A milestone-heavy weekend of footy kept the ladder in limbo. Here are six talking points.
It’s been well documented that Melbourne’s struggle this year was ceding games to sides they simply – by virtue of ladder position – should not be losing to.
As I discussed last week, the club had lost four games up until this round, with that quartet of defeats all coming against teams outside of the eight.
That was a blessing and a curse headed into Saturday night’s clash, permitting them a right to be simultaneously confident against a Bulldogs outfit they’d beaten already this season but nervous their draw with the Hawks had exposed weaknesses in their form.
Saturday night’s defeat was not a loss that’ll result in significant concern, but it will increase the pressure on the Dees. Despite never leading, they still at times displayed the aggression and skill they have become known for. But the Dogs – who were missing Adam Treloar and Josh Dunkley – had all the answers, all but putting the game to bed before half time.
The Doggies exacerbated the scoring problems of the Demons, who have now failed to kick more than ten goals in four of their previous six matches and haven’t kicked more goals than behinds since Round 12. The Dees also were dominated in the clutches; Max Gawn’s ruck ascendency made irrelevant by an uncharacteristically disappointing midfield effort.
The Demons have a super tricky draw ahead of them: the Suns, Eagles and Crows are next, before an encounter with Geelong. None are anywhere close to certain, which means that – with the Cats and Bulldogs jumping them on the ladder – the minor premiership being up in the air might soon be the least of their worries.
It’s been a long while since the league has fixtured a game as significant in terms of the make-up of the top eight as last night’s Essendon vs GWS encounter.
The Bombers began the round in the eight and fortuitously remained there courtesy of losses to the Saints, Dockers and Tigers. This meant that by the bounce, the only team that could knock them out and duly replace them in finals contention was the Giants themselves. Something which, frustratingly for Bombers fans, happened.
History dictated that it was going to be a close one, and it was looking that way until Brent Daniel’s major put the result beyond reach for the Dons – thus cementing the eighth position switch-a-roo.
Essendon’s early strength dissipated as quickly as their spot in the eight and means they have once again found themselves in the chasing pack. It’s a chasing pack that makes the make-up of one spot (assuming that the Eagles’ latest wins have made them safe in the eight, at seventh) intense. There are four clubs on 32 points but, with Freo all but done for the season, that really makes it a race of three: Richmond, St Kilda and the Bombers themselves.
It’s the Tigers who have the easiest run home, with a Round 22 against the Giants bound to be decisive for both clubs – provided the Giants survive challenging games against the Cats and Port before then. The Saints, too, have to face the Cats, while Essendon may yet rue this weekend’s loss as they play Sydney and the Dogs before an ‘easy’ fortnight to finish up.
How one game can look so different either side of half time.
For the first half, you had the Suns looking as good as they have looked this year. They were ferocious, able to frustrate the Lions into the uncharacteristic errors and, really, were helped by the Lions looking awful in front of goal and in defence. There had not been much talk of an upset in this clash, but the game was becoming the pinnacle of a rare story for Gold Coast: strong post-bye form encapsulating the development and maturity of this team.
And then the façade collapsed. It was emblematic of the gulf between these two clubs, with the Lions able to gain strength around the ground and eventually overrun the Suns.
It turned a would-be upset into a business-as-usual win. The Lions would welcome the return of form they desperately needed – even if it was only for a half of footy – but being a game behind top four, they cannot afford any more slip ups.
For the Suns, they would be proud of their early effort; but have an imposing run home – Melbourne, Carlton, Essendon and Sydney. Oof.
There had never been a round in VFL/AFL history before that saw players celebrate a 350th game, a 300th game, a 200th game, a 150th game and a 100th game in the same round. This round had all of those, with varying levels of success for the milestone men.
The biggest of those was Freo stalwart David Mundy, who celebrated 350 games in the league – and with the club – against Sydney yesterday. Mundy’s game was typically Mundy-esque even in adversity, with a memorable first term major a highlight. The Dockers failed to win, but the club’s elder statesman – who signed a contract extension this week – showed why he’s still one of the best.
More successful yet less visible by essence of no crowds, Travis Boak played an integral parts in his side’s win over the weekend. The past ten players to reach 300 games have won their milestone clashes.
Even for those with lesser milestones, Round 19 was one to remember. Hugh McCluggage celebrating 100 games with a slick performance for Brisbane, Jeremy McGovern intriguingly performed well in the ruck at times for his 150th, Josh Kelly jumped into the eight for his 150th clash and Alex Sexton… well, the less said about his side’s performance the better.
The rollercoaster that the Blues have put me through during the last few weeks has been ridiculous. I rather infamously prophesised that the club would not win another game after they flopped badly against the Eagles in Round 14 but, up until Saturday’s clash with North Melbourne, they’d gone 3-1 since that column was published.
The Blues had the form, the skills and – to an extent – the motivation behind them to be able to beat the Kangaroos, but it was disappointing to see them instead produce a horrid performance that will rightfully unleash criticism.
There was no area of their game that wasn’t bested by the strong Kangas – defensively, they struggled against the likes of Tarryn Thomas and Nick Larkey; in the guts, not even the superb form of Sam Walsh could stem the bleeding; and up forward, with a toe ailment robbing us of a McKay duel, the Blues’ forward power was largely left to Patrick Cripps and the improved-out-of-sight Matthew Kennedy.
It is not a massive sample size but did appear as so the Blues could – bizarrely – be overtaken in terms of rebuilding sooner than later by a club the footy world had written off only weeks ago.
If there was one thing better than the Kangaroos’ fantastic win on Saturday afternoon, it was probably Adelaide’s more mundane victory a few hours later. That win – as insignificant as it may seem, given both the Crows’ and Hawks’ ladder positioning – means wonders for North, coupling with their win over the Blues: it means the Hawks draw level with North in the race for the wooden spoon.
That’s important if you glance over their upcoming fixtures and add in two more sides that have also joined the not-so-coveted race: the Pies (only two points above the bottom duo) and the Crows, who sit just a game above. The Kangaroos, on current form, would be more than a chance in at least two of their remaining clashes – Richmond and Adelaide – while Hawthorn are only really a proper chance against Collingwood in a fortnight.
In fact, that clash could be a key one in the race for the wooden spoon, given the Magpies have a rough finish to the end of the season themselves.
Call me a weirdo, but the action at the bottom of the ladder can be oddly exciting, and I’m keen for it.
Adelaide Crows – Their first win since Round 16 and, barring disaster, they should be safe from garnering a second consecutive wooden spoon.
Brisbane Lions – Hawthorn, Freo, Collingwood, West Coast. Theoretically sounds easy, but in the hunt for top four, none will be as simple as they seem.
Carlton – There’s a fun conspiracy theory – certainly not as insidious as others from this weekend – I’ve seen in some circles that Harry and Ben McKay are the same person. Make of that what you will.
Collingwood – They’re simultaneously in the ‘race’ for the wooden spoon and can also play finals spoilers: games against the Eagles, Brisbane and Essendon provide plenty of opportunity for frustrating the dreams of those sides.
Essendon – We were robbed of the close Bombers-Giants match-up neutrals wanted, instead getting the return of the Bombers of old (choking an important clash). Boo!
Fremantle – No Nat Fyfe and probably no Michael Walters for the remainder of the season. Freo’s initially promising finals chances are purely mathematical.
Geelong Cats – He was to fulfil the proper milestone trend this week with his 250th game, but Shaun Higgins’ injury derailed that plan. If he’s fit and selected, it’ll be kind of special to see him reach that milestone against one of his former sides in the Kangas next week.
Gold Coast Suns – It would have been nice to see them pinch that one. The simple fact there was no equivalence between the first and second halves a worry.
GWS Giants – There’s commentators curse, and then there’s columnist course. I’ve repeatedly criticised Leon Cameron’s tenure at the Giants of late, but they’re in the eight with four rounds to go. There might be life in him yet.
Hawthorn – Screw it: I’m going to lock them in for the wooden spoon. Next year will be quite a challenge for Alastair Clarkson in his final season.
Melbourne – It is insane that they are not even a lock for top four, which shows how much they are going to rue their losses against Adelaide, Collingwood and co.
North Melbourne – Pro for next week: it’s in Tassie. Con: it’s against Geelong.
Port Adelaide – Provided Adelaide’s lockdown is lifted, the Power should be playing at home next weekend. But don’t count on any crowds.
Richmond – Time of death on Richmond’s 2021 season hasn’t been called yet, but they’re flatlining.
St Kilda – Two close losses in as many weeks when they’re so close to finals is pretty quintessential St Kilda.
Sydney Swans – Buddy’s all but set for a few weeks on the sidelines after an elbow to Luke Ryan’s head, but that’s about the only dampener of Sunday’s strong win.
West Coast Eagles – Every win counts, and they remain a chance for finals.
Western Bulldogs – Cody Weightmann’s mark. That’s it. That’s the talking point.