Kozzie’s bump deserved a month off, draws are awesome, and the Pies are officially likeable
Footy is back – and if your team brought in a new coach over the summer, chances are you had a mighty fine weekend!
Alastair Clarkson’s era at North Melbourne began with a thrilling win, Adam Kingsley’s Giants came from the clouds after a shocking start to reel in the Crows, Brad Scott’s Bombers made mincemeat of the Hawks, and most impressively of all, an injury-plagued St Kilda pounced on Fremantle in the last quarter to start Ross Lyon’s second coming on the best possible note.
A Round 1 win isn’t the be all and end all, but for our eight winners, there’s plenty of reason to head into work positively beaming. On the contrary, though, if your team was beaten – especially if you’re from Queensland or the western suburbs of Melbourne – you might want to avoid the water cooler on Monday. Adelaide fans should probably take this advice as well.
We had spectacular marks, controversial hits, scintillating goals and some fantastic footy played across the weekend – so there’s plenty for keyboard warriors like me to sink our teeth into! Let’s begin.
1. Kozzie Pickett’s ban is far too light
Kysaiah Pickett’s hideous high bump on Bailey Smith was never going to get the sanction it deserved.
That’s because our current match review system – where each incident except for the really major ones is graded on a scale for conduct, impact, and contact – is simply not equipped to deal with the majority of the cases it needs to, especially now in the days of concussion lawsuits and industrial action.
To date, has far too much to do, and not the potential to do damage. Even if Pickett’s bump was deemed intentional – the fact it was given a ‘careless’ grading is an absolute disgrace – and high contact – and yes, at least some part of his body collects Smith in the head – then the fact that the Bulldog got up and played out the rest of the game meant grading of ‘high’ contact, and then only two weeks on the sideline, was inevitable.
I think most people who watched that incident would agree two weeks is manifestly inadequate. This is exactly the sort of thing the AFL needs to stamp out of the game. Pickett leaves the ground with no designs on smothering, or tackling, or doing anything other than an old-fashioned ‘make him earn it’.
I’m aware I’ve got a dog in this fight, pardon the pun, but for me it was a disgraceful moment from a bloke who was otherwise quite clearly the best man on the ground.
Unfortunately, much as I’d like there to be, there is no ‘dog shot bonus’ in the AFL match review playbook.
It has always baffled me that the AFL chose to radically shake things up when they brought in Michael Christian as a single Match Review Officer, replacing a panel, but then have him make his verdicts based on an outdated set of guidelines.
Instead of quibbling over things like impact – which has always been judged more on the consequence and whether the player gets hit in a concussion sweet spot than anything to do with the hits themselves – there should be ‘footy act’ and ‘non-footy act’ separators to draw a line between bumps like Pickett’s and ones like Matt Rowell’s on Saturday night, where he was clearly going for the ball – something he mercifully wasn’t even cited for.
My view is four weeks would have been an acceptable ban – the same as what Tom Stewart got last year for running through Dion Prestia (both men did leave the ground to bump, and if anything Pickett’s looked far uglier).
With the rise of a pair of lawsuits against the AFL this week for their failure to adequately address concussion over decades, Pickett’s bump was the first major test case to see whether the league had learned anything. As it turns out, barring a league appeal that they rarely if ever initiate these days, they haven’t.
The fact Pickett got lucky and didn’t leave Bailey Smith leaking brain fluid out both ears shouldn’t mitigate the severity of the act, and the importance of either stamping it out of the game or ensuring offenders are harshly dealt with.
While I’m at it, and this is where I expect I’ll get backlash, it’s probably time bumps like Shane McAdam’s on Jacob Wehr cop a suspension as well.
McAdam chooses to bump rather than bracing for contact, doesn’t hit Wehr high, and the Giant returned to play shorty after, so he’s almost certainly in the clear. But once again, the potential to cause damage is high – enough of saying of players, ‘Oh, he was lucky he didn’t make contact with the head’.
McAdam, and the rest of the league as a whole, needs to be discouraged from bumping in that situation – a tackle has just as much impact on the contest and doesn’t risk a concussion to anywhere near the same degree. The next player who has to wear one of those might not be as fortunate as Wehr to walk away from it.
2. Pies do the impossible, and become *shudders* likeable
The Coodabeen Champions once did a parody where they redid every club’s song to the tune of another team’s; their Collingwood version, to the tune of We Are Geelong, has stuck with me for decades.
We are the Pies, the greatest team of all
All other teams, do not count at all
We play the game just as we choose
‘Cos we are better than yoooouse
That’s pretty much summed up Collingwood’s existence since the dawn of the club in 1892, and is why everyone who doesn’t barrack for them in Victoria loves to hate them.
Eddie McGuire’s reign as Magpies president reinforced all those stereotypes: his constant favouritism for the Pies in his role in the media, the constant double standards he applied to his players compared to the rest of the competition (remember the Steele Sidebottom saga of 2020?), all the way down to pettier things like the Pies seldom if ever made to wear a legitimate clash guernsey, or keeping their fans’ reserved seats even for MCG away games, or never having to travel to Geelong or face Hawthorn in Tasmania.
There’s a century of history and a million reasons why everyone hates Collingwood, which makes it even more remarkable what Craig McRae and his team have accomplished over the last 12 months. They’ve managed to make the Pies, well, likeable.
On the field, they play a brilliant brand of footy to enjoy as a neutral; they take the game on, kick sharply, run with dash and dare, and make you wish your team played like they did. It’s a style good enough to make no less a team than the reigning premiers look thoroughly second rate.
Off the field, McRae is soft-spoken but confident. He’s humble when the Magpies win, and a gracious loser when they don’t. He’s never agitated about umpiring decisions, or rotten luck, or any of the other myriad concerns most other AFL coaches wade into from time to time.
It’s always encouraging, always supportive of his players, like that high school teacher who was always everyone’s favourite. No wonder every Magpie would run through a wall for the bloke.
You can see his influence rubbing off on his team, too, particularly the younger players: Josh and Nick Daicos spoke beautifully on Friday night about their grandfather’s recent passing, and their tribute to him in the centre of the MCG was moving stuff. Like McRae, it’s remarkable how level-headed Nick Daicos is as a 20-year old kid coming off a Rising Star win with all the reason in the world to become a bit full of himself.
When you add things like Peter Daicos’ raw delight in the Magpies’ rooms after their win, or every single Collingwood player getting around the stretcher to show their support for Jeremy Howe, or the reverent way which with they all spoke about him after the match, it’s a group of players and coaches that you’d be proud to root for every week.
Even off-field, the Pies are getting likeable: after years of pretty putrid behaviour surrounding the Port Adelaide prison bars debate – another Eddie special – Jeff Browne quietly and without fuss officially permitted the Power to wear their heritage strip for the Showdown. Diplomacy and good-natured common sense – how we love to see it.
The Pies took their fans on a remarkable journey in 2022. They’re set to take everyone else’s fans on an even more remarkable ride this season: actually starting to kind of, sort of, maybe, like Collingwood.
3. A well-deserved whack for the MCG
It wasn’t a good week for the MCG.
For starters, the decision to relay a huge chunk of turf just weeks out from the season, however necessary, was always going to be a risky move. Sure enough, after a spate of injuries on Friday night, which Chris Scott at least seems to think was caused by the shifting ground, attention turned straight to the repair job.
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I’m willing to give the ‘G a pass for this; there are always going to be concerts in the off-season, and while the fixes were far too close to the season for comfort, you can’t specifically say they contributed to Tom Stewart’s injury, or Sam De Koning, or Tyson Stengle. Hopefully the repair job reaps rewards in the long run and the surface plays superbly for the rest of the season.
Far less excusable is the ground’s role in this viral Tweet by ‘Darren Wheels’, who claimed in the season opener that Channel 7 and Fox Footy had been set up across an entire region of wheelchair-accessible seating.
Seven and Fox bore the brunt of the blame for that, but this isn’t their fault at all. My understanding is the networks request space, and the MCG provides it: the fact something like this, to my knowledge, hasn’t been brought up before (please correct me in the comments if I’m wrong) suggests neither crew would have ever needed to be aware of the space they were occupying having such an impact before.
Hopefully the MCG learns it’s lesson from Thursday night’s debacle and allows fans that require specific seating areas to, y’know, actually use those facilities, because this was piss poor.
4. Queensland footy’s latest dark day
This was supposed to be a moving year for Brisbane and Gold Coast.
The Lions, who stocked up on experienced talent and entered the season as one of the flag favourites, were meant to have taken the next step from damaging but flaky finals also-ran to proper premiership aspirant. The Suns had lower aims, but after years of slow but steady improvement under Stuart Dew, finals was a realistic marker for probably the first time since 2015.
None of that is now off the table, of course; but if you were after a tone-setter, Saturday’s horror show for both Queensland clubs couldn’t have been further from it. And I’m not sure which club was more disappointing.
The Lions were straight up monstered around the ball and then dismantled on the counterattack by a Port Adelaide outfit they’ve comfortably dealt with for much of the last few years. Josh Dunkley’s addition into the midfield group didn’t give them the instant contested possession spike they were craving, while Jack Gunston barely got a look in up forward.
My concern with the Lions before the season was that their new recruits, from Dunkley to Gunston to Conor McKenna and even Will Ashcroft, would only add to their strengths rather than addressing their weaknesses. Sure enough, the Lions’ defence copped a pounding they couldn’t handle from the Port mids, and the Power had too many dangerous options both tall and small.
But it’s the Suns who were the real concern – and not just because I foolishly chose to tip them to knock over Sydney.
Yes, the Swans are a terrific team, but the Suns have had a great recent record at cutting them down to size, winning three of the last four games. Their brand of gritty contested ball, disciplined team defence and hitting the scoreboard just enough to grind out wins, has worked reasonably well particularly over the last two seasons, and they always tend to start years well.
But while the Suns matched the Swans at the coalface, they were absolutely destroyed on the outside. Teams that win the contested possession count 165-159 should not be 50 disposals down on the count by game’s end. And teams that win the clearance count 46-39 should not be conceding 64 inside 50s to 44.
I’m not sure what the Suns are anymore, but if you’re still just a plucky battler in the sixth year of your coach’s tenure, now matter how low the base he started with, something is going horribly wrong. There’s enough talent at the Suns by now that performances as lopsided as Saturday night’s, on their own turf, can’t be acceptable.
The last time there was this much optimism about Gold Coast was in early 2015. They lost their first two matches, and all the air went out of the club in an instant. If they don’t respond against Essendon – a hugely winnable game – next week, history will be in real danger of repeating.
5. What the hell’s wrong with a draw?
It’s becoming a running theme in the AFL these days – whenever two teams can’t be split on the final siren, in come the calls to introduce extra time, or a penalty shootout, or anything to break the deadlock.
Even Gerard Whateley, a long-time advocate of the draw, admitted following Richmond’s draw with Carlton on Thursday night that for the first time, he felt unsatisfied by the dead heat.
If I’m honest, I don’t really understand why. Draws are great! They rarely happen, they’re memorable, and they’re surely infinitely better than any tie-breaker when it comes to home-and-away games that don’t require a victor for next week.
I can honestly say I remember the two draws I’ve attended in my life just as much as any thrilling game. You ask me what happened in the last minute of Round 5, 2008, between Richmond and the Bulldogs, I can tell you: Brian Lake marked the footy, faked a cramp, limped off, Will Minson was awarded the kick completely at random, and casually kicked a goal to level the scores.
From a technical standpoint, getting rid of the draw would cause problems: teams would get 10 extra minutes to improve their score, which has an impact on percentage. We saw with the Bulldogs and Carlton last year just how much impact those few little points here or there across a season can have.
And for the argument I heard that Michael Voss would love a chance for two extra points, given how agonisingly short his Blues fell last season, I’d respond by pointing out that it was missing out on a draw that cost the Blues finals last year!
I wonder as well how many of the pro-extra-time crowd are prepared for situations where, with the scores tied and a minute left, both teams choose to park the bus rather than trying for a score. As it stands, those rare periods late in matches where either team can win the game or lose the game, and just need a point to do it, are as captivating to watch as any extra time period could be.
But mainly, draws should be kept because they’re fun. They’re a unique part of our game, are a rare, once-a-season measure, and it just doesn’t need to be fixed.
6. One last word on JHF
I wrote about Jason Horne-Francis plenty last year; so much so that I vowed to myself, good or bad, I wouldn’t succumb to the click-chasing need to talk about him this season.
And then he went out and was best afield in the most impressive win of the opening weekend.
My compromise is this: one point on Horne-Francis this round, no mention of him in the headline, and then we move on for the rest of the year.
I think in the whole JHF saga, from his early rumblings at North Melbourne to his bombshell trade request to his eventual departure, one thing has been forgotten: he’s a 19-year old kid.
We expect so much of AFL draftees, particularly the exceptionally gifted ones: they’re supposed to walk into clubs down the bottom with all the expectation in the world on their shoulders, take it in stride, instantly acclimatise to the professionalism required at the top level, and be terrific footballers from the outset on top of that. And if they aren’t, then they’re unfavourably compared to the guys from the same draft pool that are.
For a youngster as competitive as Horne-Francis, coming into the AFL system having been the dominant junior of his generation, then playing and starring in SANFL finals in his senior year, having to play in a team that just plain sucked would have been incredibly frustrating.
Yes, he acted out; yes, he didn’t cope well with it; yes, he departed in such a way as to leave an entire club and its fan base disenchanted. 19-year olds aren’t the most logical thinkers, especially pissed off 19-year olds living away from home for the first time in their lives.
The pre-season saw a lot of that angry sentiment go up a gear: praise dished out to Horne-Francis by Kane Cornes and by the AFL website was swiftly scorned, images of him catching his breath away from a contest surfaced, and I got the sense a big chunk of supporters, and not just Roos fans, were eagerly awaiting a Round 1 failure.
Instead, he had 25 touches, seven clearances, a team-high 532 metres gained, kicked a great goal, and was the most influential player on the ground in Port Adelaide’s third quarter for the ages. All while going head-to-head, and comfortably shading, Lachie Neale.
Horne-Francis isn’t always going to have it this good: he’ll have quiet days, the Power will perform poorly, he’ll make mistakes, and then he’ll cop it once again. That’s the price you pay for being a teenager who dares to not quite be as thoroughly professional as he should have been right out of the gate, or be annoyed about playing in a crap team, or wanting to play your footy in a better team that happens to be right down the road from where you live.
I hope when those down moments come, be they this year or in the decade and a half he’ll spend as an AFL footballer, we can all remember games like that magical afternoon at the Adelaide Oval on Saturday, where he didn’t just look like a superstar… he was one.
You don’t need to forgive him or anything, North fans – making him a pantomime villain when they play the Power in Round 9, a la Ollie Henry on Friday night, is a foregone conclusion – but maybe just hate the fact that he left at all, and not the reasons why.
– Peter Wright blowing a shoulder three hours after signing a four-year extension is just so Essendon.
– Here’s my weekend hot take: Reuben Ginbey was every bit as good as Harry Sheezel on Saturday.
– Nick Haynes kicking a 50-metre goal while scarcely being able to move will take some beating for my favourite footy moment of the year.
– If Rory Lobb’s looking that disinterested in Round 1, it’s gonna be a looooong season for the Bulldogs.
– Has Ryan Burton removed Charlie Cameron from his back pocket yet?
– Couldn’t have loved the theatre on Friday night with Ollie Henry any more. Kid copped it from the crowd, and dished it right back. Huge fan.
– Big fan of Channel 7 not showing any replays of Jeremy Howe’s broken arm. Watching Nathan Brown’s leg bent in an L in 2005 scarred me as a kid.
– Welcome back, Walla.