Mar 22, 2021
The Monday Knee Jerk Reaction: AFL Round One
On a Monday, you want irrational reaction. You want emotion to trump reason.
What you really want is idiotic hysteria.
You’ve come to the right place.
Richmond (105) v Carlton (80)
After 537 days of no football at the MCG, suddenly it was back, like Jesus emerging from the cave, but this had reliable witnesses.
You could almost feel the excitement across Victoria that finally, something not horrendously awful was occurring.
In the lead-up, I just hoped there wouldn’t be an outbreak, and for once there wasn’t and it quickly became apparent that there would be an actual game of football in front of fans at the MCG.
Even more exciting was the fact it would be between the reigning premiers and Carlton, who have earnt this opening slot but losing it eight years in a row.
It’s always good to see consistency rewarded.
At least this time, Carlton was not that bad. In fact, by their standards, they were positively amazing. They did enough to give their fans the false hope they’ve come to crave.
Their strategy of constantly kicking the ball to Noah Balta probably won’t work against other teams though.
The Blues did manage to make some history, by having Jack Silvagni become the first player medically substituted out of a game. The new rule seemed to work smoothly, after all, the teams had almost 48 hours to get across how it would work.
You all know I follow the game very closely, and therefore have insights that elude others, and here’s mine for this game; Richmond’s victory was a result of a player by the name of Dustin Martin.
If you go back and watch the replay, you’ll notice some of the little things he did just to help out the team.
Mark my words, you’ll be hearing that name a lot in the future.
Collingwood (53) v Adam Treloar (69)
Collingwood fans booed Adam Treloar for having the temerity to be traded when he didn’t want to be.
It was an odd moment, as Treloar seemed to be the sort of player the Pies could have used on the night.
In fairness, later on, the Pies fans cheered him, perhaps the earlier booing was more directed at their own club, who somehow manoeuvred themselves into a position where they couldn’t afford to keep their good players
The Pies had two major issues on the night, an inability to get the ball, and then no one to kick goals in those occasional moments when they did touch it.
Darcy Moore was the main reason the Pies remained close for much of the game. He was so good I’m amazed Collingwood didn’t trade him in the offseason.
The Bulldogs biggest concern was that despite having 149 more disposals than Collingwood, they couldn’t put them away until late in the game.
That’s probably reflective of Collingwood this season. They’re a lot like me at a party, able to hang around for a long time, without really making an impact on anyone.
Melbourne (80) v Fremantle (58)
Walking into the G’ for the first time in well over a year was honestly way more exciting than I could have anticipated. All the staff there were excited too, smiling and saying welcome back.
If it wasn’t for Covid rules I would have hugged them.
Not that Covid was a worry, the crowd was so small, I felt more crowded in lockdown.
Before the game, every Melbourne supporter I spoke to expressed the same two sentiments, they were joyously happy to be back and positive we were going to lose.
When Christian Petracca marked close in early on, only to drill the ball so hard into the goalpost it almost came out of the ground, you could sense the ‘here we go again’ mood around the ground.
But the Dees got going, helped by the fact the Dockers were injury-plagued and their own worst enemies at times.
Add to that the fact Steven May and Jake Lever operated much like the opposite of a dam in NSW, and Fremantle were kept at bay for much of the match.
Also helpful for Melbourne, in the absence of Ben Brown and Sam Weideman; Tom McDonald appears to have remembered how to play football again, the best sign the Dees have that this season may actually be successful.
That said, you can’t always run into a Dockers side experiencing more medical emergencies than an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.
Adelaide (103) v Geelong (91)
Now, I’ve learnt over the years that you can’t overreact to round one results, it’s a long season. But obviously, the Crows premiership window is wide open, and the Cats already have one hand on the wooden spoon.
Geelong seemed asleep early on, and their main aim seemed to be playing Taylor Walker into form, a strategy they executed to perfection.
When they weren’t doing that, they seemed to be doing things counterintuitive to their best interests.
Patrick Dangerfield for some reason decided to give Jake Kelly an involuntary nose job, right there on the field.
The AFL will now be torn between sending a signal on concussion and protecting a star. This is the nightmare scenario for them. They’ll be cursing Jake Kelly for being so careless.
What will be incredibly pleasing for the Crows, is the endeavour of so many young players.
Footy has always been a team game, you need every player to commit to their role to have a chance, and Adelaide, featuring nine players with less than 10 AFL games, applied a manic pressure that had the Cats on the back foot early on.
The second half saw Geelong realise they weren’t going to win purely on talent, and they came at the Crows hard, but pleasingly for Adelaide fans, their players didn’t panic.
Instead, they absorbed the pressure and hit back a few times.
Sure, we all tipped the Crows, but that didn’t make this win any less impressive.
Essendon (91) v Hawthorn (92)
Even as a Melbourne supporter, I sit back at times and think, gee it must be tough being a Bombers fan.
There can be no more damning assessment.
This game saw Essendon up by 39 points in the second quarter, following an eight-goal to one second term.
Given the Essendon fans have stuck by a club that has set new heights for self-harm, it seemed like finally, some light was at the end of the tunnel.
That light was the Hawks coming the other way, who kicked eight goals to one in the third quarter, setting up a final term that mainly saw the Bombers toy with their fans hopes before dashing them on the rocks with a brutality that seemed unnecessary.
It was really a form of bullying.
The interesting thing to watch this season, is how much will Ben Rutten age this year? I’m betting he’ll look a decade older. By round three.
As for Hawks fans, this was only made better because it happened against the old enemy.
Alastair Clarkson summed up his team’s attitude after the game ‘We want to win.’ That’s what makes him such a great coach.
Rutten’s media conference had a different tone, where he pointed out the Essendon faithful should be more grateful that no one is shooting at them.
Brisbane (94) v Sydney (125)
Footy likes to remind us regularly that we know nothing about it, and it does this by driving a truck through our tips.
There’s no surer sign that you know nothing about football than tipping well on a regular basis.
The reverse of this is also true, which is why I’m confident no one understands football more than me. At least that’s what I tell myself. One of my key skills is believing in myself despite all the evidence pointing to the complete opposite.
The Swans are meant to be rebuilding around a young core, while Brisbane, now featuring extra Joe Daniher, are meant to be premiership contenders, so to watch the Swans belt the Lions at the Gabba made little sense.
The Lions brought the energy of someone who hits the snooze button ten times in a row, with every player soundly beaten across the ground.
The Swans do have a lot of big-name stars though, like Errol Gulden and Logan McDonald, who made the Lions defence look almost like witches hats. I say ‘almost’, because at least you would notice witches hats if they were out there.
Not that I’d write the Lions off just yet, it’s possible someone will ring them and let them know the season has started.
As for the Swans, a premiership in 2021 is now nothing more than a formality.
North Melbourne (65) v Port Adelaide (117)
While Adelaide and Sydney proved the doubters wrong, North did them a solid and proved them really, really right.
Executing their ‘if they don’t want us, we won’t have to move to Tasmania’ the Kangaroos showed their fans that time is relative; a North game can make last year’s lockdown feel quick.
Orazio Fantasia relished not being at Essendon, booting four, while Travis Boak continues to get better with age and Aliir Allir made it look effortless down back, which against North, it was.
There weren’t a lot of high points for the Kangaroos.
Jaidyn Stephenson showed why the Pies were so keen to get rid of him, he struggled with just 33 disposals. Why would you want someone like that clogging up your list?
David Noble has a lot of work to do, while Ken Hinkley just needs to work out how to beat those pesky Tigers.
Greater Western Sydney (78) v St Kilda (86)
On TV, it looked like a very small crowd at this game, partly due to most of NSW being underwater.
You could tell it was a small crowd because on the AFL website it has ‘Crowd: TBC.”
Now it doesn’t take that long to crowd 5,000 people.
What they did see was a Giants squad who tried hard but still managed to lose to a St Kilda team missing Brad Crouch, Paddy Ryder, Zak Jones, Dan Hannebery, Max King, James Frawley, Rowan Marshall and Jarryn Geary.
Only the Federal Government has so many key players out.
This lack of experience certainly had the Saints on in trouble late in the match, when the Giants seemed about to run over the top of them.
As the Giants took a two-goal lead halfway through the final quarter, a St Kilda mate text me:
“We’ll lose this now. I’m so sick of this.”
But the Saints clawed their way back, with Jack Lonie snapping a goal and then Dan Butler laying a game-saving tackle in the dying moments.
This led to the same friend texting me:
“I bloody love this club.”
That’s the wonderful thing about footy, within ten minutes you can go from feeling dead inside to elated and you don’t even have to get off the couch.
West Coast (83) v Gold Coast (58)
Often the score is like Apple Maps, it doesn’t reflect reality.
The Suns were so good for much of this game, making the Eagles look ordinary through a combination of relentless pressure and way better than expected skills.
This all despite the footy gods continue their vendetta against Matt Rowell, proving again they are vengeful deities.
Watching him get around on crutches made me sadder than when you go on Uber Eats and it says, ‘no drivers in your area.’
It says something about the popularity of Rowell, and how footy fans would love to see him catch a break, that the Eagles fans cheered him when he re-emerged from the dressing room to sit on the bench.
Given you only need two miracles to be recognised as a Saint, Rowell is now halfway there.
What struck me most about the Suns is they appeared highly organised across the ground. To do this at Optus Stadium is highly impressive. Having been there, it’s hard to describe the impact of the crowd.
It’s loud and one-sided. It feels like a wave crashing over you.
The Eagles to their credit kept the pressure up, and in the final quarter, their forwards made the difference.
Oscar Allen booted four, and isn’t it great to see the Eagles find another key forward? They’re so short of them.
Overall, it was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend. I got to watch footy live at the MCG, numerous AFL and AFLW games, I’m not confined to my house and every conversation I had was about sport and not epidemiology.
Let’s hope this is the new normal.
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