WEST COAST EAGLES v GEELONG
SUBIACO OVAL, 6.40pm, FRIDAY AUGUST 10th
“Faith is belief in the absence of proof.” So sayeth a wise man (can’t remember who).
And the faith of the Eagles flock had been tested over the past 6 weeks as injuries mounted and form waned. Then the Lord sent Catmanackers a sign for their perpetual arrogance. “You shall have no other Gods but me.” And he smote the groins of Chapman and Kelly.
Still my finger hovered over the tipping button, and came down Eagles by 3 points. Belief in the absence of proof.
The desert nights have been chill in recent times, but this afernoon the 23° sun burned my skin as I waited for the bus home. “Have you been drinking again?” the Avenging Eagle queried as she viewed my florid countenance. “Touch of the sun,” I swore on the graves of my ancestors (there were a few drinkers in that crew).
The evening had the unexpected air of the first day of spring for so early in August. Jumpers were discarded for light jackets unzipped.
This would be a cracking game. The Cats skill and flair against our grunt and strength. Hope fluttered (just).
The Eagles kicked the first goal as they were to do in each quarter. The game was predictably frenetic, but you knew early that it would be worth watching. Chris Scott does not do tactics. Longmire and Lyon have written the playbook on beating the Eagles. Tag Hurn and one of Kerr or Shuey. Deny space and monster our small and slow midfield until they turn it over.
Chris Scott plays “we’ll beat you on our own terms with our strengths” football. It is exciting and by midway through the quarter, ominous. The Tomahawk had taken several strong grabs and it only seemed a matter of time before his kicking compass adjusted to the magnetite in WA oval sand.
“Who should we put on Hawkins?” the Avenging Eagle turned to ask at the 20 minute mark. I pondered the lumbering MacKenzie, and wondered if Moses, Elijah or John the Baptist might be available to quell his talents.
“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” Clearly the Tomahawk has been watching too much Olympic diving. Crashing a pack he executed the perfect backward two and a half somersaults with pike – but no tuck. Unfortunately for Tommy, magnetite is considerably less forgiving than London bathwater. I gave the dive a perfect 10.
“WE CAN WIN THIS,” I turned and yelled excitedly to the Avenging Eagle.
The Cats led 5.5 to 3.1 at the change, but you sensed that their best was behind them.
The first 20 minutes of the second quarter was all Eagles, but as usual there was little scoreboard evidence. The half forward line of Lynch, Darling, Hill and Harms had collective shockers. It was only when Cox and Natanui “rested” forward that we could score.
Scarlett repeatedly tried to out-body Natanui at marking contests. Remembrance of things past. It was like Sinatra trying to hit high notes late in his career. Entertaining but sad.
At the 22 minute mark I made my usual call to my nephew (and fellow Almanacker) Brandon. “Whoever wins the rest of the quarter wins the game.” Uh oh. The Cats got their run and gun game going to kick 3 goals in 5 minutes. The Eagles responded with one on the siren to trail by 14 points.
I hastily revised my theory to “last goal of the second quarter wins” (we need some PFlynn statistical analysis of late first half scoring correlation to second half performance and match results).
The second quarter looked better for the Eagles in their control of possession, though the scoreboard would have you believe otherwise. The third quarter saw these trends continue to play out.
Geelong’s midfield structures started to fall apart without the strength and smarts of Kelly, Corey and Chapman to run and fill space. Their fill-ins scrambled bravely, but Shuey, Kerr and Hurn started to pick them apart.
Having seen so many ’round the boundary’ teams (including my Eagles) this season, it was startling to see how the Cats invariably chance their arm with cutting passes through the centre, or rapid fire switches to the open side. But by mid quarter their laser passes were becoming air rifle buckshot.
The loudest cheer of the game came mid quarter when Woosha substituted perpetual whipping boy Tom Swift for favourite son Andrew Embley, who was back after a long injury break with a busted shoulder. Youngsters Swift and Brennan are an interesting contrast. Swift can play but has no self belief. He works hard but is forever fretful when he gains possession. Brennan is the opposite. He pulls regular clangers, but he is like the Road Runner always dusting himself off and charging at the next contest. That dash and optimism makes him a useful foil for the dour Glass and MacKenzie.
Orange time saw the Cats clinging on by a point. I was optimistic based on the trend of play, but as last week showed you can never be confident against the Freddie Krugers of footy.
The first 3 quarters were good because they were competitive, but there was little to excite the purists. The last quarter turned that on its head. It was the best quarter of footy I have seen all season (except for last weeks).
The Eagles got their defensive mojo back. Repeated smothers, spoils and intercepts eventually yielded the turnover that gave Lynch a goal and an Eagle lead.
Chris Scott erred in sending his best defender, Harry Taylor, forward to offer a marking target, where he was repeatedly outpointed by Darren Glass.
All right – I’ve got this far without mentioning the umpires, but here goes. They were a ***###!!! joke and a disgrace. In an open running contest there were 64 frees paid on the night, compared to the usual 30. There was more prancing and preening by the umps than from the Lipizanners in the equestrian dressage.
I rarely get excited about umpires, because I think free kicks are over-rated. They slow play down and give the penalised team time to restructure and clog space. They rarely provide a real benefit to the recipient team. Fans yell and scream about them, because that is what we saw our forefathers do. It is the fandom equivalent of Pavlov dog slobber.
And so it proved tonight. Contrary to Chris Scott’s post match rants (he had a shocker tonight that was only rivalled by the men in lime) the balance of umpiring stupidity broke pretty evenly. There were an incomprehensible 9 deliberate out of bounds awarded on the night (the average is less than one). Some of which resulted in goals to both sides. Maybe 3 of them were warranted if the umpires wanted to tighten their usual interpretation.
By mid way through the quarter the umpiring had descended to farce. Exasperated fans yelled “deliberate” when the attacking team’s shot on goal went off the side of the boot and tumbled across the line. Will Ferrell was writing the umpiring scripts.
Here’s a really novel idea. If the AFL and the Umpires Coach quite reasonably decide that an aspect of the game is getting out of hand, send a midweek email to coaches and the media letting them know that umpires will be tightening their interpretation in that area. Forewarned is forearmed.
On Friday night the umpires played Russian Roulette with their whistles, and 5 of their 6 chambers were loaded. It was farcical and sad, and reflects badly on whoever instructs them.
Having said my piece, I will now return to the game so I can get really angry. At the 29 minute mark the Eagles were 2 goals clear when Natanui bombed a long ‘goal’. The peanut in lime reversed it for a Darling shepherding ‘infringement’ on the goal line. As the replays clearly showed:
a) The ball was a metre over the goal line when the ‘ infringement’ occurred;
b) Darling lightly pushed the Geelong player in the side as the balled passed over both their heads on the line.
This is a joke. The umpiring has now gone from generally incompetent, to actively biased against us. These umpires all have Attention Deficit Disorder and they pay frees because haven’t seen themselves centre stage on the big screens in the last 2 minutes!!!
And don’t get me started on the pantomime theatre of video replay checking of scoring decisions. Tonight we had endless blurred stop frames for 5 minutes to decide whether a kick from 30 metres out was touched off the boot, or when it went over the clutch of outstretched arms at the top of the square before it bounced through.
How many dickheads can you fit on the pinhead of an umpiring decision? The AFL can count you the ways.
I reckon the AFL should sack Gieschen and Angry Adrian. Clearly there is one man who can combine both roles of AFL Operations and Umpiring Coach:
“There are no knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know.”
Straight out of the AFL Operations and Umpiring Handbook. Donald Rumsfeld is between engagements these days, so I am sure he could come on board at AFL House and use his demonstrated skills to cut through the crap that Angry and Giesch have created.
The margin was less than 2 kicks as Woosha threw Cox back as a loose man in defence. A tactic that I hate because it guarantees that the ball will be rebounded every time you run it out. Stevie J was free kicked 35 out on a 45 degree angle. 38,000 held their breath, but for the second time in the match he failed to make the distance from easy range.
The last few minutes was continuous scrums and mauls on the Geelong forward line. With less than a minute remaining Walker goaled from a (correct) free kick and the margin was 5 points.
But the Cats had used their ninth life last Friday night. Naitanui skilfully roved his own tap and the siren sounded as he bounced to the 50 with only a vacant Eagles forward line ahead of him.
The Eagles had done a Pearson rather than a Magnussen. We had won by a touch in a contest that had looked our destiny since Hawkins’ demise. The double chance is still in our own hands with final games against top 4 rivals Collingwood and Hawthorn. Tough but not impossible.
For the second week running, early calls of “WE CAN WIN THIS” had proven prescient. “Vengeance is mine,” sayeth the Lord. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.”
It was not a classic, but it was a serious contest between 2 good sides struggling to find their best in a season cruelled by injuries. The Eagles are still serious contenders, with Josh Kennedy due back in a fortnight. Cox and Natanui were awesome tonight, both in the ruck and in the marking contests.
Our defence is sound, and creates most of our attack from half back. The midfield is steady, but only Shuey is quick and incisive when he finds space. The forward line is currently disfunctional, but to their credit both Lynch and Hill lifted in the last quarter when the game was on the line. A fit and in-form Josh Kennedy would transform the roles and opportunities for the rest of the forwards. The rest of the forwards are all capable of best actor performancs in a supporting role, but they need their leading man back to give them that opportunity.
The Cats were brave and their attacking style makes them the most dangerous side outside the top 4. I love watching Stevie J. He has a unique awareness of space and other players. His evasiveness is based around instant probability assessments of what space opponents will try to fill, and where his team mate are likely to be found. He beats you with his brain before he beats you with his hand and foot skills.
But he is an 800 and 1500 metre runner who was forced to try the endurance events tonight. It is not his go, which probably explains is relative fade out after half time and his lack of kicking power. With Chapman, Kelly and Corey to do the gut running, he is an extraordinary creative prescence.
By contrast, Joel Selwood is the 10,000 metre runner who only came into the contest after half time. He had devoted most of the first half to continuing the backyard Greco Roman Wrestling championships he started with his siblings in a Ballarat backyard over a decade ago. Joel won the Gold tonight, but Adam played his best game for the season to earn the Seebohm Silver. Scott received a Bronze in the Tae Kwon Do because most of his kicks failed to hit the intended target.
Podsiadly deserves an honourable mention for his solo effort on a suddenly undersized Cats forward line. Bartel saves his best for the MCG. Travelling for games is beneath a senior statesman. Wherever Chappy was tonight, Jimmy was with him in spirit.
To my eye Cox and Natanui shared best afield honours. Kerr was brave, though his lack of pace these days means he is less damaging with his possessions. Hurn relished being the beneficiary of Chris Scott’s negligence (should that be arrogance?). Scott continued to mouth off after the game with ridiculous comments about crowd behaviour toward Hawkins, when 99% of those around me clapped him off on the stretcher and again when he walked the boundary after the half time break. I am sure there are dills in every crowd, but tonight they were mostly in the Geelong coaches box.
Above all the Eagles renewed their self belief tonight. Kennedy and Rosa will make a difference, and we need the canniness of Embley in a midfield that compensates for its lack of speed with work rate and smarts.
Champion rucks. Good defence. Solid, workmanlike midfield. An attack with plenty of scope for improvement and a renewed structure that opponents have not seen in recent months. An experienced nucleus of coach and senior players who are proven September performers. In a year with lots of good sides but no standouts:
WE CAN WIN THIS.
WEST COAST 3.1 7.3 11.5 16.6 (102)
GEELONG 5.5 9.5 11.6 15.7 (97)
GOALS - West Coast: Cox 3, Lynch 3, Naitanui 2, Gaff 2, Priddis 2, Kerr, Shuey, Darling, Masten
Geelong: Podsiadly 3, Stokes 2, Motlop 2, Hunt, Christensen, Murdoch, Hawkins, Simpkin, Bartel, Walker, Johnson
BEST – West Coast: Cox, Kerr, Naitanui, Kerr, Hurn, Shuey
Geelong: Johnson, Mackie, J Selwood, Podsiadly, Enright, Christensen
Umpires: Larry Stevic, Curley Schmitt, Moe Pannell – dumb, dumber and dumbest
Official crowd: 37,812
MY VOTES: Dean Cox (3); Nic Naitanui (2); Steve Johnson (1)