Jordan Lewis stood tall for Melbourne on Friday night. Picture: AAP Images
Jordan Lewis stood tall for Melbourne on Friday night. Picture: AAP Images

The Tackle: Only the tough survive September

FROM Jordan Lewis taking risks and coming up big to young Giant Harry Himmelberg making a name for himself on the big stage, the opening week of finals was full of massive moments.

However, there are also plenty of questions for the losers.

Where does Chris Scott take the Cats and why can't the Swans make the most of Buddy?

In this week's Tackle, Mark Robinson gives his likes and dislikes from all four massive finals.

WEST COAST V COLLINGWOOD

LIKES

1. The machinations

While it seemed Steele Sidebottom was off the chain for a quarter and a half, West Coast coach Adam Simpson admitted on 3AW his plan was to send Mark Hutchings to Sidebottom from the start, but they couldn't get a lock-down.

Sidebottom started at half-forward and played high and Hutchings was in the midfield.

When Simpson eventually sent Hutchings to half-back and on to Sidebottom, Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley sent Sidebottom to the midfield. It messed up a bit of Simpson's planning, especially when the magnets changed after Brad Sheppard injured his hamstring.

The Pies champ had 17 disposals in the first half and 10 in the second half, so when Hutchings was able to get to the lockdown, he did a reasonable job.

Steele Sidebottom was on fire early against the Eagles. Picture: Getty Images
Steele Sidebottom was on fire early against the Eagles. Picture: Getty Images

2. Dom Sheed

Was in the team before the Andrew Gaff furore, but has taken his game to a higher level since the Melbourne match.

That was his career-best game from a numbers point of view - 27 disposals, 15 contested possessions, game-high seven clearances and seven score involvements, which was the second most on the ground. Could add some pressure to his game, but his strength as a ball-winner held him in good stead against the Pies. Kicked a terrific goal from the boundary in the second quarter, although Eagles coach Simpson said he was getting antsy when Sheed, a left-footer, ran to the boundary to take the free kick for deliberate out of bounds.

He wasn't antsy for long as Sheed kicked the goal after Collingwood had kicked five of the previous six goals.

Arguably Sheed's best game of his 76-game career.

DISLIKES

1. Not tough enough for long enough

Midway through the third quarter, the Pies had West Coast under siege.

The tackling and pressure was obscene - they won contested ball by 12 in quarters two and three - and a rout loomed. Then their intensity dropped. They lost contested footy by 13, which was their fourth-worst differential in a quarter this season, and groundball by 12. True, the Eagles lifted, but also true was the Pies couldn't go with them. Still, a performance like that on the road, in front of 58,000 hostile supporters and kicking six goals in the second quarter, doesn't deserve condemnation.

Mason Cox had a tough night against the Eagles. Picture: AAP Images
Mason Cox had a tough night against the Eagles. Picture: AAP Images

2. Chill on Mason Cox

Horrible night for tall forwards and just five disposals and two marks - in his first final - wasn't what Buckley and Cox were hoping for.

That Cox made life difficult for Jeremy McGovern helped turn the tide after quarter-time. McGovern took seven marks in the first term and two in the next three quarters as Cox and Chris Mayne did their role.

This week, hopefully Cox can be more influential on the scoreboard.

GEELONG V MELBOURNE

LIKES

1. Jordan Lewis

Gave votes to one of Melbourne's half-backs, Christian Salem, and left out the other, Jordan Lewis, who played exactly the type of finals game Melbourne brought him to the club for.

Lewis' strengths and weaknesses were pulled apart by commentators in the final six weeks of the season and there were calls for him to be dropped. Lewis shrugged his shoulders at the criticism, as he has done all his career, particularly about his misplaced aggression, and got on with playing football.

Truth is, he was average for a time there, but coach Simon Goodwin stuck fat. Lewis' strength is calmness amid the chaos brought by his dog-hungry younger teammates.

Lewis usually searches left and right for the short kick, but on Friday night he was aware of the need to take territory. It was his second-best game of the season by ranking points (106) behind his game against Collingwood in Round 12 (117). Lewis' average for short kicks this season was 64 per cent - against the Cats it was 50 per cent.

 

2. The kids

Always there's talk about a lack of finals experience, but belief overrides almost all negatives.

Melbourne's youth revelled in the occasion. Clayton Oliver (aged 21), Angus Brayshaw (22) and James Harmes (22) were the Dees' top three disposal winners, and Christian Salem (23) was next best off half-back. Beside him was Oscar McDonald (22), who was solid.

Up the other end, Bayley Fritsch (21), Charlie Spargo (18), Sam Weideman (21), Alex Neal- Bullen (22) and Christian Petracca (22) all played roles, although it was Weideman who delivered his best game of his career on the September stage. No other AFL team has a better group of 22-year-olds and younger.

DISLIKES

1. Midfield efficiency

Richmond played scrub football in the wet on Thursday night and Geelong played some scrub football in the dry on Friday night.

When Cats coach Chris Scott gets around to reviewing the game, he will wince at missed goals, poor ball delivery inside 50m and that moment Joel Selwood's aggression cost his team a shot at goal in the third quarter.

He's a champ, Selwood, but that was wretched behaviour when the Cats were challenging. But was one moment worse than bad kicking? Three of Geelong's midfield match-winners were far too sloppy with ball in hand. Patrick Dangerfield went at 45 per cent efficiency, Gary Ablett at 50 per cent and Mitch Duncan at 58 per cent.

Little wonder Dangerfield wished he could turn back time.

 

Where do Chris Scott and the Cats go now? Picture: Getty Images
Where do Chris Scott and the Cats go now? Picture: Getty Images

2. Personnel or game plan at Geelong?

Always it's both.

It's well documented that the Cats had six forward-50m tackles compared to Melbourne's 23 and the Cats coach knows work has to be done in that area. What to do with James Parsons, Zac Smith, Cory Gregson, Lincoln McCarthy, Jackson Thurlow, George Horlin-Smith, Daniel Menzel and Jordan Murdoch will be a major discussion, some more than others.

Menzel is an interesting player. Scott dumps him last year in the finals and is heavily criticised. He plays Menzel this year and the Cats are criticised for not tackling enough. Menzel might not be there next year and there are other issues more pressing. Namely the Cats off the bye, their starts in finals and winning finals.

The fact is the best of Ablett and Selwood is behind them, so too Harry Taylor, maybe even Lachie Henderson. They need a ruckman, Cam Guthrie has stagnated and Duncan has had one influential finals series (2017).

The finger is being pointed at Scott to find solutions, but the players have to take a high level of responsibility.

RICHMOND V HAWTHORN

LIKES

1. Dylan Grimes

Once again, one of the most dependable defenders kept a clean sheet, making it 12 times this season a goal has not been kicked on him in a game.

Grimes had Paul Puopolo as his main opponent on Thursday night, and also had a run with James Worpel, Luke Breust, Tom Mitchell and Harry Morrison and only gave up eight possessions.

He and Nick Vlastuin were formidable at half-back and soon enough we'll all have to acknowledge that while running half-backs get three spots in the All-Australian defence and are vital, the stopping defender is also vital.

Grimes also had three intercept marks, nine spoils (both No. 1 for Richmond) and nine intercepts, second to Vlastuin's 12.

 

Dylan Grimes is ultra-consistent for the Tigers. Picture: Getty Images
Dylan Grimes is ultra-consistent for the Tigers. Picture: Getty Images

2. Scrub football

There were echoes on Thursday night of Tom Hafey's famous speech at half-time of the 1975 preliminary final when he told Kevin Sheedy: "Kevin, fair dinkum mate, you've got to put your boot into the ball, you're too slow to do all this finessin'.''

There was no finessin' about the Tigers against the Hawks. The "territory game'' is the fandangles description of how the modern game is played, but the reality is it's always been there. In wet conditions it used to be called something simpler - "kick the bloody thing off the ground''.

Hawks coach Alastair Clarkson noted Richmond's strength in that area. Look at the stats, he said, so we did. In the first quarter, it was 12-4 Richmond, and then 3-5 in the second quarter, 9-3 in the game-winning third and 6-7 in the fourth. Total: Richmond 30 to Hawthorn's 19.

DISLIKES

1. Clarko's clip

No, print media aren't all sheep.

But when coaches keep their strategies secret and former players and coaches in the media extol the genius of Clarkson in particular, it's difficult not to have a level of respect and expectation heading into a final.

Clarkson's comments, in part, challenged the mystique of coaching on game day, that very rarely can coaches sprinkle magic dust in September and win the game.

The fact is system is important and so are attitude, spirit and morale, which is what former St Kilda coach Grant Thomas swears by. At the weekend, Richmond and Melbourne played "grubby'' and tough football and won. Hawthorn and Geelong were not tough enough for long enough, neither were Collingwood, and they lost.

Clarkson should be applauded for his honesty, reaffirming a Leigh Matthews idealism - that coaching in the box is overrated.

Is Jarryd Roughead still enjoying his football? Picture: Alex Coppel
Is Jarryd Roughead still enjoying his football? Picture: Alex Coppel

2. Has the "talk'' affected Jarryd Roughead?

Roughy kicked three goals from 11 disposals and was solid - kicking three of his team's nine goals is more than solid - but it ain't the same Roughy.

Age and pace have combined to curb his natural brilliance and you have to wonder if the talk with coach Alastair Clarkson about his future in the weeks leading up to the finals has thrown him a mental curve ball.

Is he thinking his fabulous career is over after this year? Is it easy for him to compartmentalise his future options? He's a pro, Roughead, but looks like he's missing some of the "fun'' factor.

GWS V SYDNEY

LIKES

1. Oh Phil, you've done it again

Will give Lance Franklin an out because he was carrying a groin injury, but that doesn't deny Phil Davis' performance or the fact Franklin has failed to kick a goal in his past two finals against the Giants.

GWS officials are still bewildered Davis was not in the All-Australian team.

Performances like Saturday's add to their argument. Franklin was the target 10 times inside 50m and scored just once from that play.

He had seven disposals and two marks, while Davis had 18 disposals and 12 intercept possessions.

Davis was helped by a more competitive midfield than in their Round 22 clash, where Davis hurt his back, but he still had to beat Franklin. It was mighty from the skipper.

 

Phil Davis won the battle with Lance Franklin. Picture: Phil Hillyard
Phil Davis won the battle with Lance Franklin. Picture: Phil Hillyard

2. Harry Himmelberg

Have seen glimpses of this bloke's talent, namely his four goals in last year's preliminary final against Richmond, and he took it to a new level against the Swans.

Toby Greene, Himmelberg and Jeremy Cameron form the front line of the Giants' attack and Himmelberg is emerging as a formidable member of it.

Has kicked goals in each of his past seven matches - 16 all up - and against the Swans had career-high disposals (23) and marks (nine), having Heath Grundy as his main opponent. Suspect Tyson Goldsack will be his next opponent, leaving Howe for Cameron.

DISLIKES

1. Studs up

Thought the Toby Greene foot to Luke Dahlhaus' face last year was a one-off and gave him the benefit of the doubt. That it happened at least three times in Saturday's game against Sydney was cause for concern. It's easily fixed.

The AFL should warn the GWS Giants and Greene to cease and desist and if it - studs up - continues to occur, a free kick will be paid against him for a dangerous act. In part, it is a smart move to protect the drop of the ball, but it's also dangerous.

 

Toby Greene needs to be careful. Picture: Phil Hillyard
Toby Greene needs to be careful. Picture: Phil Hillyard

2. Was Dermott Brereton right?

The AFL great said Sydney coach John Longmire had failed to make the most of Lance Franklin's talent, which the Swans disagreed with.

Well, they didn't make the most of all their talent against GWS, which poses a bundle of questions for Longmire. Is it his system? Can they score off that system?

Do they lack assistance for Franklin? Are they banged up? It was the perfect storm for Longmire on Saturday. They lost contested footy by 39, which was their most in a final, and their fourth-worst differential ever.

They gave up 33 points from stoppages in the Giants' forward-50 (the AFL average is seven) and the ball lived in their back half with a -25 inside 50m differential.

The failure will probably prompt a review because, like Geelong, they are a successful team without delivering the ultimate success in recent times. Adjustments will be made, but to what exactly will be interesting in 2019.

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