A bit of a whirlwind round awaited us in Round 8. Plenty of strong wins, a lot of high-flying speckies and an unusual amount of talk about prison bars. Here are the talking points.
Grand final rematch flips the script, but a new character proves the difference
In last year’s decider, it was the Cats who led comfortably at halftime, before Richmond emerged from the break with a stunning run of football that allowed them to come back and then some.
On Friday night, it was the Tigers who were simply listless in the second half, unable to do much to stop a fantastic second half from Chris Scott’s men.
The victory can be grounded Geelong’s excellent forward line prowess, with Jeremy Cameron, Tom Hawkins and Gary Rohan combining for 15 majors – a majority of which came in their strong second half run. In his best game yet in Geelong colours, Cameron’s performance was genuinely sensational, essentially proving in one quarter why he was lured away from the Giants.
He booted three goals throughout the term – he had six for the game – while also fulfilling his part for the team, having an astonishing 15 score involvements.
It goes without saying that it was not just Cameron, as the Cats’ midfield smashed the Tigers vaunted midfield, particularly in that third term. They demolished their opposition throughout the centre of the ground, profiting upon that to have seven goals from their 12 scoring shots from their 15 entries for the term.
It was a win that would give a semblance of relief to the Cats, who had been having a good-but-still-lacking beginning of the season, and a serious worry to Damien Hardwick’s reigning premiers, who have now lost as many games as they’ve won this year.
The most interesting part of the Showdown were the guernseys
In a column full of references to the ‘script’, the Showdown essentially followed the consensus of everyone, everywhere: Port were the much better team and scored themselves a win as comfortable as any.
It was not a record margin, but it was an emphatic enough win that most neutral observers would have gone “yeah, that seems just about what I expected”.
The Crows – as they have done for the past few weeks – appeared a significantly poorer side than in the beginning of the season, staying with the Power early on but totally collapsing soon after that to ensure the Power had the game dictated entirely on their own terms.
Port did what they needed to do: in all facets of the ground, their players overshadowed their Crows counterparts, and they set themselves up nicely for next weekend’s beauty against the Doggies.
In the absence of any such on-field surprises, the Power’s decision to pull on prisoner bar guernseys to sing the team song after the win. It was instantly controversial. While some (hi, Eddie McGuire) seemed to believe that it was a decision made exclusively to target the AFL itself, I think Port had an intelligently curated idea in mind.
The AFL’s decision to bar the club from wearing the attire during the clash really pissed off Port’s fans, and the Power knew that.
Wearing the prisoner bars was the perfect tonic for allowing their fans to channel their frustration into enthusiasm, and foster an even more populist attitude that it’s honestly difficult for non-South Australians to comprehend.
Of course, it’s very hard for to deny McGuire’s claim that it was one way to get back at the AFL (and by extension Eddie himself). Controversial it may have been, but even though I’m far from Port fan, I absolutely loved it.
The Saints and Suns play exactly to their script: it’s a close one
I’ve enjoyed the recent clashes between St Kilda and the Gold Coast a fair bit. It’s one of those match-ups that won’t win many plaudits nor garner a lot of attention, nor will it be emblematic of a premiership winning duo anytime soon.
But they’re generally a lot of fun, for mine. Before Saturday’s clash, the last four games between the clubs ended in margins under five points – two of those by a solitary point.
There was solid reason to believe this clash would be as close as the previous quartet: the Suns had won two on the trot, including a rare win in Melbourne, while the Saints had yo-yo’ed their way to a strong win against the Hawks.
In the end, it wasn’t as close as the prior matches, nor was it a particularly good match, but fans who watched the clash were treated to a classic come-from-behind victory for the Saints, who looked cohesive when it mattered to shrug at a final term Suns lead and kick the only four majors of that quarter to level their season at 4-4.
The Suns would be disappointed at their capitulation, given they had as good a chance as any to level their own season but instead head into a weekend of difficult clashes with three wins to their name.
In truth, both outfits have tricky matches over the next fortnight, with both sides having to navigate clashes with resurgent Geelong.
The Saints also face the Western Bulldogs and the Suns will look to upset the Lions in next weekend’s Q-Clash. Right now, I’d pencil them in for zero wins out of the combined four clashes, but both have a tendency to surprise.
The Bombers, as is tradition, lose a close one
I genuinely do not mean any disrespect to Essendon nor their fans with that subheading, but damn, it’s difficult to deny at face value their inability to close out close clashes: Hawthorn in their season opener, the Swans a couple of weeks after that and now the Giants on Saturday.
Against the Hawks and Sydney, it was Essendon who led for much of the game before collapsing in the final term. The difference in Saturday’s clash is that unlike those first two heartbreaking losses it was the Bombers who were coming back from a deficit: they trailed by 32 points in the first term, before stemming the bleeding with an impressive performance.
I’m honestly not sure which is more heartbreaking: a comeback cut short or a being run down after building a lead.
Nevertheless, unlike a lot of games this weekend, this one lived up to its scoreline’s potential. It was a genuinely thrilling game. Darcy Parish and Zach Merrett were superb in the guts, countered by Tim Taranto (mini talking point: is he the most anonymously fantastic players in the competition?) and Josh Kelly, with the Giants accumulating a combined 59 touches between them.
The young Bombers do have a good opportunity to garner a couple of wins in the next few weeks, with games against the two West Australian sides bookending a clash with North. They’ll just have to hope the game isn’t in the balance in the final minutes.
West Coast snap their “can’t win away from home” streak
It didn’t get a whole lot of notice on the weekend, but the Eagles – fresh off a Derby demolition and with a chance to send their win-loss record into the desired positive territory – had one blindingly obvious chance to rectify a frustrating record wherein they simply couldn’t win away. They didn’t blow it.
The first quarter was horrid – seriously, you know a quarter of footy is bad when it’s distinction of being the first goalless quarter at the MCG in a half-century is the best fact about it – but the game found its groove.
The Eagles – whose injury crisis is perhaps only somewhat matched by that of their West Australian rivals – shrugged that off, and played the ‘G like it was their Optus Stadium surrounds, but with considerably less fans (an early Mother’s Day game would contribute to the low numbers, one would guess).
The Hawks, for their part, were far from disgraced, but predicting when they can score a win next is a guessing game, even if they have as easy a run as they’d like to do so in the next three weeks. They face North, Carlton and the Suns in that time, and all of those are intriguing in their own right.
Struggles away from home or not, injuries or not, the Hawks presented an opposition that the Eagles are stronger than, and this game demonstrated that without fail.
Everybody gets a turn
Adelaide Crows – Losing Ned McHenry and Lachie Murphy early in the game didn’t help, but it really was a super listless performance. Where’d the early season optimism go, Adelaide fans?
Brisbane Lions – The Lions got a handy lead over the Dockers pretty early on but failed to put them to the sword and kind of jiust treaded water for the remainder of the clash. If Freo were a stronger side, the Lions could’ve been in a smidgen of danger.
Carlton Blues – Sigh. That’s got to sting. I liked the Blues for much of the clash, but they completely lost any sense of cohesiveness as the Bulldogs fought back in the final term. Eddie Betts returned (however briefly) to the good old days though. Very close to my favourite player in the competition.
Collingwood Magpies – There’s two scenarios here: a) there’s no change to the pressure on the embattled coach Nathan Buckley just because they secured a win, or b) the pressure is momentarily alleviated because they defeated a winless team. As it’s the the Pies, I suspect the latter…
Essendon Bombers – Darcy Parish’s move into the midfield continues to pay dividends for the Bombers, with the 23 year old producing a stat sheet as follows: 35 touches, 14 contested disposals, 74 per cent disposal efficiency, four scoring involvements. Not bad.
Fremantle Dockers – Very pleased with the way the Dockers played this one out. Poor first half but managed to stem the bleeding and score a “win” in the second half. Lots to fix, and newfound injury concerns (in other news, the sky is blue), but the Essendon clash a winnable one next week.
Geelong Cats – Mentioned him briefly above, Gary Rohan’s 150th game was a great one. 16 touches, five goals and an 87 per cent disposal efficiently. Phenomenal.
Gold Coast Suns/St Kilda Saints – Combining the two for “everybody gets a turn”, it is hard to choose a victor between the sides in ‘The Battle of the Kings’. Ben, for the Suns, kicked three goals. Max, for the Saints, booted one … but won the game. I’d rule it a draw.
GWS Giants – I’ve had many choice opinions about the guy, but I’m staying on the “Toby Greene to captain the side” next year. Controversial man, but can clearly lift his side and then some.
Hawthorn Hawks – In a losing effort, Tim Mitchell garnering 41 disposals – 17 of those contested – was, just quietly, more than an impressive effort.
Melbourne Demons – Eight and zip. But now comes the danger games: clashes against Carlton and Adelaide in which the Dees are overwhelming favourites, but I’m still not convinced that they won’t “pull a Melbourne”.
North Melbourne Kangaroos – The honourable loss title generally belongs to Carlton, but the Kangas are giving it a hell of a shake. Competitive against the Pies, but again didn’t really challenge.
Port Adelaide Power – Scott Lycett is more than likely in deserved trouble with the league after a sling tackle on Adelaide’s Ned McHenry, but the abuse he received on social media after the game is just lame. Do better, AFL fans.
Richmond Tigers – I’ve said it before – as recently as last week’s column – and I’ll say it again: write off the Tigers at your peril. They’ll be back in a hurry, very likely against the Giants next week.
Sydney Swans – Probably one of the stronger losing sides of the weekend – if that distinction makes any sense – but should bounce back against the Pies and Freo in the next fortnight.
West Coast Eagles – The AFL.com.au match report of their game described Brandon Ah Chee as the Eagles’ “stand out forward”. In a team of Kennedy’s and Darling’s, has that ever happened before?
Western Bulldogs – Next week’s clash against Port is perhaps the Game 1’m most excited for in Round 9. Two premiership contenders, the best stadium in Australia, so many good players going to be strutting their stuff. I’m envious of anyone who has tickets.