What.

By Tom Briglia

Round 18, 2017
Sydney Swans 3.5, 7.8, 11.14, 14.17 (101)
St Kilda 1.2, 3.2, 5.4, 9.5 (59)
Crowd: 35,773 at the SCG, Saturday, July 22nd at 7.20pm

krusty

Tom: Well, that absolutely sucked. This week we get to share the burden of reliving the weekend’s tripe. First things first – What do you put the last two weeks coming off Richmond’s performance to? It’s the second time this year we’ve really fallen away soon after what looked to be season-defining performances.

Richie: Whichever way you slice it, we need to acknowledge a bit more that the Tigers were off. Look, it’s hard not to see it as an outlier. Generally 14 goals output signifies a decent night out let alone in one half. Finey pointed out on SEN, the Richmond game like all our wins was largely built on our defence – guys were able to push high up the ground and we kept them to a one-goal and change in a half. Two things I’ve realised since then: I don’t think it was any surprise that misfiring forwards like Lonie, Billings, Bruce, Membrey (even Roo and Gresh looked livelier) when the midfield functioned so much more efficiently and we’re winning out of the centre cleanly. But I don’t think our midfield is able to do that on a consistent basis – see: cattle. That leads to me second thing – by and large, quality opposition finds a large proportion of our younger brigade wanting, particularly in the midfield. I don’t think anyone would be shocked that Lonie and Billings were ineffective on Saturday night.

How do you think Jack Lonie is going after Saturday? Do we just need to give more continuity to our small forwards?
Personally, I can’t quite see Lonie “making it” as a player. He’s had some promising performances – Richmond, Gold Coast – but by and large he doesn’t effect contests. He’s a very clever kick of the ball, but we’re in no position to have a luxury, specialty player like that. I just can’t connect the dots when we put such a premium on forward pressure, and yet we have Lonie who couldn’t tackle a cardboard cutout to the ground. I think though, the role of the small forwards has been made much more difficult because we don’t get the ball cleanly forwards too often. In the Richmond game for instance, we had a lot more clean, quick possession and in turn guy’s like Lonie were popping up space a lot. The small forwards pecking order is a discussion in itself.

What about the Temple of Acres in his return match? In a game that we barely looked like we wanted to move the ball off half-back, I thought he looked like one of the few effective players able to provide a link and create something on the way to attack.

Blake is always going to stand out for that link up play. I think the other thing to note is that some of his kicking went “unrewarded” – yeah, I’m looking at you Josh Bruce. I think his form earlier in the year was better, but it was a good game from him and another reminder at how similar a lot of our other mids are. It also makes me think: why isn’t Richo doing a better job of freeing up Steven.

Richo lamented our ball use in the post-match. Who were the main culprits in this area? The thing is, we really struggled with this last time against the swans.

Lonie’s forward-50 entry that went straight to a Swan early set the tone, but I feel like the ball use was more to do with purpose. No DARE® Iced Coffee off half-back, but rather long kicks up the line which we’re going to shut down any potential passage. It put guys like Webster, Sinclair Ross in positions where they weren’t able to use their disposal to full effect. Excellent example of the restrictions of this team overall and how incomplete it is. Ideally we’ll be able to land some class and polish – these need to be the two buzzwords for our off-season – ideally from both a big fish and via the draft. Because until then we’re going to struggle with it; it has to be offset by our hard work otherwise and we’re not mature enough to bring that psychological commitment for four quarters every week.

One thing that was meant to be a tangible difference this year was our reinforcements down back; we weren’t meant to see any large forwards man handle us this year, but the last two games we’ve seen Daniher and then Sinclair and Buddy have significant impacts. What’s up with that?

I think quite simply it’s do with the mids getting smashed from the centre and stoppages in general. Last night we won the hit-outs and had more hit-outs to our own players, but Sydney’s tackling and pressure and was that good, and they’re also good enough to get it out of traffic quickly and cleanly. It’s given Essendon and Sydney’s forwards not just more opportunities but better opportunities. The same answer would apply if you questioned our forwards – over the past two weeks, from Riewoldt down to Battle and Marshall, the supply has been short – 37 forward 50 entries to 14 at half-time last night, and haphazard at best.

In the Richo/Finnis era, a lot of fans have been reassured by how we’ve been methodical and measured we’ve been and how we’ve had a plan. But I think it’s come time – was the plan the right one? The plan pre-dates Richo too. Pelchen was critical in its formative years, but like so many, went off into the sunset before it evolved.

As this season’s progressed I’m more sure that we as supporters were seduced by our form in the back half of last year. This year was never meant to be “the” year, even if we’d beaten the Bombers and the Swans. And the point of a rebuild is establish the grounds for a sustained period of success – like the club did from the 2000 trade and draft periods onwards – but, you know, with a premiership at some point. Officially and logistically, 2018 is the official, on-the-record, this-is when-we’re-meant-to-be-good-season, as far as the club is concerned. That’s when the coaches and administration are really on notice given that we still have a lot of guys that simply haven’t played a lot of footy. Saturday night was only Acres’ 39th game; it was Marshall’s first, Lonie’s 37th, Gresham’s 35th, Sinclair’s 39th. Dunstan is only 22, Billings hasn’t turned 22, and even Membrey’s only just turned 23. Then there’s Paddy, Battle, D-Mac, Goddard, Freeman, Rice, White and Long who either have had injuries, few or no games that are still coming through and have shown more than enough to be worth persevering with. We’ve seen what more game time has done for Billings, Webster and Ross overall this year, and Dunstan was arguably our best player in Sydney. There are two first-round draft picks to come, and that may be in the form of a big fish like Josh Kelly, or one first rounder this year and a big recruit. Our list is far from complete, but I think we’ll be duly shitting ourselves until we can justify with club success picking Billings and Paddy over Bontempelli and Petracca in paticular.

We’ve now had several debutants this year, Long, Battle and now Marshall on Saturday night. Have you been able to take away much from them so far?

Marshall and Battle came in at the worst possible times for forwards to debut. Marshall’s had a couple of years of head start but still had to work his way off the rookie list and last night he was a genuine bright spot. In the first few minutes he was giving words back to Luke Parker and he was one of the few running hard on the spread in the final minutes of the match. When he got the ball he moved quickly in tight spaces and held onto it and waited for an option. It meant the ball wasn’t spat out no purpose, it got other guys in the vicinity moving to give him something. Even his use of the body off the ball was smart and he was able to knock on the ball into space when he wasn’t able to get a clean possession. On a night in which we were monstered everywhere he showed more smarts and composure than just about anyone else, and that’s heightened when you have the physical presence and athleticism that he does. I would love to see him stay in the team, and hopefully get an even shot at it playing in the front half on a day that we’re at least competitive in the middle and give the forwards a decent chance. As far the idea of moving him onto Buddy or Sinclair on Saturday night goes given their number of scoring shots, I’m not sure how effective that would have been, or conducive for his own development. Being his first game, I don’t think there was too much immediate worth in potentially getting pantsed in that way.

I’m not sure why we didn’t bring him in earlier. To have not put Armo on the long-term injury list at any point this season only suggests one of two things – our coaches and medical term erred badly, or Armo’s body just simply isn’t up to it anymore. He’s played two games this year, and until Saturday for Sandy hadn’t played for 14 weeks.

My Favourite Player Battle was thrown to the wolves a little more in the sense that he’s still going to school and in his first year, so hasn’t that extra couple of years Marshall has had to build up his physical smarts and experience playing against mature bodies. He still managed to kick straight at goal when no one else could and the fact that he kicked four goals after being immediately dropped shows a lot of maturity. He’s another one that moves in a way that complements his size and build, and clearly has footy smarts.

It’s probably inconsistent of me to say “we’ve still got so much development left in our players though” and then turn around and say picking Ben Long at pick 25 is borderline bemusing. Right now that’s the first thing comes to mind, more so for the type of player he is, but I to remind myself that he’s shown some real agility that we lack on the list beyond Gresham and maybe Lonie (and…maybe Connellan?). Marshall and Battle this year have shown much more than Long in the VFL too, but he’s only 19 FFS.

How much of a shot are we next week? I think Port’s down week might have come one week too early.

Richo hasn’t won at Adelaide Oval ever, so it’s going to be a tough game on a few fronts. It feels like both Essendon and Sydney were able to get the ball into the corridor and break up our defensive set-up, relatively frequently. Unless this is remedied, you can visualize a lot of Port’s crafty, quick players causing some havoc there. Membrey will be a welcome inclusion. Going off of Richo’s post-match, Roo will be out, and Joey will be injured. So I certainly wouldn’t bet on us, but then again I’d almost say Port are just as flaky as us. Every time pundits get high on them, they put in a stinker. We’ve had two bad games, if we have a third – win or lose – then you have to call into question Richo and where the team’s head is at.  Another thing to note is that, there have been a lot of changes in the lineup in recent two-to-three weeks; this can’t be discounted in judging our form.Our next two are against Port and West Coast. If we lose both of those, do you think there should be a rethink on how we use the final three games in terms of selection and so on?

The way the season has panned out probably showed we were in need of more development time anyway. It’s not always a linear progression – for an extreme example see Geelong 2006 and Bulldogs 2014. Acres, Dunstan and D-Mac have shown bits and pieces in varying amount of game time, whilst Webster, Billings and Ross had taken their games to new levels from the start when there was no guarantee in the pre-season (especially after the Bont winning a best and fairest in a premiership year).

Richo said it was planned Roo would miss either this week or next. Without being at the club every day, would it take from here to convince you he should stay on for 2018? The latest murmurs increasingly suggest he probably won’t be there.

It would take him agreeing to a development coaching role. So we’re at a point where it’s publicly known that his body can’t stand up to a full season – hence, the resting plan. On top of that, he’s effectively a non-factor every time he doesn’t mark the ball. That’s not to downplay his leadership qualities, but a part of leadership is being able to walk the walk. Also, I don’t want lasting memories of Riewoldt to be him hobbling around. He’s definitely had some great games this year, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in most of the games against the bigger, better sides he’s been completely out of the contest – last night was a case in point, against the Giants is another off the top of my head. And, also with the Riewoldt thing, the macro view – Riewoldt is part of the group preventing McCartin from getting selected this year. Boomer Harvey was in North’s top 5 for disposal average last year, but they recognized that they needed to utilize his spot for the future generation.

In terms of selection, we’ve kind of gone for horses for courses approach a lot more. Do you think this has hampered the development of anyone?

I feel there’s a few parts to approach the how and ahy of this. is to do with the expectation we had for this season and the gulf between than where we’re at now. We’re at a point where we need to start thinking, ok, who are at the core of each of the defence, midfield and forward line, and get some continuity not just into individuals but those guys playing alongside others and becoming familiar with them. There will always be players at different stages of development and maturity and coming in and out of the team, so that’s where having strong depth comes into it. The fact that we’re still needing to test so many players’ worth and are still sussing out how and when to get continuity into them (injuries notwithstanding) shows how deep in the development game we still are. The Bulldogs’ ability to rely on their depth so much last year goes to their club environment as much the talent of each individual, and is probably an outlier when you look at the stability of the Swans and Hawks teams in recent years, and the Cats teams of 2007 to 2011 particularly. I think it’s more pointed to say – would the development upside have brought more positives than Player X playing this year, and what they bring to the team. After the performance on Saturday night and where we currently sit, and with the magnificence of hindsight the obvious ones in this category overall are Joey, Gilbert and Roo, and Armo and Dempster with asterisks. As far as Roo goes it meant less of Paddy and less of Marshall. But following on from the second half of last year, and all the way to a fortnight ago when we were sitting in the top four on percentage for much of the match against Richmond, those senior guys were all a part of a considered cause for getting some success out of 2017.

  • Harry

    Well said Tom. It is time for some soul searching. But at the same time it is important for the Club and the players (I expect) that the season is finished off well – with a couple of wins at least. I heard Savage say that the match review session after the Essendon
    game was absolutely brutal; yet there was no evident response.

    Consistency is the mark of good players and we are a long way short of that at the present.