FTP # 15

This week we discuss GWS’s brain fades and defensive issues, Lachie Schultz, Lachie Whitfield and more!

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1. Kyle Langford

What a year it’s been for Kyle Langford (#4). The inclusion of Essendon’s young talent which has revitalised the team and the resurgence of 2015 Jake Stringer (how long will this last?) has been discussed ad nauseam in recent weeks. Yet, the play of Langford has largely gone unnoticed.

It’s a career year across the board in disposals (including a seismic increase in uncontested disposals), marks, metres gained and score involvements. Most of this can be attributed to his move to the inside. This occurred almost by chance given the injuries to Shiel, McGrath and Caldwell.

But it’s also eventuated through a clearer understanding from Essendon on Langford’s best position. Early on, he was in between positions. Not strong enough aerially to be a 3rd tall but too slow on the outside and limited skill wise to be an impactful midfielder. That has changed now. Langford’s outside spread from contests has improved dramatically. We talked about the big increase in uncontested disposals and it’s clear in the vision. He no longer jogs out of contests – he spreads hard and uses his size to his advantage in shrugging tacklers at speed.

He’s also surprisingly quick for his size – showing a nice burst of pace to create space for himself. Again, he follows up well from the initial clearance.

The additional benefit that Langford brings to Essendon’s midfield make up is his size. Both Merrett and Parish are incredible accumulators of the ball but are small midfielders at 180cm and 181cm respectively. Langford at 191cm provides a point of difference to an undersized midfield. It allows him to take those bigger midfielders which frees up Parish and Merrett to play their natural inside/outside ball winning game.

The question with Essendon will be what happens to these kind of players, the Langford’s and the Parish’s (Stringer as well), once Shiel, McGrath and Caldwell return? They’re all best 22 players but it’s clear that the former thrive in their new roles. It creates an interesting dilemma for the Bombers in figuring out what their best midfield make up looks like. It’s hard to see them push either Parish or Langford out given their form to date. Good problems to have down at Bomberland.

2. The defensive lapses that cost the Giants

GWS had a carrot dangling in front of them heading into the weekend. A top 8 spot up for grabs due to Richmond’s abysmal performance against the Saints. Well, the opportunity was wasted – the Giants lost to the second worst placed side in the AFL. Much of the loss can be attributed to an 8 minute patch in the 2nd quarter where the Giants conceded 4 goals unanswered (6 if you include the 2 after half time). Admittedly, it’s harsh to overanalyse an 8 minute period. You can say that it’s a small sample size (It’s not… as we’ll note in a second) but given the importance of the game to GWS’s final aspirations and the current predicament of their opponent – it’s worth looking into.

What we found is that the Giants stopped in a number of defensive areas – their defensive coverage to defend the switch was slow and allowed Hawthorn to move the ball at pace going I50, their tackling pressure dropped off and players over committed and were stepped by their opponents. This all culminated into statistics like Hawthorn going at 90% kicking efficiency for a significant portion of the 2nd quarter and kicking four goals from their seven inside 50 entries. Individually, some players stuck out. Here are two:

  1. Whitfield’s a great offensive player (as we note below) but at times he is guilty of always thinking about the next attacking launch whilst disregarding his first duty to defend. He gives Moore no respect in this forward 50 scenario and allows him to waltz into this contest unmarked and Moore takes his opportunity.

2. Flynn is a great prospect and has shown promise as a contested marking ruck who has the capabilities to play forward. Defensively, this is as bad as it gets. He allows his direct opponent (Ceglar) out of the centre clearance to take an uncontested mark pushing forward. Davis instructs him to push back and cover his defensive assignment in McEvoy after Davis holds up his initial defensive mistake. Flynn then not only allows McEvoy an easy run and jump at a ball (McEvoy should of marked) but allows McEvoy to then rove his own contest and kick the goal!

It’s pretty inexcusable stuff.

We’ve seen a number of times this year that this isn’t a one off for GWS – they have been susceptible to these kinds of lapses in their losses. The Fremantle game in Perth comes to mind where they allowed 5 consecutive goals unanswered or their 4 goal lapse against Richmond when they had the game under control. They aren’t good enough offensively like in 2016-2019 to switch off like this and expect to win games. These lapses hurt and for all of Richmond’s current concerns, they should thank GWS twice over. The Giants switching off allowed them to steal a game they shouldn’t have won earlier this year and on the weekend allowed them to stay in the top 8 when they should have been kicked out. We won’t mention the third thing Richmond can be thankful for in GWS’s recent year performances…

To be clear, I’m not writing GWS off. They are almost back to full strength with a number of best 22 players returning. Yet, given the COVID situation in Sydney, their path to finals is even more difficult as they’ll have to win away from home where they have struggled in recent times.

3. Lachlan Schultz

An AFL rebuild can take a long time. A number of factors can impact the volatility in the duration of such rebuilds. Some clubs through shrewd management and recruiting can fast track their rebuild like the Brisbane Lions. Others will take longer but are clearly on the right track (Adelaide). Some can’t admit that they never really left the rebuild phase (Carlton). Yet, teams in the midst of one can dramatically decrease the duration by nailing their later round draft picks. Fremantle are on the upward trajectory after a rebuild that begun preceding their 2016 season. An example of a value pick in the later rounds is Lachie Schultz (#28).

Schultz was drafted out of the VFL at pick 57 in 2018. Since being drafted to Fremantle, he’s played 37 games out of a possible 54 – not bad for a pick 57. He’s one of Fremantle’s first picked every week given his work rate. He is manic with his pressure around the ball and never gives up on a chase.

Against Collingwood, he was impressive in what could be a season defining win in Victoria kicking three important goals. He bobs up at crucial moments, kicking an important goal with 5 minutes left on the weekend and we can’t forget the sealer against the Saints last year. He has a great step that he exhibited a number of times on the weekend. Here, creating space before kicking that important goal.

A unique trait about Schultz that differentiates himself from most other small forwards (MTW is another that comes to mind) is his build. Schultz is well built which allows him to hold up in tackles and keep the ball alive in forward 50 scenarios.

Fremantle have an important next two weeks coming up with matches against Carlton and Hawthorn – two games they should win. They could propel themselves into top 8 calculations yet will have to show a maturity beyond their years given that the games will be outside of Perth. Schultz as an avenue to goal will play a significant role in how far Fremantle can go this season. Finals are not out of the realm of possibility especially considering the recent form of their cross-town counterparts. Look for Fremantle, the Giants and St Kilda for late charges up the ladder.

4. Lachie Whitfield – running for days

We were in awe of Travis Boak’s gut running ability and exclaimed that it should be celebrated like other trademark tendencies of the best players in the AFL. Well, Boak has a contender for this kind of running ability. It’s quite staggering to watch Lachie Whitfield (#6) when he is in the kind of mood he was in on the weekend. Whitfield possesses a dangerous combination of unbelievable work rate + elite fitness + elite foot skills. His running opens up handball lanes for teammates who initially don’t have many options with ball in hand.

Here, he gives the initial handball but doesn’t give up on the play. He continues to push forward and gives Kelly an extra handball option that he desperately needed under pressure. If Greene had gone to Ward instead of Daniels, Whitfield would have been used again streaming forward inside 50.

It doesn’t come off here but he provides an inside option for Himmelberg to use.

Here’s an effort that was rewarded.

Lachie Whitfield is a smart football as well. Look at how he pulls off an opposite foot torpedo (Has any ever attempted this?) to try and get the ball far enough out the back to Greene’s advantage in a 2 v 1 situation – causing a panic free kick.

It’s one thing to try this and it’s another to actually pull it off. He is so much more than a runner. He’s a silky ball user who has an innate ability to change the angles in direct play and slice teams open both with his left and right foot. In short, we could do a whole feature on him.

Undoubtedly, Whitfield is near the top of the list of underrated players in the league. His poor contested ball winning ability is the only thing holding him back from propelling himself into the elite of the competition. But the effort off the ball can’t go unnoticed. He’s the offensive creator for a team that at times plays incredibly stagnant football. He senses when this is occurring and tries to break open the game like he did in the 3rd quarter. When Whitfield plays like this you have to watch. It’s some of the best viewing of individual work rate you’ll ever see in the AFL.

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

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