The first of three AFL bye rounds has come to an end – let’s dive right into the talking points from the weekend.
No doubt about it, Cats are flag favourites
It’s taken some members of the footy public a while to warm up to Geelong this season, which is a bit of a surprise when you consider just how dominant they’ve been.
The Cats are both the league’s best offensive and best defensive team this year, and they’ve only lost one match. The match was to a fellow top-four side and the margin was just four points.
Some saw their Friday night clash with Richmond as a danger game, and might have felt vindicated when the Cats managed just 0.2 in the first quarter – but those struggles wouldn’t last.
The Cats kicked fifteen goals in the next two quarters and romped home to a 67-point win. Surely there can be no doubt now, if there was before, that they’re the best-performed team in the league and premiership favourites.
How did they do it? This tweet from our own Adrian Polykandrites sums it up pretty well:
Cats were already rock solid in the back half and went and recruited a bunch of guys to be pests in the front third. Doesn't seem that complicated in retrospect. Gryan Miers is damn good.
— Adrian Polykandrites (@Adrian_Poly) June 7, 2019
The Cats’ recruiting moves weren’t the most spectacular of the 2018 offseason but they have been the most effective, while some shuffling of the magnets and promoting talented young players has helped deliver the improvement they needed.
New recruit Gary Rohan dubbed their forward line ‘the wolfpack’, which aside from letting you know the he really enjoyed The Hangover also makes it clear the Cats forwards are a close-knit group and having a lot of fun playing the way they do.
Where’s it all leading – to a fourth premiership in 13 years? Top spot is practically sewn up, top two certainly, so they’ll have a better launching pad than anyone else.
Blues have every chance of avoiding the spoon
When Carlton sacked coach Brendon Bolton during the week, I remember thinking – among other thoughts – that they should’ve saved it for a week before they played an opponent they were more likely to beat.
Well, they proved me wrong on that one – on Saturday they knocked over the Brisbane Lions by 15 points, a result made arguably all the more impressive by the fact that they did it after falling as much as 37 points behind in the second quarter.
How’d they do it? Well, to paraphrase Apu Nahasapeemapetilon: “I would like to say that it’s because of teamwork. Oh, who am I kidding? It’s all because of Patrick Cripps!”
The Carlton skipper’s 93 AFL games have seen many standouts but this might be the best of them – 38 disposals, eight clearances, nine score involvements, five inside 50s, and four goals.
That said though the Blues also saw a standout performance from Sam Walsh whose name the AFL can now engrave on the Rising Star trophy, while Charlie Curnow and Michael Gibbons booted five goals between them.
The Blues said they sacked Bolton for a simple lack of wins – well, they’ve got one. What’s more, they’re now a step closer to being off the bottom of the ladder.
As it stands Carlton would need just one more win to jump past not just Gold Coast but also Melbourne and into 16th spot.
That’d mean it’s only pick 3 going to Adelaide – and that’s probably what the Blues need to aim for, since it’s widely agreed that this year’s draft has a standout top two before becoming fairly even.
Carlton play both of those sides before the season comes to an end so the opportunity is there to control their own destiny. Beat the Suns and they’ll probably avoid the spoon. Beat Melbourne too and they’ll recapture a lot of pride.
Time to turf the ‘anything’s possible’ talk
Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin said anything was possible for his team in the second half of the year with important defenders Steven May and Jake Lever returning to the side this week.
Both got through the game unscathed – that’s great news, especially for Lever, coming back from his second ACL. And they’ll get better as time goes on. But it won’t happen quickly enough to save season 2019.
The Dees have three wins from 12 games now and that means to get to the hypothetical 12-win barrier for finals, they would need to win nine of their last ten. Like Homer Simpson moving under the sea, it’s not going to happen.
What then is next for Melbourne? Although they’ve been remarkably disappointing this season, I don’t believe too much of the blame for that lies in their playing list, which is still packed with young talent.
They tried to rush a premiership by moving on Hogan and bringing in Steven May – they’re lucky Hogan hasn’t been too great at Fremantle just yet, or it’d be looking like an unmitigated disaster.
It’s been three years since they had a first-round draft pick but this year they’ll have quite a high one. Rather than seeking a quick fix, I think they’ve got to take it to the draft and look for a dynamic midfielder, a Connor Rozee-type, to complement their strong on-ball brigade.
Jordan Lewis will undoubtedly finish up at the end of the year. Nathan Jones, also out-of-contract, looms as much more emotional decision. Although he’s got a deal for 2020, Michael Hibberd’s future should be considered.
But most importantly they’ve got to do something to rejig the forward line. The combination of Sam Weideman and Tom McDonald might eventually click, and building chemistry between the two should be a major focus in what’s left of the year.
Their smalls though just don’t do enough. Geelong’s blueprint wouldn’t be a bad one to follow.
Changing Crows get a Giant win
We had high expectations of Adelaide during the preseason, and it’d be fair to say that, up until Saturday night’s upset 19-point win over GWS, they hadn’t met them.
Sure, the Crows have played reasonably solid footy for most of the year, and generally stayed in the conversation for a top-four spot, but they just didn’t feel like a dangerous football team.
Knocking off GWS, who I would consider as probably the closest in the race for the premiership after Geelong, is a genuine scalp – get one or two more of those before finals and they might enter September with a chance to shake things up.
This was the third game where coach Don Pyke has dropped Bryce Gibbs before the match and after losing the first two, it proved to be third time lucky.
It’s hard to get a read on just what is happening with Gibbs. His stats don’t make for great reading last week but he did an impressive job tagging Clayton Oliver. His future at the club seems clouded to say the least.
Also up in the air is the future of Sam Jacobs. He returned from injury via the SANFL with a five-goal haul a week ago, but wasn’t picked for this match.
The simple reason why is that stand-in ruckman Reilly O’Brien is crushing it. Compare his 2019 numbers to Jacobs’ 2018 season and he’s got +1.4 disposals and +1.8 tackles on Jacobs for only a negligible decline in hitouts.
If the Crows were to push O’Brien out to bring Jacobs back I imagine there’d be half a dozen clubs making calls to his management and with Jacobs’ likely to retire soon enough anyway the Crows must carefully consider their next move.
Josh Jenkins is the other senior Crow whose spot has come under question but after coming back last week he’s kicked five goals in two games – so perhaps that one has a happy ending.
The Crows are a side in the midst of change, and they could look noticeably different in 2020 – whether this win over the Giants takes their season to the next level could have a big say in that.
There’s no need for a Sydney shake-up
A poor start to the season had plenty of people talking about what happens next for the Sydney Swans, but they’ve been building into nice form for a little while now.
Round 7’s three-goal loss to the Brisbane Lions was a disappointment for many fans, but since then they’ve beaten Essendon and North Melbourne by five points apiece, come within seven points of Collingwood, lost by 22 to Geelong (which there’s no shame in), and of course, now smashed West Coast by 45.
Finals would require the Swans to win eight of their last ten matches. If anyone could do it it would be this club, but it’s probably beyond the bounds of realism.
Still, while the Swans will miss the eight, any talk that it’s time to move on the coach or undertake a drastic rebuilding strategy is for mine very premature.
After all, the Swans have been rebuilding – on the sly, but rebuilding none the less. They’ve brought a lot of high draft picks into the club and pumped plenty of games into them.
And yes, that’s helped a lot by the academy system – but they’ve got every right to make hay while the sun shines.
Those young players have not just gotten the chance to play plenty of AFL games, they’ve been able to play finals. That’s valuable experience that will serve them well when the Swans inevitably move back up the ladder.
As for the coach, well, he’s got the fourth-best win percentage of anyone to have coached 200+ AFL games, has made finals eight times, the grand final three times, and won a premiership.
Ain’t broke, don’t fix.
Everybody gets a turn
Adelaide Crows (7-5) – Continue to have my eye drawn to Cam Ellis-Yolmen over the last few weeks. Averaging 23 touches and nearly six tackles this year… and he’s a free agent.
Brisbane Lions (7-5) – After the Blues sacked Bolton during the week Brisbane should have known they would be a dangerous side, but didn’t have their guard up. Disappointing.
Carlton Blues (2-10) – As with Carlton’s other win this year, the thing that strikes me compared to previous seasons is it’s being driven by their young players, rather than scrappy recycled blue-collar types.
Collingwood Magpies (9-3) – With West Coast and GWS both letting one slip this week, the Pies are a game clear on them into second on the ladder. Good news if you like MCG qualifying finals.
Geelong Cats (11-1) – As mentioned, John Longmire has the fourth-best winning percentage of anyone to coach 200 games. Number one? Chris Scott.
Gold Coast Suns (3-9) – Loved seeing a big breakthrough game for Will Brodie. 29 touches, nine marks, nine tackles, six clearances and a goal.
GWS Giants (8-4) – Can’t seem to get through a month of football without dropping a match they probably shouldn’t. Can’t afford that pattern to continue in finals.
Melbourne Demons (3-9) – Love seeing those blue beanies. Donate to Fight MND here.
North Melbourne Kangaroos (5-7) – If you offered me a 27-point win over Gold Coast a month ago I would’ve taken it. If you told me it came with a six-week injury to Shaun Higgins I’d have called the police.
Richmond Tigers (7-5) – Really done a lot of damage to my claim that they’re the best shot outside the top three over the last fortnight. Still, only one win behind the top four.
Sydney Swans (4-8) – Buddy may not again deliver as regularly as he has in the past, but so long as he keeps delivering at least some of the time, he’s worth it.
West Coast Eagles (8-4) – All that talk about finally getting a win at the SCG for the first time in however many years… nope.