Sport AFL All aboard Tiger bandwagon in finals race
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All aboard Tiger bandwagon in finals race

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Elbow room please

Oh Richmond, how you tease us, torture your own. Make some elbow room, clear some space on the bandwagon, if you would not mind. The Tigers have seven wins on the trot and suddenly can play finals if they keep the streak running.

Surely no other club makes its supporters laugh and cry almost every other day with such intensity.

Dustin Martin (L) and Shaun Grigg do a victory dance. Photo: Getty
Dustin Martin (L) and Shaun Grigg do a victory dance. Photo: Getty

The Tigers were heroic in extracting a 10-point win over Adelaide at the visitor-unfriendly Adelaide Oval on Saturday night, and at 10-10 for the season, will surely progress to September if they can beat St Kilda (a certainty) next weekend and Sydney at Homebush (not so easy) in round 23. This from a team that was 3-10 midway through the season.

The Swans are so white hot they will almost certainly finish on top of the ladder for the first time since 1996, and here is another possible boost for Richmond.

Depending on the result of the Hawthorn-Geelong match and Sydney’s game against Western Bulldogs next weekend, the Swans may go into round 23 with top position secured; potentially John Longmire could rest some sore players in the final-round match against Richmond if that is the case. Tigers’ fans need to barrack for a Hawthorn win and a Swans’ triumph next weekend.

The Tigers controlled most of the match against Adelaide but were headed in the final quarter and looked to have surrendered the momentum. At this point, the 50,000 home crowd became a factor. Yet Richmond found another gear, Nathan Gordon snapped a goal to put his team in front, and then ice-cool Dustin Martin beat his man in a one-on-one contest and threaded the sealer.

The only downer on a brilliant contest played in slippery conditions was a brain-dead goal review in the final quarter that denied an important goal to Adelaide’s Rory Sloane. The goal umpire paid a goal but upon review from an observer watching television upstairs, it was deemed that Sloane’s shot hit the post. Hence, a goal umpire in perfect position was overruled on spurious evidence. This is where we have reached in this half-baked system. Either have a proper goal-review system, or don’t bother.

This was a calamity for the Crows, who are hanging by a thread in the eight. Perhaps, as they flagged in last five minutes, coach Brenton Sanderson’s silly criticism of the previous week’s fixturing in Brisbane came home to roost. But Sanderson was philosophical afterward: “If you make the eight you deserve to be there, it’s as simple as that.”

Adelaide meets North Melbourne in Hobart, then hosts St Kilda. The only way it can guarantee a finals spot is to win both, but the Crows might not be good enough.

Big Pav strikes form

Matthew Pavlich has struck form at the right time. Photo: Getty
Matthew Pavlich has struck form at the right time. Photo: Getty

It was a momentous round overall, with Fremantle establishing premiership bona fides with its home win over Hawthorn.

The Dockers, goal-starved at times, kicked 17 goals against a top class team, a big breakthrough, with veteran Matthew Pavlich slotting five, turning back the clock.

It means that Ross Lyon’s team, beaten in the grand final last year, should be in the top four again, possibly headed to Sydney in the first week of finals. Stephen Hill was dynamic and Aaron Sandilands dominated the ruck for Fremantle, while Michael Walters made his return from injury.

But Nathan Fyfe may come under scrutiny for two off-the-ball hits. Fyfe’s suspension for a high bump earlier this season has caused interminable debate because he might poll the most votes in the Brownlow Medal, but the issue has just died; he is in trouble for whacking David Mundy and Jordan Lewis in this game, and three wrongs do not make a right, no matter how good a player he is.

Hawthorn paid dearly for poor conversion early – 4.7 in the first quarter – an affliction that is rare for the Hawks. From there it turned into a shoot-out, but the home team had it covered.

Dons dig in, Weagles done

Essendon clung to seventh with a remarkable win over West Coast at the Docklands, coming back from a 34-point deficit during the third quarter.

The Bombers’ players are nothing if not resilient, playing in the shadow of ASADA’s show-cause notices and the court action by the club. No wonder Mark Thompson compared it to a religious experience, the notion that they could play finals.

“I think it would be great for their spiritual souls,” he said. “They’ve had a tough year. They had it taken away from them last year when they qualified. It’s nice to go through something really tough and get some reward.”

West Coast did enough to suggest it could win, but it was a disastrous fade-out. Essendon had Jobe Watson back, but it was the younger players who lifted: burgeoning Dyson Heppell had 28 disposals in the second half, Mark Baguley ran and carried the football and David Zaharakis kicked what turned out to be the matchwinner, as is his wont. Zaharakis’ goal came at the 11-minute mark of the final quarter to put Essendon in front. Neither side managed another goal in an attritional slog to the finish line.

Fine lines decide these matters. Had Josh Hill’s nudge on Michael Hibberd in a marking contest not been penalised late, West Coast might yet have won. But the Eagles are shot now.

A night like this

Nathan Buckley ponders his shot August night. Photo: Getty
Nathan Buckley ponders his shot August night. Photo: Getty

Collingwood endured an unfolding nightmare against Brisbane Lions at the MCG from the time that Scott Pendlebury, the inspirational captain, tweaked a quadricep muscle in the warm-up. Jamie Elliott (hamstring) had already been replaced by Clint Young, an emergency. Now with Pendlebury down, Tony Armstrong would come in as the substitute, notwithstanding the fact he had played a full game in the VFL at Geelong on the same day, and wolfed down a bowl of spaghetti bolognese when he went home.

That was just the beginning. Ben Reid (hamstring) broke down in the first quarter, meaning Armstrong would play a second full game. Travis Cloke (ankle) and Dayne Beams (knee) went later. Collingwood had five players indisposed and the Lions, smelling a kill, destroyed the Magpies.

“I have been in the caper 20 years now as a player and coach and I can’t remember a night like it,” coach Nathan Buckley said.

The Magpies slipped outside the top eight on percentage but, more significantly, will be challenged to field a competent team next weekend against Greater Western Sydney because Beams, Cloke and Reid are all done for 2014.

As for the Lions, coach Justin Leppitsch has taken a bad situation, where young players chose an exodus from the club, and made it a positive. That is a serious coaching performance.

Some are more equal than others

The teams from eighth to 11th on the ladder all have 10-10 records and ostensibly have a chance of playing finals, but one of those, Gold Coast Suns, appear to be finished.

The Suns could not overcome Port Adelaide in the rain at Carrara. They are 1-4 in the five games since Gary Ablett ripped open his shoulder, and his absence might only have served to make people realise how good he is.

The Suns seemed to be certainties for the finals six weeks ago but they have not run out the season, proven to be not quite ready.

New low for Demons

The competitions’ other newbie extracted a history-making win, their first-ever at the MCG, over Melbourne.

Here was an irony. GWS ticked off another box as it continues to grow while Melbourne, a foundation club with a batch of premiership cups, went to a new low. It was hard to work out which was the more compelling story, the Giants’ arrival or Melbourne’s demise.

Paul Roos said he was embarrassed at the 10-goal defeat featuring incompetent disposal and constant turnovers.

“I think I talked earlier in the season about getting to AFL standard,” he said. “We did that for probably 14 weeks but we’ve dropped below that again, and it’s disappointing for my point of view, and I’m sure the supporters and everyone. Today was definitely not an AFL standard of footy from us.”

He had a point. The Giants lost three key players to injury before half-time, including co-captains Cal Ward and Phil Davis and forward Jon Patton, who suffered a second major injury to his right knee that will keep him from playing for a year. But the Giants only thrived in the crisis.

The Demons have improved; the numbers show it. But Roos’ task is enormous. A rebuild of the club starting in 2008 fundamentally failed, and he has to clean up the mess.

Jonathan Patton needs his second knee reconstruction in 17 months, Photo: Getty
Jonathan Patton needs his second knee reconstruction in 17 months, Photo: Getty

More medals for Buddy?

Four months ago Lance Franklin was said to be killing the Swans’ culture, but he has force-fed humble pie to all the dills who said so.

Franklin kicked nine goals in Sydney’s thrashing of St Kilda and it could just as easily have been a dozen. He is almost certain to win the Coleman Medal and may get another premiership medal.

Ump cruels Carlton

Like Sydney, Geelong is a constant in the competition. Even in a rebuild, the Cats are highly-competitive, might even win the flag. They found a way to win over Carlton at the Docklands when the Blues had done everything to cause the upset.

Sadly the game was decided by umpire Brendan Hosking’s overly speculative decision to pay a push against Sam Docherty to Geelong’s Allen Christensen for the match-winning goal. Hosking was 50 metres away and needed to be sure if he was going to override an umpire of Brett Rosebury’s experience, closer and with a decent angle.

Christensen kicked the goal from 40 metres to leave the Blues flattened by a near-miss against Geelong for the second time this season.

Jury still out on Kangas

Meanwhile North Melbourne’s routine win over Western Bulldogs left the Roos in sixth place, with Daniel Wells making his comeback. The Roos are interesting; they did not play finals last year and clearly will in 2014, yet observers keep finding ways to criticise them. Plainly they have been a little flaky, but under Brad Scott they are making strides forward.