FTP # 13

The 13th edition is up! This week we discuss Geelong’s forward line, Joel Amartey, Paul Seedsman and more!

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1. Geelong’s Forward Line

In 2021, the Geelong Football Club have almost lingered in the background of any premiership discussion. The media have become enamoured by our brand new contenders in the Demons and the Bulldogs. You can’t blame them for being bored when discussing the same Geelong outfit that make finals practically every year. Yet, this Geelong team is building nicely and there’s something different here compared to years prior.

Like all teams fighting for a premiership, Geelong have great players on every line. Yet, it’s difficult to argue against Geelong’s forward line boasting the most top end talent in the league. It’s scary for opposition teams to sufficiently match up on. This is because it’s a rare forward line in terms of their capabilities – they have four genuine one on one threats that can be dangerous deep forward.

The versatility of Hawkins, Cameron, Rohan and Dangerfield to all play that same role interchangeably stretches defences. Realistically, how many defenders do opposition teams have that can effectively defend all four of those players? (Most of the time Dangerfield plays Rohan’s role when he is off but you get the point).

Lets use the example of Port Adelaide. McKenzie struggled mightily (for the 2nd year in a row) on Hawkins both defending on his back shoulder and playing in front. Aliir contained Cameron for portions of the game yet he still kicked five including three in the last. Rohan caused issues for Houston and Jonas and Dangerfield when forward caused Burton into panic free kicks and looked dangerous in the air.

It creates nightmares when these match up’s are isolated yet they are just as good in congested scenarios. On the weekend, Geelong scored 52% of the time on their inside 50’s (Just about their average for the year) but had 21 contested marks to Port’s 10 with their three permanent forwards combining for 12 goals! Marks Inside 50 is a great barometer of teams getting quality shots on goal. Geelong had 18 for the game (well above their average of 12) whilst Port only had half of that.

The head of the snake is undoubtedly Hawkins. Hawkins monsters key defenders because of his strength and smarts. He kills you if you play him in front of him because of his bodywork and strength to push you under the ball. Yet, he is also great at timing his leads and with players like Duncan kicking to him – is really difficult to defend playing back shoulder as well.

What about Rohan? The funny thing with Rohan is if you never watched AFL but tuned in on one of those nights where Rohan has it going (Rhyme unintended), you’d think he’s a top 10 player in the AFL. He has all the attributes – Quick, strong hands and great at finishing at ground level. He and Hawkins can mix and match on who plays higher up and who takes deeper position. Here, Hawkins pushes up the ground  and Rohan replaces him as the deep forward – allowing him an isolated one on one opportunity.

He is great overhead and has great body control in the air with his patented two-legged basketball jump. The benefit of playing a mid sized forward like Rohan who is so good overhead is that he is both a marking threat in the air yet able to balance out Hawkins and Cameron nicely because he provides forward pressure with his pace.

Port matched up Jonas on Rohan with the hope that Jonas could peel off and assist McKenzie with Hawkins. This didn’t really work for two reasons:

  1. Rohan pushed up the ground for significant portions of the game and got used on hit up leads which drew Jonas out of D50;
  2. Rohan himself is a marking threat which caused issues for Jonas one on one

Case in point –

The addition of Cameron to this mix can’t be understated. Firstly, Cameron’s ability around goals in different formats of the game (set shots, general play and outside of 50) along with his tremendous field kicking makes him a scary addition to what was an already efficient Geelong forward line. He rose to the occasion on the weekend, kicking three goals in the last quarter. I don’t think we’ve seen a player at his height be able to kick goals so accurately at ground level since Buddy – every time he wheels onto his left to snap it feels like he doesn’t miss.

He is starting to build great cohesion with Hawkins as well. Both can interchange playing the high / deep role in the forward line (Hawkins usually remains deep) but are now combining two of their best traits – Cameron’s rangy left foot kick and Hawkins’ ability to get first use in the ruck.

The addition of Cameron has two other benefits.

Firstly, it allows Geelong to be flexible playing Dangerfield more as a midfielder – something that they were unable to do and hurt them incredibly in the grand final last year.

Secondly, it provides less value for teams to double Hawkins come finals time. We saw how Richmond (and to an extent Brisbane) doubled Hawkins last year. It took him out of the game and forced Geelong to improvise in finding different avenues to goal. Cameron adds an extra presence to this forward line now. Teams are now unable to double Hawkins and use their 3rd defender as an intercepter when they have to worry about Jeremy Cameron who provides his own leading patterns or can rove a Hawkins contest at ground level.

This newly constructed forward line is going to cause significant headaches come finals time for even the best defences like Melbourne and Richmond. We saw the potential of what they are capable of against a defence that whilst may be undersized is still in my opinion one of the best in the league. 

2. Paul Seedsman

Paul Seedsman (#11) is making a genuine case for an All-Australian wing spot. Before we get into why, let’s be honest… will he get it? Probably not. And it isn’t due to his form either. I wouldn’t be surprised if a Macrae or a Parish are placed in that wing spot even though neither have played a single minute on the wing this year. That’s just how the All-Australian team and their selectors operate.

Nonetheless, Seedsman is having a terrific year. He has career highs in disposals, inside 50’s, rebound 50’s, goal assists, score involvements and metres gained. Seedsman has all the attributes you want in a wingman. He has a long leg that makes him a goal kicking threat from outside 50. He has a good tank that allows him to push hard into defence and help out or push hard forward to provide an avenue to goal (as we’ll evidence later). He has great pace which allows him to break the lines.

It’s easy to see how Seedsman is ranked 2nd in the AFL for metres gained per game – he constantly links up with his teammates to provide offensive drive. Moments later he links up again.

Seedsman averages 5.5 marks a game (an above average rating in the AFL). He provides a bail out kick for Adelaide in that wing role and can actually be somewhat of a mismatch for smaller wingers. You want your wingmen to be the intermediary between your defence and attack. Seedsman is a great link up player from the D50 to F50. He averages the 4th most inside 50’s in the competition whilst still averaging 3.1 R50’s a game.

On the weekend he had a well balanced game, amassing 31 disposals, 4 marks and 6 tackles. The thing most impressive about Seedsman is that he keeps his width. What we mean by that is he holds his position on the offside of the ground. He never gets sucked into the contest or gravitates closer to the ball. This allows him to be dangerous with his off ball running patterns. It sounds simple but many wingers lack the discipline to hold that space and leave the corridor open for midfielders to use. Look at how he tracks this ball on the offside wing. He eventually pushes forward to be an outlet which helps create an important goal for Adelaide.

Seedsman’s year deserves more attention.

3. Fremantle beating Gold Coast at their own game

The classic Saturday afternoon game in the bye rounds usually goes one of two ways. Either you are enthralled in the contest as you’ve lamented having to wait all day for the game to start or it’s a mediocre game with two teams that make you think ‘Ah yes it’s the bye rounds, we were due for a game like this.’ The Fremantle Gold Coast game was certainly the latter – it was a poor game of footy to watch where both teams brought the effort but the skill execution was quite deplorable.

Yet, you can still find interesting things out of these games. What we noticed was that Fremantle beat Gold Coast by practically replicating how Gold Coast want to play. It seemed like from the start the Sun’s were unable to control the tempo – something they love to do this year. Yet, Fremantle did not allow them to possess the ball – winning the disposal count by 74 but more importantly, dictating the pace of the game with their marks. Fremantle won the mark count 134-89. To put into context the flip in game styles – Gold Coast are the 2nd best team in the league for marks per game at 112 a game.

Conversely, Fremantle are 11th in the AFL at 94 a game. Fremantle are actually the 4th worst team in the league for giving up opponent marks per game at 104. But interestingly enough, Gold Coast are the 2nd worst team for giving up opponent marks. Fremantle identified an opportunity to both control the tempo of the game and take Gold Coast away from how they want to play.

FremantleGold Coast
Marks per game this year94 (11th)112 (2nd)
On the weekend13489
Differential+40-23

Why is it beneficial to play a kick mark retention game? Firstly, as stated, you control the pace. If you possess the ball, the opposing team is defending for longer periods of the game which stifles their offensive drives. Fremantle were able to control when to go fast and attack or when to slow the game down whilst still maintaining possession.

Secondly, it ensures that any midfield/forward half turnovers don’t hurt Freo as much on counter attack. The kick mark play style allows your defenders to remain deep and set up for a potential turnover whilst also providing an outlet for attack.

It helps to play this style at home on the wider Optus Stadium. It’s worth noting that Fremantle are 5-2 at home (1-5 away) and average 10 more marks at home than away. The maturation of this team will be playing a similar style on the road or adapting to different ways to win games. If Fremantle hope to be a finalist team this year or the next – their consistency and ability to win games away must improve.

4. Wil Powell

I really like Wil Powell’s (#27) game. As a mid-sized defender, Powell is a strong intercept player in the air. For the year, Powell is averaging 6.7 intercepts a game and is 6th amongst defenders not key position sized. On the weekend, Powell had arguably his best game of the year with 26 disposals and 7 marks (including 10 intercepts), 8 rebound 50’s and 3 Inside 50’s.  

He is a player that has shown moments or quarters in game throughout the years but is playing with a high level of consistency this year. His confidence to fly horizontally and back into contests is quite rare especially for a player of Powell’s size. It takes quite a bit of courage to jump back into this and mark the ball.

Mid-sized defenders who can play an intercepting role are super important. Players who can chop out a teammate with a spoil or mark the ball and begin offensive rebound through their ball use are worth their weight in gold in the modern AFL. The Suns have two defenders with such capabilities in Ballard and Powell along with the ultra competitive and strong one on one defender in Collins.

One thing that Powell has to be cautious of is that there is greater risk in a small flying for intercept marks. This is because they are usually matched up on a small forward that will never fly with them. This means that Powell has to be certain that he can impact the contest otherwise his match up becomes more dangerous unmarked at ground level.

This is an example on the weekend where Powell decides to fly and spoil to help a teammate. It’s excellent that he provides such support but Powell has to kill this ball out of bounds. He’s lucky that his opponent is a first gamer who doesn’t punish him for the decision.

Powell’s ball use can also be suspect at times.

This along with another first quarter turnover resulted in shots on goal for Fremantle. In order to fully maximise his offensive potential with his marking, he needs to tidy up this part of the game.

Powell’s a member of an important young nucleus at the Gold Coast Sun’s that have a big couple of months ahead of them. We’ve highlighted a number of times this year how Gold Coast have struggled to win any games in the second half of their seasons. They need to take a stand and win multiple games in the next 10 rounds, especially given that their first half of the year has not been as successful as many anticipated coming into the season.

5. Joel Amartey

Sydney certainly knows how to develop their younger players. Joel Amartey’s (#36) last two weeks at the level have been incredibly impressive. Amartey is a tall mobile ruckman at 197cm. He has a great contested mark but it’s his speed for a player of his size that is incredibly rare. Per Sydney FC, he is the fastest player at the club over 20 metres and you can see it on the tape.

We’ve seen a TON of intriguing snippets already of Amartey. He’s kicked goals from outside 50, taken strong contested marks and has even shown glimpse of a nice step out of traffic to clear himself from congestion.

This is a great contested mark – Impey is not a small player by any stretch but Amartey marks and controls the ball as if no one is there.

(Also, is it A-mart-ee or Amat-ee? I’ve heard both pronunciations and can only assume BT is getting his name wrong but you’d think he’d be notified prior to the game on the right pronunciation? Who knows…)

This is a wild sequence of events. Amartey marks a contested high ball with great bodywork on Scrimshaw to protect the space in front of him. He is then undecided on what he wants to do with ball before deciding to almost lazily kick a goal from 55 metres and clear the line with ease. This is pretty scary from a 3rd game tall.

As we noted on our AFL ladder point last week – Sydney are still a chance to fall out of the 8 albeit a slim one. The poor loss to Hawthorn hurts considering their fixture for the remainder of the year. One important point to make is that if Amartey can keep his spot it provides a positive benefit to Tom Hickey. Hickey has been arguably Sydney’s most important player this year yet is wearing down due to his sole ruck responsibilities and that knee injury he has miraculously recovered from. With Naismith sadly injuring his knee again, Amartey provides depth, ruck relief and rest for Hickey whilst providing a bit of X-factor as a ruckman. Amartey is still incredibly raw but most ruckman are at 21. The difference is very few have had the impact on games like Amartey has this year. 

It’ll be interesting to see how Sydney handle this situation now. Sinclair is still available and has the experience but Sydney have been unwilling to play the two ruck set up with Hickey and Sinclair. If Amartey has a few quiet games, it’ll be intriguing to see whether Sydney opt for the sole ruck option with the risk that Hickey breaks down or stick with Amartey for the rest of the year given his flexibility. Sydney cannot afford to lose Hickey if they want to play finals so it’s going to be an interesting decision to track post bye.

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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FTP # 12

The 12th edition is up! This week we discuss Alex Neal-Bullen, Bailey Dale, Jack Higgins , the AFL Ladder and more!

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1. Alex Neal-Bullen

The Melbourne Demons are 11-1. Very few people would have anticipated a start like this especially given how they looked at the end of their last pre season game (which never truly reflects where a team is at yet it’s hard not to put weight into it).

It’s an impressive 11-1 as well beating fellow premiership aspirants in Brisbane, Richmond, Geelong, Bulldogs and Sydney. 5-0 against top 8 sides. Many things have gone right this year for Melbourne to play such improved football – the maturation of their stars, the trust in their defensive system behind the ball and cleaning up their ball use going inside 50. However, one of if not the most important improvement has come from Melbourne’s role players who have a stronger understanding of what is required of them week to week. They’ve all improved this year – Neal-Bullen (ANB), Spargo, Petty, Sparrow and even Hunt who has been solid defensively but has found more ways to be useful with his pace offensively.

ANB’s (#30) transformation from a player who was asked to throw some flyers out to other clubs last trade period to one of Melbourne’s most important role players has been quite amazing. ANB plays one of the hardest roles in the AFL – the high half forward role. In the high half forward role, players are required to work up to a stoppage and cover off the most dangerous – usually the spare opposition winger. ANB may get involved in that initial contest but if Melbourne win the ball forward, he is required to push forward and get to the drop of the ball at a forward 50 entry. He has to provide the important pressure at ground level that is so important to how Melbourne set up behind the ball. This hasn’t been an issue for ANB in the past – he’s always had a good tank being one of Melbourne’s fittest players. Yet, it’s still an incredibly difficult role to play with consistency week to week because it requires a high work rate with significant amounts of unrewarded running.

The thing that has improved markedly this year for ANB is his composure with his ball use and finishing around goals. ANB throughout his career has struggled with his ball use forward of center – perhaps exhausting himself from his multiple running efforts. This caused him to be a bit of a liability for Melbourne when he gathered possession and drove Melbourne inside 50 (He wasn’t the only one – Melbourne have been average to below average with their inside 50 entry before this year). Now, he isn’t rushing so much – he takes that extra second to assess his options and is finding the right target. He is also more composed finishing around the goals – assessing his options before making the right decision.

His numbers for the role he is playing have improved drastically – Inside 50’s are the best for his career (showing that he is putting himself in more dangerous areas to win the ball) and he’s ranked 8th in the AFL for total tackles inside 50. ANB is part of a broader forward 50 group who are so clear on their role and what is required of them with and without the ball – think of Spargo, Pickett, Fritsch, McDonald. This is evidenced by Melbourne being one of the top teams in the league for tackles inside 50 all year.

Yet, ANB is going above and beyond his role as a high half forward. He is a competitive beast – look at how he competes in a 3v1 contest, bringing the ball to ground, getting a hand in on the disposal to force a turnover before jumping to his feet and providing a handball outlet. This is the kind of stuff that wins games and I would be surprised if this isn’t shown in Melbourne’s review because it’s pure effort and work rate.

(Side note: Clayton Oliver’s work rate to be behind Salem when he kicks that high ball and find a way to both get there and win that contest with clean hands is what makes him one of the best players in the AFL)

ANB reminds me of Castagna back in 2017 – a player that was pretty maligned at Richmond, always in and out of the side, before settling on his role. In the last three years, Melbourne has had an impressive spine with superstars on every line. That was never the issue. It always felt like their bottom 5 or 6 let them down week to week and didn’t know their defined roles. That has changed now. Everyone understands their role in this team and it’s a key reason why the Demons look primed for a home final.

2. Bailey Dale

It’s been well overdue to talk about Bailey Dale (#31). He’s no secret now – with most having him in their All Australian teams and rightly so. Dale has been electric off the half back line. He has always been a pretty underrated player – even from his days playing as a forward where he had a couple of 5 goal games.

But his move to half back and how he has settled into this role has been extremely valuable for the Bulldogs. Dale has the rare combination of blistering pace with precision, bullet like kicking. I always think about the Bulldog’s last offensive generators from the backline when I now look at Dale – Matt Suckling’s odd but penetrating kick and Johannisen’s damaging pace off the backline. Dale is like a hybrid of the two. Look at his ability to gather the ball and burn his opponent and then use his foot skills to hit his target.

Dale’s numbers are all up because of this move (aside from his goal kicking, although it is still a good number for a backmen). More so how his numbers stack up against other defenders. He is 6th for disposals (which includes Docherty who is playing more on a wing now), 20th in R50’s, 8th in metres gained + 7th in the league for bounces highlighting his dash with ball in hand. He is covering off on all the offensive metrics you’d like to see for an attacking half back.

He isn’t a bad defender either and given his rangy build is quite versatile – he’s tall enough to take 2nd or 3rd talls but is also quick enough to play on smalls. Can his defence improve? Of course – but it doesn’t hurt the Bulldogs too much when you can generate so much the other way and be dangerous as a goal kicking defender like this.

One thing that is noticeable at times is that Dale can try to do too much with his kicking. He has a quick ball drop to kick action which allows him to get penetration on his kicks – but sometimes it leads to him over kicking the ball or actually dropping it too high on his leg resulting in him shinning the ball. It luckily works out but look at how this happens in the game on the weekend – a chaos ball that luckily hits Macrae.

The game against Melbourne he wasn’t so lucky – a ball overkicked resulting in a turnover.

The Dogs have confidence in Dale nailiing his kicks more often than not because they are so impactful when he does – they allow the Bulldogs to counter attack quickly from the backline because of the pace he puts on the ball.

It’ll be interesting to see whether teams put any time into Dale – a practice that has been mostly carried out against Caleb Daniel. He is so damaging as a backmen when he gets going so it wouldn’t be surprising especially come later in the year. Dale is a strong chance to win his first All-Australian nod this year and would have to be the most improved player in the league this year.

3. Jack Higgins

We decided to talk about Jack Higgins (#22) this week given how much he has been unfairly scrutinised following his performance on the weekend. We’ll analyse Higgins’ game fairly by including the things he is doing well and things he needs to work on. It’s unfair to talk negatively about a player just because they missed shots on goal. Yes, Higgins kicked 1.6 including 2 missed shots in the last two minutes of the game. It led headlines like ‘Missy Higgins’ cost the Saints. It’s a bit harsh. Higgins isn’t trying to miss those goals on purpose yet is getting almost bashed like he has done something wrong. The only thing I will say in regards to his inaccuracy is that Higgins seemed to rush his shots. He didn’t take his time and it looks like he has no defined goal kicking routine. Something for him to work on.

Outside of the bad misses (especially the two in the first quarter), people fail to mention that Higgins in fact had a great game, maybe his best game for his new club. He had 23 disposals, 12 marks, 3 inside 50’s and 2 tackles. For a small player who is playing a mixture of high half forward and a small forward role – to even get 7 shots on goal is an impressive feat.

Higgins is an interesting one for St Kilda. He left Richmond to get more opportunity at a new club (which he has had) but isn’t playing the midfield role that he probably anticipated when he made the move (and where he played all of his junior football). There’s no doubt Higgins is an accumulator of the ball and plays his best football as a midfielder so it’s odd that he hasn’t been tried in the midfield this year practically at all. It isn’t like St Kilda are loaded with top end midfielders either – especially with young players like Byrnes and Bytel getting reps in there.

Alas, as a forward, Higgins presents well up at the ball – he is always on the move and coming at the leg. He is decent overhead but lacks the athleticism and spring to play above his height. He makes up for this though through his work rate. On the weekend, Higgins played like a tall hit up forward and provided a genuine option for St Kilda to use. He had 12 marks and all were from his work rate to lead up at the kicker or work back into space to get used forward.

Here, his speed and work rate gives Howard an option out of the backline in a pressurised situation. Higgins then goes quickly and hits the inboard kick, which allows for a dangerous inside 50 entry. This is really good stuff.

Again, he spreads forward from a 50 metre penalty and tracks the ball before eventually getting used.

His ball use can be questionable at times. He has a tendency to kick high up and under kicks instead of lowering his eyes or taking some height off the ball to allow his forwards a proper run and jump at the ball. This is an example of it from the weekend that ends in a free kick and goal but it is too high in the air without enough penetration to leverage King’s leap and length. He does these kicks often.

Higgins is having a solid year in the role he is playing for St Kilda. He ranks elite in score involvements averaging 6 a game and averages 1.3 tackles inside 50. St Kilda should continue to honour Higgins on the lead. He had 4 marks on the lead on the weekend but including ones that were contested he had 6. He’s only had 14 for the entire year. If Higgins can make this a trend and continue to work up the ground and provide an option, it allows him to become more involved in the play up the ground rather than playing a traditional small forward role that doesn’t lend itself to Higgins’ strengths. It’s either that or actually give Higgins some midfield time – he has shown at TAC Cup level that he is super impactful in that role.

Higgins as a forward has been far from their worst. As a side note, it’s actually quite surprising how little heat Butler has received this year given how poorly he has played and how much his defensive work rate has dropped off compared to last year.

For everything that has gone wrong for St Kilda this year – they are still a chance to make finals. They probably should have won on the weekend and whilst it hurt St Kilda fans to lose in that fashion – there’s reason for optimism.

4. AFL Ladder

When you look at the ladder after Round 12, you can’t help but feel that the Top 8 is probably set:

Some things I thought that were noteworthy:

  • Outside of probably the Giants or Saints (I would say Fremantle but more and more injuries keeping piling up) it’s hard to see any other team pushing a top 8 team out
  • This could sound crazy but one team that could go on a bit of a run and push for a 7th/8th spot is Collingwood (written before Bucks resigned!). We highlighted last week and earlier in the year the troubles that Collingwood have had this year – from list depth to board chaos to play style. Yet, when you actually look at their year holistically – things could have been very different. They’ve lost two games this year by a point and another game by 10 against finalist teams in Brisbane, Port Adelaide and Geelong. On the weekend they started to play with more attacking flair and began to generate more offensive opportunities from their pivot to a high mark game style. They moved the ball quicker than previous weeks and gave dangerous forward Jamie Elliott one on one opportunities that he capitalised on. They are probably too far back given their poor start but are a team to watch
  • Within the 8, it’s hard to see Richmond finishing 7th. They are well aware that to have any shot to win the flag you need to finish top 4 (although if any team was to win it outside the 4 it would be Richmond) and given they always seem to time their run late, look for them to push up the later in the remaining 2nd half of the year.
  • If we were to make a judgment on which team would fall out of that 8 – it would have to be either West Coast or Sydney due to their run home. Sydney continue to impress by grinding out wins. They have quite a mature group to go alongside some of their younger players that are developing nicely (Rowbottom, Florent, Warner etc) but it just feels like a drop off is not too far away. They still have Port Adelaide, Bulldogs and West Coast to play. I am more confident in them than West Coast.
  • West Coast have looked poor in recent weeks (both due to injuries but also how they are playing) and are probably a non-finalist team given their injuries. They’ll have to hold on until they get a lot of those players back but it may be too little too late considering their run home. Eagles play Richmond, Melbourne, Bulldogs, Brisbane and Sydney (in Sydney) in the second half of the year
  • The Top 4 is likely set. It’s tough to see the Demons not finishing in the top 2 given their wins against two of the top 4 teams already. One team that would be shaking their head at Melbourne’s meteoric rise would be Brisbane – who traded away their first round pick this year in exchange for Melbourne’s future first this year. At the time it was a great move by Brisbane – it was a low risk play that had incredible upside given Melbourne’s inconsistency year to year. Realistically, the exchange could have been pick 18 in the 2020 draft for a top 10 or even top 5 2021 pick given the volatility in Melbourne’s play in recent years. Well no more upside now, the pick will likely be 18th or 17th in what was a great albeit bold trading strategy by Melbourne
  • When compared to the ladder from last year – St Kilda (6th) and Collingwood (8th) are the two teams that have been kicked out for Melbourne (9th) and Sydney (16th)

5. Nic Newman

For all of the talk about Carlton this week and their defenders who either can’t or refuse to defend (Saad, Williams and to an extent Docherty), I’ve really enjoyed the game of Nic Newman (#24) since he has returned from injury.

Newman has always been a good user of the football with his trusty left foot but has actually been one of the few Carlton defenders who is prioritisting defence this year. On the weekend, he beat his man in a number of one on one situations, reading the high ball better than his opponent and edging him under the contest to win 1v1’s. Here is one he had in the first.

He got beat a number of times on the weekend playing on Liam Ryan but who doesn’t? The speed along with his marking ability in the air caused issues for Newman but the effort was there. It’s surprising that neither Williams nor Saad was given that responsibility at all during the game given how both possess the speed to go with Ryan (Poor Stocker had his hands full). It’s quite absurd if all the talk about neither wanting to defend is true – especially from a player who is a permanent backmen like Saad. You have to be two way players in the modern AFL for your team to have any success of winning and it sets a bad precedent for younger players coming through at Carlton if Saad only cares about the offensive side of the ball.

However, you can’t fault Newman for this – the intent and courage is there. I’m not going to show the video of his brutal concussion/neck injury but flying for a ball like that and putting your body on the line shows that Newman has the intent and desire to defend.

The biggest strength of Newman’s is undoubtedly his kicking. Newman has a great ability to find a ‘first mark’. What we mean by this is through his quick but accurate kicking motion – Newman is able to generate a mark from a pressurised situation. This is incredibly valuable because it allows a team to regain control of the tempo of the game – if you can generate a mark quickly you can go from a disputed situation where a turnover may eventuate to a stop in play where your team takes back control and dictates what occurs next. Few players have this with their kicking – one other player that comes to mind is Salem from Melbourne.

This is what we mean:

It just relieves so much pressure for a team and it’s beneficial for Carlton that Newman can find these options off essentially one step.

He is also one of Carlton’s few trusted kicks going inside 50 even with pressure on him.

Hopefully Newman isn’t out for too long because he is having a great year and is semi important to Carlton’s ball movement out of the backline. Carlton fans have to be pleased with his form following a long time off with a knee injury.

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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Zac Bailey Review

Zac Bailey’s Breakout Year

May have been aware of Zac Bailey (#33) for a couple of years now and the type of player he is becoming but after another 4 goal performance against a premiership contender, his play is worthy of a deep dive.

Bailey’s had an eventful year to the say the least. Think back to his tackle on Blicavs where he had him beat in Brisbane’s goal square in the dying moments that would have given Bailey a chance to win the game only for the umpires to put their whistle away.

Then literally the next week as if the ‘Footy Gods’ are more than a made up theory – he kicks the winning goal after the siren to beat Collingwood. Weeks later, he kicks 4 goals in an impressive showing against Richmond before kicking another 4 goals on the weekend in a 1st vs 3rd clash against Melbourne. There are a number of aspects to Bailey’s game that make him one of the best young players in the AFL.

Versatility

Bailey is in the middle of a breakout season for Brisbane playing a number of roles. His most common position has been a high half forward role but he has spent plenty of time as an inside midfielder and wingman. That’s the first thing that jumps out about him – his versatility. Bailey is a good size at 86kg and 182cm and has great pace, which gives Brisbane the option to play him both on the inside and the outside. This allows him to impact the game in more ways than one. If he isn’t able to impact the game on the inside – Brisbane can push him forward where he puts himself in dangerous positions to score.

He is great at identifying the dangerous space both as a forward and midfielder. Look at how Bailey sees that there is no player covering boundary side and times his run to that space perfectly (+ a great block by Matheison).

Goal Kicking

His goal kicking has been the biggest improvement this year. Bailey has kicked 17 goals for the year averaging 1.4 a game (including three games of three goals or more). If you classify Bailey as a midfielder, he is averaging the equal most goals for the year alongside Bontempelli. That’s pretty good company… So how is he kicking his goals?

i. Bailey’s Balance

Firstly, Bailey has incredible balance which makes him difficult to tackle. He is light on his feet which compliments his balance and allows him to fool the opponent on which way he is moving – he dodges and weaves with the ball before deciding how he wants to finish.

Look at how he gathers the ball, assesses his options quickly (but also seeming like he isn’t in a rush) before deciding the best decision is to snap for goal.

It’s an odd comparison because they are different in a lot of other ways but he reminds me of a bit of a Pendlbeury in the way that he never seems rushed. It comes up time and time again on the vision. Bailey’s understanding on how to create space for himself by taking an extra two steps to clear himself out of a tacklers reach creates an opportunity for him to kick goals where others would rush and immediately kick.

ii. Speed

To go alongside his composure, Bailey is a zippy player with great speed. A player like Bailey who has a tendency to read the play before others combined with burst away speed is a dangerous combination. Look at his pace and timing here. As soon as he recognises that the ball is going over the back he shifts from a jog to a sprint. The ball sits up perfectly for him in stride and he finishes what is a really difficult goal (that he makes look easy) in a really important moment in the game for Brisbane.

Playing as a midfielder here, he has a quick first two or three steps to clear himself from opposition pressure. The finish isn’t great but he knows he has Mills beat.

iii. Improvisation

It’s a random thing about Bailey but it happens so often that it has to be mentioned. Bailey is incredibly quick thinking getting a boot to the ball. He is really good at soccering the ball off the ground. He had a goal off the ground against Richmond, hit up a leading forward with a kick off the ground against the Giants and kicked a mid air goal against the Demons. Look at the improvisation to know he doesn’t have the time to pick up the ball yet still has the skill to kick a goal.

RFI’s

Bailey only averages 17 disposals a game. For a player that is so damaging with his speed and goal nous and is playing midfield minutes you’d like to see that number creep up an extra 5 or so a game. His highest disposal game for his career is 26.

Maybe there’s a ceiling on Bailey’s ball wining ability because of the dangerous positions he goes to? You could argue that his game has an element of ‘feast or famine’ because for every 4 goal performance like on the weekend, he has had 8 games this year where he has kicked 1 goal or less. That’s not an indictment on Bailey though – kicking goals in the AFL week to week is hard! Especially for a player taking on midfield minutes. But given how impactful he can be when he does win it – his disposal numbers need to increase.

Bailey also has the capability to be a dangerous player in the air. He has a great leap and has the size to play above his height. He only averages 3.3 marks a game which classifies him as average amongst midfielders. That’s the next evolution of his game especially when he does play forward. He is so dangerous at ground level but if he can improve on his aerial ability he will take his game to the next level and prove to be a match up problem for any defender.

In the middle of their premiership window, Brisbane has unearthed a quick, multi-goal kicking midfielder. Yes, Bailey was a first round pick so it isn’t exactly a find. Still, first round picks are never guarantees. It’s fair to say that Bailey has already outplayed his pick 15 draft tag. He won’t get there but he is without a doubt in All-Australian consideration and is becoming one of Brisbane’s most important players at only 21 years old. He is well on his way to becoming a star of the competition and will have a massive say on how far Brisbane go this year come finals time. Look for Bailey to bob up at just the right moment when Brisbane needs a goal the most – it’s what Bailey does.

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FTP # 11

The 11th edition is up! This week we discuss Dyson Heppell’s move to defence, Collingwood’s unadventurous ball movement, AFL injury lists , Ned McHenry and more!

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1. Ned McHenry

If you had to look for evidence of ‘little man syndrome’ and were asked to go to the AFL to do your research, you’d undoubtedly find what you’re looking for in a Crows player by the name of Ned McHenry (#25). But we mean this in a good way! McHenry is great to watch. His aggression and intensity to attack the ball – whether at ground level or in the air is incredible. He plays at a pace that almost seems reckless given his size… but it works. He constantly beats bigger opponents to the ball.

McHenry also isn’t afraid to fly for his size – showing quite a bit in the air.

McHenry is full of aggression to the opposition as well – constantly getting under the skin of opponents through his physicality and standing up for his teammates. Crow’s players must love playing with McHenry because he always fly’s the flag for his club. It’s clearly infectious as well – a big hit or attack on the football from McHenry gives incentive for his team mates to do the same.

He never gives up a chase either.

Coming into the league in his first year, McHenry was playing quite a lot for a player that really wasn’t impacting the game. He was given midfield time in spurts whilst mostly playing a high half forward role (his most used position) but only averaged 11.5 (adjusted for shorter quarters) disposals a game. Putting the fact aside that the Crows were in rebuild mode last year, Nicks stuck with McHenry probably because of this intensity in the way he plays. It’s a feature of his game that once he gets stronger will make him a more valuable player. The signs are there this year – his production has lifted (his disposal count is around the same but is impacted by his subbed out game) as he is getting more midfield minutes but is actually impacting the game more with ball in hand. He is showing signs of composure with his kicking.

It’s hard sometimes to visually see it because of his manic play style but McHenry is a good decision maker with ball in hand. When he is given the time to assess his options and make a decision, he can make the right one.

This is a really good sign. McHenry sees Walker tick at the kicker at the last second and has the composure to pull his kick. Watching this live it looked like McHenry was going to blast away, either to goal or hoping Walker continued his lead out the back. Part of this was because of how fast McHenry was moving. But he composed himself and pulled his kick (even though it was a bit of a wobbler) which is all he had to do. It didn’t have to be a lace out kick because Walker had his defender on the back foot beat. This is the kind of strong situational understanding within games which makes McHenry a much more complete player. The manic ferociousness to his game needed to be balanced with aspects of composure and we are starting to see it. We discussed Keays earlier this year as a young midfielder that has developed into a strong player for Adelaide and McHenry is slowing getting there as well. Adelaide have a number of exciting young pieces that are improving each week – their rebuild is going nicely. 

2. Collingwood’s unadventurous ball movement

We discussed Collingwood’s lack of list depth earlier this year and don’t really want to harp on too much about a team discussed in the media constantly but Collingwood’s inability to score is a real talking point and a serious issue. They haven’t scored more than 60 points in half the games they’ve played this year!

In what was arguably the most boring game of football this year – the Collingwood-Geelong game highlighted the issues surrounding Collingwood’s inability to score.

The score conversion hurt and sometimes it’s just one of those days when you kick 6.15. But when you’re a team that on the weekend couldn’t kick a goal until the 3rd quarter and are ranked 17th for scoring this year behind only the rebuilding Kangaroos – this is more than just a one off.

There are two aspects killing Collingwood. Firstly, their supply. They are ranked 17th for average Inside 50’s per game at 47.7 a game. For perspective, the Bulldog’s average 10 more inside 50’s a game than Collingwood. Considering the Bulldogs score on 48.25% of their Inside 50’s on average – it is quite a stark difference. The lack of I50’s is partly due to their unadventurous ball movement – so many times they fail to understand when they are in a fast play scenario and have 1v1’s further up the ground. There’s a time to possess the football and allow your forwards to reset and there are other times where you have the defence out of position and it’s time to go fast. Collingwood fail to recognise this difference all the time.

De Goey has one on one forwards ahead of the ball and is a long enough kick to take that on. This was in a game where Collingwood were playing defensive and protecting a lead – but they no longer had the lead! This was a rare opportunity to advance forward and get Port on the counter attack but they didn’t go. It wasn’t exactly a riskier option either – chipping it around and playing it conservatively eventually led to a turnover and goal for Port Adelaide. Another similar example by Daicos from the weekend…

Without having any inside knowledge – it seems from the outside looking in that Collingwood are over coached. Playing to a structure and following a method is important but sometimes players just need to play footy and play on instincts. This isn’t happening right now.

The second issue hurting Collinwood’s scoring is their score conversion once they are inside 50. They aren’t getting valuable shots on goal – on the weekend kicking a goal on only 13.6% of their I50’s. They are 17th in the league for goal assists – much of their goals are unassisted. Some of this is a byproduct of the ball movement issue, some of it has to do with their cattle. They have little options forward of the ball barring Mihochek. De Goey has been wildly inconsistent and played more midfield time against the Cats, Elliot injured, Pendlebury playing forward (where he has little experience) whilst carrying an injury, McCreery who has been solid but inexperienced, Hoskin-Elliot out of form… the list goes on. There are little scoring avenues to goal. Injuries have hurt them this year – that’s clear. But the same can be said for many other teams – like Richmond and Brisbane. The difference is those teams have a structure that is understood by each player so that when role players come in they know exactly what is expected of them.

Collingwood’s year has been an interesting one. They initially came into this year thinking they were a finals team before losing 5 in a row after Round 2. Their president resigned and they slowly tempered expectations on what phase the football club was in. It now looks like they are pivoting to a mini-rebuild, as they are starting to play youngsters. The Collingwood bashing in the media this week is somewhat unfair given that their average games played was 93 games – far less than Geelong in a game that they likely could have snatched if they had kicked straighter in the first half.

Even so, they look confused and unassured when moving the ball from defence to offence. They have a very interesting match up against the Crows this week – a team that is in the middle of a rebuild but has shown an ability to follow a gameplan (as evidenced in our column last week) but still plays with attacking flair and instinct exemplified by Ned McHenry. It’ll be interesting to see whether Collingwood forgo some of the defensive structure to generate more scoring opportunities.

3. Dyson Heppell in defence

Dyson Heppell’s (#21) move back to defence where he first started his career is proving a master stroke by Ben Rutten and the Essendon coaching staff. When you watch Heppell, you see his leadership shine immediately. He is constantly pointing at players to move into the right position – navigating not only his back 6 but his midfield further up the ground.

His numbers as a backman are solid, averaging 25.1 disposals a game (7th among AFL defenders), 7.9 marks, 4 rebound 50’s going at 82% DE (career best) and is 4th in the league for total intercepts. Much of the value of having Heppell in the backline for his own play is secondary to the real benefit – it has given opportunities to other teammates to play in the midfield. The young core of Merrett, McGrath and Parish are all now getting reps together in a midfield that is winning games. This is important because Essendon’s next premiership contending team will have those 3 players in the prime of their careers – not Heppell. But Heppell is playing an important role.

He provides the drive forward from Essendon’s defence, many a times linking up with hands or by foot to his midfielders up the ground. Heppell’s not overly quick but he’s a smart player – positioning himself in the right area’s to either get used on the counter attack or set up defensively. He wins one on ones when he needs to.

Heppell will never be considered an elite player but he’s solid in a range of areas. His kicking ranges from OK to good – he can still make costly turnovers at times with little pressure.

It’s sometimes hit and miss with Heppell – nailing a kick by weighting it beautifully to a team mate or shanking it and missing it completely. Defensively it’s much of the same. He’s decent in one on one situations against opponents, strong enough to hold his own and courageous enough to come off his man and impact the contest.

Recently, he is making the right decision and defending strongly more often than not. In the below, he reads the play well. Heppell pushes back to help his teammate with a long 1v1 against Darling but then reads Ryan’s eyes and comes forward just in time to spoil the ball and follows up with a possession. Heppell isn’t done though, he realises it’s a likely turnover and locates a man – the larger Darling. The ball comes back in again and Heppell defends the long ball. It’s amazing commitment.

Praise must be given to Heppell – its commendable to give up your inside midfield role as a captain and swallow your pride and play a different position. Essendon has generated immeasurable value from the move though. It ensures Heppell is less exposed to injuries that have cruelled him recently by playing a less physically taxing role, whilst allowing him to use his smarts and leadership from the backline to set up his team behind the play. Sometimes the best leaders and players are the ones that can see the game in front of them and read the game from the back – directing and leading their team. Essendon in the midst of a mini rebuild but are now pushing for finals. It shows how much bringing in youth can change the life and exuberance of a team. Essendon are one of the most exciting teams to watch in the game and Heppell is a key reason why.

4. AFL Injury Lists

I thought I’d do a little deep dive into each teams injury list and see how it has impacted a team compared to the rest of the league. To measure this, I have calculated a players value to a team based on the AFL Player Ratings metric. This is based on how a team is currently impacted by injuries and gives us a bit of an idea as to how teams should perform moving forward based on their teams injuries. It must be noted that many players, like a Dangerfield or a Coniglio, have missed most of the year so there is an element of this graph that does detail how a team has been impacted throughout the year.

For those who require an explanation on how the AFL player ratings are calculated, a short summary is below:

AFL Player Ratings are measured where players accrue or lose points every time they are involved in a passage of play, and the score awarded to them each time they are in the play. A player’s rating is determined by adding together his points tally based on a rolling window of the previous two seasons. Performances are measured using a system called Equity Ratings. The system determines where and how a player influences a contest and whether the player’s effort then results in a positive result for his team. Each player involvement is tracked and the data is collated and measured by Champion Data who measure the AFL Player Ratings. For context sake, Dustin Martin has been the top player in the ratings for a long period of time up until recently, where Bontempelli has over taken him. Put simply, it’s one of if not the best measure of how impactful players are in games both when they do and do not have the football.

I have used Adelaide’s injury list as an example on how I’ve aggregated the impact of each teams injury list.

AdelaideAFL Player Rating
Crouch265.8
Berry64.6
Gollant0
Hinge18.8
Milera69.2
Murphy197.2
Talia195.8
Lynch201.3

Here are the ranking of teams:

A few things that stuck out:

  • It’s no surprise that teams with minor injury lists in Melbourne and Sydney are performing well this year. Both have had better years than was initially anticipated and a healthy injury list goes a long way to performance. Outside of Viney, Tomlinson and maybe Sam Reid, very few best 22 players are missing from either list. Melbourne’s aggregate score is disproportionately impacted by the absence of Langdon – who will miss just the one week with concussion
  • Very impressive that two of the top teams in Brisbane and the Bulldogs have been able to win games without some of their best players – names including Neale, Berry, Gardiner, Dunkley, Treloar, Wood
  • Carlton are a team that have been underwhelming this year given the expectations on them at the start of the year. Going forward, there isn’t too much much to blame on the injury front now that Martin has returned even with the loss of Fisher and McGovern. It must be noted that Curnow’s rating is quite low given his absence from the game but it’s clear he is quite important to Carlton’s performance if and when he is healthy again
  • Collingwood’s ranking is quite high and is largely impacted by 3 players which signifies their importance to the team – Grundy, Adams and Howe
  • Another team that has dropped significantly just over the weekend but was much higher prior to Round 11 was Richmond – who were bolstered by the returns from Cotchin, Bolton and Prestia. Richmond had a rating of 2,400 before the weekend and even topped the Giants as the team most impacted by injuries, which showed given the number of recent debutants. The win against the Giants will prove to be super important later in the year given the number of outs Richmond had in that game. The loss to Nankervis is another blow to the side’s quest of a 3-peat
  • North Melbourne is another team whose aggregate rating has dropped in recent weeks due to the return of some of their players but has remained high for most of the year

I would love to hear your thoughts – how much do you believe your team has been impacted by injuries so far this year? This graph gives us a good idea on how teams should be performing as we get into the 2nd half of the year based on the availability of their best 22.

5. Quinton Narkle

Quinton Narkle (#19) is one to watch for the Geelong Cats. He’s been given more opportunity this year to play inside midfield and has shown great signs. Narkle is a bull – possessing both the strength and speed to brush tackles aside. It was quite an interesting comparison when Smith said Narkle was a ‘bit like Dusty’. Obviously he wasn’t comparing him to the kind of output that a Brownlow Medal winner and 3 time North Smith medalist produces week to week but more so the type of qualities that Narkle possesses. You can kind of see it. Narkle breaks out of tackles and stoppages with ease – look at this passage of play and tell me it doesn’t remind you a little of Dusty.

His decision making has also improved out of sight – here holding onto the ball just long enough to fool the Saints defender to the outside option before nailing the inside kick.

Narkle is what many at Geelong thought Nakia Cockatoo could be – an inside midfield bull with great burst out of stoppage. Narkle’s production has increased immensely this year – averaging 19.2 disposals (significant increase from last year even factoring in shorter quarters) and his disposal efficiency has increased. His ToG is worrying at only 60.3% (although impacted by a game where he was the medical sub) – which points to a broader issue potentially regarding Narkle’s lack of a tank to run out games (his averages in the last two years hover from 57-64% which is incredibly low).

Regardless, he adds a different dynamic to a midfield of Selwood, Duncan, Menegola and Parfitt but has a lot of like for like qualities to the currently injured Dangerfield.

For a team that has been ridiculed for recruiting older type players and for having one of the more mature sides in the league – it must be rewarding for Cats fans to see a young talent like Narkle start to perform at AFL standard. It’s quite surprising he’s only played 6 games this year given he has shown both in the St Kilda game and on the weekend what he is capable of. 6 games is the most he has ever played in a season so that will clearly be beaten.

It may be a shock to say this but I believe Narkle will be important to a Cat’s premiership push. Because of his unique qualities it wouldn’t be farfetched to see Narkle step up in a big moment – by kicking a clutch goal or winning an important clearance when the Cats need it most. Narkle is one to watch for the rest of this year.

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

Tom Mitchell Review

Tom Mitchell’s Down Year

Tom Mitchell (#3) is having a down year for the Hawks. Without a doubt it’s hard to perform in a team that has only won 2 games with a midfield that is lacking in depth but there are aspects of Mitchell’s personal game that have dropped off this year.

The first one is his tackling. In his first 2 years at Hawthorn and for most of his time at Sydney, Mitchell averaged over 6 tackles. He has always been a good accumulator of the ball but what made him impactful beyond disposals was that he hunted the opposition and impacted an opponents exit out of stoppage. If Mitchell wasn’t winning the ball himself he was tackling opponents at the stoppage or providing pressure on their disposal to assist his defence down the field. This year (and last year as well) he has averaged just over 4 tackles a game. It must be noted that this is likely due to his shoulder injury from last year, which is fair. But it doesn’t bode well for a 28 year old if this is a long term issue. Now more than ever, midfielders need to be two-way players given the added pace and skill in the game.

Mitchell is still an accumulator of the ball, averaging 33.5 disposals this year – an improvement of almost 10 disposals a game compared to last year coming back from a broken leg. It’s no secret that Mitchell has never really been a damaging midfielder. Most of his disposals are in tight in congested scenarios or sweeping handballs to team mates in general play. Very rarely do you see Mitchell burst out of a stoppage and hit a leading forward for a goal assist – it’s just not his game. When he does get time and space going inside 50 – he can be quite wasteful.

But even as a high disposal accumulator this year Mitchell has been worryingly undamaging. His kick to handball ratio is badly unbalanced at 0.6. It’s always been skewed because of his play style but compared to last year and his Brownlow year (0.67 & 0.85) – it’s a worrying statistic. He’s handballing way too much and they aren’t effective handballs into space like say a Liberatore (It’s worth noting that Libba has a number damaging outside players to dish to – Mitchell has very few). Part of the reason for his lack of impact is because he isn’t riding tackles (which means taking a tackle on to push your momentum forward and handball), which makes you think that the shoulder may be bothering he more than we realise. Look at how he just coughs up the ball when no option is immediately available instead of taking the tackle and feeding to a teammate ahead of him.

He also rush kicks forward a lot. These kicks seem to never have any direction about them and again make it look like Mitchell doesn’t want to engage in contact.

Another issue with Mitchell’s game is the seismic drop off in clearances. In his first two years at Hawthorn, Mitchell averaged 6.3 and 8 clearances a game. In his last two years, the clearances have been at 4.3 and 3.8. His disposals are becoming more meaningless as he isn’t surging the ball forward for his team in stoppage scenarios. He is far more flat footed now around stoppages. He isn’t getting on the move and seems to put in less time into his stoppage craft at the contest to create space. For all the talk about over handballing, sometimes he is dump kicking out of stoppages when he should actually handball! Look at how he receives the handball receive and kicks a high up and under kick that results in a turnover whilst you can clearly see he has Scrimshaw running past for an easy handball receive which would have resulted in a far better clearance and F50 scenario for Hawthorn.

Part of this analysis may be too dismissive of the fact that Mitchell went through a devastating injury not too long ago. A broken leg can take years to recover from – with some players never getting back to their previous form. This coupled with the fact that Hawthorn are a poor team this year ranking low in important categories like Inside 50’s, Clearance, Goal Assists, Points scored etc – it makes life harder for Mitchell. You can easily take a glass half full approach with Mitchell and argue that much of his form this year is actually a slow grind towards Mitchell eventually getting back to his form of previous years.

Some of the evidence is actually there! As mentioned before, he is more disposals this year than last year (even when adjusted for shorter quarters), his metres gained (a statistic that often backs up Mitchell’s lack of damaging disposals) has improved from last year and is actually better than his first year at the Hawks. His disposal efficiency (76.1%) is the best of his career and his score involvements at 5.4 have improved. This is all while averaging his lowest ToG year at Hawthorn.

It’s hard to make an assessment on where a Brownlow medal winner is at in a team that is finally at the realisation point of a rebuild. Somewhat of a surprise is how many Hawthorn fans want to trade Mitchell. It makes sense given the timeline of the team but for a Brownlow Medal winner of only 3 years ago who has gone through significant injuries it’s a over reactive. Maybe Mitchell himself wants to leave and find opportunities for success elsewhere? Either way, Hawthorn are going to be an interesting watch at the end of this year in regards to their decision making. They recruited heavily for a number of mature established AFL players (Mitchell, O’Meara, Scully, Wingard, Patton) who now realise that their ambition of playing for a future potential contender in Hawthorn won’t materialise any time soon. Mitchell’s future is an interesting subplot in what has been a disappointing year for one of the AFL’s historic clubs.

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FTP # 10

The 10th edition of Footy Talking Points is here! This week we discuss Adelaide’s bold and successful strategy against the Demons, Willem Drew, Sam Taylor, the West Coast Eagles and more!

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1. Sam Taylor

So many promising players don’t get the attention they deserve because they are hidden away at a non-Victorian club. A clear example of this is Sam Taylor (#15) – who is arguably the best young key position player in the game. Taken with Pick 28 in the 2017 draft, Taylor solidified himself early on with GWS in a strong backline featuring Davis, Haynes, Shaw, Kennedy and Corr. He famously saved the Giants in the dying moments of a preliminary final with a mammoth spoil out of defence against Collingwood to take the Giants to a grand final. That play is a representation of Taylor – he always seems to stand up in big moments. Whenever a team is surging forward and has momentum – there is Taylor standing up with a big intercept mark or spoil.

He is a rock down in defence. Taylor isn’t a slouch when the ball hits the ground either – he loves to tackle.

Taylor is also willing to get involved offensively – here he sees the Giants win the ball out of a D50 stoppage and knows he has the athleticism over the slower Kennedy. He forces Kennedy to defend by pushing up the ground and gets used to generate a meaningful scoring drive.

This year, Taylor ranks 6th in the AFL for intercepts per game, 7th in spoils and 6th in one percenters. He has one of the best contested-defence-loss percentages in the league at 25.5% – beating out defenders like Harris Andrews, Darcy Moore and Dougal Howard. It shows in the vision – he rarely loses one on ones.

The Giants all of a sudden have a youthful and exciting backline. Buckley, Ash and Idun in particular have come on in leaps and bounds this year. The narrative has quickly shifted from GWS bottoming out after losing all of their young talent and high quality players to having a nice young core to once again build around. They are starting to create cohesion as a back 6 defensively whilst having the offensive weapons in Whitfield and Ash to generate their counter attack opportunities. The one knock on Taylor (and it’s not his fault) is his injury history. As of a couple of days ago, Taylor is now set to miss an extended period of time with a syndesmosis injury – another cruel injury blow for the Giants. In 2020, he missed 3 months of a footy with a rare bacterial disease that caused him to lose 11kg and made him unable to walk.  When you look at it from a different angle, his development for a key position defender is quite astounding given the number of set backs he has had. At only 22, Taylor is quickly becoming one of GWS’s most important players and one that the AFL should start paying more attention to – he is an out and out gun. Let’s hope for a speedy recovery.

2. The Bold Adelaide Crows

The Crows-Demons game on Saturday was arguably the best game of the year. Both teams were moving the ball quickly and trading goals late. Ben Keays and Clayton Oliver went head to head (the latter putting on a magical performance) with the pressure around the ball finals-like (Adelaide 65 tackles to Melbourne’s 78 – both smashing their season averages). We also learnt quite a bit about both teams. Adelaide came in with a clear plan to beat the Demons and it worked. Adelaide targeted a strength in how the Demons like to defend in their back half (check out our blog last week detailing it) and turned it into a weakness.

Adelaide scored on 42.6% of their inside 50’s – the largest percentage of any team by far against Melbourne this year. A reason for this was their risk taking approach through the middle of the ground – they used the corridor at every opportunity possible. Against a team like Melbourne who are great at forcing turnovers in their back half and counter attacking, there was inherent risk involved. But they executed it more successfully than not. Using the corridor grants you the fastest access to goal. It allowed Adelaide quicker entries inside their forward 50 where either May/Lever couldn’t set up and help each other or where players were cross matched. Look at how Adelaide’s willingness to use the corridor allowed Walker a 1v1 match up with the undersized Rivers.

If that kick stayed in the air for a millisecond longer, Brayshaw cuts it off and Melbourne are likely going the other way for a scoring opportunity. But it works – Berry holds onto the mark. The quick overlap hands and run doesn’t give May (who is caught zoning off) enough time to get back to help out Rivers. The extra handball allows for further depth on the final kick – which ultimately means bypassing May.

Again, look at how Adelaide were able to transition from their literal goal line to a shot at goal by working the boundary before going straight through the corridor. It’s the handball receive into a McKay bullet through the middle that opens everything up. Melbourne were scrambling like this all day defensively (and really the first time this year). They weren’t able to put enough pressure on at the source of the ball which allowed the Crows time to find players inside. Because of the speed in which the ball transitioned – May, Lever and Petty were pushing back hard to zone off and defend the deep entry whilst Thilthorpe came back to the leg of the kicker for an easy mark.

This is a blueprint on how to get Melbourne out of how they want to play – fast and bold ball movement through the middle of the ground honouring hit up leads. Adelaide attacked and attacked all day and it set them up to win the game (albeit luckily with a few questionable umpiring decisions late).

It was clear going into this game that Adelaide emphasised both:

  1. Forwards leading at the kicker at every opportunity; and
  2. The kicker rewarding those leads at every opportunity to stop Melbourne from zoning off and impacting contests aerially

It’s an encouraging sign for a developing team that they can execute such a game plan and take a finalist contender out of their comfort zone.

3. Willem Drew

At FTP, we love to highlight the young players who are beginning to show signs of developing into reliable AFL players. Willem Drew (#28) is probably not a household name outside of Port Adelaide fans but he has been superb this year and is very important to Port Adelaide’s midfield.

Eyebrows were raised in Round 1 when Drew was named as a starting on baller. Not so much the fact that he was starting on ball but more so that he had taken the place of Tom Rockliff – a player who was once a superstar at Brisbane but is still a super accumulator of the football and can still have a genuine impact on games for Port Adelaide. Hinkley stated that he merely named the best performing 22 from the preseason yet most were skeptical how long Drew would last before making way for Rockliff. Now that is no chance of happening (even if Rockliff hadn’t unfortunately suffered two bad knee injuries). Drew took his opportunity and hasn’t looked back. This year Drew is recording career highs in Disposals, Inside 50’s, Clearances and is ranked 9th in the AFL for total Tackles. All of this after not playing a single game last year due to injury and no SANFL league.

Drew is a tidy player who is strong around the contest – he is always in great position to read the drop of the ball and handball out to teammates. Look at how clean and clever he is here in a congested area. He taps the ball to himself away from the reach of Williams before distributing to Wines for a goal.

He is also incredibly brave – putting his body on the line in an important moment on the weekend.

His form over the last 4 rounds especially has seen him go up another level. He has an average AFL rating of 15 – ranking him in the top 25 in the AFL!*

*An explanation of how the AFL rating system works is detailed at the end of this article

Drew is still learning to have a consistent impact on games – these things will take time. But it’s quite apparent Drew has a strong mentality regardless of what’s occurring in games. I wrote in my notes over a month ago detailing how Drew has a strong mindset. This was after his impressive last quarter for Port Adelaide against Richmond where he had a crucial tackle and a number of critical disposals. The reason I wrote it down? He had 4 disposals up until 3 quarter time. He lifted in a close game when he needed to after having no impact at all in the first 60 minutes of the game. He had arguably the biggest two moments of the game, an inside 50 kick which led to a Robbie Gray goal and this tackle.

It was only his 14th game – the mental maturity and resiliency to acknowledge that it hasn’t been your night yet find a way to stand up regardless is a really impressive feature of Drew’s and one that will ensure he has a long standing AFL career. We saw it again on the weekend when it was his time to go – he went. You can trust players like Drew in the biggest games of the year.

4. Alarm Bells are ringing for the West Coast Eagles

The West Coast Eagles lost to the Giants on the weekend by 16 points on the road. On the surface, not really a disastrous loss against a team that is quite underrated. Yet, the way in which they lost is cause for concern. The Eagles simply didn’t want to work.

We’ve noted this statistical pairing a number of times this year because we believe it’s the perfect measurement of when a team has minimal desire to defend. Here it is.

GWS won the disposal count by 101 (405 – 304) yet had 31 MORE tackles than the Eagles. They had the ball for a far greater portion of the game yet out-tackled the Eagles with far less opportunities. Finals are built on pressure around the ball – you only need to look at Richmond in recent times to see that. I understand the Eagles play a different game style, a kick-mark retention, contested marking reliant, ultra efficient going Inside 50 game style. But a lack of pressure will not hold up in finals regardless of how efficient they can be. In their 2016 premiership season, whilst they weren’t league leading, they were 12th in tackles per game. Their pressure rating (Champion Data give us access to this please) was shown a number of times on the TV and it was well below that of the Giants.

It isn’t just their pressure around the ball either. West Coast are really struggling to both stop scores and/or create counter attacking opportunities from defensive 50 entries.

 20202021
Tackles17th18th
Inside 50’s16th16th
Rebound 50’s8th17th
West Coast’s AFL Rankings 2020-2021 comparison

Looking at these rankings – there’s not a lot different to last year! Yet, the numbers when the ball is in their defensive 50 numbers are worrying. Per Fox Sports, West Coast is 17th for conceding scores when it enters their defensive 50. They are now 2nd worst in the league for rebound 50’s out of defence.

A poor rebound 50 ranking can be misleading because a team may just be on average getting more inside 50’s than their opponent and therefore have less opportunities to rebound the ball. Yet, this isn’t really the case for the Eagles. The Bulldogs are 18th for Rebound 50’s – the only team worse than the Eagles. Yet that’s because they have the highest Inside 50 team/opponent differential in 2021 – they average 13.6 more Inside 50’s than their opponent (AFL best). To compare, the Eagles rank 9th and only average 0.4 more I50’s than their opponents.

So whilst everyone talks about the Eagles’ efficiency going inside 50, they are struggling to defend and rebound from their own defensive 50. Without having access to data detailing where the Eagles are scoring most from (D50, Turnover, Stoppage etc), it would be shocking if they generate any scoring opportunities from their D50 given those poor numbers.

West Coast have suffered from injuries all year and it must be noted. When you lose important players like McGovern, Shuey, Yeo, Ryan, Duggan and Barrass for long periods of the season so far no doubt this is going to have an impact on how the team performs.

But GWS weren’t exactly light on injuries either. An injury list of Coniglio, Greene, Daniels, Hogan, Davis, De Boer, Perryman, Kennedy, Preuss etc is arguably the worst in the league – yet they came with the effort and intensity from the beginning that the Eagles sorely lacked.

An uncontested mark by one of GWS’s best players in the goal square was symbolic of the Eagles lack of desire or want to defend – Waterman didn’t want to go. At the moment that’s the difference between a Deven Robertson at a premiership contender in Brisbane who is fighting for his spot and puts his body on the line for his team and a role player in Waterman who doesn’t wish to defend as a forward.

It isn’t panic stations by any stretch for West Coast – they are 6-4 and in the 8 even with a really poor away record. But the worrying signs are there. Poor defensive pressure is a fixable thing. But teams flirt with danger when they play with an on/off switch. The competition is too even to decide when to defend and when not too. It has to become a habit, something ingrained in the team. Expect a response against Essendon.

5. Deven Robertson

Deven Robertson (#2) is starting to show some things. Having slid in his draft year from a potential top 10 pick to being taken at 22 by Brisbane, it was always going to be a slow grind breaking into Brisbane’s midfield. But with injuries comes opportunity and Neale and Berry’s injuries opened the door for Robertson and like Drew, he has well and truly taken his opportunity. The numbers aren’t eye popping but there are aspects of his game that are starting to shine at AFL level. A big one is his hands and vision to distribute to team mates outside the bubble of the initial contest. It’s a valuable skill to have because it compliments his other team mates who are dangerous when given space, like a McCluggage or a Cameron. Robertson is skinny and is still growing into his frame but that doesn’t deter him from attacking the football at pace, putting his body in line with the ball and being strong enough to gather and distribute.

Once he gets stronger, he’ll be able to hold up better in tackles – making his handballing vision even more valuable. He has a great game sense in quickly reading the cues. The football will bounce a particular way or surge forward and Roberston is quick to anticipate that movement and position himself accordingly. It’s a little thing but look at how he is positioned behind Baker when this ball gets punched forward yet he reads it so much quicker than him and puts himself in a position to gather and run.

Another example where he reads the drop of the ball quickly, gathering and stepping around King before dishing off to a team mate and then blocking.

He’s quite instinctual and clean in the way he plays but there’s a level of determination to it all. You can tell he’s fully aware that his spot isn’t safe week to week and is doing everything he can to keep himself in a successful side. Look at his second and third efforts (and even fourth effort with the subtle block for Coleman) to put pressure on Richmond players and allow Brisbane to surge forward.

It’ll be interesting to see whether he can keep his spot once Brisbane is at full strength. My guess is probably not – but the positive signs are there and he’s starting to make it a very difficult decision for Brisbane come later in the year.

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

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*AFL Player ratings are measured where players accrue or lose points every time they are involved in a passage of play, and the score awarded to them each time they are in the play. A player’s rating is determined by adding together his points tally based on a rolling window of the previous two seasons. Performances are measured using a system called Equity Ratings. The system determines where and how a player influences a contest and whether the player’s effort then results in a positive result for his team. Put simply, it’s one of if not the best measure of how impactful players are in games both when they do and do not have the football.

Check out last week’s column!

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

FTP # 9

 

Another edition of Footy Talking Points featuring Melbourne’s defensive structure, Travis Boak’s unique quality, the Zach Merrett v Caleb Serong duel and more!

1. Melbourne’s Defensive Structure and the +1

Melbourne defeated Carlton by 26 points on the weekend and never really looked like losing after quarter time. The main reason for that and the reason the Demons are still unbeaten is their strong defensive structure. Currently, Melbourne average the least points against in the AFL at 62.2 – well lower than the second placed Bulldogs at 67.4 points per game. They are also 1st in the competition for least opposition scores per inside 50 %. They structure up incredibly well behind the ball led by May and Lever (#8) and play with a great sense of connection and cohesion. Melbourne’s defenders are terrific at identifying which one of them will fly for the ball and which defender will engage their opponent and put in body work to place them out of position – making them unable to impact the contest. Lever as the +1 in this example uses his body position on Stocker to allow May to mark the ball unimpeded.

On the weekend, Carlton allowed Melbourne to generate a +1 (loose man) behind the ball (Lever). In exchange for allowing this, Carlton is able to play with an extra midfielder/forward at the stoppage. Carlton failed to make good use of that extra player around the ball.

Patrick Cripps (#9) as the +1 at the stoppage

When a team has a +1 at stoppages, it is imperative that the team is smart with their ball use and not rushed. Yet, when the pressure around the ball is high (as it has been with Melbourne all year) – this makes it easier said than done. But to rush kick forward is playing into Melbourne’s hands when they generate the loose with Jake Lever. It allows Melbourne to counter attack off an intercept mark and score in transition or kill any chance of a forward 50 mark. Look at how in the example below, Docherty (#15) is the +1 at the stoppage. He gets involved in the contest and it results in a forward 50 entry – which is a good result!

Yet, Lever as the +1 impacts the ball coming in:

Lever had arguably a best on ground performance with 5 intercept marks (10 intercept possessions) and 7 spoils (May had 9) to go alongside his 12 disposals and 85.7% kicking efficiency.

So isn’t the answer to just not allow Melbourne to generate a +1? Not necessarily. Melbourne’s balance within their team makes them hard to match up with. If you let them generate a +1 behind the ball, they have the pressure at the source of the ball (#1 team for post clearance contested possessions) and the intercepting players in Lever and May to dictate the game on their terms and cut off scoring drives like on the weekend. If you man up that +1 defender, Melbourne has a strong midfield brigade in Petracca, Oliver, Viney/Harmes, Jordon (who is quickly becoming if not already Melbourne’s best defensive midfielder) alongside Gawn and Jackson to beat you around the ball.

Teague said after the game that they allowed Melbourne to generate a +1 but had plans for it to be someone other than Lever and sit someone on him (Cunningham and then Owies). It was great for their contest – they won the clearance count by 15!

But because Melbourne applied enough forward half and midfield pressure, much of that dominance at the clearances resulted in quick kicks forward to Lever.

What about when Carlton decided to man up on Lever? Carlton at times played the much smaller Owies on Lever – an interesting and somewhat confusing tactic. To counteract an intercepting player like Lever, a team would usually use a similar sized player who can be dangerous leading up to the ball to force Lever to respect that lead and not zone off – something he has done all year. Sometimes, you can play a small on Lever to punish him when he makes the wrong decision to fly. It worked early when Owies gave a little nudge to Lever who mistakenly flew – Owies was able to kick the first goal of the day for Carlton.

But Lever doesn’t make nearly as many mistakes as he used to. After this? It was mostly these kinds of situations

Carlton allowed Melbourne to play the game on their terms – Goodwin after the game stating that he was fine losing the clearance count by such a large margin because it allowed them to set up the way they want to. Against the best teams it won’t be this easy – a team that has used a +1 at the stoppage a number of times this year and has punished teams is the Bulldogs. Because the Bulldogs work through pressurised situations with handballs and kick once in space with time – it makes a +1 behind the football less impactful (something we discussed in the Dunkley column). The Bulldogs game in two weeks will be Melbourne’s biggest challenge – to see whether such a tactic can hold up against the contrasting attacking style of the Bulldogs.

2. Cody Weightman

It’s hard not to talk about Weightman (#19) after his dazzling performance on Saturday night. Having played only 4 games in his rookie year after being taken with Pick 15, Weightman played his first game of the year on the weekend and had 12 disposals, 5 tackles and 3 goals.

Weightman is a really unique small forward because of his marking ability for his size. He has a big leap for a player listed at 177 cm which allows him to play above his height – just last week he took a mark of the year contender in the VFL.

To go with his big leap, he has incredible body control in the air to turn his body to the ball.

He is out of position on Hartlett here – yet knows he has the leap to impact the contest. It’s subtle but he uses his lower body to almost push Hartlett out of position. Weightman’s momentum makes it difficult for Hartlett to spoil whilst he gets enough air time to get his fingertips on the ball. Very few players possess this trait and the ones that do (Greene springs to mind) are match up nightmares because they are threats both in the air and on the ground and can mark the ball even when they are initially out of position. Another reason why Weightman’s performance was so impressive was that he kicked his 3 goals in completely different ways.

In addition to his goal from the mark above, Weightman kicked a composed on the run goal from a handball receive and a quick snap (behind his head if you don’t mind) from a quick pressurised situation – showing he has a nous for where the goals are.

Even more impressive, both goals were at important moments of the game. One to solidify the Bulldogs’ fast start in the first quarter and the other in the last quarter to seal the game. It’s also worth noting that he did all of this in a top 4 clash against a really good team on the road!

Part of the reason Weightman was able to come in for his first game of the year and perform so well is because of the Bulldogs’ process with their young players. The hallmark of a good club is one that allows their young players to develop at the lower level and bring consistency to their games for multiple weeks before being considered for the AFL.

Weightman as an example shows that the Bulldog’s are doing the best thing for Jamarra’s career. The increasing speculation each week on when he will play is poor by the media – stop putting expectation on a teenager who likely isn’t ready for AFL football and who has missed a whole year of footy.

Undoubtedly there will be games where Weightman is quiet and doesn’t hit the scoreboard. But it’s hard to keep players like Weightman out of the side when they have this kind of X factor. As he gets stronger and more comfortable at the level, he is going to pose match up headaches for opponents because of his ability in the air and at ground level. The Bulldog’s look like they’ve nailed this pick.

3. Travis Boak’s Gut Running

So many of the elite players in the AFL have their own unique tendency or skill that is celebrated and admired. The obvious ones that come to mind are Dusty’s fend off, Pendlebury’s vision, Fyfe’s contested marking ability or Natanui’s outside-the-bubble taps. One that should absolutely be more recognised is Travis Boak’s (#10) burst/gut running ability. It’s quite amazing to watch – and he does it so consistently. If you’ve never seen it before, watch Boak sprint forward from a stoppage once he knows Port Adelaide have won the ball. He does this in the first quarter just as much as he does in the last. He makes everyone around him look like they are running in slow motion – bolting forward and often (but not always) getting on the end of the ball.

What makes it so great is that Boak doesn’t always get the ball. It’s selfless running – he might not always get rewarded for it but it forces the opposition to defend and respect his run – which many times frees up a team mate to be used.

Boak’s having another terrific year after his career best year last year (at the age of 32!). He has gotten better with age and is one of the best midfielders in the competition this year. I hope we start to celebrate one of the more unique yet amazing traits of one of the best midfielders in our game.

4. Serong vs. Merrett

The Serong (#3) Merrett (#7) match up for the entirety of Sunday’s game was great to see. Two talented midfielders who went head to head for the entire day. One midfielder that is an established player at AFL level and another who is a rising star and trying to take his game to the next level.

Very rarely now do we see players have these 1 v 1 duels in the modern game. Due to the number of cross matching within the midfield and how many players go through there in any particular game, seeing two midfielders battle it out (even if Serong was technically tagging Merrett) was a great spectacle to watch.

Serong towed and overstepped the line a number of times, giving away downfield free kicks for hits off the ball. Whilst he was technically tagging Merrett, it was one of those match ups where Serong was tasked with restricting Merrett’s influence whist still having an impact with the ball himself (similar to what Jack Steele used to do for St Kilda).

Serong struggled with that balance – at times he was too defensive and almost completely disregarded the ball to focus on Merrett.

At other times he got the balance right. Defending Merrett initially at the stoppage but then getting dangerous by pushing Merrett under the ball to put himself in a better position to win the football.

Merrett had a few tricks of his own – dummying Serong one way before going the other way and setting up a dangerous inside 50 entry that resulted in a goal.

Ultimately though, Serong did a great job at restricting Merrett’s influence. Merrett had 22 disposals for the day (averaging 30.3 for the year). Still a solid game – yet he was unable to generate his usual creative attacking drives.

In the modern game where defensive presses, zones, cross matching and hand offs are the norm, once in a while it’s great to see a genuine one on one match up between two great midfielders who genuinely care about how much impact their direct opponent is having on the game.

5. Ben King’s Efficiency

It has gone under the radar given that the Gold Coast Sun’s have been underwhelming this year and have yet to look competitive against finalist teams but Ben King has been ultra efficient as a key forward. King is currently 6th in the Coleman this year having kicked 25 goals. He has been efficient not only in his goal conversion (65.8% – which is the highest among the top 6) but has been efficient in terms of his supply. The Gold Coast Suns are currently 14th in the league for Inside 50’s averaging 49.6 a game. Jack Darling is the only player currently in the top 10 for the Coleman that plays for a team that averages less I50’s.

In saying this, West Coast are a bit of an anomaly when it comes to their scoring efficiency going inside 50 – they average the second most goals in the competition with the 3rd worst Inside 50 rate! If we factor for this and put West Coast aside, King’s year is even more astonishing. Taking out West Coast players, his team averages less inside 50’s than the top 15 Coleman leaders.

Average Inside 50’s to Goals Kicked for the year

If we look at how many goals Gold Coast has kicked for the year, Ben King has kicked 27% of their goals!  He has had an incredible year so far – taking his (limited) opportunities when they arise.

It’s pretty interesting that Ben King’s efficiency is the polar opposite of his twin brothers’ current form, who is struggling to convert on the scoreboard. One thing that differentiates Ben from his brother (they are both going to be superstars) is that Ben is incredibly mobile at ground level for his size. Look at how he competes aerially but then is able to make space for himself at ground level.

He is able to kick goals at ground level – which allows him to be a scoring avenue outside of his marking and set shot ability.

The Gold Coast Sun’s having taken a step back after a smashing against Brisbane in the Q-Clash. They’d want to turn their form around and prove to players like Ben King that the club is on the way up – otherwise the murmurings about him leaving for St Kilda may become more than just that. For the sake of the competition, lets hope Gold Coast can turn things around and take some scalps in the second half of the year.

That’s it for this week – if you enjoyed the article make sure to subscribe and tell 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.

FTP # 8

 

Another edition of Footy Talking Points featuring Ben Keays, Carlton’s ability to transition from turnovers, Tom Liberatore and more!

1. The revival of Ben Keays

We see it all the time at AFL level. Players are drafted by a team, some who are highly touted, and struggle mightily at their club. They are in and out of the side and when they’re in struggle to adapt to the pace of the game. They end up delisted after failing to show enough and most never make it back to the AFL.

Yet, there are a select few that get given another opportunity and it all begins to click. That is how you could describe Ben Keays’ journey so far. Initially drafted by Brisbane with pick 24, he was a highly touted midfielder having captained Queensland’s U18 side and having been named an All-Australian in back to back underage years. After two seasons of double digit games played, Keays only played a combined 4 games in 2018 and 2019. By then, Brisbane’s midfield had strengthened and the opportunities for Keays dwindled. He was the emergency 26 times for the Lions! Eventually, he was shown the door.

After admitting he was preparing for VFL footy and Uni life, Adelaide gave him a lifeline with pick 7 in the 2019 rookie draft. With Adelaide, he found a club that believed in his strengths but was also in a rebuilding phase to excuse his deficiencies as a player.

Keays has notable strengths that make his weaknesses easier to accept. I’d describe Keays as a busy player. Part of that is probably in how he runs (he has an interesting, stutter step like running motion) but he does have a great work rate and tank which allows him to get to so many contests. This has helped him especially this year average 26.4 disposals – a significant increase from his career average of 16 disposals.

He is an incredible defensive midfielder – averaging 5.8 tackles a game (9th in total tackles in the AFL) and is 20th in the league for pressure acts. Part of the reason for his strong year this year must be the run with roles he has been given at Adelaide, where he has tagged a number of elite work rate midfielders (Neale, Gaff, Boak). Tagging these types of players listed who have really strong running patterns helps a young midfielder learn the work rate required to average 20+ disposals as well as know where and when to go to certain areas of the ground. This has helped Keays find the football in dangerous areas of the ground. Along with his career high in disposals, Keays is averaging 5.9 inside 50’s per game (10th in the league) and has a knack for knowing where the goals are.

One of the things that hurt Keays at his time in Brisbane and is a clear area for improvement is his kicking. His kicking execution is quite poor, sometimes electing to kick long without actually directing the ball to a teammate down the field – he can miss targets altogether or over kick the football.

His ball drop from his hand to his foot has too much deviation. He drops the ball too high and doesn’t guide it down to his boot for long enough – which hurts his execution to hit targets when he is under pressure.

Keays is also way too left foot dominant. Most left footers are – but Keays constantly puts himself under pressure by refusing to kick on his opposite foot – sometimes moving in a 360 degree direction just to get onto his left foot!

Still, the improvement from Keays is astounding. He is now a bonafide midfielder in an improving AFL team and is a walk up best 22 player. It’s quite a turnaround for a player who was delisted and lucky to get a lifeline in the rookie draft. Sometimes players need that opportunity at a club – especially ones at a different phase of their life cycle. More clubs should look at how Adelaide took a chance on Keays, who was a highly rated youngster, as a way to develop your list. Much of the credit should go to Keays – who has clearly put in significant amounts of work over the last two years to improve as a player. He is someone who always brings a strong work rate to each game he plays. The future is bright for Ben Keays.

2. Carlton’s transition off turnovers

Another week, another game for Carlton that is there for the taking and they let it slip. This time against premiership contenders the Western Bulldogs. It must hurt for Carlton fans, as their team shows so much promise but once again fails to stop opposition momentum. This tendency with Carlton to give up big leads was one of the first talking points we ever discussed on our blog and it still holds true a third of the way into this season. Carlton gives up leads because they allow teams to score consecutive goals in a row. 

On the weekend, they lead by 12 points at half time and even increased their lead to 14 at 3quarter time (it should have been more given they conceded two late goals to the Bulldogs). The Bulldogs then kicked 6 unanswered goals in the last quarter to win the game. I’ve noted the statistic twice already this year yet it keeps popping up in my mind every time you watch Carlton. Under David Teague, the Blue’s have conceded a 30-point swing in 20 of his 30 games (before the start of the year) (66% of games!). Add the game on the weekend to the stat sheet…

To be fair, if the expectation had never been placed on Carlton to make finals this year (Must note that this is a fair expectation given the recruits of Zac Williams and Saad for draft picks– both who have been incredibly poor for Carlton so far), you could be excused for remaining positive on their outlook as a club.

Whilst there are no such thing as honourable losses, the signs are there. Per Champion Data, as of last week, Carlton’s expected ladder position was 6th compared to their current position at 13th.

To make sense of this, essentially when you consider the amount of scoring shots a team has had, combined with the difficulty of those scoring shots, the expected ladder tells us where they should be placed based on the average AFL score conversion in the last decade. So Carlton are generating high quality shots on goal. It was evidenced on the weekend where they scored 56.8% of the time they went inside 50 – their highest conversion rate of the year.

Part of the reason they are letting teams score so easily with momentum whilst being able to generate good shots on target themselves is their ability to transition from turnover. As soon as a turnover has been committed (especially in the middle of the ground), Carlton’s off ball forwards surge forward. Look at Owies in the bottom of your screen and how he bolts forward off a turnover – eventually getting on the end of a goal.

This is risk / reward type football. Owies is lucky that Bontempelli doesn’t spot Dale – who has 5 metres on him. He’s also lucky that the ball gets turned over leaving Dale out of position and allowing Owies to surge forward. Some would call this ‘front running’, where players either don’t run back or run ahead of the football anticipating a turnover before the turnover has occurred.

Yet, there are times where Carlton’s work rate from a free kick or turnover is defensively sound and challenges opponents.

Walsh pushes ahead of the contest once he realises Curnow has won the free. He runs a dangerous pattern through the corridor. However, it’s only once he is certain that Curnow hits that corridor kick that he bolts forward and out of defensive distance of Lipinski – not before the kick has been hit. By waiting until Walsh is sure the kick is effective, Walsh can still push back and defend Lipinski if it is a turnover. It’s less risk/reward than the previous example and is certainly better from a defensive perspective. Walsh’s man Lipinski trails and Walsh’s sets up a goal off his work rate.

There are significant learnings out of a game that you should have won. Again though, allowing teams to score multiple goals in a period of a game has been an issue for Carlton for years now and it still has not been rectified. At some point you have to question David Teague and whether Carlton will ever learn to halt opposition momentum by executing a game plan in that exact moment when the heat is on. They failed to control the tempo of the game when the momentum was turning and their leaders failed to step up in an area of the ground (lost centre clearances by 16) that relives pressure by having the football in your forward half.  

It doesn’t get any easier this weekend against the Demons. Carlton should take a lesson out of Melbourne’s book – who have been challenged in every single game they have played this year yet have had the maturity and trust in their system to halt momentum and get the game back on their terms.

3. Tom Liberatore’s year

The Bulldogs have the best midfield in the competition. That’s not a controversial statement (even though a valid argument could be made for the Demons when you factor in their two ruckmen). Even after Dunkley went down, the Bulldogs still have the best balance of midfielders who are either inside/outside players, efficient ball users or in-and-under contested typer players, players who are either strong defensively or can go forward and hit the scoreboard. Well, they also have a midfielder who can do all of those things (Bontempelli). The least flashy of them yet arguably the most important would be Tom Liberatore (#21).

I would say Liberatore is underrated but he’s starting to get the plaudits he deserves and it’s annoyingly fashionable to call players underrated these days (How many times do we have to hear ‘Shane Edwards is underrated’ when everyone who follows AFL acknowledges how good he is?) so I’ll steer clear of that and let the numbers do the talking.

This year, he is averaging 24.6 disposals including 14.6 contested disposals (3rd in the AFL), 9 clearances a game (1st in the AFL and 1st for centre clearances), 5.9 tackles per game (Ranked 6th in the AFL for total tackles this year). He is also 8th in the league in scoring launches – which is impressive given that most of the top 10 are ruckman (Naturally, a ruckmans numbers in scoring launches are skewed quite heavily given that their hit outs end in scoring opportunities).

Liberatore’s stoppage craft is elite – he is great at taking the front position from an opponent at stoppages and manufacturing a quick kick forward or handballing to a player in a better position. He has an interesting approach to stoppage scenario where starts behind his opponent and almost slides into position when the ball is in the air. He has incredibly timing to slide in and take the front position at the perfect time to shark the tap. Here are two examples.

To highlight how important Liberatore’s stoppage work can be, his stoppage craft in the above ends in a Treloar goal.

He is tidy by foot without being super damaging. Again, he doesn’t need to be. He has players who are either great users by foot (Macrae, Bontempelli and Hunter who has improved in this area) or have the speed to burst out of contests and gain an extra 10-15 metres in their kick (Smith). The team compliments Liberatore’s strengths incredibly well but he is so valuable to this team because of the things he does. This is especially important now when you consider that the Bulldogs’ best defensive midfielder and 2nd best stoppage player in Dunkley will miss most of the year.

You could argue that because of the things he does for this team that Liberatore is the Bulldogs most important player. He allows the Bulldogs to play their fast, attacking brand of football because he ensures that they are winning or breaking even in the contest. Come finals time when the games tighten up and winning clearances are essential for field position – Liberatore will be the man for the Bulldogs inside who once again may take the Bulldogs to the promise land.

4. Flashes from Jamaine Jones

Jamaine Jones (#31) is an excitement machine. He’s only played 15 games in his AFL career including 6 for West Coast this year but he shows flashes of exciting football. Most people who aren’t West Coast or Geelong fans (where he was drafted) probably know much if anything at all about Jones. Yet when you watch him, he seems to do something every game or two that makes you ask the question…

Who is number #31 that just collected the ball from the Eagle’s back 50 and sprinted forward, hitting Josh Kennedy lace out, getting the ball back, fumbling with the ball in his hands as he is running too quickly before re-gathering the football at that same pace and then kicking a goal?

That’s Jones. Jones is a small forward with blistering pace and a crafty left foot kick who has been given more opportunity this year due to the injury of Liam Ryan. West Coast just seems to find these types – Willie Rioli, Ryan, Cripps (different kind of small forward but still valid). He has elite traits to break games open. A week earlier against Fremantle, he had 21 disposals, 5 inside 50’s and kicked two goals… not a bad return for a small forward… Oh, and one of his goals?

Consistency is the key for Jones. The difference between his best (which is still growing) and his worst is quite dramatic. For every game where he has a stat line like the above, he has had numerous games this year with less than 6 disposals, zero goals and less than 3 tackles. At the same time, it is understandable for a player learning to play the small forward role at AFL level.

With injuries comes opportunity. West Coast are remaining afloat with injuries to a significant core of their best 22 (Shuey, Yeo, Barrass, McGovern, Duggan, Ryan). Yet, it has allowed Simpson to see what he has in players like Jones who has shown flashes of brilliance, Brander in his new role as a defender who puts himself in dangerous attacking positions, Allen’s versatility as a key defender and so on.

Jones probably isn’t in the best 22 for the Eagles. There are at least 6 definite walk in’s to the team later in the year and Jones’ inconsistency week to week might hurt him. It’s also difficult when Liam Ryan (who plays the same position) has to come back into the team.

Regardless, Jones has shown plenty. For a player who is out of contract this year, it would be hard to see West Coast moving him on. He is playing his role in the team and shows really positive signs for the future. As the great teams do, West Coast has found another quality player to plug into their system.

5. Brisbane’s Forward Line

The Lions have got going – winning four in a row. Their midfield has improved significantly defensively with greater emphasis on locating players when they don’t have the ball and putting on greater pressure around the ground (something that they lacked earlier in the year as discussed in Week 4). They are enjoying a career year from Hugh McCluggage (as discussed last week) with Lyons returning to his great form of the last couple of years.

Whilst a strong midfield is important, a bigger impact at Brisbane has been their forward line cohesion and pressure. Everyone looks at Brisbane’s talls in Daniher, Hipwood and McStay and note the marking prowess of all three. Yet, the most important thing that Brisbane’s forwards do when they aren’t marking the ball is bringing it to ground.

They are rarely out marked. This is really important because it allows Brisbane’s smalls to be dangerous at ground level. Brisbane has 3 players within the top 30 for total forward 50 ground ball gets (Bailey, McCarthy, Cameron). They position themselves perfectly once the ball hits the ground to gather the football.

Forward 50 ground ball gets is a really underrated and important statistic. If a player ranks highly in this area, it means they are constantly the first player to collect the ball in a very dangerous area of the ground for their team. Regardless of what happens, they have the first possession. They are in control. If it’s a player like Cameron who is incredibly strong and quick, more times than not a good thing will happen for Brisbane – either a shot on goal for Cameron directly, a chain of handballs leading to a scoring opportunity or a knock on to someone else in a dangerous position. This example could also be made for McCarthy.

Whilst this isn’t technically a forward 50 ground ball get (pretty much there) and it’s Ah Chee who is first to the ball, it is McCarthy who is able to extract it from the marking contest and use his vision and skill to handball (a Polly Farmer-esque handball) to Matheison in space who kicks a goal.

What about if they don’t get first possession?

That’s an area of strength as well – Brisbane has 4 players in the top 50 for total tackles inside 50 as well (Bailey, McCarthy, Lyons, Zorko) and they are 7th in the league for total tackles inside 50 Most teams want to be a forward half team. It’s pretty simple – this means playing the game in your forward half of the ground. Naturally the ball is in a more dangerous area of the ground to score from for your team. It also allows you to turn the ball in a dangerous area of the ground. Per Champion Data, the Lions in the last month are the #1 ranked team for scores from forward half intercepts. Their pressure creates more scoring opportunities.

A secondary benefit is that it allows your defence to set up behind the ball and play aggressively. What we mean by ‘aggressively’ as defenders is playing in front of your opponent, which squeezes the ground. This makes the ground smaller for opposition teams to navigate their way from a deep defensive 50 stoppage to their forward 50. In order to play forward half football, it’s important to win the clearances (or have strong pressure ratings post clearance) and to have pressure in your forward half of the ground – to either rush the disposal of the opposition rebounding out of defence or keep the ball locked in your forward half with tackles and pressure.

Brisbane has got the right balance. Their smalls are either winning the ball themselves or tackling opponents who get their first. It’s allowing Brisbane to set up and play the game on their terms. Currently 5th on the ladder, Brisbane will look to surge into the top 4 as they continue to rise each week.

That’s it for this week – if you enjoyed the article make sure to subscribe !

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FTP # 7

 

7th edition of Footy Talking Points analysing the Gold Coast Suns’ new game style, the rise of Hugh McCluggage, Jack Ziebell and more!

1. Gold Coast’s Game Style Change

The Gold Coast Suns have now won 2 in a row, including against a current top 4 team the Sydney Swans. They have improved their effectiveness winning the inside of the contest led by midfielders Hugh Greenwood and Touk Miller. They were quite reactive to start the season, allowing teams to control clearances and put pressure on their backline without applying enough pressure. Gold Coast are now ranked 11th in opponent clearance differential – a statistic which has improved (Losing your top ruckman with no legitimate replacements is a key factor in this).

This creates further issues where Gold Coast are not able to generate enough inside 50’s for their forwards (14th in I50’s per game). Yet, Gold Coast have found a different way to win games without dominating the clearance count or even amassing significant amounts of I50’s. The key theme for the Gold Coast Suns this year has been ‘Tempo’.

They have altered the way they play – prioritising control of possession through a kick mark retention game. We saw it earlier in the year against West Coast where both teams had over 135 marks (absurd numbers for two teams given the averages that we will note later). Gold Coast were almost copying how West Coast like to play on their home ground. But that game wasn’t just an anomaly. For the year, Gold Coast are the #1 ranked side in the AFL for marks averaging 122 per game – the Eagles are second at 115.7. The Suns are also #1 for kicks per game.

To understand the seismic shift in game style, last year the Suns were ranked 11th in marks and the year before were 16th. It is a significant change in how Stewart Dew and the Suns want to play. They want to widen the ground and spread the opposition defence. This is one example of it on the weekend.

They widen the ground and hold their position on the offside wing. Ellis takes the ball deep in the left hand pocket. Farrar leads hard as does Caleb Graham forcing Collingwood players to shift over. On the other side of the ground (Behind the goals footage would be really nice here…) Ballard is holding his shape which helps widen the ground and makes it difficult for Collingwood to defend. Ellis shifts the ball to the other side where Ballard outnumbers the Collingwood press and Gold Coast are out.

Admittedly, this is in part due to a trend of Collingwood’s poor locating ability defensively this year but it also signifies how Gold Coast are playing in 2021. They keep possession and find marks until they find an opening to attack.

This wasn’t a one time thing either. No less than 3 minutes later…

See how Ainsworth continually looks inside. It’s a clear emphasis for the Suns. They want to shift to the other side of the ground at any possible opportunity. Ainsworth is patient enough until he reverts back to Farrar, who kicks the ball to the open side of the ground where the Gold Coast numbers spread.

Gold Coast are a dangerous team when they execute a kick mark retention game because they have players on the outside who will hurt you with either their disposal or gut running if they control the tempo of the game (Lukosius, Bowes, Weller, Ellis (who is having a career best year)).

So what are the likely reasons for such a switch? (besides having the players to pull it off)

At times last year Gold Coast played out of control, wanting to go fast at every moment. This left the team exposed to counterattack on turnover. This new game style ensures they aren’t hurt as much on midfield turnovers because they control the tempo of the game whilst having their backmen set up in case a kick is poorly executed. This is backed up by the numbers – Gold Coast were the 3rd highest turnover team in 2020 – they are only 8th in 2021.

Another likely reason for the change in game style is that Gold Coast have burnt out in all of Stewart Dew’s seasons. This may be due to the last couple of years where they had to play a frenetic and quick style of football to win games. As noted earlier this year, Gold Coast are 2-29 after Round 10 under Stewart Dew. The Suns are trying to win in different ways. They have their season back on track and it’s a positive step in the right direction that they are learning how to play and win at the MCG given their poor track record on the ground. Finals still seems out of reach given their slow start but it is entirely possible. The match against St Kilda this week proves to be an 8-point game given their ladder positions.

2. Jack Ziebell’s move to Defence

The move of Jack Ziebell (#7) to the backline has been an interesting one for North Melbourne. It’s clear why they did it – Ziebell struggled playing a forward role last year after being pushed out of his main midfield role. He started the year as a midfielder in 2020 under Rhyce Shaw but given the number of midfielders North now possess either through the draft or through their experienced campaigners (Anderson, Dumont, Cunnington, LDU, Powell, Phillips), it makes sense that Noble would look to try Ziebell in an area of the ground where North lack some experience (outside of McDonald/Atley). If you looked at his statistics, you’d think he is having an All-Australian year.

He is averaging 29 disposals (12th in the AFL) including 24 kicks (1st), 8.6 marks (6th), 9 rebound 50’s (1st) and 608 metres gained (9th). He is accumulating disposals exiting defensive 50 – North’s young players love to use him. He isn’t overly damaging by foot though even with a high 84.7% disposal efficiency – conversely Ziebell is ranked 4th in total turnovers this year.

When compared to other players who average 29+ disposals (12 players), Ziebell ranks 1st in DE amongst them. Disposal Efficiency isn’t the best statistic to measure a player’s ball use – especially a player like Ziebell who is playing on a lot from kick outs and hitting easy targets. Still, you can’t bash someone who is averaging 20.6 effective kicks a game.

He’s a strong mark overhead – there were couple of instances on the weekend where he took either took the front position from a Melbourne player or used his strength to put himself in a better position to mark the football.

Ziebell has the capabilities and size to be a really strong intercepting defender but for it to happen, it’s clear it’s going to take time. This is because he lacks situational awareness as a backmen. It’s understandable when you’re learning a new position but the inability to read the cues and understand when to defend or come off your man, when to fly or stay down, is the difference between Rebound 50’s and the opposition kicking goals. There were two direct examples of his mistakes that cost goals on weekend.

Here’s the first:

Ziebell’s a courageous player and to go back with the flight of the ball is what you want from your skipper. But it isn’t smart. Ziebell fails to understand that McKay is in the perfect position to mark and doesn’t assess his surroundings before flying. He ends up spoiling McKay with his man Fritsch staying at ground level kicking the goal. North cannot afford to shoot themselves in the foot especially in a game where they had an opportunity to win.

Ziebell has had a number of these instances this year.

His match up is Fritsch – who Demons coach Simon Goodwin said they wanted to match up on Ziebell. Part of that was to supress Ziebell continually gathering disposals in the backline and taking those intercept marks. Yet, I also think Melbourne believed they could exploit Ziebell. Ziebell ball watches and loses touch of Fritsch, who is given a run and jump at the footy while Ziebell finds himself behind in the pack.

This is what we are talking about – at times he is more interested in ball hunting and flying for marks when his priority as a backmen is firstly his opponent (especially given Fritsch had kicked 5 up until this point!).

It’s an interesting experiment for North – one that is probably costing them goals at the moment but has long term value. Hopefully it is an experience and repetition thing for Ziebell. There’s no doubt he has the attributes to be an impactful defender player given his size, his booming kick and his courage. It’s important that he improves at defending first and then looking to attack rather than the other way around. North Melbourne are gradually improving and their first half on the weekend showed how exciting this team will become when they can execute that corridor heavy attacking game style more consistently. The team along with Ziebell’s continual improvement for the rest of the 2021 season will likely see them upset some teams.

3. Hugh McCluggage rising to stardom

Hugh McCluggage (#6) is quietly having himself a career year.

Shifting between the wing and inside midfield, McCluggage provides a point of difference as a classy ball user for a Lions midfield that is quite contested heavy in the way they play.

McCluggage this year is averaging 26.3 disposals including 9.9 effective kicks, 6.3 marks, 441 metres gained and 7.9 score involvements per game (9th in the AFL).

McCluggage is a great user of the football – arguably the best in the AFL. He nails his kicks with pinpoint precision on both sides of his body.

As he has felt more comfortable at the AFL level, he’s been more willing to take on riskier kicks like this with more reward for the Lions.

To be one of the best players in the AFL, you must have at least one (but most have two) elite/unique qualities that allow a player to:

  1. Be consistent in each game they play because their qualities hold up in any type of game; and
  2. Substantially impact the game for periods at a time

McCluggage’s qualities are starting to shine with great consistency this year. Along with his great ball use – McCluggage has a huge tank. Per Champion Data, he is ranked one of the best players in the AFL for kilometres run per game – running 16.5 against Carlton. McCluggage’s fitness makes him such a dangerous player because as the game goes on he gets better. His tank compliments his kicking skills to substantially hurt opposition teams.

Case in point last week against Collingwood earlier this year. In a comeback vicotry, in the last quarter he had 11 last quarter possessions and 232 metres gained. McCluggage isn’t overly quick yet he isn’t slow either. Look at his extraction from the clearance and his ability to link up again before finishing with an amazing goal.

Not many players in the entire AFL could pull this off and yep… this was in the last quarter on the weekend.

The key for McCluggage will be consistency week to week. Technically, his elite ball use and tank should hold up in every game he plays yet McCluggage still comes in and out of games. Sometimes that’s a result of playing as an outside midfielder – in games the ball simply doesn’t come your way especially given Brisbane rank 18th in disposals per game. They are probably the most direct and forward facing team in the AFL going I50. Yet, he is starting to play more inside midfield this year. He needs to find ways to increase his contested disposal numbers so he isn’t reliant on his other midfielders in feeding him the football.

Regardless, Brisbane has their season back on track with an incredible showing against premiership contenders Port Adelaide and McCluggage was a key reason for that. His ball use and link up run will play a significant role in determining how far Brisbane will go this year.

4. The Bulldogs’ first challenge

The Bulldogs have been the form team of the competition this year. The way they play is exciting and unique to watch (we discussed their game style earlier this year in Week 2) and it was on full display in the first half against Richmond.

The chain of handballs out is brilliant to watch when it’s working – the team has an inherent understanding on where players are positioned around them and know exactly when to give it to the next player in the chain. I love the way the Bulldogs play because it is so unique to many other teams in the competition who want to control the tempo of the game through marks and shudder at the thought of a midfield turnover through handballs in the middle of the ground.

Yet, for the first time this year, the Bulldogs felt pressure and heat around the ball they haven’t had all year. It was a vintage Richmond quarter – they applied pressure at the source of the ball and were able to play a front half territory game, winning the clearances in the 3rd term. As we noted a couple of weeks back, it is rare that Richmond wins the clearance battle against any team but if they do, they are almost impossible to beat. The Bulldogs didn’t handle the pressure particularly well – failing to have a disposal inside 50 for almost the entire 3rd quarter (unheard of) and a number of their core players failed to handle the pressure.

Look at how Bontempelli feels the implied pressure from Richmond even though he has clear space and time to link it up through handballs.

Instead, he rushes a kick forward straight to Grimes who is set up behind the ball. It’s a fair decision given how much pressure Richmond applied in the 3rd quarter but it’s still interesting to see it from one of the best players in the AFL and definitely one of the most composed. Moments later, Smith does the same thing.

They went away from the handball happy way they have played all year partly because it invited further Richmond pressure. It’s a cause and effect issue for Bulldogs. If the opposition increase their defensive pressure, the more you handball, the more you are inviting further pressure from up the ground. In some respects, the Dogs’ game style allows Richmond to play the chaotic, turnover heavy game they want.

It wasn’t just offensively – the Bulldogs were disorganised defensively a number of times. Look at how in a slow play situation, the Bulldogs still leave Cordy on an island against Lynch allowing him to have a one on one contest.

That should never happen in a slow play scenario, especially given the marking game Lynch was having. Wood is too far away from the contest.

Look closely at what occurs to the left of your screen when Houli has the ball.

Wood is the one that should be chopping out Cordy but he has to cover for Crozier, whose man Castagna leads to the boundary. Because Crozier was too far behind to take Castagna, Wood has to respect Castagna’s lead. By the time he realises the kick is going long it’s too late – he can’t help defend the kick to Lynch. 

The Bulldogs will learn a lot from this game – mainly that they have to continue to trust their system when they are challenged and learn to better control the tempo of the game when things aren’t on their terms. Given they haven’t been substantially challenged this year – it’s the perfect result for the Dogs. Sometimes, a bad loss where you don’t win but maybe more importantly you learn can be far more beneficial than the 4 points. Bulldogs now understand where the benchmark for pressure is set for them later in the year come finals time.

5. Liam Baker

Liam Baker’s (#7) approach to football is great to watch. He’s a player that always gives a 110% and plays like his spot is on the line each week (even though he is a 2 time premiership player!). Everything he does is with intensity and purpose. During the 3rd quarter against the Bulldogs where Richmond began turning the tide, it started with efforts of players like Baker.

For a small player (listed at 173cm), Baker is tenacious with his tackles. Look at how he provides the initial pressure on Keath but stays involved and follows up with a hard tackle.

He is also super impressive overheard and it is a clear strength of his. Teams love players like Baker because he always puts his head over the football, nails his tackles and does the selfless team acts. He is the perfect Richmond role player and he embodies the selfless nature of their success. On the weekend he had 29 pressure acts (2nd best on the ground), 8 tackles including 3 inside 50 (best on the ground).

Sometimes, it’s easy to see how Richmond are so good – yet in the same breath it’s not always so clear. If you compared the two teams on the weekend, every man and his dog (pun not intended) would say the Bulldogs fielded the better team, both in terms of individual production and talent wise.

Yet, Richmond went from 25 points down to 22 point victors – Why? Yes, part of it is due to their system that is second nature to the playing group but it’s also because of players like Baker who don’t have an elite skill of say a Caleb Daniel but is someone who will play their role for the team and do it consistently.

Similarly, look at the first, second, third and fourth efforts of another role player in McIntosh even after the game is all but won.

These are the little things that win you games of football. Baker played everywhere on Friday, in the backline, on the wing and as a forward. A player who is so trusted by his coach and has that versatility are unique players and ones that fans understand their value to the team outside of the statistics. Liam Baker is one of those players – I suggest when Richmond play next you look out for him – watch as he will always make the right decision or put his body on the line when he needs to go. More of a spotlight needs to be shone on these types of players.

That’s it for this week – if you enjoyed the article make sure to subscribe !

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FTP # 6

 

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;

  1. St Kilda were forcing repeat stoppages inside F50 where they excelled at scoring from last year; or
  2. 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.

*2020 statistics are altered for decreased quarter lengths

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.

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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.

That’s it for this week – if you enjoyed the article make sure to subscribe !

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

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