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The hardest round to tip: Six talking points from AFL Round 21

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Roar Guru
9th August, 2021
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1393 Reads

That was perhaps the most bizarre round of footy I’ve ever watched.

Here are six fresh talking points.

Racism afflicts the league, and still nobody is getting it
You’d have thought we’d have learnt from the Adam Goodes saga. Or the adversity that Eddie Betts has gone through. Or the horrifyingly staggering number of messages frequently sent – anonymously or not – to player after player after wins or losses. As you think about those, connect these dots: Aliir Aliir being the target of online racial abuse after a Showdown not featuring Taylor Walker and commentated on Fox by Eddie McGuire. Every ounce of that sentence, indeed the whole occurrence, is a huge indictment on the league.

The revelation of Taylor Walker’s racist remarks shows that for a minority of players the message is just not getting through. Walker’s ban for six games is a start, but his apology – the “process has led to a deeper understanding of the hurt that I have caused” – is hollow. It’s a cheapening of the message and is clearly not a lot more than that.

Walker was an individual who’d played for years with Betts and even appeared in one of the league’s anti-racism videos as recently as five weeks ago, so any suggestion that Walker did not already understand the consequences of his actions is playing us for fools. The whole saga then got even weirder with one of the strangest apology videos I’ve ever seen.

The anonymous messages sent using social media show that, no matter how heartfelt and impressive, the criticisms of such heinous messages are not denting their endemic nature. The fact McGuire still has a platform – not least of which had him calling the Showdown in the aftermath of Walker’s comments – is an impressive kind of cognitive dissonance given McGuire’s known history of racist remarks.

As a nation Australia has long had an open relationship with casual racism – the precise type of casual racism that led to Walker’s controversy and the mentality surrounding the messages Aliir and others receives. As a young Australian I’m far from equipped to give any answers here. All I or anyone can do is call it out as we see it. The league and its broadcasters need to do better in terms of their response to the scandal. A ban or a criticism is just scratching the surface.

Under pressure, Brisbane produce pressure – plenty of it – to bounce back
I was bemused as I saw Fremantle garner more and more favouritism headed into Sunday’s encounter with the Lions. Sure, the Dockers had looked great against Richmond, while Brisbane had looked somewhere between hopeless and terrible in the past month, but ‘Freo’ and ‘expectation’ don’t tend to gel well. And so it was, as Brisbane found the form that had so inconveniently escaped them during losses to St Kilda, Richmond and Hawthorn.

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The Dockers displayed the effort, but the Lions produced their brightest performance of the year to comfortably beat a team that of late has tended to challenge them. The Lions, especially in the second term, produced a stunning amount of pressure that was unlike anything we’ve seen in a long while. Despite winning the possession count by 30-odd touches, the Lions doubled the Dockers’ statistics in tackles laid and obliterated them inside 50.

The forward 50 was a heavy contributor to the win. Brisbane looked settled and switched on – comfortably the best they’ve looked without Eric Hipwood – while Freo were too often hesitant and reverted to the forward line complications they’ve had most of the year.

The Lions have two more games before a finals campaign that is unlikely to have them starting from the top four. That duo of clashes – next weekend’s match against the Pies and the following round against the Eagles – should be easy wins if they replicate the form from Sunday’s clash. But Brisbane have been consistently inconsistent of late, and banking the two wins is unlikely to be as easy as it seems. If they do though, they’ll be entering the finals with premiership-winning form behind them.

Zac Bailey of the Lions celebrates after kicking a goal

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

The Giants and Essendon race to be the most influential challengers
The race for the eight is wide open, and teams such as Richmond, Fremantle and St Kilda are all mathematically viable contenders for sneaking into the one or perhaps two – more on that below – spots up for grabs in finals. But none of that trio have the potential to experience as much success in finals as the Giants and the Bombers. Victories this weekend proved it.

Both were underdogs headed into their weekend clashes with Geelong and the Western Bulldogs respectively, and while there was thought that wins by the duo wouldn’t necessarily surprise, the execution of said wins were impressive. The Giants in particular were fantastic: eight personnel changes, five days between matches and a top-eight spot within reach and they looked superb against the Cats. The way they snuffed out each of Geelong’s challenges was especially impressive, with the eight personnel changes – including a late change rubbing Josh Kelly from the squad – meant that Leon Cameron’s men punched above their weight.

The following day Essendon manufactured arguably their best performance of the year to take down the top-of-the-ladder Bulldogs. The Bombers’ losses to the New South Wales sides in the last fortnight were customarily close and would have hurt. Regardless of whether they were the beneficiaries of a Doggies outfit not entirely match fit, their performance was eye-catching.

Both teams must navigate a deceptively hard final fortnight if they’re to sneak into finals. The Giants play Richmond and the Blues, while the Bombers have to encounter the Suns and Collingwood. On current form – a super dangerous phrase in this sport – I’d be backing the latter to go two from two, but the Giants will be facing a duo under pressure. If either one of them do make it, they’ll be worthy finalists.

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West Coast’s vulnerability might open a second finals spot
The Eagles have slowly seen their previously unsurmountable advantage inside the top eight slowly disappear. With that weakening advantage now cumulating in a loss to the Demons, they are now at the very real risk that they too will drop out of the eight and provide a little extra incentive to the amassed collection of finals-challenging sides.

Though weather delayed, the Eagles used the disrupted final quarter to their advantage and came surprisingly close to garnering a win in the clash. Though it must be said that before their barnstorming finish the lightning-induced delay might have been the footy gods’ way of providing the Eagles with access to the mercy rule.

The Eagles now head into a derby for which, ever traditionally, they’ll start as favourites before a clash with the Lions to finish up. Winning one of those should be enough to secure them a finals berth, but they’ll be nervous as anything.

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‘Nobody wants eighth spot’ might soon turn into ‘nobody wants seventh or eighth spot’ such is the volatility among the chasing pack.

Geelong’s loss a bad sign for tipping, as the Blues, Swans and Bulldogs follow
On both the finals predictions and the tipping front the Giants’ aforementioned win over Geelong was part upset, part worrying reminder that tipping was unlikely to go as planned. And, as the Suns (incredible against Carlton), St Kilda (who seemingly remembered finals were possible) and Essendon (mentioned earlier) proved, no team were safe. Looking at two of those wins in focus, there would be considerable disappointment coming from two camps: Carlton and Sydney.

The latter looked very poor against the on-again, off-again St Kilda. Losing to St Kilda is not a particularly bad thing in itself given the Saints wildly swing between world-beaters and potential wooden spooners. Rather, the Swans would be frustrated with a contest that they never led. The Saints increased their lead at every stage, but fortunately for the vanquished Swans, games against North and the Suns provide an opportunity for a rebound.

Also needing to rebound are the Blues, who blew a golden chance to make a real run for finals with an upset loss to the Suns. Carlton’s performance came a week after they set themselves up for a strong end to the season – and, confusingly, two weeks after they ruefully dropped a win against North. It’s a bad record for a team in their position, and with Port and GWS in the next two weeks, it may be a rough end to the season.

Tom Stewart and his Cats teammates look dejected

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

And just quickly, a tumultuous duo come to head as the Hawks beat the Pies
Fixtured in the early Sunday afternoon timeslot, the clash between Hawthorn and Collingwood was not originally a particularly enticing one. But it was always going to be interesting regardless owing to discussion aplenty about the two teams’ futures – Hawthorn’s drama with Alastair Clarkson’s looming departure and Collingwood’s reckoning with their immediate prospects. Collingwood took their favouritism and did absolutely nothing with that, forgoing the fantastic form they used to defeat the Eagles last weekend and allowing the Hawks to flex the play they used to upset the Lions a few weeks ago. It’s a definite win for the Hawks, who have now won their last two since Clarko’s departure confirmation.

Everybody gets a turn
Adelaide Crows
A tumultuous week ended with a surprisingly spirited Showdown performance, the type of game supporters would love yet rue at the same time.

Brisbane Lions
They’d be keen to get back into Brisbane after that city’s recent lockdown, and a game with the Magpies awaits them on return. Keen.

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Carlton Blues
Sam Docherty confirming his testicular cancer had returned is shattering. I’m wishing nothing but the best for Sam and his family.

Collingwood Magpies
Brisbane’s bound to be a tough opponent, and if they replicate their performance against Hawks with Brisbane replicating theirs against Freo, they’re in strife.

Essendon Bombers
What a breakout game for Peter Wright! The Suns must be watching and muttering to themselves in the corner seeing that.

Fremantle Dockers
Barring an appeal, Andy Brayshaw’s one-week suspension is a big, big loss for the Dockers ahead of next weekend’s Derby.

Geelong Cats
I mentioned the Giants’ injury crisis, but Chris Scott has plenty to think about with the likes of Patrick Dangerfield, Gary Rohan, Zach Tuohy and Luke Dahlhaus suffering injuries at various points of Friday night’s clash.

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Gold Coast Suns
Jacob Townsend’s debut was something excellent – his fourth club debut! – but his post-game interview while embracing his speech impediment was heartwarming. Love that stuff.

Greater Western Giants
Toby Greene played superbly, but would it really be a Toby Greene performance without some controversy? This time it was an incident that sent Patrick Dangerfield to hospital and the Giants to the tribunal with a ban appeal.

Hawthorn Hawks
Two from two since the succession plan collapsed, with Richmond and Bulldogs to come. Hmm.

Melbourne Demons
It was a strange old game, and the lightning delay probably cost them a bigger win. They’re now top of the ladder, though, and thinking optimistically.

North Melbourne Kangaroos
In a very similar vein to the QClash a week or two ago, North’s encounter with the Tigers was a game of two halves. They’d be pleased with their first-half efforts, but they fell away badly in the second.

Port Adelaide Power
They won, but I’d still consider that a loss for the Power.

Richmond Tigers
They passed the easiest of three tests on the run home. Now they have to take on the Giants next week in a must-win clash before facing a Hawks outfit that will be sensing their vulnerability. Finals remain a possible but difficult proposition.

St Kilda Saints
Jack Steele is continuing to cement himself as my favourite non-Fremantle player. There, I said it.

Sydney Swans
The top four beckons, though the loss to the Saints is a significant speed bump. They cannot mess up against either North or the Suns on the run home.

West Coast Eagles
As I type this they’ve lost Shannon Hurn to injury in last night’s clash. It’s been a crappy two weeks for him.

Western Bulldogs
It was good to see Adam Treloar back on the field. He’s a wonderful individual, and here’s hoping he can get a better on-field run from here on out.

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