Six talking points from AFL Round 9

The first week of Footymania is at a finish. Here are my talking points from Round 9 of the 2020 AFL season.

Winless season on the cards for woeful Crows
Nine rounds gone and the Adelaide Crows are facing the prospect of something that hasn’t been done since 1964: a season without a win.

The Crows sit on the bottom of the ladder with a 0-9 record and a percentage only a few ticks above 50. Thanks to Fremantle getting up in the final game of the round, there’s now a three-win gap between them and 17th.

Worse still, they’ve already played (and lost to) all but one of the other bottom-five teams, and in a shortened 17-game season, won’t be getting a second crack at any of them.

They host Melbourne – the only bottom five side they’ve not yet gone up against – at the Adelaide Oval on Wednesday night, in what presents their best chance for the remainder of the season to get a win.

But they will enter that match with at least Rory Sloane, Wayne Milera and Brad Crouch still on the sidelines, and it’s not clear given the short break whether they’ll get Tom Doedee or Taylor Walker back.

Lose that and we’ll be left wondering who else in the competition they could possibly hope to notch one up against. Certainly they’ll be entering every match as significant underdogs.

Upsets do happen, of course – the Crows nearly pinched one over Essendon last week in a performance that suggested they are capable of some okay football, especially when at home.

But this week’s match against North Melbourne was undoubtedly their best chance to get a win in 2020, and they fell miserably short. I wrote last week that they seemed to have turned a corner – I was wrong.

Not since Fitzroy went 0-18 in 1964 have we seen a V/AFL side get to the end of the season without a win on the board, but it’s starting to look like a real possibility.

Matthew Nicks, Senior Coach of the Crows

(Photo by James Elsby/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Martin masterclass drives Tigers back into top-four talk
There was a feeling of anonymity about Richmond’s team sheet on Wednesday night.

Oleg Markov? Jake Aarts? Liam Baker? Kamdyn McIntosh? Derek Eggmolesse-Smith? You could be forgiven for thinking the 22 was rounded out with a few Gold Coast locals lined up at the Metricon Stadium bus stop.

They fielded a team younger and less experienced than their opponents, the Western Bulldogs, who are themselves famous for fielding remarkably young and inexperienced 22s from week to week.

But the return of Trent Cotchin brought another name-brand Tiger back into the lineup alongside Dustin Martin, Tom Lynch, Dylan Grimes and Jack Riewoldt. Having top-end talent of that calibre makes so many things possible.

Of course, that’s not to say that 2020 Jack Riewoldt has been the threat he was in previous years, or that Richmond’s lesser lights haven’t been putting in great contributions. They have.

In fact, the most impressive thing about Richmond is that every player who gets called up into their side clearly knows what the team ethos is and lives up to it.

It makes them more than the sum of their parts, which is important, given they’ve needed to dive rather deeply into their spare parts bucket at times this year.

But while the foot soldiers do the foot soldiering, Dustin Martin streaks past overhead like the Enola Gay, dropping nuclear bombs on the opposition.

I listened to the match on radio while going for an evening stroll on Friday night and every time his name came up in the commentary you knew the Dogs were in serious danger. He was irresistible.

Bachar Houli is on the way back too and overall this is starting to feel like a familliar story. They may have fallen a step behind for a brief moment, but the Tigers are once again threatening to overtake the competition.

Dustin Martin

(Adam Trafford/AFL Media/Getty Images)

Neale’s Brownlow is just about Lached up
While we’re talking about the elite players of the competition, it has to be acknowledged that while Martin’s Wednesday-night effort was by some margin his best performance of the year, Lachie Neale has been turning out three-voters all year long.

In six of his nine matches this season, Neale has had at least 25 disposals and kicked a goal. Twice he’s had 30 and kicked two (one of them being this weekend). In 16-minute quarters! Simply incredible.

He is averaging over a goal per game for the first time in his career and averaging a career-high number of score involvements despite less game time.

I’ll be the first to put my hand up and admit I did not think he had this level in him. Even in his best seasons at Fremantle, I felt he was a great accumulator but just not a damaging matchwinner, and that he would remain as such.

But I love nothing more in footy than a team or player proving me wrong and he has done exactly that. He should be leading the Brownlow count by at least five or six votes right now.

With only eight matches to go, he only has to maintain that form so much longer to have the medal all but locked up. We may be in for an unexciting count this year, whenever it finally takes place.

Meanwhile, the Lions as a team are playing with the same consistency and devastating effect that Neale puts forward each week. They embarrassed Essendon on Friday night and they’re not the first side they’ve given that treatment in 2020.

No doubt Brisbane’s (and Neale’s) seasons are being helped by the fact they’ve barely had to travel outside of Queensland. That seems unlikely to change any time soon.

But if there’s a side that deserves the inside track as karmic reward for being so often disadvantaged over the course of their history, well, surely it’s this one.

I don’t think many if any would begrudge them a home grand final and a 2020 premiership victory. And that just might be how it plays out.

Lachie Neale

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

West Coast go all the way with JJK
We’ve given a tip of the cap to two stars at the peak of their powers in the previous talking points – Josh J Kennedy is one who has, over the last two weeks, wound back the clock.

Kennedy is about three weeks away from turning 33, and while his last two seasons have been nothing to sneeze at, they’ve also undeniably showed some decline from his peak where he won back-to-back Coleman medals in 2015 and 2016.

You could be forgiven for thinking we were entering the era where Jack Darling and Oscar Allen will be West Coast’s premier forward threats – as will surely come someday – but if so, Kennedy’s last fortnight of form has been a rude awakening.

It was one thing to put Collingwood to the sword with seven goals last week – take his contribution out of that game entirely and West Coast still win by 24 points.

But this weekend against Geelong he was the difference. In a match where West Coast looked well off the pace at halftime, he kicked three goals in the final quarter to guide them to a come-from-behind victory.

That’s not to discount the fact that West Coast had many quality performers – Nic Naitanui was best afield and it was a sublime tap inside forward 50 from him that set up one of Kennedy’s last-quarter goals.

But Kennedy is the one who intrigues me most. It’s been said that the structure of the season might be a boost for older players, and right now, well, he’s leading the Coleman.

Kennedy also has been often acknowledged as a player who performs best on home soil. With West Coast boasting a run of games at Optus Stadium over the next few weeks – well, this might be just the beginning of a purple patch for the ages.

Josh Kennedy of the Eagles

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Angus Brayshaw needs a change of pace – or a change of colours
Simon Goodwin said during the week he was “sick of talking about” Angus Brayshaw and the amount of time he spends on the ground, coming after the 24-year-old recorded just 65 per cent of match time in Melbourne’s loss to Brisbane.

I found that a bit bemusing and I wonder if Melbourne fans did too, given it’s a topic I’ve never really heard Goodwin elaborate on nor paint a clear picture of the path forward.

Brayshaw has only recorded 80 per cent time on ground or better in one of eight games played this year. He’s yet to record more than 18 disposals in a match.

He’s probably had unfairly high expectations set on him a by a third-placed Brownlow finish in 2018. I don’t think anyone would say he was the AFL’s third-best player that year – or even remotely close. For a point of comparison, he finished a relatively mediocre sixth in Melbourne’s 2018 best-and-fairest.

Still, even if that’s not an accurate representation of his potential, we know he’s capable of more than what he’s delivering right now.

And if there is a masterplan at Melbourne as to how all the pieces of the puzzle will fit together at some point in the future, well, Goodwin certainly isn’t sharing it with the media and the fans. Until he does, questions will continue.

Melbourne’s top four centre-bounce players in 2020 have been Max Gawn, Clayton Oliver, Jack Viney and Christian Petracca. It’s a combination that could still use a little more class, but is worth trying to build around.

Brayshaw and James Harmes are the only other Dees who’ve been plugged in there regularly, but class isn’t necessarily what they bring, and they’re struggling to positively impact the game when they’re played in other roles.

As if their excess of inside mids wasn’t excess enough, Melbourne brought Tom Sparrow into the side to play in the guts this week. With no disrespect to him, it’s difficult to understand.

Finding roles for so many similar players in the same side is a difficult task, but this current set-up of trying to awkwardly wedge them into positions they’re not suited for just doesn’t work.

It may be that they just can’t all be Melbourne players. And if I were Angus Brayshaw struggling to get a straight answer out of Simon Goodwin, I’d start asking the question of other clubs instead.

Angus Brayshaw of the Demons kicks on goal

(Photo by Will Russell/AFL Photos/Getty Images)

Everybody gets a turn
Adelaide Crows (0-9) – Finishing the season without a win we’ve talked about. But finishing the season without a Rising Star nomination would be almost just as devastating, and looks like a real possibility. Will Hamill might be a chance at some point and… that’s about the best I can do.

Brisbane Lions (7-2) – Alex Witherden and Noah Answerth are two Lions I’ve been surprised not to see more regularly in the 22 this year. They both got a crack on Friday night and they were both great – Withereden had 25 touches and more than 400 metres gained, Answerth made Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti a non-factor. Well done.

Carlton Blues (4-5) – Seven free kicks to Patrick Cripps on the weekend. I’m not defending the tactics used against him by North last week or other sides prior to that, or against other players across other matches this year. But any AFL executive who says the umpiring isn’t changed week to week is telling fibs.

Collingwood Magpies (4-4-1) – Eddie McGuire running his mouth about sending protocol-breachers on a plane home only for senior Collingwood staff Nathan Buckley and Brenton Sanderson to breach the protocols within 24 hours was as predictable as it was wryly amusing. A very underwhelming week from this club.

Essendon Bombers (5-3) – You’ve got to engage in some pretty serious spelunking if you want to find positives for Essendon out of this week’s performance. 5-3 is looking like an extremely flattering record at the moment. Sam Draper’s debut offered some promise, and this glorious meme.

Fremantle Dockers (3-6) – Matt Taberner is one of only four players in the league to kick a goal in every round this year, and absolutely crucial to a massive win with a bag of four today. Believe it or not – he’s never kicked 20 goals in a season before, but set to zoom past that in the coming weeks should all go well. Great win Dockers.

Geelong Cats (5-4) – Does Chris Scott ever wonder what could’ve been over the past eight seasons if he just had one good set-and-forget ruckman rather than needing to invent a new ruck combination every three or four weeks? Lost the game in this area on the weekend, and not for the first time.

Gold Coast Suns (4-5) – They have a track record of struggling once the season starts to wear on during Stuart Dew’s time at the helm. Are we now headed in the same direction again? They just didn’t play the same brand of footy as we’ve seen in previous weeks – which isn’t surprising from a young side.

GWS Giants (5-4) – Leaving aside the quality of the opposition, it’s a feather in their cap that losing Toby Greene to a hamstring injury early didn’t derail them. Zac Williams back in the side was huge, signing him for 2021 and onwards is huger.

Hawthorn Hawks (4-5) – Certainly brought Clarko some breathing space with this one, and credit to them on a dominant performance after quarter time. Whether it proves to be a genuine revival or just paper over the cracks, we’ll find out in time. Great to see Jarman Impey back – important player.

Melbourne Demons (3-5) – Here’s a fact I was astounded to learn about Melbourne this week: they don’t have a forward line coach. Seriously, go to their club website and look at their list of coaches: no forward line coach. They just don’t even have one. Does your head in.

North Melbourne Kangaroos (3-6) – Look, you’d be nuts to come out of this match thinking the result means anything about where North is at in the grand scheme of things – but jeez, it was beautiful to watch. Love Jack Mahony getting his first (and second) career goal, a win for Shaun Higgins in his 100th North Melbourne game, and Majak Daw – inspirational.

Port Adelaide Power (7-2) – We’ve talked this year about sides who might benefit from a run of home games, but I’m starting to think Port are at their best when they’re playing at Metricon Stadium week after week. Great win, following it up against the Dogs and Tigers both at home looks to be the challenge.

Richmond Tigers (5-3-1) – If you’re an AFL side looking to snatch up a quality ruckman at the end of the year I reckon there’s one to be lured away from Richmond’s list. Toby Nankervis, Ivan Soldo and Mabior Chol are all clearly capable at the level but can’t play in the same side.

St Kilda Saints (6-3) – Our own Liam Salter informed me this week that 23 of 27 previous Rising Star winners have gotten their nomination inside the first nine rounds of the season. I suspect Max King’s three goals are going to get him on the list just in time to be a serious contender by that logic.

Sydney Swans (3-6) – There’s a lot to like about the youth on Sydney’s list, but here’s a question I still don’t know the answer to – who’s their next A-grade midfielder? Well stocked with quality kids in most areas of the ground, but that one remains something of a mystery.

West Coast Eagles (6-3) – I don’t know whether he’s genuinely improved as an AFL footballer or just has a new hairdo, but Liam Duggan is a more noticeable figure at West Coast in 2020 than he has been in previous years. Maybe hasn’t achieved what you’d hope for from a pick 11, but has a flag, plays his role, and the mullet is glorious.

Western Bulldogs (5-4) – Here’s the margins they’ve lost by when they lose this year: 52, 39, 52, 41. I love their talent and am excited about their future but they’re as flakey as a Cadbury Flake bar, as flakey as a tuck shop piece of battered flake.

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