Round-by-round: Let the footy begin… again

AFL Round 1, 2013Technically, the footy season started last weekend. Aesthetically, the footy season started like it has in times past: in football’s holy city of Melbourne with two Victorian teams — and a decades old rivalry — battling it out at the ‘G to the roar of 90,000 exhilarated fans. It was this week that you heard people in pubs saying “Footy’s back!” and when began predictions of the margin by which Carlton would thrash Richmond on Thursday at the MCG, as has been part of the ritual of previous years.It was not to be… Carlton vs Richmond (Thursday, March 28)Waite remained a notable absentee from Carlton’s squad, while Chaplain made his Richmond debut in the Round 1 clash, which Carlton hadn’t lost since 2008.Both sides began the season led by new captains as well as marquee players, but it was Carlton who was first to make use of this talent. In an early changing of the guard, ex-captain Judd snapped a kick to Murphy in the square, the new skipper kicking Carlton’s third straight goal to start the match. Richmond came back with the next three, but a string of post-ers meant they could only draw level by quarter time.They took the lead within the first minute of the second, kicking the next four goals unanswered, eventually leading by 38 at half time. Carlton defender Robinson was knocked out in a marking contest halfway through the term, exacerbating new coach Mick Malthouse’s concerns.Richmond’s lead grew to 42 early in the third, as they began to get on top in the clearances. Then two superb goals from Judd sparked a mini-comeback from the Blues, who came within four goals before Richmond steadied for the final break.The last quarter was Carlton’s, who kicked the only five goals to get within a kick of Richmond. But unlike in many matches last year, Richmond held on to their slim margin, suggesting they may be ready for finals football. Gibbs and Judd had influential matches for Carlton; while Richmond’s best were Vickery with three goals and new captain Cotchin with 33 touches.Richmond 14.22.106 def Carlton 14.17.101 Western Bulldogs vs Brisbane (Saturday, March 30)Brisbane coach Michael Voss this week told his midfield they need career best years to make Brisbane a competitive side in 2013, and to “improve 20 percent” for the match. He would have been nothing short of dumbfounded by what he saw as the Dogs kicked six goals to the Lions six behinds in the first quarter, effectively ending the match. The Dogs, missing captain Matthew Boyd after scans this week revealed a calf-strain, lifted as a team in his absence. Debutant Brett Goodes comfortably slipped into his role at half-back, while Liberatore, Cooney and Roughead, who held Brisbane’s captain Brown to one goal, also had an influence. It took the Lions until the second quarter to score their first goal, a bouncing ball from Moloney outside 50. This did nothing to stop the Dogs’ charge, however, as Brendan McCartney’s men continued to dominate the clearances and contested possessions to lead by 37 at half time. The Dogs continued dominating and extending their lead until the final siren, with a third-quarter banana by acting captain Murphy arguably the highlight of the day. It was a crushing defeat for Brisbane, who were optimistic about 2013 following their victory in the NAB Cup. The Dogs, however, will have difficulty finding problems with their game: leading all day, winning every quarter, finishing with a thumping 11-goal win and ending an 11-game losing streak in the process.Western Bulldogs 19.13.127 def Brisbane 7.17.59 GWS vs SydneyDuring the week GWS coach Kevin Sheedy wondered publicly whether the gap between his side and Sydney — wooden spooner and premier respectively — was that great. It seemed a ludicrous remark at the time, but having seen GWS’s performance the four-time premiership coach may be onto something. The third Sydney derby began as expected, with Sydney piling on pressure and controlling the play, holding their inexperienced opponents goalless in the first quarter. But in the second GWS played with skill and intensity they had rarely, if ever, shown before. Patton, the No. 1 draft pick of the previous year, proved his worth with two big goals as GWS kicked the first five of the term to take the lead halfway through. Sydney quickly went about restoring things to their natural AFL order, responding to the challenge with five goals of their own and restoring its four-goal margin by half time. The margin between the teams remained for the second half, Sydney kicking seven goals to GWS’s six to finish with a five-goal win. However, GWS ended the match with more forward 50 entries, a reminder of their earlier competitiveness.Jack and O’Keefe lead the disposal count as usual for Sydney, while Treloar stood tall for the Giants, and the team as a whole can be satisfied they gave the other 17 teams a glimpse of their bright future as the league’s newest side.Sydney 16.10.106 def GWS 11.10.76 Gold Coast vs St. KildaThe Suns seemed to forget they had lost each of their last two matches with St. Kilda by over 90 points, playing with intensity in the first and taking an 11-point lead into quarter time.St. Kilda were then able to turn the tables, capitalising on the Suns’ mistakes to kick the only five goals of the term and take the lead at the main break.Gold Coast needed something special to get back on top, and like many times before they found it in Gary Ablett Junior. The Suns’ Captain kicked three goals within the first half of the last term to put his team in front. The confidence and energy with which he played rubbed off on the rest of his team, who — having been notoriously lousy at running out matches last year — maintained their effort until the end of the match, kicking seven goals to the Saints three in the final term to carry out an emphatic 13-point win. Once again Gold Coast had Ablett — who for some reason still thinks his dad was better than he is — to thank for their victory. Individually, no-one could come near him with four goals, 34 touches, 135 Dream Team points and surely three Brownlow votes. The Suns are rising; maybe now we’ll finally get to learn the words of their team song.Gold Coast 13.12.90 def St. Kilda 10.17.77 Melbourne vs Port Adelaide (Sunday, March 31)Full forward Clark returned from a foot injury and Viney made his anticipated debut for Melbourne, while it was former Essendon star Angus Monfries’ and new coach Ken Hinkley’s first match with Port Adelaide.Port got out to an early lead with the first three goals, before Frawley found Clark to get Melbourne on the board. He added a second goal minutes later, as it became clear just how much Melbourne missed their key forward. A courageous mark by Schulz gave Port a 14-point lead by quarter’s end.Schulz outdid himself in the second with a massive leap over a pack in the goal square, the mark of the round. Like Schulz, Port lifted themselves as a team, able to stave off two surges by Melbourne and double their lead by half time.The floodgates opened in the second half, Port scoring eight goals to Melbourne’s one, ending the match with 81 more disposals, 21 more inside 50s and 79 points ahead in a superb start to the season.The Power’s best were Brad Ebert with 30 disposals and Jay Schulz with four goals and of course, that mark. Co-captain Jack Grimes fought hard for Melbourne with 25 touches, but perhaps most reflective of the Demons disappointing performance was that first-gamer Viney was among their best.Port Adelaide 19.19.133 def Melbourne 8.6.54 North Melbourne vs CollingwoodCollingwood entered the match without a key member of its midfield and leadership group Luke Ball, but welcomed free-agent recruits Quinten Lynch and Jordan Russell. Ben Jacobs debuted for North.It was an even contest at the start, as the teams went goal for goal and the lead changed six times in a see-sawing first term. A noteworthy piece of play was when a contentious in-the-back free against Cloke denied the Pies’ forward a second goal. Pies’ coach Buckley broke a phone in frustration, and North regained the lead soon after.Collingwood kicked the first two to take back the lead from North in the second, before Tarrant put North back in front halfway through the term, only for Collingwood to score another two and lead by two points at half time.By now the crowd were getting dizzy from all the lead changes (12 to be exact). It didn’t continue in the second half however, as Collingwood controlled the flow of play kicking four unanswered goals. North pegged one back before the final break.Collingwood’s lead grew to 34 early in the fourth, and it looked like they were set for a big win. However, a late charge came from North, who were within 11 points with less than five minutes left. But Collingwood kept their heads, McCaffer sealing the match with a goal after a coast-to-coast passage of play.North were ahead in every key stat other than contested possessions and tackles by the match’s end, and their captain Swallow beat Collingwood midfielders Swan and Pendlebury for disposals with 34. Ultimately, Collingwood made the most of their opportunities when they had the ball, setting up the win.Collingwood 15.13.103 def North Melbourne 13.9.87 Hawthorn vs Geelong (Monday, April 1)Geelong were without Johnson who underwent knee surgery last week, though prized recruits Rivers and Caddy made their club debuts.Hawthorn fielded no changes, and showed just how dangerous they could be with a full strength team, kicking four goals to one in the first term and displaying sublime skills. They continued to dominate in the second — though missing many shots at goal — leading by as much as five goals in the middle of the term, including two 50 metre shots from Franklin. But just like Jesus, Geelong rose from the dead just before half time; led by inimitable captain Selwood, they kicked six unanswered goals and took the lead in the third, leaving Hawthorn flabbergasted and behind by two points at three-quarter time.Geelong were now moving the ball with the fluency and precision that was a hallmark of their premiership years, leading by 21 points halfway through the final term. Hawthorn fought back with the last two goals, but it was too little too late, and Geelong ended the match seven points ahead. Mitchell, with 37 touches, and Selwood with 34, stood out for Hawthorn and Geelong respectively.With more disposals, free kicks, clearances, inside 50s and contested possessions, Hawthorn may well wonder if they were victims of divine intervention this Easter Monday. Again they lost to Geelong having been in a winning position, the 10th time in a row since they beat the Cats in the 2008 Grand Final.Geelong 13.15.93 def Hawthorn 12.14.86 The Monday on which the last match of a split Round 1 fell was April Fools’ Day, a somewhat appropriate coincidence. With all the upsets — and near-upsets — of the last fortnight, it seemed like football was playing a two-week long practical joke on us all. And this was just Round 1. Good luck with tipping for the next 22 rounds!The first two match reviews of this split round can be found Alexander Darling

April 3rd 2013
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