That was some round of footy. Upsets, fixture overhauls and some truly horrendous performances made it the most peculiar weekend of football this year. Here’s the talking points.
The AFL masterfully deal with a Delta hiccup
On Saturday morning, with Friday night’s game done and dusted, Gil McLachlan probably would’ve assumed Round 20 was on track to survive another uncertain week on the virus front. And then came Queensland’s sudden lockdown announcement. With two teams on route, four already in the state, three games scheduled, and a round already begun, this was an extraordinarily disruptive hiccup in (second consecutive) season full of them.
While there were a few confusing decisions in the lead up to the round – I am still not entirely sure why the Bombers were originally scheduled to play their ‘home game’ in Queensland – there’s no doubt that the league handled the disruption as well as it could have.
The Demons essentially pulling a fly over of Brisbane, the Power remaining in Melbourne, the Lions managing to get to Tassie as scheduled and the Swans, Suns, Essendon and GWS managing to evacuate to Melbourne – it was as professional an impromptu round reshuffle could have gone.
It did result in a packed Sunday full of games – five of ‘em – but the term Super Sunday was a bit of a misnomer, given only a couple of games were scheduled fizzers. But to play a fizzer is to play full stop, and played they were. Cannot do anything but praise Gil and co for enabling that to happen.
Four close games – which was the best?
With the exclusion of the Suns-Melbourne contest, Sunday afternoon was a footy lovers delight – every other game was a close contest, with three of them having a final margin sneaking under the two-goal mark. With so much close action – and at least two of them being upsets – it begs the question, which was best?
Obviously, a question like that is a ridiculously subjective query, but you can rule two games out. Port beating the Giants made for a fun game, but it was the sole game of the quartet that wasn’t particularly close. Hawthorn’s close win over Brisbane, while a fantastic result for the former, had a result that was like applying makeup to a pig – Brisbane’s ineptitude just didn’t make for an exciting game, no matter how much they feigned a comeback.
That leaves two: Freo’s disgustingly bad at times yet intense win over the Tigers, or the fantastic, high scoring thriller between the Swans and the Bombers. If you were looking for a good display of football with a result deserving of the game, you’d probably be wanting to re-watch the latter.
I’d understand – it was a really, really good example of footy. However, there was something unusually exciting about the former. Maybe it’s the fact that it had a crowd, but the last quarter of the game at Optus saw the game somewhat redeem itself.
Maybe I’ll have to re-evaluate what I was saying about putting lipstick on a pig.
Disaster for the Queenslanders
You cannot compare apples and oranges, but there’s no going past the fact that the performances of both the Gold Coast Suns and the Brisbane Lions seemed to replicate the theme for the actual state of Queensland this weekend: calamity.
Logic suggests the Suns’ massive loss would have been the worst defeat of the duo, but I would argue that the Lions’ loss in Tasmania was a more calamitous result. Brisbane, who ignored any sense of favouritism, looked horrendous against Hawthorn and had their top four chances take another significant dent.
The Hawks – fresh of a tumultuous week themselves, and a week after I ruled them a “lock for the wooden spoon” – suddenly found themselves running rampant over their typically stronger opposition. It begun early, with the Lions going goalless in the first term and the Hawks cashing in. Where the Lion’s forwards should have stood up, they went missing – not a particularly atypical result for team clearly lacking confidence in that area since Eric Hipwood’s injury.
One may counter that by pointing at Brisbane’s eight majors to one final quarter but that was evidently a young (eight players under 50 games) Hawks side running out of steam – the definition of consolation goals.
For Brisbane, this was their third loss in four games. And, if I may play devil’s advocate for a second, their one win during the last month was against the Gold Coast, who were noticeably worse without the pressure of finals on the line.
The Suns were disgustingly bad in their rescheduled clash with the Demons, with the game lost by early in the second time. They had lost the home advantage by virtue of Queensland’s covid woes, but Melbourne’s strange tendency to drop games against non-top eight sides and the Suns’ surprisingly improved form over the last few weeks made me believe this would be a close one. It wasn’t.
It arcs back to the days of the Suns being smashed with regularity, which is precisely what Melbourne managed to do. In doing so, the Demons managed to rectify their recent scoring issues. Whether or not that was a ‘one week only’ fix remains to be seen.
The Suns have long been out of finals contention. The Lions can’t drop out of finals, but losing to Freo at home – more than a distinct possibility – will almost certainly kill their chances at top four if yesterday’s loss wasn’t already.
Internal review (and a certain newly available coach) be damned, Carlton surprise in primetime
It was quite a week for the Blues. The ramifications from their horrid loss to the Kangaroos last weekend stretched into this week, with a lot of online commentary about how much they had truly developed. They’d had a good few week, and the loss to North Melbourne was the kind of quintessentially depressing Carlton loss – the one that would not bode well for their ongoing internal review.
And then the Blues were intrinsically linked to news from another club, with the collapse of Hawthorn’s coaching succession plan leading to countless Clarko-to-Carlton rumours.
Couple all of that with the fact they were placed in a Friday night slot, and the pressure on the Blues was understandable: and meant their strong win over the Saints came as a welcome result.
The Saints had been posturing as an unlikely yet plausible finals contender, until a Sam Walsh led Blues midfield and a strong forward line – colour my surprise over Harry McKay’s Coleman Medal stocks completely evaporated – meant the came was almost entirely played on the Blues’ terms. Add in Charlie Curnow’s return and it was a genuinely good primetime appearance for the Bluesbaggers. Almost makes up for their 2015 primetime disasters … almost.
Carlton remarkably remains in contention for the finals. It will take a hell of an effort – and plenty of results to go their way – but if they replicate their performance over the Saints against the Suns, Port and Giants, there might be a faint finals heartbeat left. At the very least, the Blues can play the role of finals spoilers … much like their arch-rivals.
Finals spoilers? ‘Yes, please’, say the Magpies
I did hypothesise in last weekend’s Talking Points column that the Magpies, regardless of their disappointing loss last weekend, would simultaneously ‘fight’ for the wooden spoon and yet could also potentially play a finals spoiler for the teams scrapping for the top eight.
The Eagles, as improved as their form has been of late, was precisely the type of team that Collingwood would aim to frustrate. Frustration might have been the least of Adam Simpson’s worries on Saturday afternoon.
The Pies were definitive in their pummelling of West Coast. It was borne in the midfield, spreading forwards and backwards during what was as emphatic a performance as the Robert Harvey’s men have produced under his stewardship – or, hell, Nathan Buckley’s final half season in charge of the club. Sure, they were probably helped a bit by the absolute rubbish West Coast produced, but Collingwood’s midfield dominance was a sight to behold.
In their final three games for the season, the Magpies face Hawthorn, Brisbane and Essendon. The first is somewhat exciting, given both sides looked excellent beyond their lowly ladder position this week. Their game against Brisbane will be fascinating, given the Lions’ struggles and scrap for the top four, but would probably their most unlikely game to win.
They could, too, potentially put the Bombers finals hopes officially to bed if they come down to the final round – wouldn’t that be something, eh, Bombers fans?
Everybody gets a turn
Adelaide Crows – I am not lying when I suggest I utterly forgot their game with the Bulldogs happened. The most nondescript and expected result of the round.
Brisbane Lions – Playing a half worked for them last week, so they decided to try playing one quarter this round. Mockery aside, the Lions now absolutely must beat the Dockers next weekend – at a ground they’ve never beaten them at.
Carlton Blues – My prediction: they’ll beat Gold Coast and surprise Port Adelaide (there’s precedent for that), before losing to a desperate GWS in Round 23.
Collingwood – No Scott Pendlebury for the remainder of the season, so who else but Steele Sidebottom to step up when it mattered? Magnificent with 33 touches and a major.
Essendon Bombers – Dylan Shiel, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti and Archie Perkins stuck on the bench in the close final minutes because the Bombers had used up all their rotations is insanity. ‘Lucky’ in a sense that they could bring their medical sub on for fresh legs, not that it mattered.
Fremantle Dockers – Freo have Bradbury’d themselves into the eight. They won’t stay there, but it’s an eye-catching achievement given poor form and injury adversity.
Geelong Cats – Aha, I see we’re back to the Cats winning without looking particularly impressive. Home final guaranteed (until the AFL tries to move it from GMBHA, as is tradition) for now.
Gold Coast Suns – Touk Miller. That’s nigh on the only positive from that crappy performance.
GWS Giants – Geelong, Richmond, Carlton – every single one of the Giants’ remaining games are ‘eight-pointers’. No guarantee in any of them, but, with Essendon, would probably have the most influence if they make the top eight.
Hawthorn Hawks – There’s still life in Alastair Clarkson yet – and not a lot in my predictions. The Hawks awesome on Sunday afternoon against Brisbane, and are surely a chance to render my ‘wooden spoon’ prediction for them dead wrong.
Melbourne – As good a win as they’d have liked, but they’re still outside the top two. They’ll beat the Eagles and Adelaide, but that final game against the Cats positively MASSIVE.
North Melbourne – Made things difficult for the Cats, which is what they’d have been aiming for. Beating Richmond next week suddenly very plausible.
Port Adelaide – That’s the win they needed! Somewhat safe in the top four, they cannot afford any more slip ups if they want to stay there.
Richmond – There’s suggestions the Tigers are still the most likely to make finals, owing to their draw. But they’ve got North, the Giants and Hawthorn. It’s an easy draw in theory – but they’re putrid at the moment, two of those sides are much better than they seem and the other is fighting for finals.
St Kilda – The less said about them, the better. Finals now almost certainly off the table, barring a genuine miracle.
Sydney Swans – Awesome, awesome win. They’re up there in my premiership considerations. If they’re not in yours, think closely about that.
West Coast Eagles – I probably can’t talk, given how David Mundy’s 350th went, but you’ve got to feel bad for Shannon Hurn given the pitiful effort the Eagles produced for his 300th game.
Western Bulldogs – They remain in top spot, Josh Dunkley played well on his return and the win as comfortable as they’d have liked. Not a bad weekend for the Doggies.