Lions Demolish Demons

Brisbane has demolished a disappointing Melbourne side by 41 points at the MCG today.

Many saw the round one clash as a perfect opportunity for the Demons to send off club legend Jim Stynes with a strong disciplined showing against an opponent coming off a underwhelming 2011.

Melbourne supporters certainly saw this as the case, with a strong crowd turning out only to see a performance of the sort which saw Dean Bailey replaced as coach of the club.

New coach Mark Neeld has promised a harder edge to the Demons’ attack and defence all summer, but based on their performance today, a lot of work is still required. Simply put, the experienced players, those you expect leadership from in trying time, went missing at the wrong times far too often.

Questions have to be asked of several players, in particular Aaron Davey and Brad Green. Both struggled up to three-quarter time before collecting several possessions and goals in what was essentially ‘garbage time’ in the last.

Melbourne appeared confused and directionless moving the ball out the back half, which resulted in the Demons’ kicking the ball as long as possible and hoping for a mark somewhere down the line.

The Brisbane defence, despite losing Daniel Merrett who was playing predominately up-forward, handled the bombs with ease, with Matt Maguire, Jed Adcock and others finding plenty of help to spoil and clear the incoming ball.

In contrast, the Lions’ ball use was clean and crisp, which lead to many one-on-one opportunities for their forwards. The key beneficiary of this slick ball movement early in the piece was midfielder Tom Rockliff, who finished with three goals.

Lead by the masterful Simon Black (31 touches), Brisbane dominated around the stoppages, using the ball precisely with purpose, something Melbourne severely lacked whenever they managed to win the rare clearance.

James Polkinghorne and Todd Banfield aided Rockliff and Merrett superbly, each finishing with three goals as Melbourne wilted under pressure in the second-half after only trailing by four points at the major break.

It speaks volumes about a performance when the players standing up to fight against the onslaught are notably inexperienced.  James Magner, on debut, showed the way with 23 disposals, but limped off late in the last quarter with what appeared to be an ankle injury. Even then, he was the only shining light in what was ultimately a dismal display.

Neeld will likely want to send a message to his side at the selection table this week, and it is important the message is received quickly, as the Demons face West Coast next week at Patersons Stadium.

Brisbane will host Carlton in what suddenly looks to be an even contest.

MELBOURNE 3.3 7.4 8.8 17.17 (78)

BRISBANE LIONS 1.4 7.8 13.13 11.12 (119)

VOTES:

3 Black, 2 Rich, 1 Rockliff

Goals

Melbourne: Magner (2), Howe (2), Clark (2), Martin, Watts, Trengove, Green, Davey

Brisbane Lions: Rockliff (3), Banfield (3), Polkinghorne (3), Hanley (2), Merrett (2), Leuenberger, Adcock, McGrath, Sheldon

Best

Melbourne: Magner, Trengove, Watts, Frawley

Brisbane Lions: Black, Rich, Hanley, Rockliff, Adcock, McGrath

Substitutes

Melbourne: Sam Blease replaced by Matthew Bate at three-quarter time

Brisbane Lions: Rohan Bewick replaced by Sam Sheldon at three-quarter time

Injuries

Melbourne: Magner (ankle)

Brisbane Lions: None

Umpires: Dalgleish, Leppard, Grun

Official crowd: 33,473 at MCG

Crows set for Sunny day

 

After the Crows’ dominant NAB Cup series win, there’s something to rejoice about in South Australia. But they’ll have to refocus this weekend as they head up to Metricon Stadium to face the Gold Coast Suns.

As we’ve seen so far in the Richmond vs Carlton game in round 1, form in the pre-season doesn’t necessarily count when four points are on the line.

However, the Crows have a ripe opportunity to pick an opening-round win from the young Suns. The Suns are coming off a wooden spoon debut season, are yet to win a game at their home ground of Metricon and will be missing vital backman turned swingman Nathan Bock due to suspension this weekend.

Having said that, it’s obvious the Suns have a lot of talent and there is reason for them to be hopeful of making a good fist of the contest.

Gary Ablett has completed his first full pre-season on the Gold Coast and David Swallow has looked ominous in the lead up to the 2012 campaign.

With the recruitment of Matthew Warnock, the Suns can afford to throw Campbell Brown up forward, where he snagged a few goals in the NAB Cup to add some experience to a very young top six.

The forward six is really where it starts to look bad for the Suns, with the tall-timber duo of Tippett and Walker being supported by players like a fit Porplyzia, a rejeuvenated Tom Lynch and goal-kicking mids like Vince and Dangerfield.

Compare that to an inexperienced Suns forward-line with a lack of proven goal-kicking ability and you have an automatic headache for Guy McKenna.

The Keys

Gold Coast will have to win the midfield battle to give a chance to their budding forward-line.

Suns coach McKenna has flagged Scott Thompson from the Crows as an important target to take out of the game, while hoping players like Swallow, Dion Prestia, Harley Benell, Sam Iles and Karmichael Hunt can give mature midfielders Ablett and Michael Rischitelli more support and chances to have big influences.

Gold Coast’s ruckman will need to fire. Sam Jacobs is rapidly improving for the Crows and they need a big forward target.

The task falls to Zac Smith, Daniel Gorringe and Tom Hickey to both do strongly in the ruck and contribute up-forward.

McKenna has taken three ruckmen into the game with this intent, but whether they will be strong enough across the board remains to be seen. He has not included veteran ruckman Josh Fraser in the line-up so the hope would be for Gorringe to reproduce his pre-season efforts at full forward.

Adelaide can easily put the points on the board and with a comparitively strong backline, they should be able to keep the rebounds up necessary to deliver it to one of their many capable goalkickers.

The Crows have been quick and precise so far this year, if they do that and use their strength to out-body the opposition, the game is as good as theirs.

Tom Lynch and Patrick Dangerfield had outstanding pre-seasons. Lynch will be looking to solidify his spot and Dangerfield will be hoping to keep up his blistering form to hopefully take pressure off the Suns midfield target Scott Thompson.

Also of note is mature-aged Ian Callinan, who slotted right in to the Crows line-up and is yet another boon for them coming into 2012.

The Crows should take the game comfortably, but the Suns will definitely come out looking to better their efforts against Adelaide last year. The midfield battle should be compelling, but the key-position players at the Crows are just far too strong.

Crows by 57 points.
Teams

Gold Coast

B: Harbrow, Warnock, Tape
HB: Brennan, May, Taylor
C: Rischitelli, Ablett, Bennell
HF: Caddy, Lynch, Russell
F: Brown, Gorringe, A.Hall
Foll: Smith, Hunt, Swallow

Int: Hickey, Iles, Matera, Prestia

Adelaide

B: Doughty, Rutten, Talia
HB: Johncock, Otten, Reilly
C: Mackay, Dangerfield, Henderson
HF: Sloane, Lynch, Vince
F: Porplyzia, Tippett, Walker
R: Jacobs, S. Thompson, van Berlo

Int: Callinan, Douglas, Petrenko, Smith

North and Essendon to jump finals gun

Where: Etihad Stadium, 7.45pm, Saturday 31st March
TV: Fox Footy, 7.30pm
Radio: 3AW, MMM
Odds: North Melbourne $2.17, Essendon $1.87, Line North +1.5

It’s not often that the first round of the AFL season can be viewed to have such a clear impact on the finals.

Most years, teams are still trying to be worked out. However, with such a tough competition for the lower finals places in 2012, this match could prove critical. Both Essendon and North Melbourne will be looking to kick-start their campaigns in style with a win over a rival for the eight.

This is a battle that will be won by the key players on both sides. In particular, the battle of the captains is one to watch.

Essendon captain Jobe Watson is the heart of the Bombers’ midfield, and will have to be at the top of his game to win the contested ball against the up-and-coming North starlets.

On the other side, new North captain Andrew Swallow’s ability to tear a side apart has been noted before, and neutering his influence will be crucial if Essendon want to come away with the victory.

Further to this is the ruck battle. Essendon head into the game with two of their three towers in David Hille and Paddy Ryder.

North, meanwhile, will look to Todd Goldstein while having Hamish McIntosh available to pinch-hit.

With Essendon wanting superior service due to their relatively weaker midfield, expect the likes of Hocking and Stanton to in fact rove to the ruck-work of the Kangaroos duo, especially if Ryder and Hille are being soundly beaten.

Finally, the North forward presence of Drew Petrie celebrates his 200th game. He’ll look to start his season with a bag, dominating the North forward line.

Key Players
North Melbourne:
Todd Goldstein:
Unlucky to miss All-Australian selection in 2011, Goldstein will aim to start dominating games from day one.

Scott Thompson: Thompson will surely get the job on Michael Hurley, and will need to neutralise him in order to stop any flow of Essendon scoring.

Brent Harvey: No longer captain, but still a huge on-field leader. Boomer can run through the midfield or up forward and damage either way.

Essendon:
Heath Hocking:
The Dons’ number one tagger will have a role on the likes of Swallow, and stopping him will be key for Essendon’s chances.

Dustin Fletcher: ‘Gadget’ may be old, but he’s still good. As much of an onfield coach in the GWS veteran mould as a player, Fletcher will mind a Thomas or Edwards but will watch structures as well as play defensively.

Michael Hurley: He’s got the new contract, now time to show what he’s got.

Final Word
Despite Essendon’s favourite status, I like North’s chances, particularly with their midfield strength and ruck combination.

Prediction
North by 14.

Title Defense 101: Cats tackle Dockers

It seems almost forever since that day in September last year when Geelong consolidated themselves  as one of the greatest sides in football since the Lions of the new millennium.

The hunger, the drive, the ferocious attack on the ball is second to none in modern football. Even more importantly, wiser heads dominate the team; with an unstoppable midfield, potent forward-line and sturdy defense have seen them not only have near perfect records in the last few seasons of football, but been able to win 8 of their last 10 in Perth.

The Dockers have a new era and a new day to look forward to. Endless youth, a new coach, a new game plan and a hope that they can finally push for a spot not only in the finals, but to maybe crack the Top 4.

WHY YOU SHOULD TUNE IN:

Fremantle: Young guns. Fyfe, Broughton, Hill, Ballantyne.

Midfielders left right and centre for the Dockers. The key to victory for these boys?

Out-Geelong, Geelong. At every opportunity, play on through the middle, run in waves and hit forward targets running into space wide.

Geelong will be susceptible missing Ling, Milburn and Wojincski creating drive off the half-back flank. If the Dockers can push Matthew Pavlich forward to take Taylor to the goal square, Jack Anthony and Kepler Bradley can benefit from the space and lack of tall defenders double-teaming the leading forwards.

Of course, the Dockers defense is depleted without McPharlin, but if the midfield can push back with Ross Lyon’s predictable ‘defensive zoning’, the Dockers may be able to keep the Cats from scoring heavily.

First use is also critical in the midfield in preventing Geelong from scoring; but, this will be difficult while missing Sandilands in the ruck, so reading Trent West and Orran Stephenson’s ruck-work around the ground will be critical.

Geelong: How they’ll defend they’re title. The last few contests between the Cats and Fremantle have given Geelong an almighty fright, with the Dockers even stealing one of the last three encounters.

Geelong must exploit McPharlin’s absence with Hawkins playing out his skin. The boy came of age in the Grand Final last year, and must start exerting the presence of a footballer who can influence a game. Anything short of 5/6 shots on goal a match from the Big Cat from now on is considered failing to live up to his potential.

It will be interesting to see if Billy Smedts can gel with the side as well as Menzel and Christensen did last season.

With absences opening up with retirements, its time now for those who have been on the outer to find a way in to the best 22.

Geelong to win need to play as they usually do: Pressure the ball carrier, move the ball fast through the middle, spread the goals and get the midfielders back in numbers to help out an already solid defense.

They are fundamentals for a reason; they have been the cornerstone and catalyst for Geelong’s successes over the past 5 years.

Who Will Win?

Too much class and even in enemy territory, Geelong will have the edge. They have a flag to defend, and what better way to begin that campaign with knocking off a hungry opposition in a hostile arena?

Geelong spread the goals better, move the ball cleaner and Freo are yet to adapt to the structural changes brought by Ross Lyon over the summer.

Cats by 15.

Hawthorn victorious over Collingwood

Hawthorn have had the dream start to its premiership aspirations, defeating Collingwood by 22 points at the MCG.

Putting off the disappointment from the last time these teams played, the Hawks displayed quality beyond that expected of a round 1 clash, to hand new Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley a loss in his first game.

Lance Franklin (21 disposals, 5 goals) and Sam Mitchell (31 disposals, 11 clearances) were at their brilliant best whilst Scott Pendlebury (33 disposals, 13 clearances and 2 goals) was dominant for the Pies.

The game was of a frenetic pace right from the start with the game played from end to end before a 55-metre bomb from Birchall eventually broke the deadlock to put the Hawks in front.

From this point on, Collingwood started to wrestle some control, though inaccuracy in front of goal kept Hawthorn within 6 points at the first break.

Collingwood would begin to rue the missed opportunities in the second-quarter, as Hawthorn, on the back of a brilliant quarter from Rioli, made the most of their opportunities, kicking the last three goals of the quarter to go in to the half-time break with a 15-point buffer.

Hawthorn continued on from where they finished, kicking 3 of the first 4 goals to reach a game-high margin of 25 points. A Pendlebury-led Collingwood refused to lie down, dragging the margin back to just 5 points at the final break, setting up what promised to be an epic final quarter.

Collingwood continued their momentum early, hitting the front after a dribbling goal from Dale Thomas. The stench of possible defeat was enough to lift the Hawks, who went on to kick the next 5 goals to seal the perfect start in Hawthorn’s campaign.

Hawthorn will now face reigning premiers Geelong on Easter Monday whilst Collingwood will meet Richmond next Saturday night.

Hawthorn         2.1    10.6    14.10    20.17 (137)
Collingwood     2.7    7.9      12.16    16.19 (115)

GOALS
Hawthorn: Franklin 5, Rioli 2, Lewis 2, Whitecross 2, Savage 2, Smith 2, Birchall, McCauley, Burgoyne, Gunston, Osborne
Collingwood: Blair 3, Fasolo 2, Cloke 2, Pendlebury 2, Jolly 2, Thomas 2, Shaw, Swan, Paine

BEST
Hawthorn: Mitchell, Birchall, Sewell, Rioli, Franklin, Whitecross
Collingwood: Pendlebury, Ball, Blair, Swan, Cloke, Jolly

INJURIES
Hawthorn: Nil
Collingwood: Nil

SUBSTITUTES
Hawthorn: Jarrad Boumann replaced by Jack Gunston in the third quarter.
Collingwood: Peter Yagmoor replaced by Paul Seedsman in the third quarter.

Reports: Nil

Umpires: McBurney, McInerney, Mollison

Official crowd:
78,464 at the MCG.

Melbourne to Honour a Great

When: Saturday March 31st, 1:45pm

Where: MCG

Weather: Min: 18. Max: 29.

Partly cloudy. Warm at first with north to northwesterly winds increasing to 35 to 45 km/h. A cooler south to southwest change 25 to 35 km/h during the early afternoon. Isolated showers possible following the change.

TV: Fox Footy (live)

Radio: SEN, ABC 774, 3AW, Triple M

Odds: Melbourne $1.42, Brisbane $3.00, Line Brisbane +14.5.

The indifferent form of the pre-season, off-field scandals, and even footy itself pales into insignificance at times like these.

Make no mistake, no club or supporter base will be keener to get things underway than the Demons.

They don’t necessarily hold high hopes for 2011, nor are they expecting to immediately begin a long awaited premiership campaign – but when the dust settles after a legendary player of the club, and more importantly a legendary person finally passes, it’s human nature to feel the need to get on with things and honour his name with more than just words.

Brisbane is a club with strong values and quality people, and the magnitude of Melbourne’s loss will not be lost on them. And whilst their sympathies lie with the Melbourne Football Club, you can be sure that they are privately wishing they were facing Melbourne under different circumstances.

The intangibles of the inner circle of a football club are often underestimated amongst the broader football community, and whilst teams regularly lift when the chips are down or when a favourite son reaches a milestone, this is different.

To the very fibre of their being, you can bet your bottom dollar that Melbourne will have no trouble finding 22 men able to reach to the depth of their passion with a burning desire to pay tribute to a great man for 120 minutes this Saturday.

Talking Tactics:

In short, this will be a strategically intriguing matchup between two sides with very different strengths and weaknesses. It won’t be the cleanest game of the weekend, nor is it likely to reach the heights of at least a couple of the other fixtures from a football purist’s point of view, however the break-down of this game is far less predictable of any other this weekend.

After a less than precise 2011, the new Brisbane coaching set up which includes new assistant Mark Harvey, have turned the focus to maintaining possession and using the ball well.

Whilst pre-season form needs to be viewed with caution, the Lions have gone from turnover kings last year to being the most efficient side in the league by foot during the NAB Cup series.

Contrary to Brisbane’s fortunes, Melbourne look back on their 2011 season and lament their lack of ball-winning ability, and by extension, their passion and commitment to the hard ball.

Yet, just like Brisbane, last year’s weakness has become the focus of a new gameplan.

The inside word is that new Coach Mark Neeld has demanded a more ferocious attack on the contested ball before all other aspects of the game….and it has been reflected statistically in Melbourne’s pre-season thus far.

Whilst results have been mixed, Melbourne’s dedication to winning the hard ball in the corridor in particular has been a consistent feature of their pre-season hit-outs.

Match-ups:

Again, this is an unpredictable yet alluring aspect of this clash. It’s amazing at times how a single player’s absence can produce a domino effect among the remaining 44 combatants.

In an incident on the training track that is surely against any AFL team’s internal rules, Matt McGuire flying third man up resulting in a broken cheek bone to his captain Jonathan Brown a few weeks ago has completely changed the make up of this contest.

The simple reality is that Brisbane only had one established quality target in the forward line before Brown went down, and now they need to find another. From the beginning of the NAB series it became apparent that Michael Voss had an eye on champion full back Daniel Merrett filling this temporary role.

Originally drafted as a forward, Merrett has spent more time forward than back in the build-up, with mixed results at both ends.

His most impressive effort was a three-goal haul against Carlton, yet the back line suffered badly in his absence in their clash with Essendon with Michael Hurley hardly breaking a sweat, racking up nine scoring shots.

As much as Voss would like to see Merrett shut down his former pupil and danger man Mitch Clark, he has little choice but to start him forward if Brisbane is to produce a winning score. The problem for Brisbane is that whilst Merrett is unquestionably an A grade full back, he is a C grade forward at this level.

The flow on affect directly impacts the ruck dual. Under different circumstances Voss would be licking his lips at the challenge of Matthew Leuenberger and newly recruited hard man Ben Hudson taking on Melbourne’s most important player in Mark Jamar and the young Stefan Martin, but Leuenberger will most likely be forced to spend extra minutes as a forward target.

Furthermore, with Merrett playing forward, Voss is left with little choice but to assign Matt McGuire to Clark. This leaves the much maligned Jack Watts with a perfect opportunity to answer his critics against Joel Patfull, who is ideally suited to the third defender role rather than centre-half-back.

Prediction:

Everything is against Brisbane here.

Both sides are coming from a long way back and have a similar level of talent, especially in the midfield where the slightly more developed bodies of mature recruit James Magner, Nathan Jones, Brent Moloney and the reinvigorated “Your Health” devotee Matthew Bate, take on the young talent of Jack Redden, Tom Rockliff , Daniel Rich and veteran Simon Black.

The Lions haven’t beaten the Demons since mid 2009, and didn’t win a single game in Melbourne last year.

Under normal circumstances this would be a very difficult game to call, but with the memory and emotion of Jim Stynes passing, Melbourne should crush the Lions well before the final siren.

Melbourne by 40 points.

Melbourne
B: Joel Macdonald, James Frawley, Clint Bartram
HB: Rohan Bail, Jared Rivers, Colin Garland
C: Jack Watts, Jack Grimes, Nathan Jones
HF: Jack Trengove, Brad Green, Jeremy Howe
F: Aaron Davey, Mitchell Clark, Stefan Martin
Foll: Mark Jamar, Brent Moloney, James Magner
I/C: Matthew Bate, Sam Blease, Jordie McKenzie, Josh Tynan
Emg: Lynden Dunn, James Sellar, Thomas Couch

Brisbane Lions
B: Niall McKeever, Daniel Merrett, Ashley McGrath
HB: Mitchell Golby, Matt Maguire, Daniel Rich
C: Tom Rockliff, Jed Adcock, Pearce Hanley
HF: Jared Polec, Joel Patfull, Todd Banfield
F: James Polkinghorne, Matthew Leuenberger, Ryan Lester
Foll: Ben Hudson, Simon Black, Jack Redden
I/C: Cheynee Stiller, Sam Sheldon, Claye Beams, Rohan Bewick
Emg: Ryan Harwood, Jesse O’Brien, Billy Longer

Finals footy five months early

Where and When: Melbourne Cricket Ground, Friday 30 March, 7:50 pm

If this match is half as good as their preliminary final encounter from last year, then tonight’s clash between Hawthorn and Collingwood will be match of the round.

Although both captains are missing – Nick Maxwell through an ankle injury sustained in the NAB Cup and Luke Hodge with bleeding in the calf muscle received yesterday at training – the game’s elite are still on show.

On the other hand, both teams have some fresh blood, with four debutants named for the Pies and a few recruits in for the Hawks.

Whatever happens, one of these two teams will find itself outside the top eight for the first time in at least two years.

Hawthorn

Prior to last year’s two losses to the Pies, the Hawks had won five of the past six between the two teams, with some tense and some huge.

Lance Franklin has generally been the key factor, kicking goals every time he plays Collingwood, and with Ben Reid the only recognised key defender and named to play against him, expect him to kick a few.

Add to that David Hale, who has been in brilliant form up-forward and Jack Gunston as the highly-touted youngster from Adelaide and the Hawks have plenty of avenues to goal.

Stephen Gilham is still on the road to recovery despite playing for Box Hill recently, but Ben Stratton, Josh Gibson, Ryan Schoenmakers and big debutant Jarrad Boumann are all named and there might be some double teaming heading towards Collingwood’s power forwards.

Hawthorn look great, except in the ruck, where 25-year-old former Lions ruckman Broc McCauley is set to take on Darren Jolly, and although he performed well last year, he has a huge task in front of him.

Collingwood

Collingwood aren’t playing their best side – Chris Tarrant, Nick Maxwell, Sharrod Wellingham, Dayne Beams, Ben Johnson and Andrew Krakouer are amongst those missing – but they have some exciting youth to introduce.

Jackson Paine, Peter Yagmoor and Paul Seedsman will debut while Marty Clarke makes his return to the Pies in what is overall an undermanned side. Luke Rounds and Ben Sinclair will also play.

Although Hawthorn’s defence appears tall, Collingwood’s small forwards are down to Alex Fasolo, Jarryd Blair and Peter Yagmoor, and they will have to be big contributors if Cloke and Dawes get heavily manned.

They will also need goals from the midfield, from acting captain Scott Pendlebury, Dane Swan, Dale Thomas, Luke Ball and Steele Sidebottom all needing to hit the scoreboard to take the pressure off the forwards.

Collingwood’s youth in recent history has slid into the side well, but one must wonder if this team is too depleted to top the Hawks.

Players to Watch

Jack Gunston: This is his chance. Gunston was highly rated at Adelaide before requesting a trade to Hawthorn and the young but impressive tall forward has the perfect opportunity in front of him: 90,000 at the MCG under lights, an undermanned defence against a team that has played in the last three grand finals, winning one. He has to seize it.

Jarryd Blair: Likewise for Blair – the most experienced small forward in the side brings the X-factor to the black and white forward line and against a tall defence he’ll need to use his crumbing and roving skills to kick a few goals – he has the capability.

Prediction

Collingwood are young, they have been for the past few years, but one has to wonder how much youth is too much, regardless of how many senior players are missing.

Proven performers on the big stage are still there, but the Hawks have more of them, and will win, but not comfortably by any means.

Hawthorn by nine points

Teams:

Hawthorn

B: Brent Guerra, Josh Gibson, Jarrad Boumann

HB: Grant Birchall, Ryan Schoenmakers, Ben Stratton

C: Isaac Smith, Sam Mitchell, Chance Bateman

HF: Shaun Burgoyne, Lance Franklin, Cyril Rioli

F: Luke Breust, David Hale, Jack Gunston

R: Broc McCauley, Brad Sewell, Jordan Lewis

Inter: Michael Osborne, Shane Savage, Matt Suckling, Brendan Whitecross

Emerg: Cameron Bruce, Xavier Ellis, Jarryd Roughead

New: Jarrad Boumann (Dandenong Stingrays/Western Bulldogs/Box Hill)

Milestones: David Hale – 150 games

Club Debut: Broc McCauley (Brisbane), Jack Gunston (Adelaide)

Collingwood

B: Harry O’Brien, Lachlan Keeffe, Heath Shaw

HB: Alan Toovey, Ben Reid, Tyson Goldsack

C: Dane Swan, Luke Ball, Marty Clarke

HF: Dale Thomas, Jackson Paine, Ben Sinclair

F: Travis Cloke, Chris Dawes, Alex Fasolo

R: Darren Jolly, Scott Pendlebury, Steele Sidebottom

Inter: Jarryd Blair, Luke Rounds, Peter Yagmoor, Paul Seedsman

Emerg: Dayne Beams, Cameron Wood, Tom Young

New: Jackson Paine (Sandringham Dragons), Peter Yagmoor (Queensland zone selection), Paul Seedsman (Eastern Rangers)

Milestones: Travis Cloke – 150 games

The Best Teams Never to Win a Flag

History is written by the winners. While Paul Chapman’s heroics in the 2009 Grand Final have entered footballing folklore, Brendon Goddard’s performance in the same game with a broken collarbone and broken nose has been consigned to the dustbin of history.

While it is only right to celebrate the teams that reach the pinnacle of footballing achievement, there have been some very good teams, which for a number of reasons, have fallen at the last hurdle and have never won a premiership.

So while premiership teams are often compared with each other, in the never achievable aim of deciding who was the best team in history, the bridesmaids often get overlooked, when one bounce of the ball may have made all the difference.

In that spirit, I’m counting down the best teams never to finish a season as premiers.

10. Fitzroy 1979-1986

The last great Fitzroy team included some incredible names: Quinlan, Conlan, Wilson, Osborne, Roos, Pert, Rendell and Mark Dwyer!

They kicked a record score in 1979 against Melbourne, looked headed for the flag in 1983, and beat reigning premiers Essendon and media darlings Sydney in consecutive finals in 1986.

But after a good start to that 1986 Preliminary Final against Hawthorn, they fell apart to get beaten by nine goals, and it was the beginning of the end for the Royboys. The next decade would be a slow death.

9. North Melbourne 1949-1958

Not many people realise that North Melbourne were the first of the teams admitted to the VFL in 1925 to make a Grand Final, which they did in 1950.

With a side that included Les Foote and Jock Spencer, the Shinboners ran into the Essendon juggernaut at the height of its powers and were soundly beaten in that Grand Final, but in an era dominated by some of the greatest teams of all time, they played finals four times over the period in question, finishing top of the ladder in 1949 and winning a final in 1958.

8. Melbourne 1987-1994

Barring a costly 15-metre penalty by future Brownlow Medallist and Melbourne legend Jim Stynes, things may have been different.

Under John Northey, an average looking side on paper, save for a declining Robert Flower, Stynes, Garry Lyon, Greg Healy and future All-Decade NFL punter Darren Bennett, developed a unerring habit of winning finals, going 8-5 under his tutelage.

However, their one appearance in the Grand Final was record breaking: Hawthorn won by 16 goals. The team was rejuvenated under Neil Balme in the mid 1990s, and with young centre half-forward David Schwarz causing a stir, Melbourne again climbed from the lower reaches of the finals to make a Prelim. Again, it wasn’t to be.

7. Western Bulldogs 2006-2010

Didn’t make it to a Grand Final, but were arguably the better team in consecutive losing Preliminary Finals. A much talented team that contained a Brownlow Medallist (two counting Aker), numerous All-Australians and a ground-breaking forward line, this team may have been the best never to make it to a Grand Final, if not for…

6. Footscray/Western Bulldogs 1992-2000

… this fellow group of Doggie bridesmaids. This team came the closest to that elusive Grand Final in 1997 when 20+ points ahead of Adelaide in the final quarter, before Adelaide came roaring back on their way to the premiership.

This Bulldog team had a incredible top end of talent: names like Grant, Johnson, Darcy, West & Smith drove a formidable outfit to positions of prominance on the ladder. They narrowly lost what perhaps was the greatest home and away game in the last round of 1998, and looked to be cruising to the Grand Final before being completely thrashed by Adelaide in the Prelim.

5. St Kilda 2003-2011

A team that started out as an offensive juggernaut that blended talented youth and big experience, and ended as a defensive stronghold built around that same talented youth now grown up.

St Kilda teased, finally matured, reeled off one of the greatest winning streaks in recent memory, then ran into one of the greatest teams of all time.

Returning for another crack in 2010, they fought through a major injury to Nick Riewoldt and a four-goal deficit in the Grand Final to come within one bounce of what may have been the most remarkable premiership ever.

A dry day in 2009, or a couple more favourable bounces in 2010, and these guys would have been back-to-back premiers. Take nothing away from the teams that beat them though – Geelong and Collingwood both had claims to be one of the best teams of the last 20 years.

4. Essendon 1953-1960

The late 1950s were dominated by two teams: Melbourne and Collingwood, who filled 10 of the 12 Grand Final spots between 1955 and 1960.

The only team to break into a Grand Final in this time was Essendon, who made the Grand Final in 1957 and 1959, both times losing to Norm Smith’s great Melbourne side.

Essendon’s side was filled with great names, such as Jack Clarke, Ken Fraser and the former head of the AFL Commission, Ron Evans, and in 1957, an ageing Bill Hutchinson. Merely managing to get into a Grand Final was certainly worthy of admiration in this era dominated by two great sides.

3. Collingwood 1977-1981

For such a short era, Tom Hafey’s Collingwood possessed an incredible ability to make the last Saturday in September, and an identically incredible ability to lose on that day, or at least not win. In five short years, Collingwood would make the Grand Final four times for zero premierships, their best effort being the 1977 draw against North Melbourne.

What this Collingwood side lacked in depth, they made up for in star power, with Brownlow Medal winning ruckmen in Len Thompson and Peter Moore, Ray Shaw, Ricky Barham, Billy Picken and the Shaw brothers. Unfortunately they could never get that elusive premiership, despite holding leads in three of those Grand Finals.

2. Geelong 1989-1997

A dynamic team built on low possession and high scoring, the Geelong team under Malcolm Blight and then Gary Ayres were one of the most entertaining teams to watch in memory.

With Gary Ablett providing many highlights in a forward-line that also boasted Billy Brownless and Barry Stoneham, Geelong could kick any score on any given day.

They possessed a highly-rated midfield, and took Hawthorn to within a goal in the 1989 Grand Final epic in which Ablett kicked nine unforgettable goals. In 1992 they would hold a significant lead against West Coast only for Peter Matera and Peter Sumich to take it away.

Two years later the Eagles would spank them, and Carlton did the same in 1995. Despite this, Geelong were always competitive and won many finals, but agonisingly lost four Grand Finals in seven seasons.

1. Collingwood 1964-1975

The team that came consistently closest to winning Grand Finals without winning them.

In 1964 they were in front in time-on thanks to Ray Gabelich’s memorable goal before back pocket Neil Crompton ran up the field to steal the flag for Melbourne.

Two years later Barry Breen’s wobbly point gave St Kilda their only premiership at Collingwood’s expense. Then in 1970, Collingwood would lead their hated rival Carlton by more than seven goals at half-time only to see a Barassi and Hopkins inspired comeback that robbed the Pies again.

Bob Rose was Collingwood’s coach for all these heartbreaking defeats, and despite continuing to make the finals after 1970, Collingwood wouldn’t get back to the Grand Final until Tom Hafey arrived, even being bundled out in straight sets after finishing top of the ladder in 1973.

With names like Tuddenham, McKenna, Thompson, Potter and John Greening, the Collingwood teams under Bob Rose will go down as the greatest team never to win a premiership.

Blues Stroll Home Against Tigers

Carlton 18.17 125 def. Richmond 12.9 81

A piece of Chris Yarran brilliance kick-started an avalanche of last quarter goals which allowed Carlton to overrun Richmond and claim their first win of 2012.

In a see-sawing battle Carlton were able to outlast Richmond and coast to an easy 44-point win.

Richmond looked to have all the momentum, coming from 32 points down midway through the third-quarter to draw within 6 points after kicking the first goal of the last quarter.

However, Carlton’s class rose to the top as players such as Marc Murphy and Matthew Kreuzer stepped up a gear and ran over the top of the Tigers.

Richmond got off to a good start, kicking the first two goals of the game, which came from the Tigers’ early midfield dominance, largely thanks to Trent Cotchin.

Despite this, Carlton answered with three of their own goals but were still in two-point arrears at quarter-time courtesy of a Robin Nahas goal.

Second Quarter Domination

With their midfield starting to win the battle and Andrew Carrazzo tagging Cotchin effectively, the Blues began to take control in the second-quarter.

Richmond didn’t help themselves either, returning to habits of old as their disposal efficiency dropped to 59%. Carlton capitalised, kicking 5 goals to 2 for the quarter and taking a 19-point lead into the half-time break.

At the beginning of the second-half, the Tigers’ hopes looked all but lost as Carlton kicked the first 2 goals making it 7 of the last 8.

Richmond needed someone to step up…cue Cotchin and Dustin Martin.

Martin lead the way, breaking the lines and kicking his second goal, while Cotchin returned to his form of the first-quarter, while adding 2 goals himself in a 4-goal run.

Richmond looked like a new team, one that was willing to run and break the lines, leaving Carlton on their heels.

Close, but no cigar.

Jack Riewoldt kicked the first goal of the last quarter which brought the Tigers within 7 points and just as they looked like overrunning the Blues, Chris Yarran brought the house down.

After receiving a handball from Chris Judd just forward of the wing, Yarran proceeded to take on two Richmond players while running along the boundary, jinking to 45m to kick the goal from a few meters inside the boundary.

Although on replay the ball was shown to be out of bounds which begs the question why didn’t it go to video review, it was called a goal and with that, the tide of the game had turned. Carlton were then able to kick 5 of the next 6 to stroll home.

For Carlton, Kreuzer was the star of the night, playing one of his best games since his knee reconstruction. He was dominant both in the air as well as on the ground. With 15 hit-outs, 5 clearances and 5 tackles, the big man showed he is ready to fulfill his potential as one of the elite ruckmen of the competition.

His performance was accompanied by that of Marc Murphy who was prolific in racking up 32 disposals. He was impressive working both offensively and defensively and provided Carlton with a constant source of run and logical decision making.

Carlton’s other best included Simpson and Carrazzo, who played excellent supporting roles in the midfield as well as Shaun Hampson who provided a strong target up-forward kicking 3 goals.

Richmond also had its contributors, most notably Cotchin, who was the Tigers’ best with 27 disposals, 7 clearances and 2 goals. Cotchin was the best on  ground in the first-quarter, showing that he will continue his rise into the top tier of players this year.

He had support from Martin who took the game by the scruff of the neck and broke lines when Richmond needed it. There was also Houli who provided drive from half-back and Foley who played well in the center; however the disposals from them were poor at times.

Carlton will come away from this game pleased, erasing any worries from a win-less pre-season.

They will also take solace in the fact that they still have key players to come back that include the likes of Michael Jamison and Andrew Walker. Their only worry will be Jarrad Waite who probably should get off his rough conduct report but the tribunal’s stance on front on contact, as well has his record will certainly cause some nerves.

As for Richmond, they will be a little disheartened, after the hype around the lead-up, the end result may even be seen as bad as previous years.

The return of bad disposals and decision-making is also a worry for a team that had supposedly put it behind them. However, it is only round one and we all know it’s a marathon not a sprint.

Votes: 3) Matthew Kreuzer 2)Marc Murphy 1) Trent Cotchin

Carlton          3.2    8.7    11.13    18.17 (125)

Richmond     3.4    5.6    10.7      12.9 (81)

GOALS

Carlton: Hampson 3, Betts 2, Armfield 2, Yarran 2, Lucas 2, Waite, Simpson, Garlett, Thornton, Kreuzer, Murphy, Robinson

Richmond: Riewoldt 4, Grigg 2, Martin 2, Cotchin 2, Vickery, Nahas

BEST

Carlton: Kreuzer, Murphy, Carrazzo, Simpson, Curnow, Hampson

Richmond: Cotchin, Martin, Foley, Houli

 

Reports: Jarrad Waite (Carlton) for rough conduct on Dylan Grimes (Richmond) in the first-quarter.

 

Crowd: 78,285