FTP # 14

The 14th edition is here! This week we discuss Sam Walsh, Jack Henry, Harry Himmelberg and more!

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1. Sam Walsh – how did he handle the tag?

Well it was bound to happen at some point. Sam Walsh received the first proper tag of his career by one of the best, Matt De Boer. And what a challenge it proved to be for Walsh. Except for centre bounces, De Boer tracked Walsh’s every move. As you can imagine, his production slipped across the board.

Walsh’s AFL rating was a mere 11.4 – far below his usual average. He had 20 disposals but was nowhere near as damaging as his usual self with 10 handballs and only 2 kicks up until 3 quarter time. He struggled to get involved early when Carlton needed him most before moving to a wing in the final term but by then the game was mostly over.

This isn’t to embarrass or criticise Sam Walsh – most great players struggle with a tag. We’ve seen this year how more experienced players like Oliver and Boak have struggled with such attention. But it’s the next development of Walsh’s game and one that he needs to care about in order to ascend into the top 3-5 midfielders in the league (He isn’t too far away). Undoubtedly, a tag hurts a players ability to spread from contests. When De Boer follows you everywhere and tracks your running patterns, it makes it almost impossible to have high uncontested mark games – something Walsh does frequently given his gut running and ability to find open pockets of space.

Walsh averages 5.5 marks for the year – he had 1 mark on the weekend. These are the kind of leading efforts that Walsh is usually rewarded for game in game out.

Look at how GWS are zoning except for De Boer. De Boer simply cuts you out as an option for teammates to kick to. There’s really not much Walsh can do in this instance save a few helpful blocks from teammates.

The common misconception is that to break a tag is to become better at winning your own ball. I’m not so sold on that though belief.

Walsh’s contested ball winning capabilities aren’t the issue. As discussed in our very first column ever at FTP, he has improved substantially in this area given his role change to the inside. His split between contested and uncontested disposals this year is 39/61%. This has stayed relatively the same throughout his career even with the uptick in disposals. Compared to other players averaging 30+ disposals (Some of which are considered the elite of the competition), Walsh has a greater contested possession win rate than half of them. A guy above him in Oliver struggled mightily with the same attention. Even some of the best inside accumulators like a Liberatore struggled with a tag not long ago.

The thing that makes the most sense and something that has always been a knock on Walsh is his positional versatility. Walsh isn’t a tall midfielder nor blessed with incredible athleticism or large in size. But he has incredible smarts. This will help him become a productive forward. He went forward early on in the game but it’s a string to his bow that he needs to add on a consistent basis. We saw how when Oliver pushed forward the De Boer tag was released because GWS (and probably De Boer) aren’t comfortable playing him as a defender. Players like Walsh (and Oliver) need to learn to become effective in that kind of role to restrict a drop in their output. Walsh can shake the tag by improving on his forward craft to become a multi-positional player. Walsh is smart at reading the play before it happens and positioning himself at the drop of the ball in marking contests. We’ve also seen how effective Walsh can be as lead up player and he isn’t too shabby overhead as we saw last year with his mark of the year.

He went to the wing in the last quarter and that helped get his game going. But the wing isn’t going to cut it. Taggers like De Boer are far more comfortable on the wing than playing a defender role. The tag will continue to come given its success against Walsh on the weekend. His next development to become a true superstar of the competition will be figuring out how to still impact games at a high level whilst breaking the tag.

Some other quick thoughts I had on this topic:

  • It’s a microcosm of Carlton as a whole at the moment but how little support was given to Walsh? Walsh is their best player and a young leader of the club and little was done to help him out. There is so little care or cohesion at Carlton right now. Even someone like Cripps who has felt the brunt of such attention for the last 4+ years did little to free up Walsh around stoppages. Which leads into my next thought;
  • Gone are the days of Cripps being the Carlton midfielder getting attention. I think we’ve all known for some time that Walsh has overtaken Cripps as the more damaging midfielder. But what an opportunity for Cripps! He has a chance to go back to the basics of what made him one of the best midfielders in the competition without worrying about opposition attention. He was able to hit the scoreboard on the weekend but was still one the worst rated players on the ground against the Giants (per AFL Player Ratings);
  • Why has the tag gone out of fashion? It works well in the majority of cases it is used. Carlton’s midfield is far less damaging when Walsh doesn’t have his normal output. It puts pressure on other midfielders to step up who aren’t able to putting the Giants at a great advantage. More teams need to consider tagging

2. Jack Henry

What a coming of age game for Jack Henry (#38) on the weekend. Going into Friday night’s game, many were quick to note how Henderson’s withdrawal could expose Geelong’s back 6 (especially Henry) to the combination of Naughton and Bruce. It was a valid point considering the form of Naughton and the athletic disparity between the two.

But what a performance it was by Henry. There are so many nuggets from the weekend that highlight his positioning, ability to read the ball and his body work.

Firstly, his positioning against Naughton was first class. When the ball wasn’t kicked to Naughton’s advantage – Henry made sure he impacted with bodywork to nudge him under the ball and mark. There were a number of these instances where Henry was able to out mark Naughton.

He played in front of Naughton a lot – which is dangerous given his running leap. It worked though because Henry read the ball in the air well, allowing him to take 1v1 intercept marks like this.

He took Naughton’s run and jump at times – here manning him up on a cross match and doing his work early to ensure Naughton couldn’t fly.

After Naughton was subbed out, Henry still had a significant imprint on the game at the end – standing up late to take a colossus mark.

You love to see young players stand up in the biggest moments of the game. Henry is an important piece to Geelong’s flag push at the end of the year. He always takes either the 1st or 2nd best tall so his confidence to defend strongly but also actually fly for these marks is so valuable for Geelong. After all our talk last week about Geelong’s forward line – we saw how deep this team is on multiple lines given the performances of Henry and Stewart. It would be hard to argue against Geelong being the flag favourite right now.

3. GWS Trickery

Harry Himmelberg (#27) has almost created his own play in the AFL. When Himmelberg is in a contested marking situation that seems unlikely he will mark, sometimes he will tap the ball into the direction of a GWS team mate. It’s quite brilliant to watch.

We love these kinds of things.

There is nothing more dangerous than (usually a small) forward who roves a pack at pace and is lucky enough to have the ball bounce close enough in their vicinity. Well, except when a player controls the ‘luck’ aspect of it all and guides the ball to a player on the run. This isn’t a one off thing with Himmelberg.

Some will argue that they’ve seen Jack Riewoldt do something similar over the years with his knock on’s but they aren’t with the finesse and deliberateness to locate a teammate like this.

It’s really selfless stuff from Himmelberg because there’s no statistic for this (On second look the first was recorded as a goal assist but still!). He’s giving up an opportunity to mark the ball to put a teammate in a better position.

GWS love to incorporate these new kind of things – one that springs to mind a couple of years ago was the handball along the ground that a few of their midfielders started to use when tight for space (usually along the boundary).

Hopefully Himmelberg continues to do this when the time is right.

4. Jack Scrimshaw

Who says Hawthorn don’t have any exciting young talent?

The Hawks can play some pretty uninspiring football at times. But that fact alone has shaped into a belief that Hawthorn are both not exciting to watch and have no elite young talent. The second part is certainly not true (Sorry Hawks fans on the first).

One player that has come on leaps and bounds this year is Jack Scrimshaw (#14). Scrimshaw was a high draft selection for the Gold Coast Suns (a topic we discussed in length) but struggled with home sickness and injury and never found his feet. Even at Hawthorn early he struggled. Now, we are starting to see why he was rated so highly as a youngster.

Teams were high on Scrimshaw for his ball use coming out of TAC Cup. But his most redeeming quality right now (are you starting to notice a theme at FTP?) is his intercept marking.

He is averaging 6 intercepts a game including 2.3 intercept marks (ranking him elite within the AFL). At 193cm, he is both a great size to fly for marks coming off a small or actually matching up on tall forwards himself. There were a number of times on the weekend where he took Jones – attesting to his positional versatility. Against Essendon he had 10 marks, including ones like this outbodying a key position player.

The last two weeks have given us a glimpse on the player he is becoming – he’s averaged 10.5 intercepts a game!

Similar to the discussion of Wil Powell last week, mid sized defenders like Scrimshaw (Vlaustin’s been the benchmark for the last four years) who can match up on smalls but provide defensive relief for teammates through intercepts are so valuable in the modern AFL. This is because not only can they defend in the air and at ground level but because of their size they’re usually good ball users as well. This year, Scrimshaw is averaging a career high disposal efficiency (82%).

This is a great sequence showcasing what Scrimshaw is capable of. Scrimshaw is matched up on Buddy and is positioned to read the dump kick forward quick. Upon taking the intercept mark, he nails a low ball to a dangerous area – resulting in a shot on goal.

The Hawks have a number of these players – Jiath and Day complement Scrimshaw nicely (We haven’t even seen Denver Grainger-Barrass either who is likened to Jeremy McGovern).

Hawthorn’s acquisitions from other clubs in recent years has been questionable to say the least. They have absolutely nailed this trade. Scrimshaw is going to be around for a long time given his versatility. He could be one of the best mid-sized intercepting defenders in the league or could very easily move up the ground into a midfield role. Look for one of those defenders mentioned (Jiath or Scrimshaw) to make such a move given Hawthorn’s influx of (really good!) small to medium defender (Scrimshaw, Jiath, Day, Impey, Hardwick, Sicily).

That’s it for this week – if you enjoyed the article please subscribe and share this with your fellow AFL mates to give it a read !

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The author acknowledges that the footage is the courtesy of Foxtel and property of the AFL.

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