5 things I liked from Round 20
Stephen Milne: The St. Kilda Football Club has done an absolutely miraculous job to force their way back into the top eight after a dreadful start, where they won just 2 games in the first 9 rounds. With a lot of senior players getting back into form over the last 6 weeks, the main catalyst for their winning streak is diminutive forward, Stephen Milne. The small forward has kicked 24 goals over the last six games, leading the Saints in goalkicking in all but one match in that span, and is having one of his best seasons of an excellent career. With 46 goals next to his name and in a rich vein of form, this should finally be the year that the much-hated veteran makes his first All-Australian team.
Sam Reid: This kid is the future of the Sydney Swans. At just 19 years of age, the young key forward has shown an absolute abundance of promise this season and had a remarkable game against the Bombers this weekend. He slotted three important goals and took some really excellent grabs. With another pre-season or two under his belt, the sky is the limit for the exciting young star.
Steve Johnson: Not the toughest opponents in the last fortnight, but this bloke is just so clever and so creative. An absolute joy to watch. He’s been somewhat inaccurate this season, but he can create opportunities out of nothing for both himself and his teammates, evidenced by his 45 goal assists so far in 2011. I don’t look forward to the damage he’ll do against the Swans in two weeks’ time, though.
West Coasts’ youth: Brilliant youth movement going on over in the West. They have an absolute plethora of talent under the age of 25. They won’t win the flag in 2011, but with all of Josh Kennedy (23 years old), Matt Rosa (24), Mark LeCras (25 on August 30), Ashley Smith (21), Jack Darling (19), Brad Ebert (21), Nic Naitanui (21), Beau Waters (25), Luke Shuey (21), Shannon Hurn (23), Scott Selwood (21) and Andrew Gaff (19) 25 years old or younger, it’s easy to see some premiership glory in the near future for these young eaglets.
Dyson Heppell: The Bombers drafted a great footballer in the young Heppell. I’ve sang his praises before, but having watched him play live for the first time this season, he impressed me to no end. Such a smooth mover, Heppell, without having breakaway speed, can separate from players and, just like his first senior AFL coach, always seems to make the right decisions. With 19 games under his belt so far this season, Heppell gets my vote for the 2011 NAB Rising Star.
5 things I didn’t like from Round 20
Umpiring, Mk I: Every supporter at Etihad Stadium for the Essendon v Sydney fixture has to be upset with the umpiring. Especially that of umpire Steve McBurney. Too many times, McBurney put the whistle to his lips for poor deliberate out of bounds calls and phantom push in the back free kicks, yet missed blatant in the backs and an obvious throw from Swan Josh Kennedy that sent Adam Goodes galloping forward into an open forward line. It was a shocking display of umpiring, with both sides being penalised with some very questionable calls. It didn’t affect the outcome greatly, but cast a shadow over what was one of the contests of the season.
Umpiring, Mk II: Just like the umpiring at Etihad on Saturday night, the umpiring in Sunday’s twilight clash between West Coast and Richmond was deplorable. Only this time, only one side, Richmond, got dealt a very raw deal. Umpires Jeff Dalgleish, Shane Stewart and Luke Farmer penalised the Tigers a ridiculous 30 times compared to 14 against the Eagles. With many calls, it was blatantly obvious that the home crowd had a profound influence on the umpire blowing the whistle. Worst call of the night: Daniel Kerr being run down for a blatant holding the ball, only to win a free kick and a 50m penalty. Ridiculous that a crowd can have such an influence on professional umpires.
Jeff Gieschen: What exactly does Jeff Gieschen get paid to do Mollycoddle umpires in the media and make sure no-one hurts their feelings? The officiating over the last two weeks has been some of the worst in recent memory. Last week it was Razor Ray Chamberlain’s pathetic game. This week, it was McBurney and Dalgleish ruining the game. It’s high time for Jeff Gieschen to a) Get over his sour grapes from what was an underwhelming coaching career, b) hold umpires accountable for poor performances, starting with Chamberlain, McBurney and Dalgleish, and c) step down from his post as Director of Umpires. The game, surely, would be richer without the Giesch in charge, who clearly doesn’t hold any of the umpires accountable after shocking decision-making weekends.
Port Adelaide: They were playing an in-form Collingwood side, but to hemorrhage 44 scoring plays compared to six is inexplicable. I seriously fear for the future of this club. We all know their financial woes, while on-field there aren’t a whole heap of up-and-coming stars. Travis Boak will be a star, as will Hamish Hartlett and Robbie Gray. Other than that, there isn’t a whole lot to get excited about at Alberton. It will be a long four/five years of rebuilding for Port Adelaide fans.
Blowouts: Let’s be honest here; no-one likes a blowout. While it’s fun when your team batters another, too many and it makes the competition look extremely unbalanced. With three 100+ point wins over the last two weeks, unbalanced is exactly what we have. The Suns will get better (with their concessions, how could they not?) but still face a tough season next year. But I’m afraid that is where it will probably end. With the GWS Giants getting a monopoly on the next couple of drafts, it’s hard to see Brisbane, Port Adelaide, Adelaide and, to a degree, the Western Bulldogs, get better over the the next two to three seasons with compromised drafting and the introduction of free agency. Let’s sit back and see how the AFL handles this trend.