COVID dramas be damned, the football persevered through. Here’s some talking points from a consequential round of footy.
The Demons do still have a few very Melbourne-esque tendencies
It is a ridiculously Melbourne trend to be more than happy to play – and generally win against – teams in the eight but struggle badly when encountering teams who sit outside finals contention.
That is a trend the competition has witnessed in games the Dees have played against Adelaide, the Giants and Collingwood, but it came to the fore yet again in Saturday’s clash against the Hawks.
Simon Goodwin’s men – a week after a superb performance against Port Adelaide – struggled to make the most of a strong start against Hawthorn. They six of the first seven majors of the clash, and two of the final three of the game.
This meant that – much like they did in games against the Crows and Giants – had moments where they threatened to run away with the clash yet struggled to wrestle back the momentum when it swung in their opponent’s favour.
There were textbook schoolboy errors – Kysiah Pickett and Angus Brayshaw missing shots in the final five minutes, a defensive lapse allowing the Hawks’ final major – but four shock results (I’d say losses if not for the fact that Saturday’s result was a draw) certainly is indicative of a broader problem.
The Demons have, for as long as I’ve been watching footy, struggled when the favouritism is raging in their favour (unlike most of their other upset results, the Demons were almost certain favourites in this clash).
Goodwin was awfully dismissive of this prospect, suggesting “he wasn’t concerned about how it looks like”. I’d suggest he gets concerned, and soon, given that (as I’ll discuss below), Gold Coast next week is a challenge beyond expectation.
They should consider themselves lucky that the top eight is just that. To succeed in finals, they have zero obligation to play a team outside the eight, and bizarrely, that might be Melbourne’s saving grace.
The Blues make me eat my words, but finals aren’t even close to certain
In the footy industry, there are always certain moments you’d rather forget. For players, there’s always a rueful miss.
For coaches, there’s a tactic that fails. For me, it’s this infamous line referring to the Blues from this very column four weeks ago: “I genuinely struggle to pick a game in the rest of the season they’d be more than a slight chance at winning”.
There’s no doubt that line is, in hindsight, a significant blunder. The Blues have gone 3-1 since then, easily beating Collingwood and the Crows and playing a closely run match with sometimes-but-not-always competitors Fremantle.
For the Blues, that leaves them with the viable prospect of playing finals. Their next few games allow them to continue this momentum, but a loss in any one of them will go a long way to slamming the finals carrot shut.
You’d expect them to beat North Melbourne next weekend – despite North’s enthusiastic performances of late, the Blues can sustain superiority for longer.
The Saints are so much of a wildcard it’s insane to even hypothesise what will happen there, and the Suns are similar to North; trickier than they look but beatable if the Blues continue their form. Beyond there, there’s Port and the Giants, but there’s so much water to head under the bridge before that duo.
I’ve been undeservedly harsh on the Blues of late, but there’s no doubt that they’ve built themselves into a positive position. For what it’s worth, I’m not expecting them to make finals.
Disregarding warm-ish favouritism in four of the five games, the fact other results need to go their way is an impediment. But they’ll be no disagreements from me in that they’ll have deserved it.
Richmond gets the win they needed, but at a cost
And they’re back. You did not really think that the Tigers wouldn’t flick a switch and bounce back from their absurdly poor flunk they were in? Okay, maybe I shouldn’t that far but Richmond’s win on Friday was important beyond description.
It was a victory saw the team approach quintessential Richmond status early on: they were strong, full of pressure and their famed offensive power was off to a good start. Their opposition in the Lions was never going to lie down easily and won the second term. But every time their opposition garnered the momentum, Damien Hardwick’s men countered with ease. It was unsurprisingly fitting for the man to seal it to be 300th gamer Jack Riewoldt.
Riewoldt’s on-field experience is sure to become more integral, given Dusty Martin’s significant kidney injury – rare, but exceedingly dangerous – has seen him sent on the longest injury sabbatical of his career.
He will not be seen on the field for the remainder of the season, which is obviously bad, but will, for the first time in a long time, allow the Tigers to scrap their way without Martin’s presence. Expect that task to fall to the young brigade of Jayden Short, Shai Bolton and Liam Baker, who are all continually underrated.
Injuries, or the win, aside, I’m not yet comfortable enough to pen the Tigers as a team to stay in finals. They won, but remain out of the eight, and I’ll be more confident praising them if they can beat the Cats next week. Do that, and their fixture opens up – Freo, North, GWS, Hawks are all vulnerable to Richmond’s desperation. Fail, and the vultures will be ready to pounce.
Are the Lions in an untimely slump with a timely recovery ahead?
Overreactions are all too common in this sport, but there’s no doubt that Brisbane’s last two weeks – losses to the aforementioned Tigers and the maybe-but-maybe-not resurgent Saints – are about as damaging a fortnight as they could have imagined.
Let’s look at that loss to the Saints. It wasn’t a totally shocking loss – to suggest otherwise would be to disrespect the Saints’ genuinely impressive form – and Eric Hipwood’s ACL injury obviously affected the team’s mentality. It was the Lions uncharacteristically weak midfield and inability to stem the bleeding that saw doubts appear over them.
And then came this week. Their rough record against the Tigers was a worry, as was their appalling MCG record. They did get the game moved into Queensland, to a “cursed ground” of Metricon (something, something, Lion ACL’s and Metricon). They showed some fight, but it was a demoralising loss.
The Lions have the fixture to respond. I’d back them to start relatively clear favourites against the Hawks, Suns, Freo and Collingwood. But all four have proven they can push (and in the case of three, win against) top eight sides, and the Lions simply cannot slip up again.
Their final round match against the Eagles might become massive important in terms of Brisbane’s top-four hope and the Eagles’ top-eight aspirations.
I still have the Lions as a premiership contender. But they’re ever-so-slightly beginning to circle the “wasted season” drain.
Gold Coast are a much, much more mature side this year
The Suns are a better footy side now than ever before, and the moment it really clicked for me is as the final siren sounded on Saturday afternoon. They had obviously lost the game – this in and of itself was unsurprising, owing to the fact they were fairly heavy underdogs – and their rare midseason winning streak had been snapped.
But I’m oddly proud of the fact that the Suns did not simply give in – as many would assume they would have done – and instead continued to pester the Doggies for the remainder of the game.
They’d done more than pester the Dogs up until that final term; they had outright frustrated them. They’d led at quarter time, threatened to steal the lead back at times during the third and fourth terms and for the first time in a long time, the Dogs looked vulnerable to an upset.
A crap umpiring decision – addendum: the league’s score review cameras remain an indictment on the game – shifted the momentum away from the Suns, but you’d mainly blame the Dogs’ experience and stronger team for the loss.
But regardless of the loss, the Suns have plenty of chances for at least one or two more wins before the season’s out. Melbourne’s troubles against non top-eight sides makes for an interesting clash next week, while Brisbane and Sydney games are a great opportunity for the Suns to compete against the best.
They can also play finals spoiler: games against Carlton and Essendon also seem prime for a Suns upset.
The Suns won’t be playing finals, that is definitive. But that might not matter, as the Suns have grown in leaps and bounds this season.
And just quickly … Leon Cameron’s stewardship of the Giants yet again in the spotlight
I honestly would have thought that the unusual yet chaotic removal of five players from the listed teams due to a COVID exposure scare would be the most dysfunctional thing about Sunday’s twice re-homed and rescheduled Sydney Derby. And then game progressed, and an awful change in momentum ensured.
The Giants unbelievably led by 35 points in the second term. But everything collapsed from there. Buddy Franklin coming alive, the Swans midfield growing in stature by the minute and nine consecutive Swans goals exposed the Giants’ absolute lack of response.
To say the least, the Giants seemed flustered, not for the first time this season, and unable to adapt quickly enough to the changing momentum.
Cameron’s men now seem more likely than not to miss finals for the second year running. Considering this team made the grand final in 2019, it would be hilariously odd if Cameron’s future isn’t in increasing jeopardy.
Everybody gets a turn
Adelaide Crows – Buried in the week’s worse timeslot with a largely boring performance. Not a lot else to say, to be honest.
Brisbane Lions – There’s worries over the effectiveness of their forward line after Eric Hipwood’s ACL injury. And while it’s a very limited sample size, Friday’s game provides little evidence of anything good: a relatively quiet Joe Daniher not at his best.
Carlton Blues – At least one reputable footy news source purported Sam Walsh to be a chance at a Brownlow this year. I wouldn’t go that far, but no doubt he’s been phenomenal in recent weeks.
Collingwood – I managed to piss both Pies and Blues fans off with a quip about the then-upcoming clash between the two, suggesting nobody would care. The Pies must’ve taken that personally, dominating early and drawing me in just enough to see them collapse in the final term.
Essendon Bombers – They’re in the eight, and despite a forgettable opening half, the Bombers still seem the strongest non West Coast/Richmond finals chaser.
Fremantle Dockers – Yes, they lost badly. Yes, they were easily the worst team of the weekend. No, this won’t break the team – if anything, it’s a good learning opportunity. Still chances to poach a couple more.
Geelong Cats – Can’t complain about a 69-point win in Perth!
Gold Coast Suns – Jamarra Ugle-Hagan might nab the Rising Star nomination for this round off the back of simply being himself, but Jeremy Sharp undoubtedly deserves it. Great, with 30 disposals in a powerful performance on the wing.
GWS Giants – Toby Greene is a captain in all but title, it was somewhat surprising to see Stephen Coniglio take back that mantle in his return game.
Hawthorn Hawks – That is how you respond to such a thoroughly disappointing loss!
Melbourne – Spoke enough about them, but, hey at least they’re still top of the league.
North Melbourne – That first half, beautiful. That second half, less beautiful.
Port Adelaide – That’s a very impressive win against an opponent with form behind them. Must continue winning like that to solidify their top eight credentials.
Richmond – Geelong a huge, huge opponent. I haven’t yet decided who I’ll tip, but let’s just say I don’t think it’ll be a blowout … either way.
St Kilda – The Saints having to put out a superbly worded post condemning racist messages is – yet again – a disappointing reminder of just how much progress some “fans” need to make.
Sydney Swans – Some comeback, eh?
West Coast Eagles – A win’s a win, but still far from impressed with the Eagles.
Western Bulldogs – Toby McLean going down with an ASL tear awful, awful news. A bloody lovable player, and generally unappreciated outside the Bulldogs camp.