Collingwood’s shock rise into finals contention is real, and being driven by a surprising fact about their list, says a long-time AFL coach.
Plus Essendon’s mid-season draft dominance continues, the worrying Sydney trend and why the Bulldogs can still win it.
The big issues from Round 14 of the 2022 AFL season analyzed in Talking Points!
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EX-COACH REVEALS ‘FLAG-PIES’ SECRET WE’RE ‘ALL FALLING FOR’
Forget ‘Flagmantle’ – that doesn’t even rhyme properly. How about the ‘Flagpies’?
Long-time senior coach Ross Lyon believes Collingwood’s best “is as good as anyone’s”, pointing to the age of their list as a reason to believe them to make a serious 2022 charge.
With the equal-most wins over top eight sides in the AFL, despite sitting ninth the Magpies are shaping as a final contender, having taken down St Kilda, Fremantle, Carlton and Melbourne this season.
Adding to their final chances is their kind run home – their next six games are all against the bottom 10.
Much of the Magpies’ core remains from their recent premiership contending years, in particular 2018, and as Lyon pointed out they remain one of the oldest and most experienced teams each week.
In Round 13, when they upset Melbourne, the Magpies were the equal-fourth oldest team in the AFL, and fourth-most experienced. They were older and more experienced than the reigning premier.
That veteran “skeleton” is helping Collingwood contend at the pointy end of the ladder, Lyon told Triple M’s The Sunday Rub.
“Barring the West Coast game, they’d almost be on top of the ladder (on form). Their best is as good as anyone’s,” he said.
“If you go through the midfield, they’ve got a great blend. They’ve got the tall defender in (Darcy) Moore going well, they’ve got (Jeremy) Howe back. With (Mason) Cox standing up in the ruck, he just gives them that X-factor, someone who when he’s on, you can’t stop him when he’s getting his hands on the ball.
“Their best is good enough (to contend for the flag). With Melbourne falling away a bit, if they keep their 22 together, the growth in the kids – they’re the fourth-oldest list in the comp, they’re not a young list, we’re all falling for that one.
“They’ve got a couple of young players coming through, (Nick) Daicos is incredible, but they’ve got the skeleton of a Grand Final team a few years ago. I like them.”
Of key Magpies players, Scott Pendlebury, Jeremy Howe, Steele Sidebottom and Mason Cox are over 30 years old, while Jamie Elliott, Brody Mihocek, Will Hoskin-Elliott, Taylor Adams and Jack Crisp are 28 or older.
It’s whether they have enough talent in the 22 to 26-year-old range that’ll determine whether they can contend under Craig McRae in coming years, as those players decline.
HAVE BOMBERS USED MID-SEASON DRAFT BETTER THAN ANYONE?
There’s been some great stories to come out of the AFL’s mid-season draft… but have the Bombers used it better than any other side?
As highlighted by Herald Sun reporter Jon Ralph, three Essendon mid-season picks — Will Snelling, Sam Durham and now Massimo D’Ambrosio — have all played within three weeks of joining the club.
And both Durham and D’Ambrosio featured in the club’s shock 35-point upset win over St Kilda on Friday night in the latter’s debut, while Snelling returned from injury via the VFL this weekend after an impressive 2021 season.
Ralph pointed out that the Bombers swooped on former VFL Tigers Durham and D’Ambrosio in the mid-season draft despite Richmond being keen on the pair.
And crucially Durham and D’Ambrosio are just 19 years old and 20 respectively, while Snelling is still only 24 as building blocks for the future.
You could make a fair argument for Richmond’s Marlion Pickett, who infamously won a premiership in his first AFL game in the 2019 Grand Final triumph over GWS, being the greatest acquisition from the mid-season draft.
Pickett remains the only player picked up in the mid-season draft to win a flag.
Collingwood’s John Noble and Hawthorn’s Jai Newcombe have also really emerged as AFL players, becoming key members for their respective sides.
Other names to come out of the mid-season draft include Western Bulldogs’ Ryan Gardner, West Coast’s Connor West and Richmond’s Matthew Parker (for his second AFL stint).
So while some great individual stories have emerged, seemingly no club has been as savvy in using it as a genuine tool to build out their list long-term than the Bombers.
The AFL’s mid-season draft first ran from 1990-1993 before being brought back in 2019.
THE WORRYING TREND FOR SWANS AS RIVAL ‘JUSTIFIED’ BY TRADE
After Sydney’s promising start to the season where many acknowledged it as a fancy flag, the club’s form hasn’t been quite as reliable in recent.
Although the Swans splitting their last four games 2-2 doesn’t appear to be cause for concern, it’s the streaks of goals they’ve given up over that span that should.
Against Carlton in Round 10 (six goals), Richmond in Round 11 (seven goals), Melbourne in Round 12 (five goals) and Port Adelaide in Round 14 (seven goals) the Swans have given up big runs of scores to the opposition.
And it proved costly in Saturday’s loss to the Power where Ken Hinkley’s side booted six-unanswered goals in the third term to essentially put the game away.
John Longmire’s team now sits seventh on the ladder with eight wins — the same amount as the ninth-placed Magpies — as the Swans’ position in the top eight suddenly comes under threat.
Speaking on AFL Media’s The Round So Far, Power great Kane Cornes held concerns with Sydney’s form fluctuations, saying he thinks it’s the biggest amongst the top-ranked sides.
“The difference between their best and worst football I think is the biggest out of any of the teams up the top end of the ladder,” he said.
“To concede goals like that, then game over in an instant is a real worry. Their position with St Kilda and a couple of others with how tight it is at risk in the top eight.”
It comes ahead of a defining showdown with St Kilda next weekend where the loser could well find itself outside the top eight by the end of the round.
Sydey’s loss to Port Adelaide was compounded by two brain fades from Peter Ladhams against his old side that cost the Swans as many goals and prompted him to get dragged — a sight rarely seen in footy these days.
They both came in the space of two minutes in the third quarter, with one incident where Ladhams struck Ollie Wines in the chest set to be scrutinized by the MRO.
And Cornes believes his undisciplined behavior validates Port’s decision to trade him last off-season.
“I’ll be really surprised if he comes back in even after that suspension he will cop — one week you would think,” he said.
“Port Adelaide traded him away when he was in contract because of those sort of issues he had in and around the club. They’d be feeling justified with that decision.”
DOGS ‘RIGHT BACK IN HUNT’ WITH SECRET WEAPON WAITING IN THE WINGS
The Western Bulldogs’ big 20-point win over GWS on Saturday night puts them “right back in the hunt” this season, according to Saints great Nick Riewoldt.
It comes as several other finalists faulted over the weekend including Sydney, St Kilda and Carlton amid a wide open AFL season where just one win separates fourth from ninth on the ladder.
And while it’s been an indifferent campaign for the Bulldogs, we know how dangerous they are in full flight, coming off a grand final appearance last year with essentially the same team.
Now sitting just a game outside the top eight, they’re arguably as well placed as any side to go on a run in the second half of the season.
“The Bulldogs had to win because the draw and results over the past couple of nights have really opened up for them,” Riewoldt said on Fox Footy’s Best on Ground.
“I don’t think we’ve had a season like this where you look from fourth down to Port Adelaide (12th) — it is tight.
“It becomes about how you’re actually playing rather than your position on the ladder. The Dogs have ground their way to a little bit of form, I still don’t think they’re anywhere near the side that they were last year.”
Former Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley highlighted how quickly a surge of form — both good and bad — can turn a team’s fortunes.
“It’s that tight if you have a good run you’re going to put yourself in the mix, if you have a bad run — even Melbourne — if they have a further poor month are going to put themselves in a real danger zone,” he said.
Working against the Dogs is that they do have a tough upcoming run ahead of clashes against Hawthorn (Marvel Stadium), Brisbane (Gabba), Sydney (SCG), St Kilda (Marvel Stadium), Melbourne (Marvel Stadium) and Geelong (GMHBA Stadium) ).
However they do have a secret weapon waiting in the wings in key forward Josh Bruce, who booted three goals in his return from his ACL injury on the weekend via the VFL.
Although the Dogs have had bigger problems at the other end of the ground, it shouldn’t be forgotten how valuable the 30-year old is to the side, from a structural perspective if nothing else.
Bruce led the Dogs’ goalkicking last year with 48 majors despite missing six games after an ill-timed ACL blow on the eve of finals, and he provides another avenue to goal and support for Aaron Naughton they’ve solely missed.
The Dogs’ record with Bruce since 2021 is 15-5 (75% win rate) while averaging 94.6 points per game, and since he went down they’re 10-9 (52.6% win rate) at 88.1 points per game.
It comes as Josh Schache and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan both earned a reprieve against the Giants to play in the win. And although neither player was particularly impactful, Riewoldt thought it’s a clear sign that Luke Beveridge wants to provide Naughton with more help in attack.
“Josh Bruce is a big one, coming back through the twos and getting through that game unscathed, he was in decent form,” Riewoldt said.
“Josh Schache and Jamarra Ugle-Hagan didn’t dominate tonight, but that’s a clear message I think that they’re preparing Bruce, Schache and Ugle-Hagan for that role to support Naughton because he needs it.”