They’re flying high
All week, Friday night loomed as a what if game for the West Coast Eagles. Coming off the by in Round 15 and a big win at the MCG over premiership contenders Carlton the week before, the Eagles were a dark horse to inflict only the second defeat of Geelong this season. They did not disappoint their fans.
In what was a cracking affair where neither side took a backward step, the Eagles showed the AFL world that, not only was their impressive win over Carlton not a fluke, but that they were well and truly out of the AFL wilderness after a wooden-spoon season in 2010. Their run and carry when they had the football on Friday night was a sight to behold.
The way they harassed the ballcarrier in packs, forced turnovers and broke the lines with long, penetrating kicks was one of the best displays of football all season. A premiership coach that had his position questioned at the start of 2011, John Worsfold has bought into the direction football has taken, and has implemented a gameplan similar to the one that won Collingwood a premiership; hunt the ball carrier in packs, force turnovers with press coverage and, when the ball is in hand, run and carry to break the lines and deliver the ball long into the forward line.
Even when Geelong came hard at them in the second half, the young eagles of Luke Shuey, Shannon Hurn and Nic Naitanui dared to dream and played well beyond their years. Naitanui is the joker in the pack for the Eagles. His ability to play as a ruckman and a rover, forcing himself on every contest and playing with a determination that is frightening to behold, adds another dimension to this Eagles team. Similarly, Hurn’s attack on the ball and willingness to create plays out of defensive fifty is remarkable, and rookie Jack Darling reads the ball so well, one could swear he is a 200-game AFL player. Couple that with the current form of elder statesmen Andrew Embley, Dean Cox and Daniel Kerr, and the Eagles will be a tough out come September.
On Friday night, the elder trio mentioned above stood up like the premiership stars they are. And what a difference those three make to the team. With Daniel Kerr back in form after some lean years, and Embley running off out of defence and creating scoring opportunities with perfectly delivered passes deep forward, this West Coast outfit is a formidable foe.
Throw in Dean Cox, who is without peer this season as a ruckman and should have the All-Australian position locked up, and the Eagles have a great mixture of youth and experience.
The Eagles have four road games left, playing St. Kilda, the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne all at Etihad Stadium, as well as a trip to the GABBA, which hasn’t been the Gabbatoir it once was, the Eagles don’t have any road games that should make them nervous.
One common theme amongst premiership teams from the past six seasons (other than finishing in the top 4) has been the spread of goal kickers. Since 2005, premiership teams have had, on average, 6 players who have kicked 20 or more goals during the premiership season, with Geelong in 2007 and 2009 having 9, while Sydney and West Coast had four apiece in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
So far this season, the Eagles have three players with 20 or more goals, with the likelihood of at least five more who could break 20 by season’s end. With so many players capable hitting the scoreboard in any game, the Eagles have a potent mix of offensive firepower. Couple that with their 4th-ranked defense, and this team getting a home final, where they are an extremely dangerous outfit, a preliminary final berth for these reborn Eagles is not to hard to believe.
Currently sitting in 5th, a game and a half above Sydney, the Eagles are well-placed for a late assault on the top 4 with a somewhat favourable run home. If they are able to win 6 of their last 8, which is reasonable considering their draw, they will be a real chance to usurp Hawthorn for a spot in the top four. Once there, who knows? One thing is for certain, though; they’ll shake up September.
See the Bombers fly up….then down….then back up
One word to describe Essendon’s season thus far – whirlwind. Riding high at the start of 2011 with the return of two favourite sons and an excellent run through the NAB Cup, the Bombers started off the season with promise, beating two finalists from 2010, narrowly losing to the Swans, fighting out a gallant draw with Carlton and demoralising the Gold Coast Suns. Things looked promising at Windy Hill.
Throw in some key injuries to Jobe Watson, Jason Winderlich and the form slump of Paddy Ryder, and the Bombers had a horrid run, losing to Melbourne, Richmond, Fremantle, and Hawthorn badly in a 5-week span. All the players’ hearts were questioned. The list management and lack of movement during the trade period was questioned. The honeymoon was over for James Hird, and the reality was the Bombers weren’t very good. Or was the slump just an unwanted illusion? A mini-reversal back to the Matthew Knights era? With a thrilling victory over Geelong and ten-goal turnaround against the Tigers this weekend, who knows which Essendon outfit is the real deal?
Against the Cats, the Bombers were sensational, leading at every change and answering a 7-goal last quarter from the Cats with their own 5-goal haul that saw them sneak over the line. Set up for a danger game against the Tigers in Round 16, the team that started the Bombers’ mid-year slump, the game looked like it was the Tigers’ for the taking. Coming off an embarrassing and uninspired beating at the hands of Carlton, the young cubs saw themselves in front just before quarter time and, even though Essendon were the slicker team, Richmond’s heart held the lead. Unfortunately for them, Essendon found their heart.
Engineering a revival late in the third term, the Bombers shocked the Tigers with an inspired 10-goal turnaround to run out emphatic winners by 39-points. The much-maligned Brent Stanton was a standout for Essendon, winning contests at will and feeding the outside runners of Dyson Heppell, Leroy Jetta and Kyle Reimers.
Playing reactive football in the first half, the Bombers lifted their intensity and attack on the ball in the second half, laying an impressive 95 tackles to physically beat the young tigers. On top of their tremendous defensive pressure, the three tall defenders of Dustin Fletcher, Tayte Pears and Michael Hurley did a remarkable job for the Bombers, smothering Jack Riewoldt’s impact on the game and showing once again that the Tigers desperately need one of Tyrone Vickery, Jayden Post or Ben Griffiths to develop quickly and become the second option that Jack desperately needs.
Similar to the Eagles, the Bombers‘ pressure and run in the second half was an excellent display of the current trend that football is taking. They dared to take on their direct opponents, hit a target who can then lay it off to runners who were surging forward, breaking the lines and putting defenders under immense pressure. Sneaking back into the top eight with their second consecutive win, the Bombers play in Adelaide Friday night against the Crows. Win that one, and Round 18’s Saturday night clash with old foes Carlton becomes a block buster. I, for one, can’t wait for that game!
5 things I liked from Round 16
Andrew Embley and Daniel Kerr: These two players were second-string leaders during the Judd-Cousins era. During the last three seasons, neither player has grown into the leaders the Eagles needed. Now, they have. Combining for 57 disposals, 7 inside 50s and 8 rebound 50s on Friday night, both players have returned to their 2005-2007 form and are key figures in West Coast’s revival. Embley’s ball winning ability in the back half and pinpoint accuracy with his disposal streaming through the middle of the ground gave Geelong fits Friday night. Couple that with Kerr’s ability to win the contested ball and burst out of packs, and these two will have a large impact on how far the Eagles get come finals.
Jarrad McVeigh: One of the players that gets absolutely lambasted on Sydney Swans fan forums for his form this year, Jarrad McVeigh has had a very good three week spell. Struggled early in the year with the added pressure of the captaincy, but has really grown into the role. He’s been able to put the shocker against Carlton behind him and has started hitting the scoreboard more. Something that the Swans desperately need. Averaging 21 disposals and four tackles a game to go along with 14 goals for the year, hopefully Sydney supporters lay off Macca. Although that is highly doubtful, he has my approval. I’m sure that’s all he cares about. (Disclaimer: Not really. I’m not that pretentious.)
Essendon’s fourth quarter: The Bombers could teach Miami’s LeBron James a thing or two about performing in the last quarter. Last week they were able to kick 5 goals against a desperate Geelong outfit, while this week outscoring the Tigers 45-3 in the last quarter. With one of their biggest weaknesses last year being the ability to run games out, the Bombers seem to have rectified that issue in a big way.
Buddy Franklin’s mobility: This man is a physical freak and one-of-a-kind athlete never before seen in the AFL. We all know about his leaping ability, marking prowess and large tank, but seeing a 6’4 ½” man that weighs 100kg gather a bouncing ball, turn on his heel and kicking a running goal from 45 metres out is an absolute spectacle. He is, in my mind, the best forward in the competition and a top 5 AFL player. Just imagine if he could kick straight.
Steele Sidebottom in his 50th: And all the other Magpies who played. I hold no soft spot for Collingwood, but watching the game with no emotional involvement, I can’t see any team beating them to the 2011 premiership. I just love the way they play football. They’re fast. They chase. They tackle. They’re efficient. They’ve got stars all over the park and every man does his job, not least Steele Sidebottom. In his 50th game for the club, Steele showed the goal awareness that saw him drafted in the first place and showed why the Pies are such a dangerous team; every player is a threat to score in this side. Congratulations, Steele, on an excellent start to your career.
5 things I didn’t:
Stevie J’s undisciplined play: Just as we all know about Buddy Franklin’s unique skill set, so, too, do we know that Geelong’s Steve Johnson is somewhat of a modern-day Peter Daicos. Late in the game Friday night against West Coast with Geelong trailing, Stevie J again tried to play the hero when there were better options around him. For a two-time premiership player who is one of the smartest and creative players in the AFL, one would think that he would have the discipline to know when to defer to teammates. He can create opportunities for others just as well as he can for himself. It’s about time he started to.
Richmond’s last quarter: As good as Essendon’s last quarter was, Richmond’s last quarter was equally as terrible. The body language of Jack Riewoldt in the fourth quarter as undesirable for a young team, and their intensity died with every Bombers scoring play. Leaders like Chris Newman, Riewoldt and Brett Deledio needed to stand up and lead the way, but they failed to do so. I have a soft spot for the Tigers, but would like to see a bit more fight in them late in games when things don’t go their way. Having said that, Deledio could be a top 5 player in this competition, so I would love to see him let loose and playing through the midfield, using that blistering pace and raking right foot freely.
North Melbourne: What a pathetic display by the Kangaroos today. With a 6-8 record going into Round 16, the Roos obviously weren’t expected to win this game. But they were expected to compete. They all but gave up after half time, scoring a despicable one goal after the main break, all while being outscored 81-10 in the second half. For a team that calls themselves professionals, that was arguably the worst effort we’ve seen all year, and one they will want to forget.
Brendon Goddard’s knee: Known as a bit of a hothead who can lash out at times, Brendon Goddard’s sly knee to the head of Port Adelaide’s Cameron O’Shea in the second quarter of Sunday’s game should be reviewed by the match review panel. Although there wasn’t much contact made, the intention was there and was, quite frankly, very cowardly. Although he ended up playing a very influential game, Goddard had lowered his colours somewhat to the younger O’Shea and lashed out because of it. Wouldn’t be disappointed to see Goddard on the sidelines for at least two weeks for a cheap shot that has no part in our game.
Carlton: With only two losses heading into Round 14 and a spot in the top four looking increasingly likely, Carlton have dropped two of their last three games and are walking a dangerous line. I know they battered Richmond just last week, but the Tigers are a young team that is feeling the strains of a long season. The teams that beat the Blues, West Coast and the Western Bulldgos, will (or should) both play finals this season. Of the top eight teams at the end of Round 16, the Blues are 2-3 against them, with both wins coming over Sydney. With just a half game lead over West Coast and with match-ups against Collingwood, Essendon, Fremantle (away), Hawthorn and St. Kilda over the last third of the season, Carlton’s top four chances are looking a lot shakier than they were three weeks ago.