6th edition of Footy Talking Points analysing St Kilda’s poor start to 2021, the lack of depth at Collingwood, Darcy Parish and more!
1. St Kilda’s 2021 Season
After making and winning their first final since 2010, St Kilda’s season is on the ropes. Many predicted the Saints to make the finals again in 2021 given the age of their list (oldest list in the AFL), the recruits of Crouch and Higgins and the natural improvement from Steele, Billing, Clark, Coffield etc. Yet, St Kilda are 2-4 and look like a shell of their former selves. What was so great to see about the Saints last year was that they built their game off the back of their pressure.
In 2020, they were the second best team in the league for tackles inside 50. They had 2 players inside the top 10 in the competition (Butler ranked 1st in the competition and Lonie ranked 8th). Yet, this year they are 8th. Tackles and pressure inside 50 is an important metric because it tells us how quickly teams can rebound from your forward 50’s. If there is significant pressure inside forward 50, it means either;
- St Kilda were forcing repeat stoppages inside F50 where they excelled at scoring from last year; or
- The disposal of the opposition exiting St Kilda’s F50 was rushed and provided easier opportunities for St Kilda to re enter F50
In 2021, they are struggling to play the territory game that made it so difficult for opposition teams to counter attack against them. They are ranked 13th for Inside 50 differential this year after being a league average 8th in 2020. So the ball is entering the St Kilda forward 50 at a lesser rate and when it does, it is exiting far easier for opposition teams compared to last year.
Not only are they not generating enough scoring opportunities, St Kilda are allowing teams to dominate and control possession. They have the 2nd worst disposal differential in the league (only behind North) allowing teams to amass on average an extra 45 disposals per game. In connection with this issue, St Kilda are also the 2nd worst team in the league in terms of effective disposal differential. Teams average 46.3 more effective disposals a game than the Saints. That is a staggering number when you consider that on the weekend, Port averaged a scoring shot per 20 disposals. St Kilda are allowing teams to control possession of the football whilst not creating enough pressure to impact the effectiveness of such control. There’s a lack of organisation with the way St Kilda are defending. Look at how easily Port transition this ball from one end of the ground to the other.
Allowing other teams to dominate the possession count is not a huge issue if you’re a side like Richmond (13th in disposal differential) who are more direct going I50 and place enough pressure around the contest but Richmond average 9 more I50’s than their opponents so far this year – St Kilda averages 4.7 LESS I50’s than their opponents. So they are allowing teams to control the possession battle but when they have the football, they are struggling to generate meaningful scoring drives.
Some of that is due to their poor kicking fundamentals and ball movement. They have the highest Clanger (defined as a blatant, unenforced error) differential in the league at 7+ a game than their opponents and are the 3rd worst team in turnover differential. Their best outside players are either completely out of form (Hill) or are being played out of position (Hunter). Hill in particular, who was recruited for his gut running and ball use, has been one of the worst kicks so far this year whilst contributing nothing defensively.
There aren’t too many excuses for this team. They haven’t been severely hurt by injuries (besides Marshall at the start of this year) or have had a high turnover of players. They have a tougher schedule this year no doubt but as a finalist team last year, the complete lack of competitiveness against a top team in Port Adelaide signifies how far off this team is from their form of last year. Everything for St Kilda starts with their contest. They have to get that right – the ball movement and kicking efficiency will improve when they are able to play the territory game in their forward half. If their pressure around the ball doesn’t improve significantly and quickly, St Kilda’s season could rapidly be over.
2. Tom Powell
There are a number of exciting rookies this year who are showing flashes of brilliance. One of the least talked about first year players is Tom Powell (#24), who must be the front-runner for the 2021 Rising star. Taken at Pick 13 in the 2020 draft, Powell has played every game for North Melbourne and has looked remarkably comfortable at AFL level already. Among first to second year players, Powell is averaging the 3rd most disposals (3rd uncontested, 4th contested and 2nd for effectiveness), 5th in tackles, 5th in goal assists and 6th in clearances. When you take a step back and look at those rankings, it points to how balanced of a player Powell is already. He is able to spread well from contests and gather uncontested disposals but is smart enough and has the capabilities to win his own ball even with his skinny frame. His output as a slight inside midfielder is even more impressive considering North are yet to win a game or control a game on their terms for more than patches or a quarter at a time.
The thing that is so exciting about Powell is that he has a few clear, identifiable traits that could make him an elite inside midfielder in the competition. One of these is his vision and pinpoint accuracy with his hands. He has a rare aptitude to handball outside the different layers of players around him. Look at his vision to see over this pack and handball to Cunnington in stride.
Powell initially sees the easy handball option to Atley. Yet, he understands where the numbers around the contest are and that to handball laterally is just inviting more Bulldogs pressure in a dangerous part of the ground. At the last second he notices Cunnington outside the bubble of the congestion and has good footwork to change the angle of his handball trajectory to place it in front of Cunnington. Not bad for someone in their 3rd game of AFL football.
It’s difficult enough to actually see the possibility of such a handball but to then execute it perfectly to Cunnington who doesn’t have to break stride is super impressive. It’s hard to question how impactful these handballs can be when in this situation it leads to a North goal. Powell isn’t particularly fast or big in stature but has already picked up the pace of AFL footy and is able to read the game to work through different stoppage scenarios.
Powell can fall in love with his handballing at times though. He tries to find the perfect handball when he’s in a better position to kick.
It’s not that he is a bad kick either – he has the skill to hit leading forwards.
The drafting of Powell is a big tick for North Melbourne’s management. Pick 3 Will Phillips has started slow, which is surprising given that he has a ready-made AFL body. Yet, he’s playing more of a forward role for North. Phillips will be fine – as many in the media seem to forget that he missed an entire year of football last year. Given North’s predicament, it would be wise to begin playing both together inside at some point to build that cohesion between Powell and Phillips alongside their other young bull in LDU. The wins might not be there for North right now but the signs from their youth are encouraging.
3. Darcy Parish’s move inside
The decision to make Darcy Parish (#3) a full time inside midfielder after the injury to Dylan Shiel is reaping significant benefits for Essendon. Parish has looked more confident and assured playing his best position, averaging the most clearances in the league since the move inside (since Round 3). He has been building each week before putting in one of the best ANZAC day performances of all time with 42 disposals, 2 goals, 9 score involvements and 9 clearances. He has the clear attributes of an inside player. He is incredibly clean with his hands and is able to pick up on loose balls faster than most, allowing him to dish handballs quickly to a teammate in space or read the flight of the ball in the air and make quick decisions by foot.
Parish takes the front position over Daicos who is flat footed whilst he stays on the move. It allows him to read the ball a second quicker than Daicos and Parish finishes superbly.
Many Essendon fans questioned playing Parish as a forward. Yet, we saw from two instances on the weekend that he has a great goal sense – he knows where they are. It’s unclear whether this is something Parish has always had hence Essendon wanted to utilise that strength or whether this has developed due to his experience playing as a forward but it makes him dangerous now as a goal kicking midfielder.
The split second decision to snap is terrific but it’s his stoppage craft beforehand that is pleasing to see. It happens so quickly that it is hard to see. Firstly, he allows Pendlebury to take front position at the stoppage whilst ensuring he still has touch. He is then strong enough to push Pendlebury under the ball once he reads the flight of the ball and that Pendlebury is too close to the contest. Parish is clean enough to gather the ball and quickly snap another great goal.
Let’s be honest – for a top draft pick, Parish is noticeably poor by foot. In his draft year, he was promoted as a tidy user of the ball who could use both sides of his body but such ball use hasn’t materialised at AFL standard. He turns the ball over far too frequently – especially on easy kicks that he is skilful enough to hit. At times, he lacks the ability to weight his kicks to the advantage of his teammates – either kicking the ball directly to where the player is or kicking it too far ahead.
Sometimes he tries to nail the perfect kick – leading to him overkicking the football and turning it over.
In order to grow and become a complete midfielder in the AFL, his foot skills have to improve. At the same time, anyone who has had a 40+ disposal, 2-goal game probably doesn’t need to worry about such criticism at this time.
4. Collingwood’s depth
After a poor ANZAC day showing, the Collingwood Football Club sit at 1-5. The team looks soulless and unidentifiable. They are searching for answers, evidenced by pushing Moore forward for the first time in years despite his AA campaign in defence and playing their first round draft picks to see if they can provide a spark. The performances of this year have been a result of their poor list management over summer.
Everyone talks about Treloar and how much they are missing him in their thin midfield but the moving on of Phillips and Stephenson is also head scratching. Neither are dominating at their new clubs but they are playing their role. Collingwood has missed Phillips run and link up play – they have struggled to remain consistent with their wingers this year, leading to players like Madgen playing wing. It really reeks of desperation when you’re playing a key position defender with average foot skills on a wing…
They are struggling to find avenues to goal. You know who is kicking goals this year whilst playing on a wing? Stephenson. He has kicked 8 goals in his last 4 games – a very healthy return for a wingman. I know its been talked about to death but its almost ironic how Collingwood believed they had enough depth to trade away Phillips, Treloar and Stephenson to clear up their cap dilemma. Collingwood’s team right now is the antithesis of depth in a playing list. Their bottom 5 (Rantall, McCreery, Macrae, Ruscoe, Kelly) and probably bottom 10 for that matter on the weekend were easily the worst in the competition. They aren’t working for each other nor emphasising the importance of locating a man.
It may be hard to see what I’m talking about here so lets talk through what happened.
Redman takes the kick out with Kelly to his right (#20). Kelly walks after the kick (as does Mihocek) while Redman continues to push up the ground as the ball is in motion. You want your forwards to press up the ground and defend. Not once do we see Mihocek come into vision. What about Kelly?
Moments later, Redman gets on the end of a handball receive with Kelly chasing to try and make up the initial ground he gave Redman. This isn’t to bash Kelly but rather demonstrate the lack of desire to defend (how easily did Essendon work that through Collingwood’s press?) and just pure inexperience from a young player in which Collingwood fielded many on the weekend.
The team lacks direction and a sense of understanding of where their list is at. Collingwood’s new president exclaimed throughout the week that Collingwood still has a list worthy of playing finals. Can you make such a call when the team has won 1 game? Collingwood lost on the weekend (and should have lost by more) to a team that is rebuilding and fielded 3 19-20 year olds. It isn’t an encouraging sign for the future when your two best players on the weekend are Pendlebury and Sidebottom who are 33 and 30 years old.
Yes, Collingwood have injuries. An injury list of Adams, Howe, De Goey and Elliott is significant but other teams have dealt with similar issues. You only have to point towards Melbourne’s lack of key position forwards at the start of the year or West Coast missing a number of their best midfielders yet they have been able to sufficiently cover for that loss.
The wheels are starting to fall off at Collingwood. I would be surprised if Buckley is at the club next year, either through his own volition or not. They are fortunate that they get first dibs on what seems to be the best draft prospect of this year which will help improve the young talent of their list but an entire transformation of the club, from coaches, management and players looks to be in order with how this year is shaping up.
5. Luke Ryan
Fremantle are building nicely – having won 4 of their 6 games. Many will point to the improved play of Freo’s youngsters (Brayshaw, Cerra, Serong, Frederick) as well as their veterans (Seriously, David Mundy at 36 years old having 30 disposals and kicking 3 goals on the weekend in a clear BOG performance is unequivocally absurd) but ever since Longmuir (and even Lyon) took over, defence has been king for Fremantle. The lead conductor of their strong defensive system is Luke Ryan (#13). Aside from his AA selection last year, Ryan goes seemingly unnoticed at times even whilst being one of the leagues best defenders.
Ryan is strong defensively playing on a man but excels when he is able to play a roaming defender and intercept opposition inside 50’s. He has a strong core and is never pushed off ball but is quite nimble given his size. Look at how he is able to collect the ground ball, spin away from an opponent and begin an attacking launch the other way that ended in a goal.
Ryan isn’t an athletic player like a Moore but is strong and smart enough to position himself to impact the ball aerially. He is a McGovern Lite in terms of his intercepting prowess and positioning but is a better ball user than McGovern.
He has a long penetrative kick but is also able to hit precision kicks. For Fremantle, it’s an absolute luxury that your key position backman can be entrusted to not only use the ball effectively but set up scoring drives from the defensive half. Ryan is ranked 4th in the competition for Rebound 50’s and 7th for effective kicks. He is going at 89% efficiency (7th in the AFL for players who have played +4 games), which is an impressive number for a KPD. The numbers back up the eye test. Look at this precision kick to Frederick to relieve pressure in their backline in the wet.
Fremantle are starting to build and it’s through the consistency of their defensive structure. The challenge for Fremantle will be winning enough games away from Perth, something they have struggled with this year and last. Ryan will go a long way to stealing some wins interstate with his intercept play and his ball use out of the backline.
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Check out last week’s column!
The author acknowledges that the footage is the courtesy of Foxtel and property of the AFL.