Round-by-round: Neeld yields

AFL Round 13, 2013It was inevitable, really. A case of when, not if. In the early hours of Monday morning, Melbourne coach Mark Neeld was told by CEO Peter Jackson that he’d been sacked as Melbourne coach, three days after President Don McLardy resigned and two months after previous CEO Cameron Schwab was sacked. Neeld leaves Melbourne after 18 months and only five wins from 33 matches—and just two weeks after he asked for people’s patience before judging the job he was doing with the club. The great irony of the episode is that Neeld remained Melbourne coach after all 12 of Melbourne’s losses this year — some of which were in excess of 100 points — only to be sacked during the round Melbourne had a bye, the only week of the year they had a 100% chance of not losing. Former Adelaide coach and Neeld’s assistant Neil Craig will take the wheel of the sinking ship that is Melbourne for the rest of 2013, and while the candidates for the job next year are being debated you have to wonder if anyone actually wants to coach Melbourne.Bye: Adelaide, Carlton, Gold Coast, GWS, Collingwood, Essendon Hawthorn vs West Coast (Friday, June 21)With 10 straight wins, Hawthorn was the natural choice of tipsters heading into the match. It looked like it would all be one-way traffic as predicted when Hawthorn had four goals to one by the middle of the first term. But then, West Coast came to play. With their finals hopes on the line, the Eagles scored four goals in five minutes to snatch the lead from the stunned Hawthorn, with a goal from a stoppage by Naitanui a real highlight. By quarter time, West Coast led by two points, 12 goals had been kicked, and the match hung in the balance.The absorbing contest looked set to continue after LeCras, back from injury, goaled to give the Eagles an eight-point lead early in the second. It would be West Coast’s only goal for the term, and as the Eagles dropped off, Hawthorn found another level. The irresistible Hawks matched their first quarter effort of six goals — this time unanswered — to open up a decisive 26-point lead at half-time.The Eagles won the next two quarters by five and one point(s) respectively — showing just how well they matched the best team in the league — but that second quarter burst did the damage and they had to play catch-up footy until the final siren. By then, Gunston put through his fifth goal to give Hawthorn a final lead of 20 points, and both teams left the field heads held high.Roughead (Hawthorn) and Kennedy (West Coast) also kicked five goals each, while Hawks captain Hodge was once again praised for standing up when the match was there to be won. Shuey had 33 possessions in one of his best games for West Coast.Hawthorn 19.9.123 def West Coast 16.7.103 Port Adelaide vs Sydney (Saturday, June 22)Coming back from three months suspension, Tippet showed no signs he had lost touch with the pressures of AFL footy. Playing for his new club — albeit on his old home ground — Tippet took a contested mark and scored the first goal within 15 seconds of play beginning. Though Port responded soon after, the first quarter was generally played on Sydney’s terms, and they took a 17-point lead into quarter time.Port showed spirit early in the second, kicking the first two goals to draw within four points. But Sydney steadied, and still led by nine points at quarter time.The game remained there to be won in the second half, and the increasing number of tackles laid by both sides reflected this. Sydney got 16 points clear in the third term, before Port rallied again and reduced the margin to only four points at the final change.It set up a huge last quarter. It began with the two teams trading goals and lead changing on each occasion, and Sydney were still two points in front with 15 minutes to play. But Port stepped up, implementing an impenetrable defensive structure and locking the ball in their forward half. They were rewarded with the last three goals of the game, and their seventh victory of the year is arguably their best to date, upsetting the reigning premiers and keeping their finals hopes alive.Port’s Cornes was again best afield, but not because of his disposal count this time. Aside from his 21 possessions, he kept Sydney’s brownlow-favourite midfielder Hanneberry to only 13. Corne’s teammate Wingard top scored with three goals, while Kennedy had 31 touches for Sydney.Port Adelaide 10.12.72 def Sydney 8.6.54 St. Kilda vs MelbourneA notable absentee from St. Kilda was Milne, given indefinite leave from the club after being charged with four counts of rape on Tuesday from an incident in 2004. In the process, he overshadowed the 250th game of club champions Reiwoldt and Dal Santo. Collectively the scandals and milestones meant that a match between the two teams at the bottom of the ladder — save for GWS — attracted the most attention of any this round.Though they were only one spot above on the ladder, St. Kilda showed their superiority over Melbourne from the outset. Three goals in the first four minutes set up an early buffer, as St. Kilda opened up a 26-point lead at quarter time. While Melbourne missed some easy opportunities in the second term, the contest evened up somewhat; St. Kilda only won the term by three points.Back at their scoring end in the third, St. Kilda made the most of their attacking opportunities, kicking five goals to two for the quarter to lead by 49 points at three-quarter time.Another blowout seemed to be on the cards for Melbourne, but they fought on commendably the last term, kicking three goals to one to keep the final margin under six goals.Milestone men Reiwoldt and Dal Santo had three goals and 28 touches respectively, while Montagna was best afield with 35 touches. Melbourne defenders Garland, Pederson and McDonald deserve credit for keeping the Saints forwards relatively honest.St. Kilda 16.8.104 def Melbourne 10.9.69 Western Bulldogs vs RichmondRichmond did the early attacking but the Dogs were able to stay in touch through forcing contests and skill errors. For their dominance, Richmond were only 11 points in front at quarter time.The difference between the two sides was converted onto the scoreboard in the next term, with Richmond kicking the first four goals. A string of behinds from both teams followed, before Stringer narrowed the margin to 22 points with a goal on the half-time siren.Scoring dried up in the third term, but Richmond slowly drew away, kicking the only five goals of the term to lead by 54 points at the final break. By full time, this margin was 61 points, and Richmond are now two games clear of ninth spot and will very likely make the finals for only the third time in 30 years. The match reached no great heights, so good players were ones that got the job done rather than trying to make the highlights reel. Richmond’s Grigg fell into that category with 10 marks, 21 possessions and two goals, while Houli was also solid with 25 touches. Murphy, Cooney and Boyd all led from the front for the Dogs, the latter with 34 possessions and 152 Dream Team points.Richmond 17.19.121 def Western Bulldogs 8.13.61  Fremantle vs North Melbourne (Sunday, June 23)Rain and (Fremantle Coach) Ross Lyon: everything you need for a low scoring AFL match. And so it was, as Fremantle’s Barlow scored the only goal among five behinds in the first term to give his team a seven-point lead at quarter time.North got the first goal of the second term and reduced the margin to a solitary point, but thereafter Fremantle dominated proceedings. They scored the next four goals, with a monopoly on the disposal count and clever ball use going forward. One particular passage of play summed it up: after taking a screamer on the wing, Fyfe handballed to a teammate, introducing a sequence of kicks with pin-point accuracy as Fremantle streamed forward, culminating in a goal that put them 27 points up at half-time.North found the ball more often in the second half, and continued trying to challenge Fremantle. A goal to start the last term put them within 19 points, but Fremantle’s forward running and disposal efficiency again proved too much for North to handle. Fremantle doubled this margin with the last three goals of the game. The final siren sounded soon after, but not before a cat oddly found its way onto the field. It’s a sign of things to come for the third-placed Fremantle; they play Geelong next week, and are arguably a better chance than any other team to beat the first-placed Cats, having not lost a match in eight weeks and conceding the least points per game of any club.Barlow continued his great season with 31 touches, while Fyfe’s 28 touches and aerial skills proved critical to helping Freo secure the early lead. North captain Swallow had 33 touches.Fremantle 10.7.67 def North Melbourne 4.5.29 Brisbane vs GeelongGeelong slammed on the first two goals with their trademark level of class, but then were given an early scare when Brisbane kicked the next three to take the lead. Not to be outdone, Geelong scored another three of their own before quarter time to lead by 13 points.They had an easier time of it thereafter, as Brisbane’s attacking patches became shorter and shorter and Geelong got on top of the centre clearances. The margin was 27 points at half-time.It looked like the game would lose its sting in the second half, and this only looked more certain when Geelong led by 52 points well into the third term. But then Lions again scared the Cats, and this time it was nothing short of mind-boggling. Starting with the last two goals of the third term, Brisbane steamrolled the tiring Geelong to kick nine of the next 10 goals and level the scores with 100 seconds to play. A quick centre clearance to Geelong gave Hawkins a set shot that put Geelong back in front by a point. With one last chance, Brisbane willed the ball from their back half to half forward, where 250th-gamer McGrath marked it 50 metres out directly in front. In the ultimate fairy tale ending — and with no breath left in the bodies of the flabbergasted players, supporters, coaches and commentators — McGrath slotted his third goal to win the match for Brisbane by five points. Brisbane inflicted only Geelong’s second defeat of the year and their second victory over a top four side in three weeks. They pulled off the ninth greatest comeback EVER, statistics that will definitely give the often-criticised Lions some breathing space and give their supporters much-needed hope. It may well be the match of the season, and like any good match it left those who watched it shaking their heads, all asking the same question: “How the HELL did that happen?”The entire Brisbane team deserves a mention for their “never give up” attitude, though Moloney’s six tackles and three goals and Black’s 33 possessions might have put them a cut above. Johnson, Bartel, Selwood and Stokes each had 31 touches for Geelong.Brisbane 15.13.103 def Geelong 14.14.98by Alexander Darling

June 24th 2013
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