That’s Why They Play The Game

There’s a large number of old sayings that come to mind when thinking about the weekend of football we just witnessed. The title of this piece is one of them, and another is “they don’t play the games on paper”.

Friday night was a track meet, with 34 goals kicked, and no one with 30 possessions. Richmond, prone to occasional outbursts of brilliance that translate into 10 goal victories against good sides where the result is not in doubt in the last quarter, were challenged by a team that consistently, week after week, finds a way to be in a position to win in the last quarter. In all ten games this year, St Kilda have been able to win the game when the final quarter started. Despite a 50% winning record, this fact is admirable. It also makes them sound like a basketball team.

Richmond were challenged in the last quarter on Friday night, and responded in a way that should give their supporters more hope than the drubbing of Hawthorn the week before. Hawthorn have shown a lack of appetite for the hard fought win. St Kilda, while not winning enough, are a tougher team to beat when challenged.

Despite St Kilda’s tough persona, the team is about as different to the incarnation of 2007-2011 as one could imagine. They run, they are quick, and they kick goals. The only similarity is their inability to stop Jack Riewoldt, who may bear a productive grudge against one of the teams that passed him up in 2006, but the only one that had a relative playing for them.

Greater Western Sydney also show an appetite for the contest, although their young bodies can only sustain this for a shorter period of time than the game takes to complete. They are built in the image of their two most senior coaching members: Kevin Sheedy and Mark Williams. One gets the feeling that once they start making finals, they’ll have no problem winning them.

Fremantle played rope-a-dope with Adelaide and almost stole the points, but like his former team the night before, Ross Lyon found that if you spend all your petrol erasing a significant lead, you may not have enough energy spare to keep the lead. It was an underrated performance from Adelaide, who may have to win a premiership to get the credit they deserve.

In this space not two months ago, I praised North Melbourne. That victory against Geelong seems decades ago now, as they are exposed for their undersized (and underbrained) defence, and a one-paced midfield. However, neither of those things has anything to do with desire, and if you get beaten by 19 goals, your willingness to do the hard things is rightly questioned.

Essendon were due a poor performance, but the really good teams do enough to win those games. The Bombers are earning a reputation of being unbeatable at Etihad Stadium, and fallible in the elements elsewhere. Melbourne did what they needed to do, and their supporters deserved that victory. Rarely has a team enjoyed singing the team song that much.

Carlton need to find another way to win. Andrew Carazzo, Jarrad Waite and Marc Murphy are only three players, but it would seem like they are Wade, Bosh and Lebron to the Blues at the moment. While his absence should remove the underrated tag from Carazzo’s name, other players need to start winning the contested ball and doing the hard, unfashionable things that are vital to winning games of footy. Meanwhile Port Adelaide continue to forge a reputation as a tough team to beat.

Brisbane were undoubtedly helped by the distance travelled by their opponents, but despite no help from the umpires, they kept plugging away and demonstrated their development with a quality win against a likely Grand Finallist. With Merrett and Brown on the park, they are a difficult team to beat in Brisbane, and may pinch a couple away from there. Like Essendon, West Coast were due a quiet week, and these often come after a derby.

Both the Western Bulldogs and the Gold Coast Suns were poor. The Doggies had been up for a while, but as a tough, contested ball winning side, being beaten by 15 goals by a team with a similar reputation will sting.

At the MCG, the Gold Coast continued to stall in their development. Not only on the ladder but in the wider sense, the GWS Giants are ahead of the Suns now. And Gary Ablett’s situation personifies this: he cannot do much more and no criticism should be aimed in his direction. But the problems at the Suns continue unabated: a lack of goalkickers and players capable of controlling the midfield. The Suns may need to change tack after this year, solidifying the fact they have been overtaken by the newer expansion team.

In a round without a blockbuster, with only two matches in Melbourne involving two Victorian teams (and one of those involving the worst performed team in football at the time), some talked down this round as a fait accompli, without much to talk about except for a Friday night cracker.

We were wrong. But that’s why they play the game…

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