Winners and Losers – Round 1: Proper football is back

Proper football is back. That means no longer having to listen to terms like “twenty minutes halves” and, much to Dwayne Russell’s chagrin, “Super Goals”. In exchange we welcome the return of terms such as “just taking it one week at a time” and “what the hell is Melbourne doing?”

Winners

Essendon

After a horror off-season the Bombers were no doubt glad to be playing footy once again. This desire certainly showed in their upset 35 point victory over the Crows in the season opener. As they piled on the goals toward the end, months of emotional build-up erupted. I imagine it felt similar to rising triumphantly and flipping the bird at everyone who piled on when you were down.

Essendon won the game through two main areas, clearances and work rate. No matter which ruck won the hit-out the Bombers would more often than not win the clearance, and importantly win a clean one. While Adelaide fumbled the ball and were wasteful the Bombers were sure handed and clean. They applied significant pressure to their Adelaide counterparts all over the ground. Heath Hocking held Dangerfield as well as he’d ever been held, and was not content to just negate, with five of his thirteen touches being clearance winners. As a team they laid 26 more tackles than the Crows, and this endeavour played a significant role in their victory.

Geelong

You know when directors or actors just make the same movie over and over again? That is what Geelong v Hawthorn is like, only it’s enjoyable every single time. You can see the ending coming from a mile away, and you still look forward to it. It’s like a Bond film. No matter how dire the situation is, you know Bond is going to defeat the villain, just as you know Geelong are going to beat Hawthorn.

And if Monday was a Bond film then there was nobody better suited for the title role than one Joel Selwood. He was magnificent. With the game slipping away the Cats captain came out at the start of the third quarter and was everywhere. Much like his former teammate Ablett on Saturday, he grabbed the game by the scruff of its neck and dragged his side back into it.

Not far behind Selwood was Mackie, who marshalled the back line and made several critical intercept marks throughout the second half. He had an influence on the contest nearly every time the ball was sent in his direction. He can be Q.

Members of Geelong’s younger brigade also shone. Bille Smedts was silky when in possession and dangerous up forward. Duncan and Taylor Hunt also impressed. After a quiet first half Varcoe sprang to life in the second, adding much needed pace and pressure with and around the ball. Bartel was almost non-existent until the final term, when he played an integral role in bringing the ball out of the back half. When the game was on the line, Geelong elevated their play while the Hawks did not.

Blofeld Kennett must be getting frustrated.

Richmond

Thursday night was one of the most “Richmond” things I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few. The only way it would’ve been more Richmond was if they had actually lost.

But there is the positive. They won. They won a game they should have won. They nearly tossed it away, but in the past they would have. The Yellow and Black army will be hoping this new trend sticks.

Another positive was the work up front. Riewoldt was smothered and, as a result, played the role of shiny decoy. It was effectively a declaration that if you are going to afford me all this attention, then I’m going to drag you away from the other forwards. He did, and Vickery was the beneficiary. The young ruckman turned forward had a great game taking nine marks and kicking three goals, all while putting his kung-fu skills on display.

Western Bulldogs

The most surprising winners of the week. Not only did they beat the Lions, they crushed them.

Tom Liberatore continues to be one of the best inside midfielders going around, and he isn’t even 21. He had eleven clearances and laid nine tackles. Boyd’s absence meant Griffen was the senior member in the middle, and he had another exemplary outing with 27 touches and two goals. Giansiracusa was involved in everything up forward, with three goal assists to go with three goals of his own.

The Dogs have been crying out for a key forward since Hall’s retirement and Ayce Cordy filled the role with aplomb. He didn’t set the world alight in terms of numbers, but he provided a target all day, brought the ball to ground often, and was very competent when it was down there for such a tall player. His presence allowed the smaller brigade of Giansiracusa, Higgins, Dickson and Murphy more freedom.

At 29 years of age Brett Goodes had a tremendous debut. The mature ager oozed football smarts, getting into the right positions repeatedly to cut off Brisbane’s forward thrusts. He was remarkably clean with his 24 disposals, hitting targets more often than not, and provided plenty of drive out of the back half.

Ablett and the Suns

Is there any argument against Ablett being the best player in the competition?  He willed the Suns to victory on Saturday. He had his customary 34 touches, but it was the nine clearances and four goals that elevated his performance to another level. His two in the last had the distinct smell of “we’re not losing this game”.

Also a special mention for Sam Day, who, when the game was there to be won, claimed possession of the ball on the deck just out from half-back and dished a quick handball out to a teammate. The move started the chain that resulted in Hall’s match sealing goal.

Truth be told the Suns better the Saints in many of the game’s key areas. They won the clearance count, won more contested possessions, and laid more tackles. They weren’t comprehensively better, but they were more efficient with their chances and simply out-shone the Saints in the final term.

Port Adelaide, Wines, and Viney

With both Port Adelaide and Melbourne being lumped within the same tier of teams, their clash was going to offer insight into which of the two had made more progress over the summer.

And it did.

With new coach Ken Hinkley at the helm the Power looked a different animal than the one seen over the past few years, while for Melbourne it was more of the same.

The most impressive aspect of Port’s play was the movement and spread out of the back half of the ground. With the return of Pittard from injury, and new additions like Stevenson and Heath, the Power had no shortage of options to bring the ball out. The team simply worked harder than their Melbourne opponents. They ran hard into space and created open options for those in possession. Indeed Melbourne’s work rate was appalling. Brad Ebert took advantage of the opportunities this presented, registering 12 marks and 24 kicks throughout the middle of the G.

Another new addition, Monfries, kicked off his Alberton career in a blaze. He had three goals and six scoring shots before being subbed off a three quarter time. Westhoff received plenty of opportunities but was wasteful in front of goal. Meanwhile, it was business as usual for Jay Schulz, who continues to be the most underrated key forward in the competition.

But the pick of Port’s new players was draftee Oliver Wines. Already an important member of the midfield setup, Wines showed every bit of toughness that came advertised during the lead up to the draft. He had 16 contested possessions amongst his 24 touches, and six forward fifty entries came from his boot.

The only shining light for the Demons on the day was debutant Jack Viney. Viney was equal to Wines, and given the lack of support he had compared to his Port Adelaide counterpart, you could argue his performance was more impressive. Put simply Viney already looks like Melbourne’s best midfielder. He won six clearances, but most importantly looked confident in possession when many of his team mates looked lost. He, along with Jones and Grimes, played a lone hand in Melbourne’s efforts.

Fremantle

The Dockers strangled the life out of the Eagles, and were average in possession for most of the first half. They improved in this area significantly after the break, and by three quarter time had a four goal lead. They never gave West Coast a sniff, and ran out comfortable winners.

The acquisition of former Port player Danyle Pearce paid immediate dividends, with the speedster providing two goals and impressive high-step celebrations. The notion of him and Hill combining to occupy the wings is a juicy one. The criticism on both so far during their careers is their inability to handle serious tags. By putting them on the same team, they increase the chances of one being allowed to roam free, or forcing the opposition to dedicate two players to shutting them down.

Losers

Melbourne

The Demons were atrocious. There is no other word for it. They should be embarrassed by what they served up. Port Adelaide was much improved but they’re not a finals side. If they play with that insipid level of effort all year then they are going to be massacred. There are so many passengers, and it is indictment on the team that the best player, by far, was a debutant.

Melbourne supporters defend Jack Watts like a mother defends her bank robbing child, but even they must have been disheartened by his performance. They can say whatever they like, but you don’t spend the number one pick in the draft on a guy so he can float loose without an opponent across half-back, no matter how good they are at it. But more troubling than the fact he is playing in that position is the fact he can’t even seem to do that well. Watts was held to just seven touches. He displayed a severe lack of intensity, only applying a solitary tackle throughout the contest. He did next to nothing defensively, and didn’t work hard enough to free himself when attacking.

Adelaide

Their loss to the Bombers was disappointing because it came about as a result of problems both new and old.

First the new. Last year Adelaide was one of the best contested possession and clearance sides in the competition. The Bombers were one of the worst. While the Crows won the contested possession battle, they were smashed in the clearances. The Bombers won the ball and moved it much more quickly and cleanly than the Crows did. To lose the game on the back of what is typically such a strength is concerning.

However it is round one, and that won’t become a major concern unless it persists over the coming rounds. What should be more concerning though is the problems that have persisted for some time now that were once again on show. The first is cleanliness with the ball in less than ideal conditions. If there is rain before or during the game, or if the surface and the ball are likely to be slippery or dewy, then it would be wise to bet against the Crows. These conditions generally bring about fumbleitis, and Adelaide are more susceptible than most. The Crows fumbled in possession and could barely string handballs together or keep their feet.

Another concern is foot speed. The Bombers made the Crows look slow. They had eleven running bounces to Adelaide’s four. With Dangerfield extremely well held by Hocking, the Crows had no real fast movers in the middle.

But by far the most concerning aspect was tackling. Adelaide is a horrific tackling side and has been for a long while. The amount of times an Essendon ball carrier would just shrug off a Crow with ease was both alarming and familiar. If they aren’t going to win the ball out of the middle in a dominant fashion like last season then the tackling problem is going to be even more apparent.

Brisbane

The pre-season darlings were brought back to Earth with a colossal thud on Saturday. The lowly rated Bulldogs looked far superior in every facet, which should be concerning for the Lions given their run of form leading into the season.

St Kilda

The weakest part of the Saints outfit in 2012 was their midfield, and so it appeared again. They were bullied by Ablett in the middle. They’re not the first and they won’t be the last, but what was concerning was the overall lack of contributors in this area of the ground. Armitage  played a lone hand out of the middle, and the Saints will be fighting an uphill battle all season if their work in the centre continues down this slope.

Up forward is where St Kilda’s match winners sit, but Riewoldt and Milera were the only ones to offer up anything in front of goal on the night. Maister, Milne and Saad had evenings to forget.

Hawthorn

Ten in a row…

The Battle of the Bridge

This game was slow and ugly, and just meandered along until the final siren put us all out of our misery. Treloar and Shiel were great in the middle for the Giants, and they can take heart in not being destroyed by last years premiers. The Swans meanwhile had the look of a guy staring at his watch waiting for knock-off time to arrive. ANZ stadium was a horrible choice as host, with so many vacant seats the atmosphere was shot and added to the drowsy nature of the game. Skoda and the SCG in the future please.

Goal Line Technology

I’m a big fan of review systems in sports. If we can take a few seconds to get something right when the outcome could affect the contest significantly, then I’m all for it.

But this fandom is predicated on the review system actually working. This is where, most unsurprisingly, the AFL falls flat. The review system is nothing short of a shambles, and has been since its introduction. Nearly every time one is called the result is “inconclusive”. Sometimes it is conclusive and we make the wrong call anyway. Here is a tip. It’s hard to see anything conclusively when the footage is grainier than the Zapruder film. Also, when determining goal line decisions, it helps to have footage from the actual goal line, and not shot from the sixth floor of a book depository.

If the AFL is serious about having a review system then it needs to get serious about implementing the review system.

Commentary and Coverage

Football commentary on the whole seems poor, but it appears to be getting worse, and it wouldn’t surprise me if those responsible were deliberately hamming it up in order to infuriate us.

First there is Brian Taylor. A few years ago he was widely regarded as one of the best commentators around. Then he jumped to Channel Seven.

Now everything he says is either some obnoxious nickname that he himself has devised and decided belongs to a certain player, or just a collection of hyperbolic sounds. Taylor spent Saturday night calling Dion Prestia “The Human Meatball”. This would be fine, if only a little weird, had he done it once. However Taylor did it approximately forty-seven times.

“HUMAN MEATBALL! LOOK AT THE HUMAN MEATBALL! HANDBALL BY THE HUMAN MEATBALL!”

Then there is Saints ruckman Ben McEvoy. Apparently he is called “Big Boy McEvoy”. I know this because it is the only thing he said more than Human Meatball. Again this would be okay if he decided not to pound the term into our skulls through sheer repetition. The most egregious use of the term was toward the end of the game when Aaron Hall ran into goal to seal the match for the Suns. Rather than commentate about the goal, and the implications of it, Taylor instead decided to make the moment about “Big Boy McEvoy”, who was about twenty metres behind the much smaller and faster Hall. While in reality there was no chase, Taylor obviously noticed McEvoy was the closest to the Sun, and he couldn’t pass up another opportunity to say the words “Big Boy McEvoy”.

The whole experience feels cheesy and makes the competition look and sound amateurish. I’m not watching the game to listen to the “banter” and “personalities” in the box. Not a single soul is. Those things are nice if they come about naturally and compliment the game. The best commentary, in any sport, is always understated, and displays an understanding of what is happening within a context bigger than that exact moment. Ablett’s two goals in the final term warranted excitement from the commentary crew. Hall’s match sealer did as well. Anytime the Human Meatball or Big Boy McEvoy appeared within a five metre radius of the ball did not. Taylor can’t seem to distinguish between these things, and instead tries to treat every moment of the game as if it is mind blowing. This diminishes the entire experience.

Then there is Dwayne Russell over at Fox.

Russell is the king of the inane and nonsensical. There is only one way to experience games with him commentating, and that is with heavy liquor. If you had a drink every time you heard him say one of the following, you would be dead roughly seven seconds after the opening bounce.

Describing a player kicking the ball: “SPEARS IT!”

Describing a player kicking the ball a short distance: “SHORTS IT!”

Describing a player kicking the ball toward full-forward: “KICKS IT TO THE PAINT!”

Anything good: “That’s a GEM!” or “THAT’S AS GOOD AS IT GETS!” or “SPECTACULARLY GOOD!” or “IT’S A CLINIC!”

Anything bad: “That’s HORRENDOUS!”

As the siren approaches: “WE’RE IN THE SHADOWS OF (state which quarter it is here)”

“Call player X a SUPERSTAR, or “SUPERSTAR OF THE COMPETITION”. (Actual level of superstardom irrelevant).

“HE IS A GUN!” (Actual level of gun irrelevant).

Refer to a player as being in “POSITION 1A”

Asking “IS THAT DELIBERATE?”

Describe games as a “MUST WIN”, regardless of whether it is true or even if it is a pre-season game.

Whenever the ball is bouncing: “CHAOS BALL!” (Michael Crichton would be proud)

Team kicks a goal to bring the margin back to within ninety: “TEAM X IS NOT DONE YET!” or “PLAYER X GIVES THEM SOME LIFE!”

Home team is losing by more than two goals: “THE NATIVES ARE GETTING RESTLESS!”

Player kicks goal to blow out the margin: “IT’S PARTY TIME HERE AT THE (name of ground here)”

Player kicks a goal against the run of play: “THAT COULD BE THE FIRESTARTER!”

At any time, regardless of the margin or how long to go there is: “THE GAME IS STILL IN THE BALANCE”

Player wins a hard ball amidst congestion: “PLAYER X GOING WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD!”

Player kicks a goal: “THAT’S ONE OF THE GOALS OF THE YEAR/CENTURY/ALL TIME”

During NAB CUP when player decides to pass the ball into the forward fifty: “DECIDES AGAINST GOING FOR NINE!” shortly followed by “WHY DIDN’T HE GO FOR NINE!?!?!”

During NAB CUP when a player kicks the ball from just inside fifty: “THIS WON’T BE FOR NINE”

During NAB CUP when a player kicks the ball from just outside fifty: “THIS WILL BE FOR NINE!!!!”

During NAB CUP when a player kicked just about on fifty: “THIS COULD BE FOR NINE!”

During NAB CUP when a player takes mark and has a set shot from anywhere within the fifty metre arc: “THIS JUST FOR SIX”, sometimes followed by a suggestion that the player could handball or pass to a team-mate outside fifty, who could then go for NINE! which would surely be a FIRESTARTER.

During NAB CUP when a player has the ball on the wing: “IN NINE POINT TERRITORY!”

During NAB CUP when a player has the ball in the back pocket: “IN NINE POINT TERRITORY!”

During regular season when a player kicks a goal from outside fifty: “IF THIS WAS THE NAB CUP THAT WOULD BE WORTH NINE” followed by an attempt to start discussion with fellow commentators about whether or not we should introduce nine pointers into the season proper. Most ignore him or say no. Gerard Healy annoyingly does not.

I’m sure there are plenty I’ve forgotten/supressed, but there is no doubt I’ll remember them the next time I listen to a game he calls. If Russell is anything it’s consistent. If Billy Birmingham decided to turn his focus to football he wouldn’t have to do an over the top impersonation of Russell. He could just use actual recordings of the man. Brian Taylor would also be easy to parody. All you have to do is say everything loudly, and say “BOY OH BOY, WOWEE” and “FROM THE CALDER CANNONS FOOTBALL FACTORY” every couple of minutes. Also be sure to mention any obscure suburbs or country locations where players hail from whenever possible.

About Adam Ritchie

My name is Adam. I started watching football with two fellow parapsychologists in an abandoned firehouse. When we’re not watching footy, we’re running our own pest control business. What do you mean I stole that from Ghostbusters?

Comments

  1. Bob Ely says:

    In the first half of the Suns v Saints BT made a comment along the lines of “St Kilda need some goals.quickly or they’ll lose sight of the Suns” which I found interesting given that St Kilda were 6 points up at the time. Every time BT commentates he brings disgrace to the same airwaves that brought us Lou Richards and Mike Williamson.

  2. What struck my American ears from the beginning is how much more emotional and over the top Aussie announcers are as a general rule. That took some time to adjust to, but I’ve accepted the baseline.
    That being said, if Brian Taylor is on a Saints game I can watch live, I mute the streaming TV sound and listen to streaming radio. Sometimes it matches up, sometimes it doesn’t. Even when it doesn’t, it’s usually less jarring than listening to him. To me, Dwayne Russell is annoying but tolerable. And then there’s Dennis Cometti. He’d sound good reading the dictionary.

  3. Adam,

    I note you ignored the Pies. Some of us thought they played pretty well.

  4. Adam Ritchie says:

    Bakes,

    I hope you and your Magpie brethren can forgive me. It was less ignored and more forgot to include the Magpies and Roos game in my final cut. Too irate over the commentary it seems.

    Truth be told I would’ve spent more time focusing on the Roos and their inability to consistently beat the very best sides. It felt more business as usual on the Pies end.

    I’ll make it up to you by having them front and centre next week when they demolish the Blues ;)

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