Sport AFL The moment that really might have mattered to Melbourne’s finals hopes

The moment that really might have mattered to Melbourne’s finals hopes

afl round 18
Melbourne walk off the ground after its loss to Geelong after the siren. Photo: Getty
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There’s a commonly-held view in the football media these days that once a match has been witnessed live it needs little further explanation.

It’s why now you can often see magnificent games done precious little justice in the way of follow-up analysis, reduced to a series of tiresome “talking points” steeped in faux controversy. And round 18 served up a classic example.

There surely hasn’t been a better game all season than Geelong’s thrilling win over Melbourne on Saturday night, sealed with Zac Tuohy’s goal after the final siren.

This belter of a game had plenty of open, free-flowing football, key forwards on fire, an eight-goal final term and an amazing comeback by the Cats, and the ultimate in dramatic finishes.

It was one of the best games of football in recent memory, and given the on-going talk of dramatic rule changes as early as next season in an attempt to open the game up, a very salient reminder that even in 2018, AFL can still be a thing of beauty.

Yet within minutes the hot topic of discussion had become whether Melbourne’s Bernie Vince had taken a crushing defeat too lightly by daring a smile as he spoke post-game with his old Adelaide teammate Patrick Dangerfield.

Virtually anyone who weighed in on that debate had missed the scene seconds earlier, captured by photographer Wayne Ludbey, of Vince holding his hands to his head after Tuohy’s shot had sailed through.

What many also missed in the hunt for headlines though, ironically, was a moment in the last minute of play when Vince made a decision that could have far more impact on Melbourne’s finals fate than a post-game chat with an opponent.

There were just 41 seconds left on the clock when Geelong defender Lachie Henderson kicked in from the Demons’ final behind of the game, one which had given them a four-point lead.

His kick landed just outside the defensive 50-metre arc, where Melbourne’s Jake Melksham and Vince were the only players within reach. Vince, the man behind, had the best position. But perhaps caught in the frenzy, he chose not to mark himself, nor call Melksham to take the grab, but fist the ball as far as he could forward.

Had he done so, either player could then safely have run down the clock, and the Demons would today be sitting fourth with a double chance.

Instead, at the resultant scramble from Vince’s thump forward, Rhys Stanley extracted the ball to Gary Ablett, who found Dan Menzel on a wing. Menzel went inboard to Tom Hawkins, who dished off a handball to Mitch Duncan, who spotted Tuohy on a lead. And the upshot of that is that Melbourne is now a very precarious seventh spot on the ladder, with a power of work to do simply to stay in the eight at all.

AFL round 18
Geelong defender Zac Tuohy celebrates his match-winning goal against Melbourne. Photo: Getty

Those are the sort of moments, just seconds in duration, which can end up shaping entire seasons. And given the current state of the ladder, it looks like the remainder of the 2018 home and away rounds are going to be full of them.

Whatever this season has occasionally lacked in spectacle, it’s almost certainly not going to lack for a pulsating finish to the race for the final eight after another weekend of results pivotal to the composition of the ladder.

Port Adelaide may come to rue its tardy start to Sunday’s game against Greater Western Sydney, a gap once conceded it was never quite able to bridge.

The Power will certainly be tested on the run home. They travel to Ballarat to take on the Western Bulldogs this weekend in a game they should win. But then follows in succession clashes with Adelaide, West Coast, Collingwood and Essendon, all still alive as far as finals hopes are concerned.

And Gold Coast’s massive upset win over Sydney (in betting terms one of the biggest ever) has raised the seemingly unthinkable prospect of the Swans actually missing the eight altogether for what would be only the second time in 15 years.

afl round 18
Gold Coast’s stunning upset over Sydney could derail its finals hopes. Photo: Getty

So slim is the Swans’ margin for error now another unexpected loss (in another searching run home) could prove the end.

Their round 21 clash with their local rival the Giants already shapes as a mini-final. I’ve done a predicted ladder which has the Swans finishing sixth should they beat GWS, and 10thif they lose.

But few, if any, of the remaining finals aspirants have it much easier. And next weekend’s round 19 is looming as the most critical of the season to this stage.

Aside from the much-anticipated clash between Richmond (first) and Collingwood (third) before a crowd of anything up to 90,000, it will feature another three games between teams all still with a vested interested in the finals race, Essendon taking on Sydney on Friday night, Adelaide meeting Melbourne, and North Melbourne playing West Coast.

That feast should provide plenty of talking points. Hopefully, even a few occurring within the games themselves.

Read more from Rohan Connolly, formerly a senior football writer for Fairfax, at Footyology, or watch Footyology TV here.