(Fairly) hot Pies
Collingwood is back in the top eight and stoking the embers of a finals campaign that looked to have been extinguished a week earlier. In the topsy-turvy 2014 season, nothing can be taken for granted.
The Magpies eked out a six-point win over faltering Port Adelaide at the MCG to honour their former captain, Nick Maxwell, who took a farewell lap of the ground before the game and joined his teammates for one last rendition of the famous song in the rooms afterwards.
It was incredibly hard-fought. At the 11-minute mark of the final quarter, best on ground Steele Sidebottom ran on to a loose ball and kicked a goal from point-blank range to give his team an 11-point lead, and in nearly 20 more minutes of attritional football Collingwood could not manage another major, such was the level of fatigue on both teams.
Port extracted one goal in that time, through Andrew Moore inside the last minute, and, with only six points the difference, Scott Pendlebury was told at the next bounce that there were 90 seconds to play. “Don’t tell me it’s gonna be a draw,” he wondered to himself, as he revealed afterward. But it was erroneous information; only a handful of seconds remained, not enough for Port to mount another attack.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak and Collingwood was a different team on the day. Sidebottom, Scott Pendlebury, Dayne Beams and Brent Macaffer (tagging Travis Boak) won the midfield duel and down the back the Pies’ inexperienced defensive group held sway, notably Jack Frost in his battle with the league’s leading goalkicker, Jay Schulz.
Port is a quandary. The Power have lost five of the past seven games and only occasionally resemble the high-octane unit that graced the first half of the season, an apparently irresistable force. They have dropped out of the top four, with a game against Sydney to come next week.
Coach Ken Hinkley denies the suggestion that there has been a conditioning issue, despite the fact Port seems to have peaked a couple of months ago, just as Essendon did in 2012. “I don’t think we’ve run out of steam,” he said, indicating that confidence was the central issue.
The PIes have Luke Ball ready to resume playing at senior level after a VFL game, and Dane Swan is not too far away. Perhaps the momentum has swung again for the nation’s most famous club.
Hawks keep rolling along
Hawthorn returned to the top of the AFL ladder on percentage over Sydney after eclipsing Western Bulldogs in Launceston behind Jarryd Roughead’s six-goal haul. Not even the withdrawal of former skipper Sam Mitchell bothered the Hawks, who are the champions of rolling on.
The worry for Hawthorn was the ankle injury to Jack Gunston, who was close to best-afield in last year’s Grand Final and who has pushed on as one of the competition’s best forwards this year.
Bulldogs coach Brent McCartney summed it up. “I don’t know what their reaction to the win was but I haven’t seen too many better teams than them this year, to be honest,” he said. “They’re probably the best I’ve seen.”
Thomas an old stager
North Melbourne failed a big test against Geelong at the Docklands, playing like a team that believes it only belongs in the bottom half of the top eight.
The Roos paid dearly for an ill-disciplined second quarter when three off-ball free kicks led to Cats’ goals, but there was a perspective to put on all this. Television replays suggested that, of the three, only one, against Majak Daw, was warranted. The umpires overreacted to some niggling, and no one wants to see these free kicks paid.
Stalwart James Kelly spent his milestone 250th game minding the dangerous Lindsay Thomas, and was stoic as ever. Thomas kicked three goals but won criticism for his simulation, which mimics the sort of theatrics that bedevil soccer.
Thomas is a serial offender; he has reached the point where legitimate free kicks are not paid to him because the umpires consider him notorious. Coach Brad Scott was on the money after the game when he said: “We don’t condone it, and he’s got to stop doing it.”
Ultimately North made too many errors, kicked too inaccurately, was not good enough. Geelong has a chance again in 2014, for all the holes an observer can pick in its team. Saturday night against Fremantle at Kardinia Park will tell a few tales.
Adelaide could not stand prosperity. A week after jumping into the top eight the Crows toppled back out again with a shock defeat at home against West Coast, a result that no one saw coming.
Josh Kennedy has lost his stutter-step run-up and kicked five goals after he accidentally knocked out his opponent, Daniel Talia, with an a knee to the head early. Andrew Gaff was brilliant and Matthew Priddis continued to churn and burrow and distribute the football in close.
A week ago, it seemed that a possible 13 wins for Adelaide would be the benchmark for a spot in the eight. Now, 12 wins should be enough, and the door is open.
Tigers tease – again
Richmond is one of the beneficiaries of Adelaide’s frailty. The Tigers now have a mathematical hope of making the finals if they can win all four remaining games, and while the journey is bound to be difficult – including road trips to Adelaide and Sydney – Damien Hardwick’s team has the bonus that it is in great form.
They dealt with Greater Western Sydney clinically enough, with the only downer being a brain-fade by Reece Conca, whose forearm to the back of Devon Smith’s neck and head will surely cost him a week or two’s suspension. Hardwick said Conca was “incredibly disappointed” with his action, but he he is the second Tiger in consecutive weeks to let down his teammates with an unprofessional act.
Perhaps the Tigers are teasing their supporters, yet again. But if they get over Essendon at the MCG this Friday night, the bandwagon will be up and rolling again, to be sure. The f-word will not be mentioned around the club, but that does not muzzle the supporters, and rightly so.
Race for the spoon
The wooden spoon is left to Melbourne, GWS or St Kilda after the Demons frittered away an opportunity against Brisbane Lions at the Docklands. Apparently in control early in the final quarter Melbourne retreated into a defensive state of mind and the Lions’ blitzkrieg was fairly predictable.
The Saints, who lost badly on the Gold Coast, the Demons and Giants are locked together on four wins. The good news for the competition is that all continue to be relatively competitive, and none wants to tank.