Bruised, not beaten
Hawthorn is like a champion prizefighter with a black eye, trapped in the corner of the ring. The Hawks will not go down as the blows are rained upon them week after week of this AFL season.
Meanwhile the likes of Port Adelaide, which sneaked a victory over Melbourne, and Sydney, which produced an almost unreal performance in flogging Geelong, are preparing creditable challenges to the title-holder and Collingwood, conqueror of downtrodden St Kilda, also could be in the mix.
Somehow, Hawthorn conjured a win over Greater Western Sydney Giants at the MCG when the Giants had most of the best players and played with manic intent from the outset. Just 17,000 people turned out, plainly expecting a routine annihilation.
Brendon Bolton must have been hugely relieved to have dodged the bullet of a defeat.
But had Jon Patton not missed from point blank range deep in the final quarter, and two shots by the Giants not hit the post in that period, the biggest upset of the season would have been a reality.
Hawthorn won by seven points to reach a decent 7-3 record, but Jordan Lewis (groin) pulled out before the game, and David Hale (thigh) broke down. The Hawks already have the likes of Sam Mitchell, Josh Gibson and Brian Lake weeks away from resuming, and even coach Al Clarkson is hospitalised with an illness that left assistant coach Brendon Bolton to make his debut as a coach.
Bolton was marched into the winner’s circle for the song in the rooms after the win; he must have been hugely relieved to have dodged the bullet of a defeat by the competition’s basket case in his first game.
Bondi billionaires blitz
The eye-opener of the round was the Swans’ record-breaking 110-point defeat of Geelong at the SCG, the worst hiding the Cats had suffered in eight years of excellence. Defeats like that just don’t happen to Geelong, or so it seemed.
But Sydney’s midfield is arguably the best in the competition and, between them, the so-called Bondi Billionaires Lance Franklin and Kurt Tippett have kicked 23 goals in the past three games.
Football is nothing if not fickle. A month ago keen observers had Franklin ruining Sydney’s vaunted culture and being an unmitigated flop as a recruit; right now the howling south of the border, led by Western Bulldogs’ president Peter Gordon most recently, suggests the Swans will win the next five flags in a row.
Gordon is right in his belief the Swans do not need the 9.8 percent cost of living allowance on top of their $9.9 million salary cap any more.
The allowance comes from a time Sydney could not hold its players; plainly Franklin and Tippett wanted to go to the club, which has a fine reputation in the industry, so the tables have been turned.
In politics, Gordon’s language would be regarded as a diversionary tactic, for the Bulldogs can hardly beat anyone.
It is fundamentally wrong to be rewarding players on $400,000 and more with a top-up to help them buy one of those expensive eastern suburban Sydney properties.
The AFL this week will announce that the allowance will disappear in 2017; it cannot be removed immediately because contracts have been signed on the basis of it being in place. The new rental allowance will be limited to lower-paid players and makes more sense.
But it is worth noting that the allowance cannot be pooled and spent on one specific player, as many people believe. It is spread across the whole list, 9.8 percent for all. So the notion that Sydney took its $944,000 from the AFL and spent it on luring Franklin is fundamentally wrong.
And Sydney knows how to make it happen in the recruiting stakes. Critics of the Swans conveniently overlook the fact that four players including their main ruckman were traded to make room, that three well-paid players retired, and that the only way chief executive Andrew Ireland could make the deal work was to back-end Franklin’s contract and get him to agree to it. He is earning just more than $700,000 this year, far less than the Giants or even Hawthorn offered him.
Gordon’s language was highly political and shrill. In politics, it would be regarded as a diversionary tactic, for the Bulldogs, several years into a rebuild, can hardly beat anyone. They lost again to Fremantle at home yesterday and are 3-7 for the season.
Tigers, Blues drop out
Any lingering thoughts that Richmond or Carlton might have an impact in 2014 disappeared out the door with defeats on the weekend, the Tigers stumbling in the Dreamtime game against Essendon, and the Blues suffering the ignominy of a loss to Brisbane Lions.
Carlton was two goals midway through the final quarter and promptly fell on the sword of ill-discipline.
Richmond is in crisis on the field, having made the finals for the first time in a decade in 2013 then regressed savagely. The Tigers were never in the match and they face a tough road ahead. As coach Damien Hardwick said, Richmond is a “very mediocre side” at the moment, not to mention a headache for its tortured supporters.
Carlton was two goals up on the Lions midway through the final quarter at the Gabba and promptly fell on the sword of ill-discipline. The same offenders appear to bob up. Chris Yarran’s punch of Pearce Hanley and Jarrad Waite’s 50-metre penalty both came at crucial times, as did the veteran Jonathan Brown’s interventions for the Lions.
Bump back in focus
The match review panel confronts a busy Monday, with bumps high on the agenda. Remarkably, just as the AFL is hellbent on protecting players’ heads, a cluster of them have been hit in recent weeks, with Steele Sidebottom on Mav Weller (big trouble), Adam Goodes on Joel Selwood (debateable, likely trouble) and Jeremy Cameron on Jarryd Roughead (big trouble) all under the microscope.
See the Sidebottom, Goodes and Cameron incidents in the videos below.
Heath Hocking’s hit on Ben Lennon is interesting; technically it is similar to the Dan Hannebery collision with Michael Hurley a few weeks ago, for which Hannebery was cleared. But Hocking may have been a step later, and thus is likely to be suspended.
The incident is shown at 4:57 in the video below.
There is a school of thought that the recent relaxing of the rules is causing players to be more reckless in their assault of opponents camped over the ball. Personally I think the recent spate of incidents is more likely coincidental, and I like the fact players who go for the ball are not penalised.
Brent ‘Boomer’ Harvey’s off-ball strike on his tagger Scott Selwood (see the video below) will come before the panel, too, and Harvey will have loading because he was suspended twice from the one game (for six matches, including two for hitting Selwood) from the 2012 elimination final.
Selwood is a barnacle and a pest, but with North beating West Coast over the weekend to hold eighth spot, it is a pity that Harvey cannot find a way to suppress his anger at the tactics. He is staring at a suspension that will cost his club dearly, because at 36 he remains a champion player.