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  • Writer's pictureSporting Chance

Everyone’s thinking it… No one’s saying it

Updated: Oct 6, 2018

After two months of footy, perhaps a little honesty is required

By Gordon Hunter Meredith

Sporting Chance Magazine AFL

In the world of sports coaches are more akin to politicians, than translators when it comes to explaining what’s really going on under the hood at ‘club land’ while the MRP speaks of protocol and AFL HQ in press releases.

As fans, we already know what is going to be said but we want to know what coaches, players and administrator are actually thinking…

… and because we’re never actually ever going to find out. I’ve had a crack at guessing. Let’s read the tea leaves after two months of AFL action.

Everyone’s thinking it but nobody’s saying it, about...
I'll take ya... I might just not have any impact

ADELAIDE: “Where does Taylor Walker go for the big games?”

Thanks to Melbourne fans, we all know that the mid-season holiday is the cheapest option for those wishing to chase the sun or jump around in the snow for a weekend, (or three) but ‘Tex’ doesn’t really strike us as a snow bunny and he’s already got a pretty healthy tan.

So if it isn’t a Round 8 vacay, where does the skipper go for the crunch games? Because he hasn’t really turned up for the big moments this season.

Ever since is quiet, two-goal/ten-disposal game in last year’s Grand Final there have been whispers about Walker’s willingness to stand out when the spotlight is turned up to 10.

In Adelaide’s losses this season he’s averaged 2 goals, 9 touches, 3 marks and 1.5 tackles. While the mo-less Texan usually chips in with a couple of snags, when the going gets tough he doesn’t really offer much else.

Not great from the so-called “best leader” in the competition.

BRISBANE: “What’s ‘performance anxiety’? Aren’t the Lions just a bad team at the moment?”

After screwing the pooch against the Bulldogs on the weekend, coach Chris Fagan came out and diagnosed his charges with performance anxiety.”

Fagan in his post-match presser had this to say:

“I’ve often wondered that, whether you forget how (to win) or you get a little bit anxious. I thought there were times tonight where we had the ball and we were trying too hard almost to force it. And I’ve seen that in a few of the close losses that we’ve had this year. We’ve talked about it. There is a bit of that, I reckon.”

Perhaps the Lions have actually forgotten how to win.

They let matches against St Kilda (Round 1) and Melbourne (Round 2) slip, before almost clawing one back against Port. They lead for all of a handful of minutes against the Suns (and only lost by five) and let Collingwood have the ball last in Round 7. But afraid to lose? Anxious? If the Lions are scared of losing, they must have been petrified for the last two months.

Losses to 16th, 14th, 13th, 11th and 8th mean that the opponents are only going to get harder in the coming weeks.

CARLTON: “We might win eight games this year!”

The lid is off at Princes Park! After 266 days between group sing-a-longs, things are bright and bubbling in Carlton. They had seven players sing the song for the first time (lucky it’s a simple one) and finally Bolton has a W to put next to his long list of platitudes, cliches and truisms.

Truth be told however, Carlton are looking alright this season. Not “convincingly-make-the-Top-8” alright but definitely “win-a-couple-and-over-celebrate-like-buggery” type alright. Cripps, the Curnow Brothers, Kreuzer, Simpson and even Thomas has stellar games on the weekend and most of that list have had decent seasons so far as well.

The Blues’ should be considered 50/50 chances against Melbourne, Collingwood and Port Adelaide and have a huge sniff against Brisbane, St Kilda, Gold Coast, and the Western Bulldogs.

But then again… it is still Carlton. Perhaps some calm is in order. Perhaps not.

COLLINGWOOD: “We actually don’t practice goal kicking do we? Do we?!”

5.15… Five goals, FIFTEEN behinds. 25% goal kicking accuracy.

The Pies matched Geelong in pretty much every other important KPI. Even in disposal efficiency, they split the clearances, even on the inside 50 count and had similar scoring shot production. BUT. Then. Did. Not. Ever. Look. Likely. Of. Kicking. The. Leather. Ball. Through. The. Big. Sticks. Ever.

Collingwood have actually been one of the better teams in regards to goal accuracy so far this season, going at 54.89% accuracy but it’s been set shots that have deflated many a Collingwood fan’s day.

The Pies were ranked in the bottom three teams for set shots last season and nothing much has changed this season. We’d imagine that Buckley would be sitting in the box, muttering to himself: “I’d kick that… I should just sub myself in?” (It wouldn’t be he’s worst decision.)

ESSENDON: “Maybe sacking Worsfold is the best thing for everyone…”

So… heads are already starting to roll as there’s nothing better to act as a catalyst for a crisis than a loss to the perennially struggling “Old Foe.”

Yes, ‘Woosha’ is signed a two year extension in March but perhaps paying him out to start again is a sneaky good tactical manoeuvre. Worsfold gets his severance, (or not) the Bombers get an excuse to have a ‘mini-rebuild’ for the final two-thirds of the season while the ‘coaching-selection-panel-protocol’ takes place. Plus, there’s always a chance of Essendon snagging a few wins in the “New-or-Interim-Coach-Appointment-Honeymoon-Period.”

If it’s good enough for the Premier League, NBA, NFL and pretty much every other professional sports league, surely it’s good enough for the AFL.

Then again, perhaps the Bombers aren’t in crisis… The season is only eight weeks old. Oh, wait. They lost to the Blues. It’s crisis time.

FREMANTLE: “How much would it cost us to pay every club so that we could play every game at home?”

The Dockers this season with their anchor dropped: 3–1 (with an average of 96 points per game and an average points differential of +23)

The Dockers this season when the ship has to sail away: 1–3 (with an average of 60 points per game and an average points differential of -32.5)

Long story short… it could be a long six months in the leaky travelling boat for Fremantle, but when they ship is docked in their home bay, the sailors will play.

There’s no worse “two-faced” team in the competition at the moment… yes, that even includes those “flat track bully” Eagles.

GEELONG: “Should we be worried that Garry’s our leading possession getter?”

Well… to be fair, he is not Geelong’s leading possession winner for the season because he’s only played four games.

From those four games however, “The Little Master” has collected, on average, 33 possessions per game. “Gazzie Jnr’s back!” Exclaim the adoring Cats fans, but Ablett’s kicks and handballs only tell half the story.

While his kicks, marks and handball tallies are all above his career averages, his more qualitative stats are down. Goal assists, clearances and inside 50s are below his career average. As are his tackle numbers. His contested possession ratio has dropped from 45.4% to 32.1% and his clanger rate has increased from 11% to 15%.

Ablett might be getting more of the ball, but he’s doing far less with it. It’s time for Chris Scott to do what he should of done from the beginning of the year: play him forward.

Give the Geelong Football Club the small forward they need and Cats’ fans the mercurial goal sneak they want.

GOLD COAST: “What do we have to do to avoid going to China?”

The Suns season at 3–5 is far from lost but with only two nominal home games so far this season, I don’t think many blokes are that keen in a week long trip to China after living out of a suitcase for the last two months.

At the end of the first month of travel, the Eagles belted the Suns by 80 points. At the end of the second month, it was Melbourne’s turn to lay the boot in to the tune of 69 points.

Are the young lads ready for a mad dash so that the AFL can make its cash? Probably not.

They’re probably just keen to get back Surfer’s to enjoy their bye week.

GWS: “We’ve got the best 44 player squad in the competition… any danger they can a) stay healthy and b) kick straight?”

Brett Deledio (leader) / Tom Scully (leader + best two way player) / Adam Kennedy (solid defender) / Zac Williams (young jet) / Toby Greene (All Australian forward) / Josh Kelly (bonafide jet) / Will Setterfield (Rising Star)…

That’s a third of the Giants best 22 sitting in the stands each week and in the rehab centre between fixtures. Sure, the Giants have depth, but no one in the AFL has two full sides of talent to burn through in a year.

Despite the lengthy casualty list, the Giants haven’t been blow away in games, but the apparently complex art of the set shot has alluded them and has meant that they haven’t pinched any results either.

9.19 in a draw to the Saints. 10.17 in what ended up as a cruisy win against the Lions. 4.8 in the game that shall not be mentioned for the rests of Giants history, and 8.13 against the Eagles last week.

The Giants have the eighth worst goal kicking accuracy (42%) but over the last month, the Giants have managed 31.57 (35%) for a results return of 1–1–2. No point fighting if you can’t hit the target.

HAWTHORN: “If McEvoy, Mitchell and O’Meara are THAT good… shouldn’t we be dominating the clearances?”

So… let’s talk about this ‘exceptional’ midfield we keep hearing about. The elite rucking of McEvoy. The leather poising suffered by Tom Mitchell. The mercurial feats of O’Meara. Must be a pretty hard midfield to match up against?

Not Really… They only average 1.3 clearances more than their opponents this season and have lost the clearance count twice already this season by double digits: -12 vs. North Melbourne and -11 vs. Sydney on Friday.

Is it a coincidence that they were both losses? Perhaps, but Tom Mitchell looks more accumulator than dynamo, McEvoy looks more taps than hitouts to advantage and O’Meara looks more enigma than magical.

The Hawks have plenty of talent all over the park but if I was a fan of the Brown and Gold, I’d be more excited about the Hawks bookends than what’s in the the guts this season.

MELBOURNE: “Have you tried this new beverage by the makers of kombucha? It’s called ‘Your Own Bathwater.’ It tastes great but the only problem is that it makes you play terrible footy once every four weeks…”

Melbourne’s season so far: Tight win, comfortable win, big win… TWO MASSIVE LOSSES (Back-to-back!) Comfortable win, comfortable win, big win… So, can you pick the pattern? Perhaps it’s reductive but no team has been better at disappointing the masses after everyone just got comfortable in expecting them to succeed.

My podcast co-host blames their tendency to mouth-off in the media, a concept ignored at first, but Brian Randall is a coach after all… so perhaps he’s on to something.

If you see a spate of Instagram action, Snapchat stories, media think pieces, talk back chit chat or a plethora of players on the panel shows… stay away from them for the next fortnight.

There would be nothing more ‘Melbourney’ than losing to the Blues this weekend.

NORTH MELBOURNE: “I know we’re still outside The Eight, but we only lost to Richmond by 10 points… so technically we’re the second best team in the AFL, yeah?”

Yeah… maybe, but probably not. It’s a cliche, but it’s a valid one in this case that you can only beat who’s in front of you BUT it’s statistical sense to alert people to the fact that eight games is too small of a sample size to see if a team is “really, real yet, fo sho.”

The Kangaroos’ kill list includes St Kilda (16th), Carlton (17th), Hawthorn (5th), Sydney (7th), so they do have two ‘proper’ scalps BUT they also lowered their colours to Gold Coast (14th), Melbourne (6th), Port Adelaide (8th) and of course Richmond on the weekend.

So, their draw has been ‘tricky’ and they have squared their ledger but until they claim a Top 4 scalp… they just can’t be considered “real.”

The other little wrinkle that’s perhaps a slight cause for concern are the “tricksy” strategies that Brad Scott has employed so far this season. No wings against the Hawks. A huge reliance on “iso-ball” for Ben Brown. Super slow tempo play against the Swans. Does he have a trick for every club? I suppose we’ll find out.

PORT ADELAIDE: “Man… when the conditions are right, and we haven’t overeaten, or under slept, or travelled too far, and we’ve had some good tunes on in the rooms before the game, and Hinkley’s pre-match story was funny, and Westhoff’s beard’s sitting just right… we’re a bloody good football team!”

Showdown 44 could well go down as Match of the Season. It was just, such a fantastic spectacle! And how good were Port?! But that’s not what has piqued more curiosity. My inquisition drifts to WHY this weekend and WHY NOT in equally important games like Round 4 vs. Essendon, Round 5 vs. Geelong or Round 7 vs. West Coast.

Using the ‘emotional stimulant’ of the ‘big game rev up’ (which was transparently evident on Saturday evening) is effective but it’s ‘hit’ is short in half life.

Port’s match day 22 needs to find it within themselves to “get up for games” but we haven’t seen it from this club in the last 18 months. A trip to China, a rest and then Hawthorn and Richmond makes for a good yardstick to see if this squad can become self-perpetuating.

RICHMOND: “Can we just have the Cup again now, please? I know “Richmondy” is a positive thing now… but we remember when it wasn’t. And we’re scared.”

Richmond are currently the №1 ranked offensive team (102.75 pts scored / game) AND the №1 ranked defensive team (68.75 pts conceded / game).

The last time Richmond were statistically considered the best all-round team in the competition was Round 2 of the 1949 season… a season where the Tigers DID NOT win the Premiership. So pardon my fear, but one must ask have Richmond peaked too soon?

17 clubs and all but the 100,000 odd paid-up Tiges members will be hopeful that it has but at the moment Richmond’s game plan looks in penetrable.

Murmurs are bubbling that “Tiger Footy” is ‘ugly’ or perhaps even ‘anti-football’ but to admonish Richmond’s complete team play over the last 16 fixtures is to deny the one great truisms in sport.

“A champion team will always beat a team of champions.”

The 2018 Richmond Football Club is a club that has a playing list which is a perfect mix of triers and flyers, ‘will’ players and ‘skill’ players, grunt men and greats… but most importantly they all know their role, can often play multiple roles and orchestrated by a head coach who is comfortable in his position and confident in his match philosophies.

BUT… the last time Richmond was the undisputed №1 team in the competition, they didn’t win the Premiership, they didn’t even make finals.They finished 6th, the 1949 version of ninth in a 12-club competition.

So pardon me for not booking the 1st October out for a massive Mad Monday Grand Final celebration… just yet.

ST KILDA: “Hey, Tassie? Want a club? You can have it for free…”

St Kilda’s Tale of the Tape: W/L/L/L/D/L/L/L…

Since Round 2, the Saints have averaged 58.7 points per game, and conceded on average 94.7. Their average losing margin has been 42 points. That’s right seven goals. They’re goal kicking accuracy is 38.5% (10% below the league average.) St Kilda are managing eight goals a match, two fewer than the next worst in competition. They’re last in clearances and equal last in contested possessions. The Saints can’t win their own ball, they can’t use when it’s gifted to them and if they do find themselves in scoring range… they can’t convert.

Alan Richardson must be the luckiest man in coaching fraternity. Mark Neeld was an Essendon assistant and they’ve won two games. St Kilda only have one win and a draw… and the clock is ticking.

SYDNEY: “Who said we’re a one man club? We’re a one man per night club…”

Round 1: Lance Franklin kicked 8 goals. Round 3: Callum Sinclair kicked three and had 45 hit outs. Round 6: Josh Kennedy had 36 possessions and a red hot 4th Quarter. Round 8: Ben Ronke became the only player to lay 10 tackles and kick 7 goals in a single game.

They are all impressive feats but should it be a concern that the Swans have been reliant on Top 1% of competition outputs by one player in all but one of their wins this season? Even if it is more often than not a different solo operator?

The best teams have depth and spread the load… and do it every match. The Swans are currently taking turns in giving piggy backs.

WEST COAST: “Hey! Melbourne! Look west… No, past Adelaide… Yeah, that giant new stadium on the edge of the country, with all the flashing lights. Yeah, that’s the one. Enjoy playing finals here. Oh! We also made it deliberately the same size as the MCG so now none of that bullocks happens again come the big dance. Remember… Footy’s a WA thing. You guys can stick to craft beers, single origin coffee and cheating your way to soccer Grand Final wins.

Victorian AFL fans… be afraid. Be very afraid. The Eagles currently have the second best attack, the fifth best defence and the equal first best home ground advantage.

All that they need to do now, is work out how to win at the ‘G.

WESTERN BULLDOGS: “This is possibly the worst we’ve felt after winning three in a row…”

Fairy Floss Fact: The Dogs have won three in a row and are now only percentage points outside the Top 8. 

Reality Bran Cracker: Those wins came against Carlton (17th, by 21 points), Gold Coast (14th by 9 points) and Brisbane (18th by 14 points).

None were convincing. And they were all at home.

So the excitement level? It’s about the same as you feel getting out of bed on a frosty morning in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne with no socks on… minimal.

And because it’s not just about the players, coaches and fans…

AFL UMPIRES: “The coaches’ idea to stop us from giving out match-day reports might really help us. Between soft as butter MRP referrals and the score-review blunders, the fans won’t have enough energy to have a go at us!”

AFL MEDIA: Geez! “How good was the Friday Night game between Hawthorn and Sydney?” **Checks notes.** (Oh, heaps of stoppages and only 150 points scored…) I meant, “How good was The Showdown?!” **Checks notes.** (Oh, boatloads of tackles and lots of pressure on the ball carrier…) I meant , “How good was Gold Coast vs. Melbourne?” **Checks notes.** There was 223 points scored!

AFL HQ: [In an open address to all AFL participants] “Right, so if anyone else has a hidden skeleton, it’s time to drag them out. While we’re running a couple of investigations already, we may as well do it all at once. One big independent investigation. Who’s running it? Oh, our internal, independent investigations unit… of course.


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