In footy, the midfielders win the Brownlow Medals but the big forwards drive the Ferraris. This is a truism most recently borne out by Buddy Franklin’s nine-year contract at Sydney, and it has been so for decades, perhaps forever.
And Essendon has found one of the flash car crew in Jake Carlisle, who has already drawn comparisons with Wayne Carey in the way he dominates games and influences results, even though he is five minutes into a career.
The Bombers’ players call him ‘Buckets’, after his huge hands, the same nickname afforded to former St Kilda marking machine Stewart Loewe, and his marking is top echelon; in two games, he has kicked 12.4 to reignite Essendon’s season.
Two weeks in a row Carlisle has dominated games from centre half-forward in a manner to suggest he can be the next great key forward of the competition. Last week he destroyed Collingwood; on Sunday he kept Essendon’s finals chances alive.
In every area bar one the Western Bulldogs had Essendon covered at Etihad Stadium. That one key problem for the Doggies was Carlisle, and that was enough.
Essendon won by just seven points, recording its third win on the trot.
The Bulldogs are a growing force and they believed. They have irresistible youth, led by the likes of Marcus Bontempelli, an 18-year-old kid who continues to win rave reviews for his marking, his magnificent kicking action, and his sense of the occasion, and Jake Stringer, 20, who kicked five goals.
But they could not get over the line because first Jordan Roughead, then Dale Morris, could not handle Carlisle, who kicked eight goals.
He is 198cm and he has a nasty streak, the kind of grunt that the old-school guys of football love. You don’t push Jake around. He can mark the footy with those big hands; once he was caught out of position and third in line to a marking contest, so he just leapt high, reached down from his great height and plucked it from the others’ grasp.
Ten times he marked the ball inside Essendon’s 50-metre zone, and he does not juggle them. He squeezes the air out of the Sherrin.
For a couple of years we have had a debate about whether he is a key forward or a key back. In 2013 he was brilliant at centre half-back for part of the season, then Essendon sent him forward, and endured widespread criticism. Even Carlisle himself said he preferred the backline, although he did kick 11 goals in a junior game at Craigieburn the year before he was drafted.
Mark ‘Bomber’ Thompson would not budge on this though, and Thompson has been vindicated.
At 22, Carlisle can stay up front right now. He had to learn to play as a tall forward, and the notion was that he was doing too much “dead running” early in the season, wasting his energy as Essendon chipped the ball around.
Now he has figured it out. “I’m running a bit smarter,” he said. “It gives me an opportunity to run and jump at the ball. Credit to the mids, the delivery has been good and it allows me to run and jump.”
The Bulldogs led by 19 points early in the final quarter before Essendon’s final thrust, and Jason Winderlich’s match-winning mark and goal. But Thompson was under no illusions who had gift-wrapped the four points. “Without [Carlisle] we wouldn’t have won, would we? Without him we would have been in a lot of trouble. He’s been incredible really.” Watch Carlisle’s Sunday highlights reel in the video below.
The Bulldogs lost no friends. Bontempelli’s shares are soaring and he is far from the only prodigious talent.
Brendan McCartney’s men were not helped by the bad piece of legislation that is the substitute rule, because Mitch Wallis went down with a bad footy injury a few moments after Liam Picken was given the red vest, meaning that the Dogs were effectively one down for the remainder of the game. What it meant was that Wallis had to try to play hurt, and his opponent Dyson Heppell grew in influence.
The rule needs another look when the AFL decides whether it is to cut interchange further.
Dominant forwards were a theme of round 18, a sight to please the purists. At Etihad on Saturday night the apparently ageless Nick Riewoldt formed a lethal partnership with the frustrating Rhys Stanley and buried Fremantle in the season’s single biggest shock result. On Friday night Carlton’s Jarrad Waite seemed to be playing for his football future and Lachie Henderson booted six goals to smash the mercurial North Melbourne.
St Kilda’s win was almost ethereal, built on the emotion of Lenny Hayes’ retirement announcement and then delivered by the magnificent, athletic Riewoldt, who at 31 remains an elite performer in his role. He had 30 disposals and kicked four goals, while Stanley mimicked his captain with his straight arms up in marking contests, kicking three and having 12 marks.
At 23, Stanley has had injury issues and remains unfulfilled, but this was his best game for the club.
Fremantle’s performance was fascinatingly bad. In the absence of Aaron Sandilands, Stephen Hill and Hayden Ballantyne a dip in output could be expected, but it hardly equated to a 10-goal defeat. Generally Ross Lyon’s teams can be guaranteed to be hard to beat; this time they were broken in the third quarter, virtually tossing in the white towel.
By round’s end the Dockers had tumbled from second to fifth on the ladder, their hold on a top-two position and a Perth final severely shaken.
They will wheel Sandilands and the others back into the team soon enough but they still have to play Hawthorn, Geelong and Port Adelaide in the run home. I suspect that the jolt will do them no harm in terms of being the “really good lesson” that Lyon called it, but, in simpler terms, it is four points they could have done with.
Long suffering St Kilda fans, in the meantime, will enjoy the highlights package in the video below.
Two enigmas: Waite and the Roos
North Melbourne is a team that veteran analyst Stan Alves has nailed. Alves told the Sunday Inquisition on ABC radio that North preferred to hunt rather than be hunted, and hence the Roos’ good record against the top teams. Put in a position where they are the target, they crumble.
Friday night was a case in point. Carlton cannot reach the finals but is happy to play spoiler. Waite came into the Blues’ team as a late inclusion and played like his life (or livelihood) depended upon it. It seriously looked like he was playing for a contract next year, given that he is out of contract and an unrestricted free agent.
At 31, he can still play, and when he performs well Carlton almost always wins. But he has let the club down many times and that has to be weighed up.
Waite and Henderson kicked 10 goals between them on a night when North’s tall defenders for once could not manage the workload.
Carlton’s only sour notes were another disingenuous Mick Malthouse performance at the post-match media conference (“Have I murdered someone?”), and Mitch Robinson’s third report in the season, this time for high contact on Leigh Adams. Robinson looks certain to cop a suspension of three weeks or so (see the incident in the video below); it is a pity he cannot balance the good things he does and his manic attack on the ball with a tad more discipline, for he would be a fine player if he did.
Geelong has vaulted to second on the ladder without really looking like a premiership threat, an anomaly that puzzles a lot of people. The Cats almost lost to Greater Western Sydney Giants at the Sydney Showgrounds on Saturday, such is the depth of their mediocrity.
It was this close. The Giants were overrunning the Cats in the final quarter but No.1 draft pick Tom Boyd missed a shot at goal and then another No. 1 pick, Tom Scully, launched a speculative and ultimately fruitless high kick into attack that the canny Corey Enright marked as he bravely barged back into the pack.
That is how Geelong wins games at the moment, through superb individual efforts by great players. Joel Selwood, who is probably the best captain in the competition, does it often, and his goal against the tide in the last quarter, from outside 50 metres, was another example.
But the reality is that Geelong is right in the running simply because it has logged enough wins, and the premiership is not won in July.
Port scrape in
Port Adelaide sneaked back into fourth position but only just, needing the cool, clinical finish of Jay Schulz to get over the line against a dogged Melbourne at Adelaide Oval.
The Power were headed for a third straight defeat when Dom Tyson scrapped a goal with five minutes to go to put Melbourne in front. But Schultz, who is in the final for best set-shot goalkicker in the competition, drilled it from deep in the pocket after outmarking Lynden Dunn inside the last two minutes, and Port lives again.
Coach Ken Hinkley said the stakes were rising. “We are feeling the pressure … we have just got a little spooked,” he said. “We’re not as brave as we want to be. But that is something that can come back.”