Round 5’s in the books.
Apologies for a shorter than usual piece – time constraints plus a day at the footy yesterday (paired with celebratory drinks) disrupted the usual writing process, but never fear, there’s plenty to discuss all the same.
West Coast and Richmond get the wins they needed
Cast your minds back to July 2017, where the Tigers and Saints met at Marvel Stadium in a primetime match. And now specifically cast your minds back to halftime in that clash, where St Kilda led a horrendous Richmond by 81 points.
Now you’re reminiscing, also think back to July 2019 or last October – take your pick – where Collingwood stunned the Eagles by a cumulative total of two points over two famous Optus Stadium clashes.
Both of those were the kind of results that lives in memories. They showcased the unpredictability of this sport; they impassioned clubs that need stirring wins; and they were great primetime viewing for neutrals.
In effect, they were the polar opposite of the two games we got in the primetime Thursday and Friday night slots this round.
Results wise, Thursday’s game was the tonic that Richmond needed. They were not in a danger zone – they’re the Tigers, I’d be irrationally frightened of them if they were 0-21 and down 50 points against my team in a final home-and-away clash – but it was evident they needed to respond after two losses had hampered the start to their season.
They did so emphatically, dominating the Saints and producing footy that was a quintessential replication of the frightening form they’re capable of producing. I’ll have to give props to their midfield here, who completely dominating a largely listless Saints’ contingent (with the exception of Jack Steele and Hunter Clark, who were rare shining lights).
Richmond’s win came at a good time given their recent past, and their upcoming suite of games: they’re set to face premiership contenders and undefeated duo Western Bulldogs and Melbourne in the next fortnight, and if they’d lost Thursday’s clash would’ve left them at 2-3 with those tough clashes to come.
There wouldn’t be many footy fans, myself included, not looking forward to those games.
The Eagles win was, similarly, what they needed albeit coming with a few disclaimers: they were at home, where they’re a typically strong side, and they were facing a relatively stronger opponent in Collingwood. The Eagles faced a bigger challenge than the reigning premiers, particularly throughout a first quarter where the Pies looked to be embracing their ‘back to the wall’ mentality which usually leads to unexpected results.
Injuries to Collingwood, the Eagles exerting control over the contest past the first quarter and some sensational work from Dom Sheed meant that the game largely went to the script of most tipsters. The Eagles have a decent run ahead of them: Geelong away, Freo at home, Hawthorn away are their next three.
Is Melbourne’s premiership contention currently bolstered by an easy fixture?
You’ll notice that in the previous talking point I used the words “premiership contenders” and “Melbourne” in the same sentence. Don’t worry, this has been edited rigorously and I can promise you, that was not a copy error.
But there’s certain times when one had to accept an increasingly obvious reality and given yesterday’s win over Hawthorn moved the Demons to a perfect 5-0, it’s impossible to deny that the Demons have to be talked about as premiership contenders.
Yet they’ve benefitted from a relatively easy fixture that is making it hard for some to fully elevate them.
The Demons have beaten Fremantle, St Kilda, the Giants, Geelong and now Hawthorn. None of those four – with the exception of Geelong – are what you’d consider obvious finals contenders, so there’s definitely an argument to be made that the Demons cannot be accurately judged until they play a real contender, or their fixture gets more difficult.
I do get that, but the league’s other undefeated team in the Western Bulldogs has had only a slightly more difficult fixture which included wins over North and Gold Coast – so, yeah, there might be a similar argument there, too.
In their defence, the Dees have also smashed through precedent, with their five-round winning streak not seen since at least 1994, and I’ve been impressed with the variety of their victories.
The Demons have managed to score big wins (against Freo, GWS and Hawks), tough fought wins (against the Saints) and a win over one last year’s finalist (three of them, in fact).
Sunday’s win over the Hawks was especially impressive, given they managed to shake off their opposition – who’d closed to within four points in the third term – to dominate the final term to win with their margin since Round 12, 2020.
Nevertheless, I’m somewhat willing to subscribe to the fact that we need to see more from the Demons, particularly how they fare against more established premiership contenders this year.
And the fixture will not provide something to that end for a little while: with the exception of next week’s clash against Richmond, the Demons won’t face another premiership contender until the Dogs in Round 11 (though games against Sydney and the Crows in that time will be somewhat illuminating).
Brisbane return to the supreme comfort of home
Home-ground advantage is perhaps the single most overused phrase in AFL jargon, yet it’s a significant and very real phenomenon that benefits some teams more than others. For Brisbane, it’s no exaggeration. The Gabba is a ground where they’ve developed a home ground advantage that rivals perhaps only West Coast’s– losing there just once in that year, not at all in 2020 and in their opening clash this year.
It’s probably no surprise, then, that given they’d had been stuck in Victoria between Rounds 2 and 5 – traversing three separate stadiums for only one win – a return to their home ground was what they craved.
I’d spoken about the Lions last week, suggesting that there was “light at the end of the tunnel” while also cautioning that Saturday’s clash against the Dons would be trickier than most expected.
I needn’t have worried.
The Lions were excellent against the Bombers, following the lead of several teams this weekend in largely dominating the clash and scoring themselves a very much needed win without much trouble.
The Lions’ midfield was admirably led by Lachie Neale, who bounced back to his Brownlow-winning form with 38 disposals and two goals.
Neale’s work was well matched in the guts by Jarryd Lyon’s 35 touches, Daniel Rich’s 30 touches and Hugh McCluggage’s 32.
Former Essendon forward Joe Daniher was superb, garnering two majors, a career-high 25 touches and looked determined to show up his old club. Props to him.
As for the Bombers, I didn’t necessarily hate their game. They worked hard – especially so in the midfield, as they won clearances and outworked the Lions in the stoppage game – but working hard does not go hand in hand with competitiveness, and that was the case here.
The Bombers do have opportunity to garner some wins in the next few weeks, with the prospect of an Anzac Day boilover against a struggling Magpies outfit bound to enthuse this week. Brisbane, meanwhile, head into next week with an eye on beating Carlton. If they’re for real, they will.
Fremantle snap the Adelaide streak they needed to break
Fremantle’s dubious away form has been well documented this season so far, with horrendous efforts in Victoria against the Demons and Blues alternating strong wins at home in Perth.
The club’s form in Adelaide was even worse: winning at Adelaide Oval just once (2015’s rainy clash against the Crows) and losing every single other clash at the ground since then, generally by big margins.
I’d know, given I’ve sat through most of them.
Sunday’s clash against the Crows was widely expected to a difficult game, given those aforementioned records, and I was fully prepared to be walking out of the ground a losing minority. My pessimism was dissipating the longer the Crows weren’t able to kick away from the dogged Dockers, and Freo’s winning final quarter burst of goals was perhaps the most surprising part of their season thus far.
The Dockers were ably led by David Mundy – coach Justin Longmuir’s assertion post-game that the competition was only just now realising how good he was rings very true – while their defensive unit was as strong as ever. Andy Brayshaw, who the Crows did not seem to tag despite comments to the contrary this week, ran rampart and accumulated 33 disposals, and even perennial Freo punching bags in Blake Acres, James Aish and Travis Colyer shone bright.
The Dockers should be winning next Sunday’s clash against North, which would sit them at 4-2 ahead of a the Western Derby.
(Yes, as I mentioned in Round 3’s Talking Points few weeks back, the prospect of the Derby terrifies me. But not quite as much this morning as when I mentioned that).
And just quickly, the AFLW grand final is a hit
Saturday’s AFLW final was always going to be heartbreaking for one of the two teams involved. Brisbane – who’d made it to two previous deciders, once against the Crows – were the underdogs, and desperate to win.
Adelaide – the undisputed favourites and reigning premiers – had the home ground advantage and a desire to win for courageous skipper Chelsea Randall, who was ruled out of the clash due to the league’s understandably strict concussion protocols.
As a neutral living in Adelaide, I didn’t really have much of an allegiance either way here, though I was kind of leaning towards the Crows, because who doesn’t love living in a city celebrating their team’s premiership.
The game itself was a good one. Not high scoring, as is often the case with AFLW clashes, but entertaining enough – and provided highlights such as this phenomenal goal from Brisbane’s Courtney Hodder, which would receive double the plaudits if it was in the men’s league.
In the end, it was the Queenslanders who persevered in front of 22,000 odd fans – not a bad showing, albeit significantly smaller than 2019’s 53,000 crowd at the same venue (that low mark can’t be accounted by COVID restrictions).
There’s plenty of naysayers about the AFLW – and nobody is expecting them to disappear – though the increasing successfulness of the fledging league can’t be argued against. Despite the smaller crowds, the grand final was a great way to cap off the competition’s fourth season.
Everybody gets a turn
Adelaide Crows – Spontaneous talking point: Adelaide crowds are fun to be among. Sunday’s crowd was one of the better and most good-natured opposition crowds I’ve had to sit with during games (usually my opinions are soured because of Freo losses, though).
Brisbane Lions – Young lads kicking their first goals always make me smile, and Jaxon Prior’s opening goal of his career early in the second term were sensational. Left foot snap around the body under pressure. Perfection.
Carlton Blues – Had a bit of a stinker. You wouldn’t know it from looking at the score line, but they actually won clearances, tackles, marks inside 50, the inside 50 count and had more scoring shots in a 28-point loss. Bizarre.
Collingwood Magpies – I noticed during the week that Collingwood had signed Senegalese basketballer Bassirou Faye on an International Rookie Scholarship.
That’s interesting for more than one reason, though this is a striking fact: the last player they signed via that method was … Mason Cox.
Essendon Bombers – Jordan Ridley – one of the most anonymous yet most applauded players last year (he won the Dons’ best and fairest!) – going of injured is a blow for the club. Won’t play in the Anzac Day clash due to the AFL’s concussion protocols.
Fremantle Dockers – The first time this season that they did not kick more behinds than goals – though in typical Fremantle fashion it was close, with the club registering a 12.12 scoreline.
Geelong Cats – Had to work a lot harder than they should have done, but a win’s a win. Not sure you can learn much from that.
Gold Coast Suns – Was going to be a talking point that I deleted out of time restraints, but the Suns are flailing and I’m deeply concerned we’re going down a well-trodden path of having any hopes for the team slammed shut far too early in a season.
GWS Giants – Seven behinds, one goal. Toby Greene’s game was perhaps as bad as Nat Fyfe’s inaccuracy last weekend. At least his goal was the one that sparked the Giants final push, duly followed by Josh Kelly’s stunner to clinch the win.
Hawthorn Hawks – One of those times where the big margin doesn’t tell the full story. The Hawks were pretty good for much of the day, but disappointingly fell away late. They’re in a bit of flux at the minute. A half chance to sneak a win against the Crows in Tassie next week.
Melbourne Demons – Max Gawn’s day wasn’t half bad: 26 touches, 24 hit outs, a goal and a half dozen contested marks. He’d be happy with that.
North Melbourne Kangaroos – Showed fight, fell away. Par for the course for the Kangaroos.
Port Adelaide Power – Didn’t mind their victory, even if it was far from their aesthetically best footy. St Kilda and Brisbane await before the Showdown.
Richmond Tigers – Too many contributors around the ground to mention – as you’d expect in an emphatic 86-point win – but I’ll fulfil the typical AFL media role and give a shoutout to Dustin Martin, who was sublime on Thursday evening.
St Kilda Saints – It was always going to be a tough clash for the Saints when they swung not one, but two late changes on Thursday night – Zak Jones and Rowan Marshall being pulled from the team. Marshall especially important – they’d want him back sooner than later.
Sydney Swans – As if a narrow loss isn’t bad enough, Tom Hickey’s injury – which likely contributed to their loss – is extremely worrying for the club. Callum Sinclair seems to be the ready-man replacement.
West Coast Eagles – Dom Sheed must terrify Magpies fans. That goal in the 2018 grand final. Three goals in four minutes to snuff out the Pies challenge on Friday night. The man can do no wrong against Collingwood.
Western Bulldogs – A 70 to 9 lead at halftime turned into an 87 to 46 score line by three-quarter time Obviously didn’t affect the ultimate win and I’m nit-picking, sorry Dogs fans, but that’s a hell of a way to take their foot of the accelerator. Go for the big, big wins!