The bye rounds continue, but at least we got plenty of entertainment, plenty of upsets, a contender for most cringeworthy loss of the season, a draw and the end of an era. Here are some talking points.
Nathan Buckley has coached his last game of footy. I’ve been waiting for when I would write that sentence in this piece but I didn’t expect the announcement to come a few days after an impressive upset win over the Adelaide, and I certainly did not predict that his reign at the club would end with the Pies being one of two teams to defeat the Dees this year.
For the momentous occasions of the day – the MND Big Freeze, Buckley’s finale, the Sydney setting – the game itself was as good the Pies have played this year. That’s a low bar to clear, but it was good to see the Magpies continuing their rediscovered form from last week’s win. They have looked exciting, willing to attack and daring, stretching the Demons defence in a similar way to the Crows a few weeks ago.
But the story will be about the now former coach. Buckley’s been a target for a fanatical media for years now. I haven’t written a lot about Buckley, or Collingwood, in my time publishing pieces about footy, and I’m not prepared to start now. Better pundits than I will have a lot more opinions, but Buckley to me was an obvious scapegoat for a club whose problems have overshadowed on-field results for a while now – whether it be a controversial chairman, trade dramas or a disappointing history with racism.
I think it’s important to remember that this is a man who has been a legitimate star for the club for way longer than I’ve been alive, and there was a genuine emotion seeing him finish off his coaching career. This is a man who deserved a premiership.
Really, he deserved better than Collingwood.
It is not a secret that, in this column, I have regularly criticised the Cats as a team that manages to win without being impressive. They have almost become specialists at this winning trait. You only need to look at wins over St Kilda, Gold Coast, North Melbourne and Collingwood in the last few weeks to see that they were accumulating the four points without the thrills. That isn’t a bad thing, but not the enthralling form line you’d expect from a premiership contender.
Enter Thursday night.
The Cats’ win on Thursday was built by three men: Gary Rohan, Tom Hawkins and Jeremy Cameron. The trio kicked a dozen goals between them, with Cameron yet again proving just how valuable an inclusion he is. Geelong’s final term was near perfection, wrestling back a lead from the Power to nail their fifth straight win, in front of perhaps the most difficult home crowd in the competition.
The Cats now have to navigate the most difficult run of form for any team in the next few weeks. They face the Bulldogs, Lions and Bombers. All three should be great games and as good a chance as ever for Chris Scott’s men to prove themselves beyond a shadow of a doubt.
The Demons, Power, Tigers and Swans are all – barring calamity – bound for finals, if not being premiership chances. Richmond – deserved or not – will never not be a chance, Port look hyper-threatening on their best day, Sydney are full of a youthful exuberance that has seen their chances of success skyrocket and the Demons are, well, the Demons. For the quartet, it is exactly that weight of expectation that makes their respective losses over the weekend hurt even more.
If you look at Richmond’s in isolation, it is important to not be hyperbolically negative. The Tigers did a lot right for much of the game, which was one the weekend’s best matches, but the Eagles were near perfect in the last ten minutes to clinch a close win. Richmond have almost lost as many games as they have won this season but will be frustrated that they yet again failed to clinch the points.
It was much the same for the Power, who were outclassed without being too embarrassed in their encounter with Geelong. Sure, there’s some who would (and can) say that Port’s ability to zone out for periods of the game is a damaging trend – but I’m not sure as to whether it was Geelong proving themselves or the Power simply halting in the final term. If it’s the latter, it would’ve have been the first time the Power struggled to keep a proper lead on an opponent – the Freo game a good example – but this time cost them the match.
The Dees will advantageously go under the radar a smidgen this week, such was the hype of their opponents win, and I’m hesitant to read too much into their loss. It was only their second of the season and they have proven time and time again they are the real deal – they’ll be fine.
The same can’t be said for the Swans, who cannot have been anything but complacent in their loss to the Hawks.
West Coast are not a team that should be underestimated, but even Eagles fans were likely to admit the past two weeks were expected to be tricky to navigate for the wounded outfit. A trip to Carlton was supposed to test the side twofold – their injury crisis was tough to comprehend and their away record left something to be desired – before a clash with the reigning premiers was to challenge West Coast’s ability to mix it with the best.
They passed with flying colours. I spoke briefly about that win over the Blues last week, which was a victory that spoke volumes more about their disappointing opposition than themselves. Still, it bolstered their away record at a time where any bolstering would do wonders.
The game against Richmond was expected to be a harder game – despite the Tigers’ less than brilliant season and the Optus Stadium setting. I’d suggested last week the Eagles were a chance in the Tigers clash but was unsure how much of a chance they were, and for long parts of the clash – certainly in the last term – I thought that would have been correct. Enter Josh Kennedy, who slotted his fourth goal to win the game.
The Eagles have challenges that remain – they face the Western Bulldogs and the Swans over the next fortnight and are weeks away from the returns of much of their midfield strength including Tim Kelly and Luke Shuey. But the last two weeks has made it evident that the Eagles – despite remaining at risk of slipping from the top eight – are also concurrently starring as an outside premiership chance.
In football, there’s a simple, inalienable facet of the match that every team should be able to fulfil. And that is – no matter whether you’re winning or losing, dominating or being smashed, heavy favourites or an impossibly unlikely probability – produce four quarters of effort. It is absolutely disgusting – yet not at all unanticipated – that the Saints failed even that.
It’s difficult to understand that the Crows was leading that game by almost six goals in the second term. It’s worse to comprehend that the Crows remained entirely scoreless some forty minutes into Saturday’s clash – and yet still managed to complete outwork the Saints for the remainder of the game. This was especially true throughout a final quarter which should have been the Saints last stand, not a term in which they were pummelled and lost.
The Crows themselves deserve plenty of plaudits. Adelaide have been on a wayward path this year – you have victories over Melbourne and Geelong contrasting with losses to Collingwood and a crappy Showdown result – and a win over the Saints isn’t impressive. Their ability to get on top in the midfield and dominate offensively in the second half was testament to the talent they quietly possess. And that’s to say nothing of Riley Thilthorpe’s phenomenal winning goal.
The Saints have fans, plenty of them, that deserve something better from their side. One year of making finals just cannot be tolerated as good enough. Not when the sequel season is turning out to be as bland and as woefully inadequate as St Kilda’s 2021 is at the moment.
One of those games where the attention will be more focused on the loser, and that’s a shame. Did a lot right, the Crows – after going scoreless for a painfully long time. Odd game.
The entire Collingwood contingent of the players, coaches and support staff getting in the huddle to sing the song was one of my favourite moments from the weekend. Sayonara, Bucks.
A win, the successful return of Alex Pearce, more goals than behinds and, more integrally, no new injuries. It was far from a classic, yes, but the Dockers head into the bye on a high.
I noticed the Cats declined to follow the lead of North and the Hawks in moving their home games out of Victoria next weekend, opting instead to keep their clash with the Dogs in a state where crowds remain prohibited. Interesting.
Gold Coast Suns
Matt Rowell is back and healthy. That’s good for football – it’s as simple as that.
From agony to ecstasy to agony: Daniel Lloyd’s great last term goals closed the gap, but his miss – of everything – blew the chance for the Giants to win.
A great win, and one of my favourite storylines in footy emerged yet again: a debutant doing great stuff. The Hawks’ Jai Newcombe – who was drafted ten days prior to the game – breaking the record for most tackles by a first gamer in the sport’s history.
Not as bad as the Crows loss, but they’d be frustrated, nevertheless. Essendon awaits after the break.
They should have won that game, particularly because they were in an unexpectedly dominant position at the final break. Two points is better than nothing, to look on the bright side.
Kane Farrell’s goal of the year contender a shining light from a frustrating night.
They are now the most tenuously placed top eight side but remain a game clear of Fremantle in ninth. I’m not suggesting they’ll fall out of the eight, but stranger things have happened.
I’d be stunned if they could produce a result more disappointing than Saturday’s. Richmond, Collingwood and Brisbane in the next few weeks. Ouch.
Not much you can say about that. Need to bounce back against the Power after their bye. Might be easier said than done.
West Coast Eagles
I maintain my opinion that Port Adelaide’s home ground experience is the best in the league, but the Eagles (and the Dockers) both do a fantastic job to over in Perth.