What a wild weekend. The footy was damn good, too. Here are some talking points.
Hopefully we’ll be back next week.
It’s hard not to begin this piece with news that is developing quickly but, as it stands, Australia has border closures affecting every state and territory, incredibly infectious outbreaks spawning COVID-19 cases in every mainland city excluding Canberra and Adelaide and three cities in some form of lockdown.
It’s an unenviable situation for anyone nationwide, but a logistical nightmare for the AFL.
Despite suggestions I’ve seen to temporarily postpone the season, one idea that seems to be gaining traction is to host hubs within Victoria. Advantageously, the Melbourne area obviously hosts plenty of available grounds and space to base the teams for training and competition, and the Victorian government would presumably be keen to assist the league.
It’s a situation that is the polar opposite to the last year’s, where the league abandoned the state during its crisis.
There is an infuriating omission to that proposal: South Australia. The state hosts a currently impeccable record COVID-wise and, despite typically stringent proposals for teams entering the state, would be a great joint option to avoid overloading Melbourne with all 18 teams.
I don’t envy the league in trying to sort this mess out.
It’s a foolish thing to do, criticising the Tigers. They have been such a force in this sport over the last few years that they are never really not contending, even when they dip in form.
Even at times this year where I’ve knocked them in this column, the Tigers have cruelled my opinion soon afterwards while producing some truly good footy.
That all said, there was something uniquely poor about Friday night’s loss – and it’s not just because they were heavy, heavy favourites.
The Tigers’ sudden vulnerability could go two ways. With the added benefit of a relatively easy fixture coming up between now and September – including games against the Suns, Freo, North, Hawthorn and Collingwood – they’re every chance to recover and comfortably make finals.
If they keep producing below-par performances, though, they’re providing plenty of incentive for finals challengers to jump into a potential void.
If it’s the latter, two of the three most likely to do (Fremantle and Essendon) split their results over the weekend; Freo equalling the Tigers on 28 points but with a sizeable percentage gap, Essendon remaining a game behind. The likeliest chance, though, were the Giants. Who promptly blew it.
With Freo’s percentage lagging badly and the Bombers failing to upset the Demons the night prior, the Giants could have realistically jumped into the top eight by accomplishing a task that seemed easy: beating the Hawks.
To the contrary, the warning signs should have been there from the beginning. One, the Hawks win over Sydney a fortnight ago was an alert that the Victorian side can easily punch above their weight when they wanted to. The second, the change of venue to a locale where the Giants have lost three times as often as they’ve won: the MCG.
The Hawks did indeed punch above their weight, forcing the Giants into a game that belied their fast start. The Giants – who can be offensively marvellous – went some 40 minutes without a goal. When they finally did begin scoring, the anonymous Dylan Moore pulled a Brett Bewley: producing something out of nothing to win the game off his own boot.
The Giants – who face six finals teams in their final eight rounds – have blown a perfect opportunity to bank an important win. Whether or not that will derail them remains to be seen.
For all the talk about the Tigers on Friday night, there was an overwhelming sense of “what the hell was that?” when it came to the Saints. The team – who’d received their fair share of rightful criticism themselves of late – managed to completely dominate the Tigers, particularly throughout the midfield and up forward.
While no means perfect themselves, the Saints were able to hold the Tigers to just two goals for the game and their lowest score since the early 1960s. It was as if the club came into perfect sync, simultaneously forcing the Tigers into uncharacteristic pressure and producing a finally accurate performance themselves. It was the St Kilda that
The Saints have a couple of fascinating – and hard – games on the horizon: they face the Pies, Brisbane and Port over the next month. Typically, I’d be warning that the Saints also fall back to Earth after a win. On this new evidence, Friday might be the exception to that rule.
Footy journalism is a fickle business. Week after week, I’d been critical of Geelong for winning without being too impressive. They had been accumulating the four points more often than not, but never really looked world-beating or a genuine premiership chance. And then they came out breathing fire, beating the Power and the Western Bulldogs in successive weeks by producing some fantastic football.
Then, suddenly, they struggled badly against the Lions.
Brisbane have had a pretty trash record against the Cats in recent years, even at the Gabba, so Thursday’s win was a redemptive victory both figuratively and literally. The Lions were honestly never troubled throughout the clash. There seems to be a trend emerging in how to beat the Cats: keep the Hawkins, Cameron and Rohan trio ineffective, and you’ll usually be in with a significant shout to win.
The Lions did just that, with the latter two booting just a goal between them long after the result was definitive.
The Lions are now on more stable top-four ground and can use the win to bolster them into being favourites over Adelaide, St Kilda and Richmond in the next few weeks. Melbourne aside, Brisbane have to be one of the reputable premiership favourites (for this week, at least).
Not even I can deny that the joke about Freo being stuck in the Sunday afternoon timeslot is a funny one, because for a Freo fan it is very much a case of if you don’t laugh, you’d cry. It is a trope grounded in a frustrating reality. That being a reality that caught my attention this week, owing to this tweet from Twitter’s fantastic footy stats man, Swamp.
Most recent season @AFL clubs have played a H&A game on either a Thursday or Friday
2021: ADEL BRIS CARL COLL ESS GCS GEEL GWS HAW MELB NTH PORT RICH STK SYD WBD WCE
— Swamp (@sirswampthing) June 24, 2021
Yup, Fremantle is the only team in the league to have not had a single Thursday or Friday night since 2016. For some of those years, that can be justified – it would have been preferable to not broadcast the horrendous 2016 version of the club at all, let alone on the most valuable night for the AFL’s broadcaster partners. But it’s utterly ridiculous that several teams – including Gold Coast, the Blues and St Kilda – have received semi-regular primetime slots as recently as this round (the Saints last week, the Suns in a few day’s time) while the Dockers have been left out in the cold.
As noted by @sirswampthing, would end a streak of 5 years without a Thur/Fri night game for Freo.
Not yet confirmed (no doubt we'll be dealing with more Covid mess by then), but likely.
— Ryan Daniels (@FootyRhino) June 25, 2021
All this being said, a second tweet made me happy. Naturally, there’s a huge amount of uncertainty developing around the fixturing for the next few weeks but given the Dockers could realistically be going for their fifth consecutive win by the time they face Geelong. They’re playing a genuinely exciting-to-watch brand of footy, there’s an exodus of other primetime-worthy clashes in Round 18 and, frankly, it’s embarrassing the league has neglected the Dockers for so long. Regardless the game is in Perth or in a Melbourne hub, I struggle to find a reason why the Dockers shouldn’t be playing in primetime.
Though the immediate future is unclear, the immediate past is something to celebrate. I’ve always thought the best type of game in this sport is a close one, and close clashes we were duly provided. The primetime Thursday and Friday games excluded, this round provided plenty of ‘em – all but one (the Doggies’ win over the Eagles) of the weekend proper’s clashes was won by under two goals or more.
Whether it was Freo scoring a rare away victory, the Blues flexing their muscles over Adelaide, the Power requiring goals from the unlikeliest of players to win, North having the last laugh against the Suns or the Demons staying top of the ladder, the weekend was full of excitement. How good.
Adelaide Crows: Impressed by the almost-comeback, but a decisively lacklustre game from the Crows.
Brisbane Lions: A heart in mouth moment when Lachie Neale looked injured, but thankfully – for the sport – he was okay.
Carlton: Awesome win, with that second quarter among the best the Blues have played this year – but it’s so unbelievably typical they got dangerously close to losing it.
Collingwood: Probably a closer result than they deserved. All over Freo at the start, and never truly gave up, but still looked below par for a lot of the game.
Essendon: Improving for sure, but still a bit shaky against the best. Geelong a big, big challenge next Friday.
Fremantle: Brett Bewley. That’s all.
Geelong Cats: Joel Selwood being held to 13 disposals probably summed up their night. Poor performance that needed to be rectified in a hurry, given Essendon will be keen to upset next Friday.
Gold Coast Suns: After being a little too smart for his own good re: a potential Tasmanian side, there was a solid serving of humble pie for the McGuire-esque Tony Cochrane. Don’t piss off Tasmanians. And don’t do it while losing to the existing semi-Tasmanian side.
GWS Giants: Melbourne up next. Yikes, yikes, yikes.
Hawthorn: Beating the NSW sides like a moth to a flame.
Melbourne: They avoided it against the Bombers, but will games against the under-pressure Giants and crappy-against-top-eight-sides Port allow for Melbourne of old to appear?
North Melbourne: If the draw against the Giants was a more disappointing than gratifying outcome, this win is what they needed.
Port Adelaide: Like Freo’s Bewley and Hawthorn’s Moore, the Power’s Mayes and Lycett produced unexpected cameo appearances in getting their team the win.
Richmond: They got more free kicks than they scored points. I’m not sure when the last time a team achieved that was, but it can’t be a common occurrence.
St Kilda: Simply must produce more of that.
Sydney Swans: Fun fact: they’ve now played in seven games ending in a margin under two goals, winning won four of those.
West Coast Eagles: Jeepers creepers, that was poor. And that was with an essentially full-strength midfield.
Western Bulldogs: Their best win of the year (so far).