There are just ten games left in the 2020 home-and-away season as another week of AFL action draws to a close. Here are my talking points from the last seven days of football.
Top four all but locked after Tigers tame Cats
This week saw two crucial games that would shape the premiership race played out across Thursday and Friday night, starting with a tight tussle between St Kilda and West Coast.
The Eagles were absent virtually their entire 2018 premiership midfield and the Saints, needing a win to ensure a finals berth, entered as narrow favourites.
St Kilda controlled so much of the game but time and time again failed to make it count on the scoreboard. After seemingly to leave their accuracy woes behind earlier this year, they fell back into bad habits on Thursday night.
Despite that, they were able to take the lead in the last term thanks to a quick burst of goals, and it seemed like they just might hold on for a season-defining victory.
But West Coast rose to the occasion and pulled ahead for a 15-point win that, for just a brief 24 hours, kept alive the dream of a top-four finish.
Geelong versus Richmond on the night that followed was a match that may well have determined the fate of many.
It was as disappointing as it was predictable for the Cats – entering the match with every reason to be confident of victory, they were thoroughly dismantled by a Richmond side that seems to have a mental edge on them.
That win saw Richmond leapfrog Geelong and the ladder, and may well have decided the top four.
Richmond and Geelong have very winnable games against Adelaide and Sydney respectively next week, and assuming both salute, West Coast will find themselves without a way in.
As for the top two, if Brisbane beat Carlton – as would be expected – it’ll come down to the final match of the season, Port Adelaide and Collingwood, to decide the minor premiership.
Giants drop captain Coniglio as finals hopes crumble
One of the quirks of playing two games in a single week is just how quickly things can fall apart if you’re not careful, and that’s exactly the fate that befell the GWS Giants.
They sent an undermanned side to play the Crows in their Round 16 matchup – ‘managing’ Zac Williams and Shane Mumford for the game – and it proved a disaster, as the Giants went down to the 18th-placed side by two goals.
That debacle prompted yet more radical moves at the selection table ahead of Saturday night’s all-important clash versus Melbourne, for which the Giants made no less than eight changes.
The headline maker was Stephen Coniglio, who was dropped by the club just 15 games after taking over the captaincy from Callan Ward and Phil Davis earlier this year.
He became the first captain of an AFL side to be omitted from the team in 22 years, but if the move was meant to inspire the squad to victory, it fell bitterly short.
While the Giants (and the Dees) both played improved football on Saturday night, GWS – despite entering the final quarter with a seven-point advantage – conceded three goals to one in the final term to lose another crucial battle.
That leaves them with their fate only partially in their hands. Beat St Kilda on Friday night and they still have a chance, but that would still require Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs to drop games they should probably win.
Footy is often said to be a results injury, where we judge the wisdom of decisions based only on their outcomes, and if doing so here there’s plenty of questions to ask about the Coniglio decision.
In a match that was close to do-or-die for the Giants, which they ultimately lost by less than a goal, was it really a better decision to leave Coniglio out in favour of players like Sam Reid or Jack Buckley?
They say that hindsight is always 20-20, but I feel like foresight probably could’ve been 20-20 on this one too.
The Giants have played three matches since Leon Cameron’s contract extension was formally confirmed and gone 1-2 in that time, their only winning result a lucky last-quarter escape against the mediocre Blues.
Perhaps missing finals will be the reality check this football team needs.
In-form Freo building momentum for a bright future
2021 is looking bright for the Fremantle Dockers. After losing their first four games of season 2020, they’re starting to build some real momentum.
Take away those four losses to start the year and Fremantle have gone 8-5 from their last 13. Their percentage for the season has recovered to just a tick under 100.
This week they snapped up two impressive wins, starting with a low-scoring upset against Melbourne on Monday night.
They nearly let their chances slip with an inaccurate 1.9 in the first half, but straightened up with 5.2 in the second to run out winners over Melbourne by 14 points.
On Saturday, they shed the scoring woes which have troubled them all season and had a day out against North Melbourne, slamming home 15 goals to slaughter the Roos.
It’s not the just the results that would pleasing Dockers fans, but the players who are starring in them.
Their victory over Melbourne was built on the back of great midfield performances from young guns Adam Cerra, Andrew Brayshaw and Caleb Serong, and later in the week we saw starring roles played by two of Freo’s low-priced trade acquisitions from the last offseason with Blake Acres and James Aish both having a serious impact.
And, after struggling through the middle part of the season, Michael Walters looks back in his best form – kicking six goals in as many days to stamp his authority on both matches.
Perhaps the most exciting performance in purple of the week though came from Jesse Hogan, who booted four goals on Saturday in a match that may prove to be a turning point in his career.
He’s had a difficult time finding his place in this Fremantle side in 2020, but this was a big step forward.
If 2020 were a normal 22-game season, we would be talking about Fremantle as a finals threat.
They face the Western Bulldogs in the final round of the season and with finals on the line for the Dogs but Freo in fantastic form, it could be a thrilling contest.
Either way, the Dockers appear destined to enter 2021 with some real momentum. Exciting times lie ahead.
The Crows have turned it around
If we are talking about momentum then it would be remiss of us not to pay tribute to the Crows, who after a fortnight ago looking like they might record the AFL’s first winless season in more than half a century, suddenly have three wins and might even avoid the wooden spoon.
As the ladder stands right now, Adelaide find themselves level on wins with North Melbourne, only percentage preventing them from leapfrogging the Roos into 17th place.
And with North facing West Coast on Thursday night, who seem more likely than not to give them a thumping, bridging that gap looks like an entirely realistic possibility.
The biggest hurdle for Adelaide is that they play Richmond in the final round, and the Tigers need a win to make a top-four spot certain – it’s hard to imagine them letting it slip.
It’s not the first time the Crows have been undefeated in the month of September ahead of a match with Richmond, and you might recall that the last one didn’t go great.
But a big loss for North and even just a close loss for Adelaide might be enough to produce what would be one of this season’s most bizarre outcomes.
Whichever way that pans out, there’s no doubting this has been a reinvigorating fortnight for the Crows. After a season from hell, they suddenly look like a squad with real promise.
It’s been nearly 900 days since they got their last Rising Star nomination but seventh-gamer Lachie Sholl, who had 24 touches, two goals and 627 metres gained against Carlton just might break the drought.
Sunday also saw a very impressive performance from Harry Schoenberg, who had three clearances, five tackles and 21 disposals in his best game yet.
Adelaide’s win over GWS, in particular, was one that will boost not just the club’s morale heading into a rebuild, but also their draft position.
The Giants sent Adelaide their future-first-rounder in exchange for an upgrade ahead of last year’s draft, and as such the Crows are looking like big beneficiaries from the woeful collapse in western Sydney.
An era ends as Gibbs, Kreuzer exit the game
Even for the greatest players of the game, careers often don’t end the way you want them to. So when they do, it’s heartwarming to watch.
Leaving aside more unrealistic ideas like winning a premiership, it’s hard to imagine Bryce Gibbs enjoying a better storybook ending than we saw on Sunday.
He came into the Crows side for just the third time this season, and was able to enjoy a win and sing the song one last time.
More importantly, he got to do it against his old club, sharing the field in his final game with many teammates past and present.
To seem him chaired off by two opposition players in Marc Murphy and Kade Simpson at the end of the match had to bring a tear to the eye of even neutral fans. Just a lovely sight.
Matthew Kreuzer has not been so lucky, denied a send-off game by the same thing that has denied him so much in his career – injury.
Given what Kreuzer’s body has endured during his time at AFL level it’s remarkable that he played the 189 games he did, many of them producing an elite quality of form.
His 2017 season was his most memorable – missing out only narrowly on All Australian selection behind Paddy Ryder, and finishing third in Carlton’s best-and-fairest.
These two no.1 picks may not have delivered everything Carlton fans hoped they would when they arrived at the club (nor, certainly, did Gibbs upon his transfer to Adelaide), but what’s been clear during the week is their fans still feel a deep fondness for them.
And while premierships are what every clubs strives for, in the end the bonds between players and teammates, and players and fans – that is the very heart of what footy’s all about.
Everybody gets a turn
Adelaide Crows (3-13) – They’ve gotten more than enough praise from me already this week, so I’ll just say (again) that Elliott Himmelberg is very good.
Brisbane Lions (13-3) – When you’re playing the Luigi to Lachie Neale’s Mario you don’t get a lot of plaudits – but Jarryd Lyons was brilliant on Sunday, as he often is. Deserves a nod.
Carlton Blues (7-9) – Harry McKay is a powderkeg of talent waiting to explode. Has gotten a little bit better each year and whether it’s 2021 or further down the line, someday he’s going to go boom.
Collingwood Magpies (8-6-1) – Both their remaining games are must-watch material. Need to win at least one to make finals, while the game against Port should determine who finishes on top of the ladder.
Essendon Bombers (6-9-1) – Signed the likes of Cale Hooker and Michael Hurley up to long-term, big-money deals once upon a time, and it’s starting to look like a real drag.
Fremantle Dockers (7-9) – Didn’t get a mention when I talked them up earlier, but Sean Darcy was great against North. Took on one of the competition’s best ruckmen in Todd Goldstein and arguably bested him.
Geelong Cats (11-5) – Said it already but just so predictable that the Cats would dominate all season long and then go to water against Richmond. Will have zero confidence going in if they meet again in finals.
Gold Coast Suns (5-9-1) – Josh Corbett would have to be one of the AFL’s most anonymous players, but he is a talent. Liked seeing him kick some goals this week, albeit in a poor overall performance from the Suns.
GWS Giants (8-8) – Terrible week for the Giants but there were some highlights from Bobby Hill against the Crows. They’ve never really had a player quite like him before – hope he goes from strength to strength.
Hawthorn Hawks (4-12) – You have to dig your fingernails into the bottom of the barrel pretty hard to scrape up positives from that one. Damon Greaves looks like he might have something. That’s the best I can do.
Melbourne Demons (8-8) – Talked up Lachie Sholl’s Rising Star chances earlier but Trent Rivers would be just as good of a pick this week. Sixteen touches and two goals including the match-winner.
North Melbourne Kangaroos (3-13) – They say there’s a Simpsons reference for everything in life, and, well, there is. Here’s the only one that really sums up North Melbourne right now.
Port Adelaide Power (13-3) – They could hardly have been more convincing during the home-and-away season, and yet many of us still aren’t buying it. A bit like the Tigers of 2017, who needed to break through in finals before we really started to believe.
Richmond Tigers (11-4-1) – Speaking of the Tigers and belief, they have it. Absolutely had to take down the Cats this week to stay in the top four, and they did it ruthlessly. Noah Balta brilliant on Tom Hawkins. Flag favourites.
St Kilda Saints (9-7) – Many fans said watching their capitulation on Thursday night that this side doesn’t deserve to play finals. But they do. They’ve had so many great wins during the year, and just one more will make it certain.
Sydney Swans (5-10) – Swans are going to top off a solidly promisiing year with three draftees in the top 20 thanks to some great Academy prospects coming through. Plenty to look forward to.
West Coast Eagles (11-5) – That West Coast had so many key mids out yet could still put elite talents like Tim Kelly and Andrew Gaff on the field shows just how deep their midfield bats. Kelly proving a very worthy pick up, even considering the high price.
Western Bulldogs (9-7) – There have been times of the year where you’d think they don’t deserve it, but I really hope this side players finals – and once there, hopefully produce a better effort than they did in 2019.