Round 7 featured the first of what will prove to be a fierce Northern rivalry, with the Gold Coast Suns facing off against the “bigger brother” Brisbane Lions in the unfortunately-coined Q-Clash while Port Adelaide seemed determined to prove to the football world that they aren’t an absolute basket case. Well, determined for a half, anyway. With some close games, return of a former powerhouse and the passing of the coaches’ hot seat, here’s a weekly wrap-up from all the weekend’s action.
The Swans accuracy issues
Let’s start with the Sydney Swans. For the better part of a decade, the Swans have been the model of consistency. Making the finals in 8 of the last 11 years, the Swans played in a Preliminary Final in 2003, fell just short of back-to-back flags in 2005-06 and won at least one finals game in 6 of their last 8 visits. After holding on against the Western Bulldogs in Canberra Saturday afternoon, they currently sit eighth on the ladder. I am a die-hard Swans fan but with the way they’re playing football, eighth may be a touch too high.
With wins over the Bulldogs, the West Coast Eagles and a resurgent Essendon outfit, the Swans are yet to put a good four-quarter performance in. In Round 1, they seemed to dictate the game against Melbourne only to split the points at the final siren. Against the Cats, they started the game well only to let it slip in the second half. The same can be said about their performance against Carlton.
On the weekend, the Swans fought back after a good opening quarter from the Dogs, and a four goal to one third term saw them enter the last quarter with a 26-point lead and full control of the game. But again, an inconsistent effort nearly lost them this one. Against a quality side that is playing good football, it would have.
The issue in the first third of the season for Sydney isn’t a lack of ability or performance, with Adam Goodes, Jude Bolton and Ryan O’Keefe enjoying good years so far, as well as Kieren Jack before an unfortunate ankle injury sidelined him for up to 6 weeks. The issue is inconsistency and poor conversion in front of goal. The Swans are converting at a lowly 46% this season, having kicked only 67 goals against 79 behinds. In the 24 quarters they’ve played so far, only 9 times have they kicked more goals than behinds per quarter, with two quarters being goalless and another three quarters where they registered but one major. With only 34% of their quarters registering more goals than behinds, the Swans will find it tough to kick a threatening score against good teams.
Compare that to ladder leaders Collingwood, and an in-form Essendon, who have both registered more goals than behinds in 68% of their quarters, and the Swans seem a fair way off the pace. Sydney has some winnable games coming up, with matches against Port Adelaide, North Melbourne and Brisbane in the next month, but with match-ups against Collingwood, Carlton, Hawthorn and a resurgent Richmond between Rounds 9 and 14, the Swans had better start converting their chances at a greater rate if they want to continue their tradition as perennial finals participants. Otherwise they might find themselves on the outside looking in for only the second time since 2002.
The Tiger has awoken
What a super impressive performance from the Richmond Football Club on Saturday afternoon. With an in-form Fremantle Docker outfit who has their sights set on the top four, the young Tigers stayed with the Dockers in the first half and then exploded in the second to run home with a 49-point victory that has to be their finest in half a decade. With a resurgent Robin Nahas and rapidly maturing Trent Cotchin combining for 57 disposals, 9 clearances and 8 goals, the Tigers were able to overcome some horrendous umpiring decisions (more on that later) to show the rest of the AFL that, after too many years in the wilderness, they’re a genuine threat to play finals.
The most impressive aspect of the Tigers’ performance Saturday was their even spread of contributors. Renowned under former coaches Danny Frawley and Terry Wallace for having too many passengers and not enough players willing to stand up when needed the most, Damien Hardwick’s troops go into battle for each other and there is always someone willing to step up. With Dustin Martin relatively quiet in this one after a scintillating game last week, the aformentioned Nahas, Cotchin and former Bomber Bachar Houli stepped up to take on Matthew Pavlich, David Mundy and the more experienced Dockers line-up. Even ruckman Angus Graham, overmatched by Fremantle giant Aaron Sandilands, was able to make an impact, forcing Sandilands into some poor disposals while sneaking forward to make him pay defensively.
While the Richmond faithful can’t start booking their finals tickets yet, this Richmond team is starting to show real signs of life that haven’t been seen since Round 9, 2005. A distant time when a Nathan Brown-led Tigers sat in the top 4 with 7 wins and 2 losses. After the darkness of the Terry Wallace-era, Hardwick’s brand of football has breathed new life into the club, with the two-time premiership player building a team that could take the yellow and black back to their glory days of the 1980s.
Five things I liked
Jared Brennan’s performance: Blasted after Round 2 by anyone with an opinion on football for being lazy and inconsistent, Jared Brennan has been a shining light for the AFL’s newest franchise. Averaging 21 disposals and 6 tackles in his previous four games, Brennan was nothing short of damaging against his former team on Saturday night. With former teammate Simon Black labelling him a ‘mercenary’ during the week, Brennan’s 30 disposals and 12 clearances against his former club will add even more fuel to a quickly burning fire in Queensland.
Daniel Jackson flying the flag: Renowned for being a bit of a hothead on the field, the Tigers’ gun tagger Daniel Jackson was impressive in protecting teammate Trent Cotchin on Saturday afternoon. Thrown to ground after another clearance and wrestled by Docker David Mundy, Jackson ran to the aid of his younger midfield partner, throwing Mundy off and showing a fighting spirit that is beginning to typify the Tigers once again. Just great to see teammates step in and help one another.
Andrejs Everitt’s two majors: Still yet to find a consistent level of output in the AFL since moving up to Sydney, loved seeing former Bulldog Andrejs Everitt slot two goals and come out the victor against his former team. Still didn’t have a very consistent four-quarter effort against the Dogs, but kicking two of his teams 10 goals to get the four points in an important game is good enough to get himself on this list.
Melbourne’s second half: What a response by the Melbourne Demons. After a shocking and lifeless display in Round 6 that had this scribe questioning everything from their ability and heart to their head coach Dean Bailey, the Demons respond with a 96-point belting of the Adelaide Crows. With a 16-goal to 3 second half, the Demons, led by Colin Sylvia’s 26 disposals and 4 goals, demoralised the Crows and firmly shifted the coaching hot seat from Melbourne’s Bailey to Adelaide’s Neil Craig.
Geelong and Collingwood’s form: Can not wait for Friday nights blockbuster between these two. With the Pies vying to go back-to-back this season and the Cats playing with a chip on their shoulder after most pegged them to take a step backwards, both these teams will throw everything they’ve got at one another on Friday night at the MCG. This one has the potential to be the game of the year.
Five things I didn’t
Fremantle’s form at the MCG: For the Dockers, Saturday’s 49-point loss to the hands of the Tigers was their 8th straight defeat at the MCG. For a team still fighting to win their first premiership, they need to learn to win at the home of the Grand Final if they ever want to break their duck.
The Dogs in disarray: After falling to the Swans for their 3rd consecutive defeat, the Bulldogs seem a shadow of their former selves so far in 2011. Renowned for slick ball movement and high-scoring shootouts, the Dogs’ run and carry has vanished, along with their high-octane forward line. Even though book-ends Barry Hall and Brian Lake are missing, not to mention midfield ace Shaun Higgins, the Bulldogs are a better team than the one that hasn’t won since Round 3.
South Australian football: After a great announcement last week that Adelaide Oval will undergo redevelopments that will bring AFL football back to the ground from 2014, the performances of the Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide Power have been pathetic so far in 2011. Combining for 3 wins in 13 games, with one win being the Power over the Crows, the proud footballing state of South Australia has a long road back to respectability in the AFL.
Big-mouthed Lions: Generally a fan of both Simon Black and Jonathan Brown, their pieces in the paper before the Suns game, taking pot-shots at both Jared Brennan and Michael Rischitelli was unnecessary. Rather than point the finger at them by claiming they left just for the money, maybe they should have a look back and see who they tried to palm off to Carlton in the failed Brendan Fevola experiment.
David Rodan’s knee injury: Very sad to see Rodan suffer yet another knee injury. Thankfully it isn’t as bad as initially thought, but after his having his third knee operation in two years, time might almost be up for the nuggety midfielder.