Gold Coast’s finest ever win, a stunning comeback from St Kilda, Leon Cameron’s farewell as coach, and a fourth win on the trot from Port Adelaide made this an action-packed week of footy action.
So of course, the big story of the week was *checks notes* Essendon, after another disastrous loss saw the pitchforks come out for the third time in about five weeks. Get ready for plenty of Bomber mentions across the footy media landscape for the next few days!
Concerningly, there was yet another scarcity of quality games this weekend, with all bar the Saints-Geelong match, and maybe Hawthorn-Richmond if you believed in the Hawks in the last two minutes, truly going down to the wire. So instead, we had to enjoy the little things, like Patrick Cripps rucking against Tom Green on Sunday afternoon, or West Coast’s Bailey Williams morphing into Eddie Betts.
So let’s do what Fremantle couldn’t for two and a half quarters on the Gold Coast, and get to the six points!
Chances are if you caught anything from footy media this week, it was Matthew Lloyd’s comments on The Sunday Footy Show about Dylan Shiel and Luke Parker.
After Parker mocked Dylan Shiel and suggested he didn’t go in hard enough to stop a Swans goal, the Essendon legend’s comments nicely summed up what many in the media have pointed to as the key reason for the Bombers’ dismal loss – a lack of aggression and ferocity.
“I would’ve ploughed straight thorough Parker here, got him to the ground and said, ‘you will never, ever treat me like that again’,” Lloyd said.
“I’d cannon into him… you never, ever want to be walked over in life or disrespected in any way. I thought Dylan Shiel was disrespected in a way you never wanted to be treated as a footballer.”
That moment, the lack of any response to James Rowbottom flooring Zach Merrett with a high bump, and the Dons laying just 30 tackles for the evening, makes a pretty compelling case that the Bombers just weren’t hard enough on Saturday night. But saying the Bombers needed to ‘make a stand’ just isn’t enough in modern footy, and it misses the point to call for it.
The days of the square-up are, thankfully, over, and I don’t think I’m alone in saying it’s a good thing Parker didn’t have to look out for a straw elbow or straight up king-hit for the rest of the night. Gone, too, are the days when a team can win a game just by, to use the old adage, ‘wanting it more’.
Yes, the complete lack of any defensive application and intent from the Bombers was a big part of their loss, but ‘ploughing’ into Parker would have done nothing except maybe satisfy fans wanting to see the Swan pay for his mockery.
To use the most famous example, Hawthorn got belted by 74 points in the infamous ‘Line in the Sand’ game against Essendon, mostly because the Hawks were more concerned with fighting than actually playing footy. For a more recent example, Port Adelaide’s plan to ‘terrorise’ Lachie Neale in a game in 2019 saw Brisbane wallop the Power and caused Ken Hinkley to be laughed at by just about everyone.
The Bombers could have rushed Parker all they liked, it wouldn’t have stopped the Swans waltzing out of the middle, finding space everywhere and kicking goals with gay abandon.
Would pressure, and defence, and discipline have helped? Absolutely. Aggression? Probably not.
Jye Caldwell’s inspirational act running back with the flight in the third quarter was greeted as an exception to the criticism of the Bombers’ night, but it proves that the players aren’t incapable of single-minded determination to win the ball.
A pattern for the Bombers in recent years has been thus: an embarrassing lose, followed by a week of intense media scrutiny, then a surprise response in the next week or two. To start 2019, the Bombers lose two straight games in disastrous fashion, then came out on Friday night and knocked over Melbourne. Last year, they did the same, then thrashed St Kilda. There’s every chance they’ll give Richmond a real shake on Dreamtime night next week.
I just wish the focus had been on the tangibles – tackling pressure, two-way running and game plan (which, by the way, looked back to being lethargic and turnover-heavy after last week’s success with something totally different against Hawthorn) – rather than a former great advocating for the team to show some fight in the old-fashioned way.
It’s been a long-running theme of Leon Cameron critics over the last few years that the Giants’ stacked list should have won one, or two, or even three premierships during his time in charge.
What his final game, a 30-point loss to Carlton, proved is something different: this GWS side is very, very ordinary.
Sure, they’ve got players who can go big on their day: Josh Kelly had 36 touches and ran hard all afternoon, for instance. But Lachie Whitfield was invisible, Toby Greene barely sighted outside one or two moments of magic, and Stephen Coniglio a long, long way from the player he was before becoming captain.
Some of these things might be Cameron’s fault; others, more to do with the difficulties of coaching a side in a non-AFL state. Would Coniglio, for instance, have been named captain if not as a lure, along with his multi-million dollar contract, to keep him at the club?
The modern Giants are filled with role players rather than the swathe of top-ten picks foretold to usher in premierships galore. There’s still some there – and their failure to develop into fully fledged out-and-out-superstars might rest on Cameron’s shoulders – but there’s also plenty of rookies, late-draft speculators and fringe players from other clubs too.
Under Cameron’s tenure, the Giants made a grand final, two preliminary finals and two semi-finals, with only one September miss in the last six years. This was a good side that occasionally teased with being great, but like Whitfield or Greene for much of their careers, couldn’t do it consistently enough against other good teams to break the glass ceiling.
The Giants have also had to deal with haemorrhaging talent for much of that period: Jeremy Cameron the most obvious name, but a host of their young talent were raided by Carlton and Stephen Silvagni, as was Zac Williams, while Essendon brought in Dylan Shiel and Devon Smith. Indeed, of the 22 that defeated Sydney in the 2016 qualifying final, that felt like the start of something special, nine proceeded to head elsewhere over the next four years.
Against all that, Cameron deserves credit for keeping this side more than just competitive – no team bar Richmond has won more finals since he took over than the Giants’ 7. That he is derided as failing to win a premiership both overestimates the talent GWS have lost – which he can’t control – as well as how close they got to the ultimate prize, in particular their heartbreaking loss in the 2016 preliminary final.
That’s not to say he should go down as an all-time great of the game: more like a perfectly decent, above-average coach that did plenty to usher a developing side that won one game the year before he took over into a side capable of matching it with the best. Perhaps on the same level as, say, Rodney Eade or John Northey, neither of whom won premierships but whose standing in the game is widely respected.
At the very least, Leon deserves more respect.
Gold Coast have never had a better win than their 46-point triumph over Fremantle on Sunday.
Sure, they’ve had upset wins over finals and premiership contenders before – they did that just last week, against Sydney. But this was different. This was taking one of the most red-hot sides in the competition, one on a six-game winning streak, and tearing them apart.
Fremantle didn’t kick a goal from midway through the first quarter to midway through the last. The Suns did to them exactly what the Dockers had been doing to every other team for the last two months, and combined with their failure to handle slippery, rainy conditions on the Gold Coast, they simply couldn’t score.
That the Dockers won the inside 50 count 64-36 is probably the most extraordinary stat of the year. The difference was, when it went in there, the Suns pressured the ball carrier, forced fumbles, and set up well for hack kicks to retake possession. Then, when they went forward, they expertly navigated Freo’s now-infamous purple wall, finding cracks through it with helter-skelter kicks along the ground that were gleefully pounced on.
There were heroes everywhere for the Suns: Sam Collins showed why he’s become one of the most underrated key defenders in the game to blanket Rory Lobb, Touk Miller was ridiculously good in midfield to lead the way as the Suns bullied Freo at the coalface, and up forward, Mabior Chol defied the conditions to kick four goals.
Just behind that trio, albeit with an inconspicuous stat line, was Izak Rankine. He’s copped plenty of criticism over the last 18 months for too frequently going missing, but while he’d finish goalless, he was anything but quiet.
In the past, if he’d gone goalless in a game, he’d likely have finished with only five or six touches. On Sunday, he had 18, including 14 contested possessions, and just looked dangerous whenever the ball went near him.
Rankine is 22 years old, playing in a hitherto struggling team, in probably the hardest position in footy to maintain any kind of consistency. It’s no wonder he’s been up and down throughout his career. But after two impressive weeks in a row against finals-bound sides, he showed his best, even when not kicking goals, is super important to this building Suns side.
I’ll admit that I’ve been one of those to think the Suns would be better off with Alastair Clarkson as coach, but full credit to Stuart Dew. Under plenty of pressure, he’s built a terrific game plan, with strengths in all the areas where good teams are. Doing it without Ben King, too, is a massive feather in his cap.
Gold Coast beat Freo with a method that has been proven to win games, finals and yes, premierships: brutal at the contest, ferocious without the ball, and defensively rock-solid. The final test now is for them to do it on the regular. Beat the Dogs, and finals suddenly look possible for probably the first time since 2014.
Reports this week that the AFL will confirm a twilight grand final this year shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
It’s long been known that broadcast pressure was coming down hard to move the game from its traditional 2:30pm first bounce to something more closely approximating ‘prime time’ TV, and the COVID-enforced move of the game away from Melbourne in the last two years made it just about a formality.
My conspiracy theory is a poorly timed poll released on the AFL’s Twitter account at about this time last year, which showed about 90 per cent of fans were in favour of keeping the start time as is, was the only reason they didn’t pull the pin on the move last year.
Not even the AFL could so blatantly go against the wishes of their fans – and notably, there hasn’t been one of them this year.
While us fans have quickly protested the move on social media and in our daily conversations, the truth is it’s not really going to matter as far as the grand final is concerned – and the AFL knows it. They could play the game on the moon at midnight and still get a packed house and millions watching at home: it’s the grand final.
But fans will only take being disrespected for so long, and with crowd numbers dwindling and a crucial television rights deal coming up, the AFL should be wary about flipping them too many more middle fingers. Yes, the grand final will remain must-watch, but is anyone going to go out of their way to support a league by, say, going to a 4:40pm Sunday game on a cold night in Melbourne or Adelaide, or buy a West Coast membership instead of following another code, or watch games on TV not involving their teams?
There’s more than one way of making frustrations known for the general public, and the AFL has long taken them – heck, us – for granted. They should be wary of it coming back to bite them.
A now-traditional part of a club’s announcement of a debutant is the video of the player phoning up their family members and telling them the good news.
This week, it was Richmond’s Bigoa Nyuon’s turn to do the rounds – and judging from the likes it got on Twitter, people seemed to lap it up.
Maybe I’m just getting grumpy in my old age – and I certainly don’t want to single out the Tigers or Nyuon here, because every team does it – but something about this particular exchange made me wonder if Nyuon deserved to be able to tell his family and friends and celebrate in private without a camera being on him.
He would have undoubtedly given his consent, to be sure: but if you’re about to make your debut, are you really going to turn away when your club – your employer – asks you to do something? I’d say probably not.
AFL players have such little privacy as it is – photos of them in nightclubs get snapped and make headline news around the country, they have to deal with annoying fans and social media trolls, and God forbid they get involved in an actual scandal. It’s interesting, too, that the media are often criticised for intruding into players’ private lives and overstepping the mark – and they often do, to be sure – yet clubs can do small things like this and get lauded for it.
All we’d miss in exchange is hearing a family member cry, or laugh, or on the occasions that really go viral, drop an F-bomb. It doesn’t seem like a high price to pay for letting one of the best moments in a young man or woman’s footy career happen out of the public eye.
If clubs really need more content, then by all means keep the one where a player kicks a goal for their debut, and then the whole team gets around them! At the very least, the relationship between player and teammates is always in the spotlight, and doesn’t need to drag in members of the public.
With the NRL staging its ‘Magic Round’ this week, with all eight games taking place at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium, there were always going to be calls from some expected corners about the AFL doing something similar.
I’ll nip it in the bud right here and now: No.
The biggest criticism of AFL house in recent years has been their refusal to leave well enough alone. Every gimmick, from AFLX to the stand rule, has been met with disdain and derision from fans and most of the media, and very few of them have ever been re-evaluated after the fact. The league doesn’t need gimmicks as much as it needs to actually give the fans something for their support, rather than continually taking things away (see Point 4).
Secondly, the draw is already slanted enough without forcing seven teams (I’m being generous and assuming the AFL would have the sense to schedule West Coast and Fremantle, or Adelaide and Port Adelaide, for home games with a Magic Round in their respective states) to play a game on an away venue. Or if it’s going to be in Melbourne, it’s basically no different from a regular round – and nobody is going to go to the MCG on a chilly Sunday afternoon to see GWS take on the Eagles.
So in the unlikely event anyone at the AFL is considering picking up this idea and running with it – stop.
– Patrick Cripps and Tom Green regularly going head-to-head in the ruck was very funny and completely ridiculous.
– Jack Sinclair is a good egg.
– Connor West is another underrated success story from the mid-season rookie draft. Full credit.
– I feel like the next three weeks we’re going to all collectively remember why Cam Rayner was a number one draft pick.
– Buku Khamis – a Category B rookie – is now clearly a better option for the Bulldogs than a number one draft pick. Footy is wild.