Round 2 – Western Bulldogs v West Coast: Relief from Congested OVercoached Inane Drivel

 

 

It feels like we’re coming out of a decade of COVID – Congested OVercoached Inane Drivel.  Not sure what the vaccine has been. Has the static man on the mark rule opened up that much space? Is it the accumulation of subtle rule changes of recent years? Or is it just Scissors’ turn in the circular evolution of coaching’s Rock, Paper, Scissors strategies?

 

No matter, AFL footy is suddenly engaging and fun to watch in a way it hasn’t been in recent years. Of course it’s always good to watch your side win and my Eagles have had their share, but the rolling mauls and constant stoppages prioritised ends over means. “Aye it was footy Jim, but not as we know and love it.”

 

The Eagles’ hesitant Round 1 home win over the Suns reinforced my natural pessimism.  Too old and too slow were my fears heading into the Bulldogs game.  I even prophesied missing finals at a family function on Saturday night.  “We’re not Geelong yet,” the Avenging Eagle’s nephew retorted. “How do you put up with him, Aunty Mary?”

 

Sunday morning I needed to snap out of the lethargy. Gold Coast’s convincing win over the struggling Kangaroos had me rethinking the strength of our formline. I’d spent so long focussing on our weaknesses – second ruck and an injured, ageing midfield – that I was ignoring our strengths.

 

What would Jurgen Klopp do? The AFL paradigm has moved from rugby and NFL set play strategies to the constant movement game of world football (soccer to you).

 

The Bulldogs have the tiki-taka constant sharp short ball movement of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and Manchester City.  We couldn’t stop their ball movement but our midfield had to compete to disrupt it.  Dirty ball into their forward line would create rebound opportunities for our half backs.  They wouldn’t be able to get easy shots on goal and our marking forwards Kennedy, Darling and Allen would have an edge over their undersized defence.

 

I held my breath in the first quarter – more in fear than anticipation – but that was how the game played out. A compelling contrast of different styles.  The Rumble in the Loungeroom.  We laid back on the ropes absorbing their constant jabs through the midriff. When they tired we’d land a sudden uppercut to their chin.

 

A couple of late goals on 3/4 time gave us a 2 goal lead that should have been 3 early in the last. Jamie Cripps (he must have been punchdrunk) kicked into the man on the mark from straight in front.  Both teams went score for score and there was that tension-filled “hold your breath” sense of a front runner out on his feet against a willing pursuer.

 

The game had me invested in a way that AFL rarely has in recent years.  Passive, interested observer sure.  Mug lair barracking, of course.  But this was an intense battle of skills and wills between worthy opponents.  “What a game,” I kept muttering knowing that it was thrilling to the casual observer and I was lucky to have skin in the game.

 

Nic Naitanui had rucked nearly all the second half dominating their workhorse Stefan Martin. His deft taps to advantage helping us break even at the clearances – our rapier keeping their threshing midfield at bay.  

 

In the end the dam wall broke and the Bulldogs took the points in a split decision, with the Russian judge giving it to them 100-93.

 

After a quick “fk, fk, fk” and stamp of the feet I put the toys back in the cot and marvelled at the great game we’d seen.  Incredible skills from the likes of Bontempelli, Natainui, Macrae, Kelly and Kennedy.  Incredible intensity and commitment from Dunkley, Sheed, Liberatore and Hurn.  

 

I came away knowing that our best could still compete with anyone – and that will be an important confidence builder for the team.  Fringe players like Rotham, Redden, Cole and Jones all contributed and will feel they belong at this level.  Worryingly McGovern, Gaff and Sheppard have had slow starts to the season.  I’m worried that the perpetually banged-up looking McGovern may now be perpetually banged-up.  Barrass has gone past him as our best marking defender.  Hopefully all three are just knocking the rust off early in a long preparation.  

 

Kennedy’s smarts and straight kicking were as good as ever. Darling’s tireless running and link-up work is his best asset.  Oscar Allen becomes more like Nick Riewoldt every season as his body matures and he can now take strong pack marks.  Importantly all three (and Liam Ryan) work well together setting clever screens in marking contests.

 

The negative is that the Kelly trade left our list thin with no obvious talent coming through the WAFL. Injuries are a big risk for any side with so many stars well north of 30.

 

Port Adelaide are my flag pick with their younger list, even talent spread, clever recruiting and recent finals experience.  But my pessimometer has shifted from a depressive -4 to a tentative +2 after the Bulldogs game.

 

All the same thrills, just a different result would suit me nicely Saturday night at home.

 

 

Western Bulldogs           3.3     6.10    9.12   14.16 (100)

West Coast                      3.2     6.3      12.6    14.9   (93)

 

Goals:
Western Bulldogs: Bruce 3, Bontempelli 3, Naughton 3, Daniel, Dunkley, English, Smith Vandermeer

West Coast: Kennedy 4, Darling 3, Jones 3, Allen 2, Ryan 2

 

Best:
Western Bulldogs: Bontempelli, Macrae, Dunkley, Liberatore

West Coast: Naitanui, Sheed, Kelly, Kennedy, Hurn, Darling

 

 

The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in 2021. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order HERE

 

 

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Comments

  1. Kevin Densley says

    Enjoyed this analysis, PB – entertaining and erudite stuff!

  2. It was a cracking game, PB

  3. Good assessment Peter. Let’s hope this trend continues. I’ll take this version over the rolling mauls. Even rugby people stopped watching rugby!

  4. John Butler says

    PB, I think the AFL will try to claim the more open style we have seen so far. I tend to think it’s the result of Richmond’s success – their manic ball movement plus pressure has overwhelmed more ball control focused strategies in recent years. Other teams are trying to get with the strength.

    The Eagles will be thereabouts.

    Cheers

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