The AFL’s footy festival is drawing to a close. Who knows what day of the week it is, but it’s definitely time for some talking points – here are mine for the week just gone.
Newnes’ after-the-siren winner one of the very best
There’s no footy story better than a goal after the siren to win the match, and on Saturday night Jack Newnes wrote his name into the books as just the 51st player to achieve that feat in the 124-year history of the VFL/AFL.
These moments inevitably become a part of footy folklore – every one of them is unforgettable. But Newnes’ effort has to be up there with the absolute best of them.
It would be fair to say the shot came about in bizarre and controversial circumstances. Carlton were hammering the goals in the final minutes of the game and had chances to take the lead, but could not convert.
Twice in the dying seconds of the match Fremantle looked like they just might get out of jail, but a deliberate out of bounds paid against Matt Taberner and a downfield free kick against Andy Brayshaw gave Carlton just a skerrick of a chance.
I’ll leave it to those with an appetite for such things to debate whether or not either free kick should have been paid. Even if so, possession from the Brayshaw free kick certainly should’ve gone to Michael Gibbons rather than Newnes.
But leave aside for a moment the question of how Newnes’ shot after the siren came to be; the kick itself was one of the most remarkable moments of clutch football you will ever see.
I doubt anyone will knock Malcolm Blight’s famous 1976 effort off the top of the list for best-ever goals after the siren, but this was the most difficult I’ve seen someone successfully kick in my footy-watching lifetime.
Up until then, Newnes’ career has been defined largely by, let’s be honest, frustration and anonymity. Now it is defined by the kind of footy moment every kid dreams of.
By the letter of the law, you could make the case that it should never have happened. But you’d need a heart of stone – or one that bleeds purple – to really believe that.
Cats show credentials in wide-open premiership race
Over the last seven days, Geelong have gone head to head with two top-four sides in St Kilda and Port Adelaide and not just beaten but arguably embarrassed them both.
The Saints have come a long way this season compared to the malaise their fans have endured for the past eight years, but on Monday night they were given a reminder of just how much further there is to go yet.
Then just four days later Geelong put another highly ranked team to the sword, giving Port Adelaide just the third defeat from 12 games – and by a ten-goal margin.
It continues a season where being acknowledged as flag favourites is just about the kiss of death. Just last week many (including myself) were spruiking Port’s premiership chances, and now here we are. It’s happened to a few.
With the exception of a two-point loss to Carlton earlier in the year, Geelong haven’t let themselves down much this year in terms of losing to sides you’d expect them to beat.
But in more heavyweight-level bouts against GWS, Collingwood and West Coast, they’ve come away second best.
Still, they presently find themselves as they only Victorian team in the top four, an impressive achievement given the circumstances of 2020 – and, they have the league’s best percentage by a significant margin.
So are the Cats a legitimate premiership contender? Absolutely. A professional and experienced outfit like this one is always thereabouts, and well placed to navigate the uncertainty of the season.
But with many sides having only five matches left to play I’d still rank Port Adelaide, Brisbane, West Coast and Richmond among this year’s flag contenders also.
Collingwood and GWS also feel like sides with talent enough that they could find premiership-winning form at any moment, but are also likely to miss finals entirely if they don’t.
That will make for an unpredictable and exciting finals campaign – and one I’m looking forward to.
Steven May is repaying Melbourne’s faith
At the start of the year, I wrote about how the 2020 season offered up a chance for some of last year’s more disappointing recruits to repay the faith of those clubs who pursued them.
Chad Wingard and Dan Hannebery were the names I put forward as those I thought were most likely to turn it around in season 2020. Wingard’s been good, Hannebery the same until another injury, but neither has taken the bull by the horns.
Former Gold Coast co-captain Steven May, on the other hand, for whom Melbourne paid the hefty price of pick 6 in the 2018 draft (later used to acquire Ben King), is really starting to earn some respect in navy and red.
His first season at the club last year was fraught with a mix of injury and controversy, but his form has improved week by week in 2020, culminating in a strong showing against Collingwood on Saturday.
And Melbourne’s form has risen along with it. After appearing to be just as deeply lost in the woods as ever only a month or two ago, suddenly the Demons are deep in the race for finals.
They have won their last three on the trot by a combined margin of 164 points – and while two of those games were played against the league’s bottom-two sides, it shows the Dees have recovered the scoring potency that seemed to desert them in 2019.
That’s not through any one player hitting peak form either (though Sam Weideman has been impressive). Instead they had ten individual goalkickers against Collingwood on Saturday, and 11 against North the week beforehand.
They have a match in hand on most of the competition and face the Bulldogs, St Kilda, Sydney, Fremantle, GWS and Essendon in what’s left of the season.
All six of those matches look very winnable meaning there’s a chance not just to play finals but enter them with some real momentum – and wouldn’t that be remarkable given how poor they looked only a few weeks ago?
Lachie Weller vs Andy Brayshaw proving a genuine win-win
Speaking of trades that are looking better than once expected, Gold Coast’s infamous pick 2 for Lachie Weller deal is one that’s producing dividends for both teams.
In one corner you have Andy Brayshaw who – leaving aside his part in losing Saturday night’s match to Carlton – is enjoying a genuine breakout season.
Fremantle enjoyed an excellent win over Hawthorn earlier this week and it also happened to be the best game of Brayshaw’s career so far.
He recorded a career-high 33 disposals, five clearances and five score involvements – and it was just one of many impressive showings we’ve seen from him in 2020.
In the other corner stands Lachie Weller who has taken a little longer to come on perhaps, but is also enjoying a career-best season.
He’s playing a new and more dangerous role this year which has him averaging just shy of 17 disposals and four score involvements per game.
He has kicked some beautiful goals during the season, and with ten to his name for the year is well and truly on track to produce career-best numbers in that category – impressive given the truncated season.
Two of those came against Essendon earlier this week on Wednesday night.
In Gold Coast’s favour, also, it should be pointed out that the trade secured them a third-round pick ultimately spent on Charlie Ballard, an underrated backline talent.
Both clubs got what they wanted out of the deal: Gold Coast a mature and talented player who has committed to the club, Fremantle an excellent young talent.
Weller and Brayshaw both have many good years ahead of them – I’m excited to see how this one will play out over that length of time, and I reckon both clubs are too.
Footy festival was fun, but it’s not here to stay
I’ve been curious for years whether a ‘Big Bash-style’ fixture would be a good fit for the AFL and while I would – believe it or not – still take not having a pandemic over having a pandemic, it’s been interesting to see the idea actually get a run.
I’ve enjoyed it – especially with so many of us navigating disrupted lifestyles or being restricted in what we can do outside our own homes lately, it’s been kind of nice to have a footy match on every night.
But should it become a regular thing going forward? While there’s been some benefits, the answer to this question has surely got to be a definite no.
It’s been a nice change of pace for a couple of weeks but over the course of a 200-game season feels like something that would get very old very quickly – especially when quarters are extended back out to 20-minute length.
The Big Bash itself has seen that enthusiasm quickly wears out when there’s a match on every night, especially since that competition doubled the size of its fixture.
Still, I don’t mind the idea of maybe having the occasional throwback to something like this in future seasons.
It would probably be too difficult to work into a regular season fixture (especially without a pressing reason to do so), but perhaps it could be a new format for the preseason competition.
That wouldn’t require clubs playing off four days breaks. A night-time match every day and an afternoon match on Saturday and Sunday would get us nine games in a week.
That seems like it’d be a good way to whet our appetites for the men’s competition before what will hopefully be a more status-quo fixture in 2021.
Everybody gets a turn
Adelaide Crows (0-12) – Picking out positives for the Crows continues to be a mighty difficult task. 15 touches for Harry Schoenberg in his third game showed some promise, albeit with 11 of them being handballs.
Brisbane Lions (9-3) – Maybe Charlie Cameron should’ve taken this Saturday off – still looked to be struggling with the knee a bit and had no impact. Fingers crossed he’s back in full flight again soon.
Carlton Blues (5-6) – Have five wins for the year now but only one of them by a margin greater than seven points. Should include free heart medication with every membership.
Collingwood Magpies (6-5-1) – Have absolutely fallen off a cliff in recent weeks after holding it together really well in the early part of the season. Hard to pick out a single positive from Saturday’s shellacking.
Essendon Bombers (5-5-1) – Quickly turning into a forgettable year for this team, who are very lucky to have made it out of this week with any premiership points in hand. Injuries hurt, but even fully fit they lack potency.
Fremantle Dockers (4-7) – Matt Taberner’s three goals this week means the 27-year-old has finally kicked 20 in a season for the first time in his career. Great to see him getting a good run at it.
Geelong Cats (8-4) – He might not have the X-factor of Lance Franklin or sheer prolific ability of Josh J Kennedy, but Tom Hawkins’ name firmly belongs alongside those two as one of the great key forwards of the era.
Gold Coast Suns (4-7-1) – Their last four features one draw and two losses by less than a goal. Competitive but just haven’t gotten a win on the board. Tigers unlikely, but Carlton and North after that look like good opportunities.
GWS Giants (6-5) – When I questioned the wisdom of Leon Cameron’s contract extension last week I fretted a little – was I being too harsh? Setting myself up to be embarrassed? As it turns out, no. Definitely not.
Hawthorn Hawks (4-7) – I remain fascinated to see what they do with their list at the end of the year. Sure it’s been unusual circumstances, but reading 2020 as an aberration would be a big mistake.
Melbourne Demons (6-5) – How high up in the AFL echelon has Christian Petracca risen? Won’t beat out Lachie Neale for the Brownlow this year but should be on the podium.
North Melbourne Kangaroos (3-9) – He’s gone under the radar due to some injury issues over the last two years, but Luke Davies-Uniacke looks like a real talent. Also liked seeing Ed Vickers-Willis back.
Port Adelaide Power (9-3) – My biggest worry at Port Adelaide is the midfield. Plenty of solid citizens but Travis Boak shoulders a heavy load. Need Connor Rozee back and firing.
Richmond Tigers (7-4-1) – If there was one team you’d reckon Tom Lynch would try to be his best gentlemanly self when he’s playing them, it’s Gold Coast. Apparently not!
St Kilda Saints (8-4) – After a bit of talk during the week about looking to get the ball in Bradley Hill’s hands, the Saints did just that – 17 touches and 453 metres gained was a much-improve return from him.
Sydney Swans (4-7) – One of the performances of the season on Thursday night. If you weren’t already confident that they’re on the right track, sure you are now.
West Coast Eagles (8-3) – One more game in WA next weekend and then they’re out – quite possible for the rest of the year. Massive challenge to come, but they’re well placed for it.
Western Bulldogs (6-6) – Sure, it was against an uncompetitive team, but six goals from Aaron Naughton was a beautiful sight after so long spent on the sidelines. Excited to watch him in what’s left of the year.