AFL 2020: Round Seven – Learned, Liked and Disliked.

Find out what the Pinch Hitters team Learned, Liked and Disliked after an intriguing and eventful Round Seven in the AFL?

Things change quick in season 2020, and so we saw again in Round Seven. Just as we began to put our faith in the Bombers they slip up badly against the Bulldogs. Just when we thought that Brisbane were on the way down and Geelong on the way up. They both have us questioning our thinking.

The Eagles and Demons continue to rebuild after slow starts. While North Melbourne’s fast start feels like a long forgotten memory. The Crows and Sydney continued to struggle despite showing improvement. Meanwhile, Hawthorn showed again that there was more to their problems that the holding the ball rule.

The defending premiers, like they did in 2019, found a way to win despite a long list of outs. While the Tigers keep their nose to the grindstone, last years beaten Grand Finalists GWS continue to struggle. Rather than thoughts of going one step further, they need to focus intently on the increasingly more difficult path they need to traverse to reach the finals.

The Suns and Saints retain their place in the Top Eight with hard fought wins, the Blues surrendered theirs after a heartbreaking defeat to the ladder leading Power. Collingwood reasserted their position as a team to beat in Perth against Geelong. At the same venue Fremantle, their temporary cross-town rival, had their homecoming ruined in the Western Derby.

What was it we Learned, Liked and Disliked from this most intriguing of rounds?

We deserve better than Channel 7’s prime time coverage.

We are going to put Bruce McAvaney’s much publicised minimising of Jordan De Goey’s arrest to one side, as people more qualified than us have discussed this in great detail, and will focus on the more trivial offences. Trivial being the key word as that is how he and Brian Taylor seem to treat the games on which they commentate.

Rather than add to the game, Seven’s commentary feels more like a mutual appreciation society in which the contest and the fans watching run a long way behind the feeding of the commentator’s insatiable egos. No matter how ridiculous or nonsensical Taylor’s commentary is, McAvaney will congratulate him on a ‘good call’ every time he takes over from him. In return Taylor will bestow genius status on McAvaney whenever he displays anything more than a passing knowledge of sport.

Then there is the nonsense that distracts them from their task at hand. Very early on we were treated to Taylor recounting ad nauseum that a kick for goal had knocked over some beers in the crowd. If that wasn’t bad enough, later in the game we had to endure McAvaney equally excited about Gary Rohan’s turn of pace. The fact that the Geelong flyer had completely run past the ball and his opponent was able to clear it, not deterring Bruce from praising Rohan for what felt like 10 hours.

There is no question that those calling the game can elevate the vision to a different level, but this is only possible when their soundtrack is secondary to the vision. When these roles are reversed, like they are on Seven’s coverage at the moment where the game plays a supporting role to BT and Bruce, both the game and the commentators are diminished.

Collingwood’s defence might be the key to the years premiership.

While they have struggled at times at the other end of the ground, Collingwood’s back half have been consistently stingy. This was again on show in Round Seven with Geelong’s score of 5.5 (35). The fifth time this season that the Pies have kept their opposition to 37 points or less.

With Darcy Moore and Brayden Moore in All-Australian form, it appears increasingly likely that the Pies will be able to cover the sizeable hole left by the injured Jeremy Howe. If the old adage that defences wins premierships is true, unless teams can unlock their defensive structures, Collingwood might have one hand on the cup?

The Lions are no one season wonders.

Bouncing back from their disappointing loss to the Cats in Sydney, the Lions jumped out of the blocks early against the Giants. Their early dominance seeing them kick the first four goals of the match. Memories of their fade out a week earlier must have come to mind when after GWS kicked eight of the next 13, the margin was just seven points deep into time on in the third quarter.

Yet just as the Giants had themselves back in the contest, the Lions were able to roar back into action. With goals either side of three quarter time, Cam Rayner kicked the Lions clear once more. The next 11 minutes saw the ball moved from end to end but neither team was able to score until Zac Bailey landed the killer blow. Lincoln McCarthy added another shortly after to have the margin out to 30-points before Harry Himmelberg and Josh Kelly added a little respectability to the scoreboard with two late goals.

Weed makes the Dees better.

Sam Weideman showed on Sunday that the Dees are better when he is in the team. Deprived of opportunities since his breakout in the 2018 Elimination Final, when he took the game by the scruff of the neck against Geelong, he proved his worth again against the Hawks.

He doesn’t need to kick goals or take marks to be important, his pure willingness to crash packs and influence the contest is a massive factor in bringing the Demon small and mid-sized players into the game. Rarely out marked, this enables the Demons to prevent the opposition’s counter-attack and springboard from defence. The fact he had five shots on goal and kicked three, against Hawthorn, is pure cream on the cake for a traditionally malfunctioning Demon forward line.

The Awakening of Tim English.

It’s been a tough initiation for Tim English, with the Bulldogs throwing the young ruckman in at the deep end in recent seasons. Along the way his youth and inexperience has been exploited by some of the big names in the competition but, based on his performance against Essendon, those days may soon be behind him.

Bulldogs Coach Luke Beveridge was understandable full of praise for his big man post match. “It’s definitely his best individual performance in his career,” Beveridge said post match. “For him to have a really dominant night, that’s exciting for our football club.” 

From the opening bounce of the game he threw his weight around with great effect. Providing silver service to his midfield, the Bulldogs took full advantage of first use of the ball. With a remarkable 203 ranking points for the match, as is the trait of the best ruckmen, English’s effect on this contest went beyond his hitout count.

One of the top disposal winners on the night, he led both teams for contested possessions. The most scary thing about this for opposition sides is the quality of his disposal. The 22 year old displays rare precision for a ruckman. Most importantly for the Bulldogs on Friday night he was able to impact the scoreboard too. He finished with one goal and a game high eight score involvements, having a big say on the final result.

We’ll leave the final say to his coach who was keen to suggest that this might only be the beginning for English. “Tonight, you know, it is probably a little bit of an awakening for him that he can have a significant impact on the game.” 

If there is something Izak Rankine can’t do, is it worth doing?

In just his second game, Izak Rankine once again delved into his bag of tricks to wow those watching the Suns in action. After three goals last week, his first against the Swans and commentators and spectators breathless with his quick thinking. Dermott Brereton stopped giggling long enough to describe it best. “He has no right to have a go at that, surrounded by opponents,” the Hawks champ said. “There are four Swans closer to the ball than him!”

He would hit the scoreboard again in the third quarter with a classy finish from 45-metres. Only two weeks removed from Matt Rowell seemingly having the Rising Star wrapped up, Rankine may well have left Sydney on Saturday a short priced favourite to win it instead.

Does Robbie Gray have ice water coursing through his veins?

After his team had missed four chances to take the lead late in the final quarter, Robbie Gray earned his team one last opportunity to steal the points at the Gabba. With time all but expired, the Port star had marked 45 metres out from goal and hard up against the boundary. Before he had too long to weigh up the situation, the siren sounded leaving him with the result of the match resting on his own boot.

While it was far from the easiest of shots for goal, and far more difficult than those the Power had squandered previously in the quarter, Gray was confident. “I knew there wasn’t long left. I’d missed one a couple of minutes earlier from a similar spot, but I was still reasonably confident going back though,” Gray told Fox Footy.

Another who was pretty sure that Gray would take his chance was Carlton Coach David Teague. “When he marked it, I thought he’s due, he’ll probably hit this one,” he told reporters post match. Power Coach Ken Hinkley, certain the ball was in the right players hands wasn’t as sure about the result. “You never underestimate what the champs of the game will do and normally the bigger the moment the bigger they get. I’ve been lucky enough to be around a lot of great players and Rob fits in that category of players. I have no doubt about that,” he said before admitting his doubt. “I wasn’t sure he’d kick it,” he said.

As the football world held their breath, Gray concentrated on what he could control. “I just focused on routine, making good contact with the ball – and luckily it went through.”

As the ramifications of the kick sank in for Gray and his Power team mates, David King summed up the mood in the commentary box. “How many players in the AFL would be able to kick that goal? That is an extraordinary kick. You’re a one in 20 chance at the best of times, let alone after the siren.”

The last word on the matter should be left to Hinkley whose euphoria was plain to see as he prepared for the post-match interview. “Glad that’s over,” he told reporters. “It really was a “brave f***ing win, though,” he added before looking to confirm that he was off the record. We are pretty glad that he wasn’t because that is just the kind of response we want from a coach after a game like that.

The return of big crowds.

With respect to Queensland, who has not only kept the AFL season alive but already allowed crowds to games in their state, the past weekend was memorable for the big crowds in attendance in Perth and Adelaide. While we are a long way from the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was comforting and exciting to see both cities in a position to have that many people congregate.

It also added something that has been missing from the spectacle, even if it did mean the return of the ‘noise of affirmation’ in Adelaide on Monday. This is a game built on the shared emotion and passions of it’s players and fans and it is always at its best when that can be showcased.

Does anybody think the game has been improved by the crackdown on holding the ball?

The matchup between the 3-3 Saints and the 0-6 Crows was never going to be in the conversation for ‘greatest game ever played’ but the officiating of it made it borderline unwatchable. In the best example yet of the lunacy in changing the interpretation of a rule midseason, the only consistency in the adjudication of holding the ball in this match was its inconsistency.

You need look no further than the decision to penalise Callum Wilkie in the second quarter. After Shane McAdam spilled the Sherrin after being tackled upon taking possession, Wilkie collected the loose ball and was similarly set upon immediately. Despite both instances happening within seconds of each other the umpire adjudicated them completely differently.

The bigger issue though is that the logic behind making the change is flawed. On what planet does it make sense that rewarding negative play would see more positive play? Why when you want to see the ball in motion would you increase the amount of times you reward the team that prevents it being in motion?

If you need any further proof, the biggest proponent of the change was Alastair Clarkson. How has his side gone now that the AFL have pulled the lever that he felt would open the game up? They’ve scored 49, 27, and 48, and average team scores have fallen from 63 points a game in Rounds 1-4, to 60 points in Rounds 5-7.

Still think that we open up the game by rewarding the players that close it down? Next you’ll tell me we’ll increase marking by giving a free kick to players that spoil the ball.

Optus Stadium Goose.

While we acknowledge that some pitch invaders have become celebrated figures in the history of the game. Well some is a bit of an exaggeration. Apart from Helen d’Amico, not a single pitch invader are remembered at all, let alone fondly.

When you combine this, with the fact that we are living in the middle of a pandemic, it is hard to understand what the goose at Optus Oval on Thursday night was trying to achieve. At best he would receive a minute or two’s attention before being flattened by an angry security guard. At worst he could have forced Geelong and Collingwood into two weeks lockdown.

What’s the point?

Carlton s*&t the bed.

If you excuse our crudeness, Carlton cost themselves a big win on Sunday. As special as Robbie Gray was to kick the winner. The Blues had the lead, and the ball, with less than a minute to go in the match. After metaphorically surviving two standing eight counts, victory would be theirs if they could just stay away from trouble and remain on their feet.

Yet somehow, despite a clever Sam Petrevski-Seton kick giving Sam Gibbons the ball with 50 seconds to go at half back, the Blues failed to kill the contest. While Gibbons would have been better served looking for a loose man, the Blues did have the outnumber at the pack he directed his kick towards. Even when Tom Jonas managed to beat the numbers and mark the ball the odds were still stacked heavily in the Blues favour with the Port captain at half back and with just 42 seconds on the clock.

Even given Jonas quick hands, and Peter Ladhams being able to find Zak Butters loose on the wing, Port were still ridiculously up against it. Having flown into Brisbane from Adelaide that morning, and with two players injured on the bench, they couldn’t possibly have the necessary run in their legs for the miracle play. With Butters left with no other option but to bomb the ball long, the Blues once again had the chance to kill the ball but failed.

Liam Jones and Jacob Weitering getting in each others way, and kept the ball alive, with neither was able to effect the strong spoil that would be the games killer blow. With two on two at the fall of the ball though, there couldn’t possibly be enough time for Port to pinch it. Nobody told Sam Mayes though. After handsomely beating Jack Martin to the ball, he looked up and was able to deliver the ball to the leading Gray.

As much as the Blues could still consider themselves unlucky that Gray would then thread the needle, the 50 seconds prior was straight out of the manual titled ‘how not to ice the game’. While there were 180 other minutes that contributed to the result. In the end, the way the Blues managed the last undid everything they had done beforehand.

Do North know where the goals are?

After a strong start to the season, things have gone from bad to worse for the Kangaroos in 2020. Their loss to Richmond the nadir of a free fall that has seen them manage just 42-points a game since Round Three.

Remarkably, as bad as a final score of 23-points might appear on face value it doesn’t tell the full story of the Kangaroos impotent attack. Just how bereft of direction they are only fully highlighted when you review the match stats. Somehow, despite being outscored 11 goals to two, they won more possessions and clearances than the Tigers.

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