2017
Port yet to prove they aren’t pretenders
Port Adelaide may have the second-best percentage in the competition, but they’re missing out on a top four spot right now – and it’s absolutely fair that they are.
While the Power have shown that they know how to smack around a bad team, Saturday night’s loss to Richmond was another reminder that they haven’t taken a big scalp yet.
Their win over Sydney at the start of the year, granted, was impressive, but it came at a time when the Swans were woefully out of form, and they’ve haven’t beaten anyone higher on the ladder.
Sydney aside, the best team that Port Adelaide have beaten is the 12th-placed Gold Coast Suns, not a huge achievement by any standard.
If it wasn’t for them having a realtively easy fixture this year, their finals spot might well be in doubt.
They’ve only got one chance left this year to show that they can win against one of the league’s top three – a Showdown re-match with Adelaide in Round 20.
If they fall short again there, it’ll be hardy to take them seriously as a finals threat come September.
Two thumbs up as Swans deliver
I’ve questioned them a bit over the past fortnight when they’ve had lucky scrapes through against Richmond and Essendon, so it’s only fair that the Swans earn a bit of praise for what was a comprehensive win over Melbourne on Friday night.
I said in my Friday Night Forecast that the match would come down to which midfield got on top, and in the end it was an overwhelming victory for the Swans in the middle of the ground.
Really, a team kicking a scoreline like 11.19 shouldn’t be winning very often. The Swans have put up a horrendous 22.39 in the last two weeks, and yet it hasn’t cost them the four points on either occasion.
Numbers like +83 kicks, +14.4 minutes in possession, +15 inside 50s, +13 marks inside 50 and +11 clearances reflect a midfield dominance that could’ve and probably should’ve created a ten-goal win.
There’s no doubt that they can beat any other midfield in the comp when they fire. They’re too far behind to finish in the top four but regardless, they’re a genuine finals wildcard.
Bugg punch reignites the red card debate
My first thought looking at Tomas Bugg’s punch on Callum Mills was that it was yet another example of why the AFL should at least consider a red card system.
There’s nothing more frustrating as a fan that witnessing a poor act from an opposition player end the game of one of your stars.
However, what’s even more galling is that in our game, that opposition player then gets to stay on the field and contribute across the rest of the game.
Sure, they’ll get suspended and miss the next few weeks – Bugg surely will cop at least five weeks, and probably six – but where’s the justice for the team actually disadvantaged?
Yes, it would be hard to make the system perfect, and I very much understand why fan confidence in the AFL to not botch the introduction of a change like this is low.
Still, I’m of the opinion that it at least ought to be considered, even if it would be used only a handful of times a year.
I’m not the only one thinking about it – rookie Roarer Hugh Robertson wrote a piece on Sunday morning.
Despite the Hawkins heartbreak, Cats effort still heartening
Geelong might well have thought their trip up to Spotless Stadium was a doomed endeavour when they were forced to take both Joel Selwood and Daniel Menzel out of their matchday squad as late withdrawals.
The Cats wound up fielding three debutants in the end and while it’s not as if GWS aren’t without their own depth problems, that’s not a position from which you usually win against a top of the table team.
Well, they didn’t win – but they came mightily close, and honestly, I’m still stunned that Tom Hawkins missed what should’ve been an easy shot to win the game.
It’s unfortunate too because getting the four points there could’ve been really important in terms of ladder position come the end of the year.
Instead the result puts both the Giants and the Cats in “the draw zone”, a weird football space where percentage doesn’t really matter that much any more.
No one’s every happy about a draw, and the Cats will no doubt be devastated that they narrowly missed the chance to take a real scalp.
That said, of the top three, they’ve beaten one and drawn with another, and that’s as good as anyone else can claim this year.
Petrie worth the pick
There were more than a few raised eyebrows when a 300+ game veteran in Drew Petrie joined West Coast’s supposed “rookie” list in the off-season, but over the past two weeks he has proven his worth.
Last week he kicked what was very nearly a match-winning bag of four goals against Melbourne, and this week was another solid performance in a win over the Western Bulldogs.
He has kicked a goal in every match he has played for the Eagles so far this year, and provided a handy partnership in the ruck for whoever he goes in alongside.
I said at the start of the year that he’d wind up being a handy player for West Coast, and I reckon it is fair to say that prediction has turned out okay.
Still, the Eagles have an interesting call to make over the next few weeks, with Scott Lycett ready to return after hitting top form in the WAFL this weekend.
They can probably fit him in now while Josh J Kennedy is still out, but when the big man comes back there’s not going to be room for Kennedy, Lycett, Petrie and Vardy to all play in the same side.
Even if he winds up being just good depth in the back end of the year, the Petrie pick gets a tick.
Reluctance to play the kids a worry
It’s hard to think of a more head-scratching decision that could’ve been made than Brad Scott opting to replace Marley Williams, a late withdrawal, with Lindsay Thomas on Saturday.
Don’t get me wrong, even at the low points of his career I’ve always been a Lindsay fan, and that’s not about to change any time soon.
But why would it make any kind of sense to bring in a veteran small forward and ask him to play as a small defender? That’s just not thinking straight.
It is painfully obvious to everyone bar the selection committee that North Melbourne’s season is done and dusted – they’re seventeenth with fourth wins – and yet the preference is to randomly trial a 29-year-old at the wrong end of the ground rather then give a debut to a kid.
Geelong: we'll play 3 debutantes
North Melbourne: we'll play Lindsay Thomas
— Smokie Dawson (@smokiedawson) July 1, 2017
I’ll be talking a bit more mid-week about the head-scratching, possibly brilliant, more likely bonkers direction that North are going in with this rebuild, but in the mean time I’ll just say this – it’s no wonder that fans are frustrated with the club when the selection policy shows a stark disconnection from the reality we can all see plain as day.