There’s only a month left to go in the 2019 home-and-away season, and things are heating up at both ends of the ladder. Let’s dive right into the talking points from Round 19.
Bulldog belting another loss for Ross
If, as Ross Lyon claimed during the week, there are “agendas” afoot to push him out of his role as senior coach of the Fremantle Dockers, one can only assume they are set to be voiced all the more loudly this week following a 47-point loss to the Western Bulldogs.
The Dockers conceded eight goals inside the first quarter and were never seriously in the match after that, marking five losses in six matches for Fremantle, a poor run of form following what seemed like it might be a season-defining win over Port Adelaide in Round 13.
Their only win in that period was by a single point against the Sydney Swans last week, and it has seen them slip from fifth on the ladder after seven rounds to now twelfth, their hopes of playing finals looking dead and buried.
If Lyon wanted to look to the injury list for excuses, he’d find a few. The Dockers have lost all of Jesse Hogan, Matt Taberner and Alex Pearce to season-ending injuries and have missed Rory Lobb at times too, leaving their spine woefully undermanned.
Lyon noted as much during a mid-week conference – but of course, those aren’t the comments that made headlines. Instead, on the topic of his future at the club, he managed the rare feat of coming across as passionate and assertive while not actually giving away a clue of any kind as to what’s going on inside his head.
“You’re making a number of assumptions: a) that I want to continue (as) an AFL coach, b) that I want to coach here and c) that I need to coach,” said Lyon.
“They’re all assumptions that people are making.
“I’m not here to talk any more hypotheticals, because it’s actually getting boring and it’s taking away from the job at hand, which is coaching.”
Far be it from me to tell you what any of that means, but I’ll have a crack all the same: to me this reads like the two parties, club and coach, have fallen a bit out of love with each other, and are headed for a messy divorce. I’d be a little surprised if Lyon still coaches the Dockers in 2020.
If that was the biggest match of 2019, Richmond smashed it
Fans of interstate clubs must have rolled their eyes a little this week when the Friday night clash between the Tigers and the Collingwood Magpies was billed as the biggest game of the year so far, but one can’t deny the fixture had a certain dramatic appeal.
These two teams did, after all, play a preliminary final at the venue just last year which is going to stick around in the mind of fans for a long time to come, and after devastating Richmond on that night Collingwood backed it up with another comfortable victory over the Tigers earlier this year.
With both clubs deep in the race for a top-four spot and a chance at premiership glory, there was every reason to believe this could be an absolute belter of a game. Richmond fans will remember it fondly for more than a few weeks, but an all-time classic it was not.
The Tigers slammed on nine goals in the first half, leading by 43 points late in the second before Collingwood kicked two consolation goals to close out the half, and the game was effectively dead from that point onward, the Magpies never threatening to make serious inroads on what proved a comfortable margin for the Tigers.
Collingwood’s injury list has since been the primary topic of discussion, and fair enough – it’s out of control. Add in Jordan De Goey and Isaac Quaynor both going down this week, and the talent they have sitting on the pine is not that far off being a finals-worthy 22!
Still, of all the teams against which injury could be an excuse, this is not one of them. The Tigers have been hit as hard as anyone in 2019, they weathered the storm in remarkable fashion, and if anything have been made a better side by it.
Players like Sydney Stack, Shai Bolton and Dion Prestia have flourished under increased expectation. Richmond are running an Ivan Soldo-Mabior Chol ruck combination – by a wide margin the most unlikely six-word phrase to ever be uttered in the English language – and yet comprehensively dismantled a side sporting Brodie Grundy.
And of course there’s a bloke named Tom J Lynch who is getting better with every week that passes and now forms a genuinely frightening combo with Jack Riewoldt. Almost a little funny how much he has flown under the radar this year, given we couldn’t stop talking about him twelve months ago.
Was this the match we should judge Richmond’s premiership aspirations on? It appears as good as any, and if so, the verdict is in: they’re as big a threat as any other.
Fold the farm or roll the dice? Crows at a crossroads
The Adelaide Crows have four more rounds of football in 2019 – and, possibly, but no long probably, some weeks in September – to make a decision on what direction they go in next as a football club.
Since coming out on top against a depleted Richmond side in Round 13 – a match which gave them three wins in a row heading into the bye – the Crows have had only a single win in their last five, that coming against the Gold Coast Suns three weeks ago.
More worry too than just copping the Ls has been the manner of those losses. They were in a tight tussle with Port Adelaide till half time, then went missing. They had Essendon down for the count, then inexplicably stopped.
This week they went up against a Carlton side that is, on paper, 15 months their junior on average, and yet aside from kicking the first two goals of the game quickly lost control of the match and never felt like a serious threat to wrest it back.
Kane Cornes said on Sunday that coach Don Pyke may have lost the playing group, and while he’s probably the last man on earth you’d go to looking for an unbiased opinion on the Crows, one has to wonder if he might be right about that one.
Pyke has been no stranger to making harsh decisions at the selection table, and this week he showed his commitment to killing his darlings by dropping fan favourite Eddie Betts from the side, as well as Hugh Greenwood, and made a surprising decision to rest key defender Alex Keath.
That follows on from big calls to drop players like Bryce Gibbs and Josh Jenkins at times during the year, as well as keeping Sam Jacobs in the SANFL – the last of those admittedly being a fair decision given the remarkable form of Reilly O’Brien.
And what has been the impact of those bold selection decisions? Nada. They’ve failed to fire up the playing group and it must be a genuine frustration for players like Gibbs or Betts to watch how poor the senior side played this week while being told they weren’t good enough to earn a place in it.
The Crows boast the third-oldest list in the league this year and for mine they have a choice of two directions to go in – either concede that the ‘premiership window’ has been slammed shut on this core group and start planning for the future, or give it one last roll of the dice.
And you know what, it may not be a popular point of view, but consider me firmly in the ‘one last roll of the dice’ corner. I am, after all, the bloke who said an aging West Coast side were headed for the cliff at the end of 2017, and look how that worked out.
Sure, there’s more than a few key Crows who are getting a bit long in the tooth – and some of them might need to be retired in order to shake things up, as were the likes of Matt Priddis and Sam Mitchell at West Coast.
But there is still more talent on this list than I think the club’s results reflect right now, and I’m not yet convinced that a few smart decisions couldn’t produce a dramatic turnaround, either in what’s left of this year or next.
Whether that can happen under the current leadership, of course, is a whole other question.
Will 2019’s caretake coaches get a triple treat?
What a fascinating year of footy it is turning out to be. Leaving aside what is every week looking like a more unpredictable and intriguing finals series, the machinations going on among teams in the bottom section of the ladder are more than enough to keep the interest piqued.
In particular, right now we have three caretaker coaches managing teams in the ladder’s bottom half, and they have all, broadly speaking, been doing a brilliant job.
Rhyce Shaw’s Roos weren’t at their best against West Coast this week – they’ve lost three in a row now, albeit the two losses before this one both being a bit unlucky. Still, Shaw looks set to get the fulltime job, if rumours on Saturday are anything to go by.
And I think that’s about right – certainly he hasn’t turned North into world-beaters, but the man’s only had about two months to work on it so far, let’s give him some time. I like his philosophy and I think he brings a good energy to the club, give him some time to shape the list and we may be on to a winner here.
Brett Ratten’s only two games into his St Kilda career but he’s won me over already, and really he had won me over before he even took the reigns.
This is a guy who was a competent enough senior coach in his own right, then went and served a second apprenticeship under perhaps the greatest coach of all time, working as the senior assistant for three consecutive flags. He thoroughly deserves another shot, Saints, so don’t spend too long dilly-dallying on it.
The third is then David Teague, the man who will make plenty of headlines this week I suspect because surely, surely at this point the Blues – despite Chris Judd’s “training wheels” comments – must be starting to take him seriously as a candidate for the senior job.
He has won five of seven matches since he took over and two of those wins have come against sides currently in the top eight. One can’t quibble too much with those numbers.
The complicating factor of course is that as recently as Friday both Damian Barrett and Tom Browne intimated that, all public comments aside, Carlton are still very much hopeful of somehow poaching Alastair Clarkson to the club in 2020 – and I know neither is the AFL media’s most popular reporter, but they do both tend to have good mail.
I asked Twitter on Sunday afternoon which of the two they would pick as the next coach of Carlton and, well, the results are in Clarko’s favour – but not that much. The fact Teague is seriously in the conversation at all is a credit to him.
OK Carlton fans… be honest with me. You can have either as senior coach. Who is it?
— Josh Elliott (@JoshElliott_29) July 28, 2019
The last time a caretaker coach got promoted to the permanent gig was back in 2010 when Matthew Primus took over from Mark Williams at Port Adelaide, and that worked out disastrously that no club has been game enough go give it another go since. The fact it could happen at as many as three this year is an engrossing development.
Lastly, the success of the caretaker coach I think is posing a question to Ross Lyon and Don Pyke (and maybe Ken Hinkley too): have you considered sacking yourself?
Don’t actually sack yourself, of course, but look at how giving the players some freedom and simplifying the gameplan has benefitted these three sides in 2019. You don’t need to wait for the axe to fall to embrace that philosophy.
Time to lock in Round 23 – and maybe the top eight?
There’s only four rounds left in the footy season, so hey AFL – it’s time to lock in the fixture for Round 23!
Personally for mine it’s got to be Richmond vs Brisbane at the MCG on Friday night – a mouthwatering fixture and the Lions deserve some more free-to-air exposure, the only way to make this one better is if it could be another lockout at the Gabba.
Collingwood vs Essendon looms as a close second in terms of appeal and should be the Saturday night free-to-air game, while I’d be putting the Western Bulldogs vs Adelaide on the Sunday afternoon free-to-air slot because that could be a finals-place-deciding heart-stopper like the famous final-round West Coast match of 2017.
But speaking of the top eight, I’m starting to think that we are getting pretty close to the point where we know who it will be, or if we’re not quite there yet, I reckon we know who it should be.
Take the current ladder and switch the Dogs in for Adelaide and I reckon you have just about hit the nail on the head for the eight teams most likely to provide us with a brilliant and watchable finals series in 2019, though in what order they finish who knows just yet.
Probably the one wildcard I’d really love to see make an impact beyond that – accepting that my own beloved North have pretty much run their race for 2019 – would be Port Adelaide.
The Power may not have been a consistent side this season, and the chances of them putting four good weeks together to threaten the premiership are pretty much nill, but they play footy good enough to trouble the top teams, and I’d love to see their kids get some September experience.
Everbody gets a turn
Adelaide Crows (9-9) – 40 touches for Bryce Gibbs in the SANFL, three goals Eddie Betts. Do you bring them both back this week? I think so.
Brisbane Lions (13-5) – Hawthorn is exactly the kind of team you’d expect to trip a young Brisbane outfit up on a regular basis, but the Fagan-Hodgey combo denies them every time. Brilliant.
Carlton Blues (6-12) – Regardless of the longterm ramifications, I must award Carlton an ongoing moral victory in the infamous Liam Stocker trade after this week’s results, and yes, I probably let myself run away with the spoon a bit (usually Carlton’s domain) wondering how badly it might go earlier in the year.
Collingwood Magpies (11-7) – With Gold Coast and Melbourne in the next fortnight, Collingwood really should be a slam dunk to still fit into the top eight, even if a top-four spot now seems probably beyond them… should.
Essendon Bombers (10-8) – If you don’t seem me around a lot this week, it’s because I’ve moved to Patagonia as a hideaway from our weekend video editor and Dons man Anthony D’Arcy, currently baying for my blood after I nearly put the mozz on his boys by telling him the Gold Coast 22 was ‘so bad it makes me physically ill’. Luckily they scraped over the line… barely.
Fremantle Dockers (8-10) – Brad Hill, Stephen Hill, Ed Langdon, Connor Blakely all still off-contract at the end of the year. Understand Blakely has said he will sign soon, but wonder how much Ross’ future at the club is a factor in these discussions.
Geelong Cats (14-4) – Have performed a remarkable transformation right back into the frustrating Geelong side of yesteryear since the bye. This week: the slow start, followed by an eventual unconvincing victory over a much younger team. A classic of the Chris Scott genre.
Gold Coast Suns (3-15) – Must be heartbroken after that one, but you know what? I think they might actually be half a chance against Collingwood next week, especially if they bring the same intensity they did this time around. Also, a nod to Ben King for a great glimpse of the future.
GWS Giants (11-7) – Although they lead the whole way this week, can’t escape the feeling they were bloody lucky to leave Adelaide Oval with a win. Kudos to that one fully-kitted-out Giants fan who has highlighted on TV.
Hawthorn Hawks (8-10) – Sounds like Burgoyne will continue on with the club next year, which is a great result for everybody (except the Suns). In with a chance of breaking the 400-game barrier next year, should he have a little luck.
Melbourne Demons (5-13) – Feel like the Dees have kept making incremental improvement as season 2019 has gone on, which really just makes it remarkable that they keep finding ways to lose matches. Going to get a top-two draft pick which is huge.
North Melbourne Kangaroos (7-11) – Look, that was ugly. But I love the way our Rising Star nominees seem to always have something to contribute.
Port Adelaide Power (8-10) – There were six Port players who kicked a behind without kicking a goal on Saturday night, and then also Karl Amon a seventh who managed to boot 0.3. They will be filthy with themselves.
Richmond Tigers (12-6) – Hasn’t grabbed attention in 2019 like he has in other years Dustin Martin, but he has put in some big performances for the Tigers at times. 38 disposals and two goals this week as good as any of them, great leadership after Cotchin went down early.
St Kilda Saints (8-10) – It’s gone under the radar a bit in recent years but St Kilda actually have a pretty decent complement of dangerous forwards on the list (with Max King to feature in 2020). Back to back 100+ scores under Brett Ratten is a timely reminder of that.
Sydney Swans (6-12) – Really solid percentage for a team sitting in the bottom four currently, and keep taking it up to teams. Don’t think too many Swans fans will be writing off 2019 as a wasted year.
West Coast Eagles (13-5) – Even when it’s against my own team, there’s a certain pleasure not quite like any other to seeing Josh J Kennedy kick a bag.
Western Bulldogs (9-9) – What a heartbreaking way to – presumably – see the end of Dale Morris’ career. Still, a testament to him that he worked through serious injury to make it back one last time, and if there was anyone in the league capable of somehow defying the odds again, it’s this bloke.