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Opinion

Six talking points from AFL Round 7

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19th July, 2020
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The weekend has drawn to an end, and it’s time for some talking points from Round 7 of the 2020 AFL season.

Robbie Gray kicks the winner in the game of the year
If we see a better game played in 2020 than that which transpired between Carlton and Port Adelaide on Sunday afternoon, well, it will have to reach some remarkable heights to knock this one off the mantle.

Right from the first quarter when both sides booted four goals in an exciting display of attacking football, it was clear we were in for a quality spectacle.

The scoring slowed in the three quarters that followed but the contest only grew more engaging, as both sides showed the ability to accelerate but neither with enough power to pull away from the opposition.

Carlton kicked three of the first four goals in the final quarter to edge their way ahead and looked like they just might hold on for what would’ve been a ground-breaking win.

Port Adelaide peppered the goals in the final minutes but simply could not find an answer, kicking four uninterrupted behinds in the space of eight minutes.

Robbie Gray had a hand in the last two of those – one a set shot he failed to convert, another that he inexplicably dished off to Todd Marshall whose snap went off target.

They seemed to have missed their chance. Then, with the final minute of the match ticking down on the clock, the Power rolled the dice one last time.

It was Sam Mayes who, playing a club debut that he’ll never forget, delivered a perfect kick to Gray on the boundary on the 50m line with just 15 seconds left on the clock.

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Full disclosure, I watched Gray lining up for the kick and thought “no”. Too far out, too difficult an angle, and the old warrior doesn’t have the power he once did. I was wrong, and he proved me so in the best possible way.

Simply put: game of the year. A tip of the hat to both clubs, neither of whom deserved to lose.

Robbie Gray of Port Adelaide celebrates a goal

(Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

Sam Walsh is no second-rate footballer
While we’re tipping the hat, here’s one for someone who has bizarrely been one of the most maligned footballers of 2020: number one draft pick and 2019 Rising Star winner Sam Walsh.

Why has Walsh copped criticism this year? Simply put, so many of his contemporaries in the 2018 draft class have showed such talent this year that it’s hard for anyone to look good in comparison.

He’s certainly had moments that won’t make the highlight reel during his first few games of 2020. But his performance against Port Adelaide on Sunday was one of the best we’ve seen.

The standout moment was a courageous, high-flying mark in the third quarter which lifted his team. It’ll go down as one of the best of the year.

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He also booted two goals, including a crucial one in the first minute of the final quarter which levelled the scores and set Carlton up for a strong push at victory.

Will he be the best player out of the 2018 draft? It’s more unlikely than likely. There’s at least half a dozen seriously elite talents that have already emerged from that crop – but he’s one of them.

And while we’re lauding Carlton’s young guns, it’s worth acknowledging also the great form of Harry McKay, who has kicked six goals in the last two weeks.

The big forward is making the footy world forget about Charlie Curnow’s absence and reminded us all that you don’t need to burst onto the scene early to become a great footballer.

Sam Walsh runs with the ball

Sam Walsh. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

De Goey debacle shows the need for new voices
This week showed how badly the AFL broadcasters and media are in need of new and diverse voices to cover a sporting code that, like all others, regularly finds itself inextricably entangled in complex social issues.

This was seen most starkly on Thursday night when Bruce McAvaney bizarrely referred to Jordan de Goey being charged with indecent assault as a “hiccup” in the 24-year-old’s season.

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SEN then later tweeted a link to an article, authored by Ashley Browne, which suggested De Goey might be “footy’s guilty pleasure in 2020”.

Both of these events have been addressed to some degree by the parties involved. McAvaney apologised for his comment after the match concluded, SEN have deleted the tweet and appear to have taken down the article.

So I have no intention of singling any of these parties out with specific criticism – instead, we need to acknowledge the picture that moments like this paint of how our sport is broadcasted and digested.

A charge like the one De Goey currently faces and the matter of how the AFL and his club should handle it is a complex and multi-faceted issue. Broadcast and media coverage of it needs to be researched and nuanced. It needs perspectives from women as well as men.

But that’s not what AFL broadcasters or the vast majority of media outlets covering the game presently provide. An issue that involves both men and women is being covered in the media mostly by men – and it’s clear than many even of the most prominent ones aren’t making the effort to consider how to address the issue with appropriate sensitivity.

Although they clearly have a lot on their plate at present, I’d like to see the AFL show leadership in this area, not by saying the right words, but by taking the right actions.

Firstly, let’s put in a rock-solid league-wide policy on how incidents like this are handled in the future. Experts should be consulted and serious consideration given to making a blanket rule that any player charged with a sexual offence is stood down until the matter is resolved.

Secondly, next time there are negotiations happening with broadcasters, let’s set some minimum standards about the kind of diversity we want to see in the coverage of our game. Our commentary teams should reflect the diverse make-up of our society and of the AFL’s fan-base – a goal they currently fall woefully short of.

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Jordan de Goey

Jordan de Goey. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Small forwards are becoming hot property
There’s a shift happening in the AFL’s draft landscape – where once they were made to wait until late in the piece or even the rookie draft to get an opportunity, small forwards are becoming early picks, and with good reason.

Consider this for example: the two best small forwards going around in the league right now, Charlie Cameron and Tom Papley, were both taken in the rookie draft.

And that’s not an outlier. If you look more than a few years back at the early picks of AFL drafts, you’ll find it hard to spot a small forward.

In recent years we’ve seen the likes of Izak Rankine, Cody Weightman and Kysaiah Pickett all picked up in the first round – and they are proving well worth the investment.

We had to show patience for more than 18 months after Rankine was drafted before he debuted, and every second of the wait has proved worth it. He is a star, and set to be the headline act of Gold Coast’s first primetime fixture this coming Thursday.

Weightman might be just as exciting to watch over the years to come. He made his debut on Friday night and may well have done enough to earn a Rising Star nomination. Not many footballers in VFL/AFL history could boast a better first goal than his.

It was revealed pre-game that some teammates have nicknamed him the “Pop-up sprinkler” for his high-flying marking capability, which was on display from day one. It might be the best footy nickname going around.

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Pickett may not have provided quite the same highlight reel as those two but has been a great contributor so far bringing the sort of physical pressure and presence he was known for as an 18-year-old.

He was seen as something of a reach going at pick 12 in last year’s draft, but I suspect at this early stage Melbourne would be very happy with their selection.

That Carlton would’ve been willing to give up a top-ten pick in last year’s draft for Papley – which now seems, if anything, too little – is another sign of the changing times.

Is it a trend we’ll see more of in years to come? I hope so. Small forwards are often the most potent and damaging players in the game, and it’s about time they were valued accordingly.

Izak Rankine celebrates

Izak Rankine. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

North Melbourne’s nadir shows a new direction is needed
When North Melbourne notched a surprising upset win over GWS in Round 2, I dedicated a talking point to acknowledging the result as a vindication of some bold decisions made by the Roos late last year.

Come the end of 2019 both Todd Goldstein and Shaun Higgins were wanted by other clubs, but North made the call to offer good extensions to both veterans, and go for gold again in 2020.

And a 2-0 record in the first two rounds looked like a big thumbs up for that boldness. But five straight losses – none of them occurring in even a remotely honourable fashion – has made that early optimism a distant reality.

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Hawthorn have spent the week being criticised for the age of their list and on-field 22, but North fly under the radar as a team whose demographic position is just as dire.

This week they faced a Richmond team against whom they had the advantage of more than half a year and 20 games experience on average – a club should expect to win or at least compete well under those circumstances, and North did nothing of the sort.

It surely must be understood as clear now that the Kangaroos are not just one big-fish trade or canny free-agency acquisition away from premiership contention. A proper cleanout of a mediocre list and consistent long-term strategy built around the draft is needed.

In last year’s trade period the Roos swapped their first pick in 2019 for a 2020 first-rounder. I read that as the club deciding to give new coach Rhyce Shaw a season to experiment with the list and find out where they were at before deciding how best to spend that currency.

Well, what may have been unclear then is clear now. There are a handful of good youngsters coming through: let’s focus on building a team that will be ready to challenge in 2025 when they’re hitting their prime.

Ben Cunnington celebrates a goal

(Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Everybody gets a turn
Adelaide Crows (0-7) – Liked the efforts of stand-in captain Tom Doedee and former captain Taylor Walker. Not enough to break their duck, but played well enough to suggest they’ll get a win or two at some point in the next ten.

Brisbane Lions (5-2) – Loved another big game from Harris Andrews. Love a nice touch of form from Cam Rayner. But also loved – and didn’t see coming – Zac Bailey’s development. Eighteen touches, ten marks, two goals – very, very good.

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Carlton Blues (3-4) – Here’s a problem I don’t think anyone expected Carlton to have in 2020: Patrick Cripps is having a pretty so-so season, by his high standards. What’s going on there?

Collingwood Magpies (4-2-1) – Even now Justin Longmuir has left to coach Fremantle, Collingwood’s defence is remarkably strong, conceding fewer than 43 points per game in 2020.

Essendon Bombers (4-2) – If they were thinking of themselves as top-four material after only losing one match in the first six rounds, well, the Bombers have been brought back to Earth. At least they didn’t concede 21 consecutive goals.

Fremantle Dockers (2-5) – Liked Michael Frederick’s first goal as a nice little moment. Unfortunately that was about it in terms of things you’d write home about from this one.

Geelong Cats (4-3) – I’m so glad Gary Ablett has had the option of leaving WA to be with his family during a difficult time and received the support that he has from the football community. We’re thinking of you and yours, Gary.

Gold Coast Suns (4-3) – This was a rare event for Gold Coast: a match that, on paper, they should win, and they did it with few if any shaky moments during the contest. Well done.

GWS Giants (3-4) – There are some flaky teams in the AFL, and the Giants might be the flakiest of them. Have the talent to beat anyone but at this stage they’re not even a guarantee to play finals. And if they don’t, how safe is Leon Cameron?

Hawthorn Hawks (3-4) – The Hawks spent the week being criticised for poor performances despite being 2020’s oldest and most experienced footy team – and if that fired the players up at all, well, we certainly didn’t see it in an uncompetitive loss to the Dees. Standing on the edge of a cliff right now.

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Melbourne Demons (3-3) – It would’ve been typical Melbourne to follow up a solid win last week with a poor performance against Hawthorn. Instead, they got their best win since 2018. Maybe they’ve turned a corner – Sam Weideman definitely seems to have.

North Melbourne Kangaroos (2-5) – Glad to see Ben McKay get a chance as a late inclusion, and he played on well on a night that where the Roos didn’t have too many highlights. Talked about his brother earlier – they might match up against each other next week.

Port Adelaide Power (6-1) – Peter Ladhams looked good when he got a chance last year, and the same again this week with Scott Lycett missing due to injury. Twenty-one touches, four clearances to go with his 16 hitouts – very promising.

Richmond Tigers (4-2-1) – You wouldn’t know how badly undermanned Richmond are looking at their recent form with three wins on the trot. What kind of odds was Derek Eggmolesse-Smith paying to be their best on ground in a match this year? More than just a funny surname.

St Kilda Saints (4-3) – Came in off the back off ten straight losses to Adelaide and ten straight losses (an no wins ever) at Adelaide Oval. Shome shaky moments, but a solid win by a side who were younger and less experienced on the night.

Sydney Swans (2-5) – If you wanted to pick positives out of this week’s match for Sydney, you’ve got a few nice ones to choose from. My favourite was Elijah Taylor debuting in Adam Goodes’ number 37. Exciting talent and a beautiful choice to wear that number.

West Coast Eagles (4-3) – Back into a winning record. Big test to come over the next two weeks with Collingwood and Geelong in town, but they’ll have a home-town advantage and vocal crowd – rare sights in 2020.

Western Bulldogs (4-3) – Watching a player go from whipping boy to wunderkind is one of the best transformations to witness in footy. What’s amazing is how quickly Tim English has done it! He’s great.

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