Round-by-round: Overdosing on Scandal

AFL Round 19, 2013Let me sum up the sentiment of the millions of AFL followers across the country: this darn AFL-ASADA report can’t come quick enough.The report — the result of an investigation into Essendon’s controversial boundary-pushing supplements program in 2012 — is due for release next week sometime, and this week, sensing the end of the saga was nigh, the AFL fetched its stash of controversy, injecting all the allegations its veins could hold. On Tuesday, the latest allegations to emerge from the Essendon scandal were that sports scientist Steven Dank texted coach James Hird last April saying that Hawthorn, West Coast and Collingwood were pushing the boundaries and were “biologically advanced”. Any such advancements were denied by the presidents of all three of these teams.On Wednesday, the headline-addicted media reported St. Kilda forward Ahmed Saad returned a positive test for a banned substance after a match last month. Saad faces a maximum two-year ban from the AFL unless he can prove he took the substance — which was mixed with an energy drink — inadvertently.That night, sacked Essendon high-performance manager Dean “The Weapon” Robinson told Channel 7 in a paid (and teary) TV interview that Hird had suggested WADA-banned substances Hexarelin and Testosterone cream be introduced as part of a supplements program for Essendon players. Robinson also said he would walk in on Dank injecting Hird with Hexarelin.Hopefully next week is the last we’ll hear of the whole palaver. The ‘drugs in sport’ issue and the ensuing trial-by-media has consumed the 2013 season whole, and if you’re a recovering football scandal junkie like myself you’ll be hoping the report on Essendon brings the whole sordid affair to a conclusion. For the guilty. For the innocent. For the good of the game. North Melbourne vs Geelong (Friday, August 2)In the Scott twins fourth meeting as opposing coaches, Geelong got the early break with the first two goals. North Melbourne then streamed forward and a string of three goals took them to an eight-point lead into quarter time.Geelong’s big forwards put them in front when play resumed, but some exciting plays from Wells and Harvey spurred North to a run of five straight goals. They led by 20 points at half-time, having again proved why they’ll be the best side outside the eight this year.In the third, North proved why they aren’t in the eight this year. Every forward foray was rebounded by Geelong and turned into a scoring opportunity. A goal to Adams before the three-quarter time siren steadied North, who still led by eight.Three early goals to North put them in a position to win, but Geelong — who are never down and out — refused to die. A goal to Smedts put them within 10 points with 10 minutes to go, before a quick reply to Bastinac sealed North Melbourne’s eighth win of the season. True to their spirit, Geelong kept coming — Taylor goaled with five seconds left to trim the margin back to 10 — but by the final siren, the Scott brothers were two and two each, Geelong had lost their third match in five weeks, all to teams outside the eight, and North were mathematically — there’s that word — still a chance to make the finals.Harvey’s 358th game for North was arguably his best, and that’s no overstatement. With 37 touches and some brilliant running plays, he had a key influence on North’s ability to open up an early lead, as did Wells with four goals. Kelly (14 tackles), Enright (23 touches) and Duncan (28 touches) all fought hard for Geelong.North Melbourne 15.6.96 def Geelong 13.8.86 GWS vs Melbourne (Saturday, August 3)This match was clash of the bottom two teams, one 155 years old (Melbourne), the other only one year (GWS). It was the baby club that gained the early lead, with GWS players displaying some beautiful snap-kicking for goal. They were four points ahead at quarter time.Melbourne had a disappointing second term, kicking only one goal and gradually losing the Inside 50 count. The fact they were playing against the winless GWS only made it worse. GWS, by contrast, scored four goals and extending their lead to 19 points by half-time.This lead remained for much of the third term before Melbourne started to win the footy more and kicked two late goals. They were only 13 points down at quarter time.But in the last term, GWS — who only last week had lost by 40 points after falling off the pace in the last term — finished the game strongly. With seven goals to three for the term, GWS executed their first win of the season and only the third of their history by 37 points.Though not the 12-goal last term Melbourne put on the last time these two teams met, the result was significant: had they not won this nor any of their next four games, GWS would have become the first team to go winless in an AFL season since Fitzroy (now Brisbane) in 1964.Ward and Cameron both fired with four goals for GWS, and the former had 31 possessions. Jones had 29 touches and Pederson 23 for Melbourne.GWS 19.10.124 def Melbourne 12.15.87 Hawthorn vs RichmondRichmond won by 62 points when these teams met this time last year, and nothing seems to have changed in the time between. The generally unshakable Hawthorn were flummoxed by the hungry Tigers. With a run of five straight goals, Richmond stormed to a three-goal lead at quarter timeHawthorn pulled the match back to even terms in the second, stifling Richmond of scoring opportunities while gradually scoring goals themselves. A goal to Guerra two minutes out from half-time put Hawthorn up by two points.Hawthorn looked to be getting comfortable 10 minutes into the second half, when Ceglar scored his first career goal to put them eight points up. But then came part two of the Richmond onslaught. Richmond crushed Hawthorn’s will to compete with some brilliant team passages of play, a monopoly over the clearances and 10 of the next 11 goals. It was a blitzkrieg Hawthorn is more accustomed to delivering than receiving, but in this case Richmond delivered a 41-point win and the third upset from as many matches this round. Get excited Richmond fans; you’re heading to the finals for the first time in 12 years.Cotchin’s game of 34 touches and nine tackles was arguably his best since taking over the Richmond captaincy this year, while Reiwoldt kicked three goals. Smith had 29 touches for Hawthorn, but their final score of 66 was their lowest of the year. Of their forwards, only Franklin scored a goal (one), and for the Hawks the bottom line is they’ve lost their first game to a team other than Geelong in nearly a year.Richmond 16.11.107 def Hawthorn 9.12.66 West Coast vs Gold CoastThe opposite Coasts of the AFL each had scoring periods in the first term. Gold Coast scored two early goals to take an early lead, before West Coast replied with two of their own late to lead by three points at quarter time.West Coast took control in the second term on the back of accurate kicking and the scintillating form of forward Kennedy. Their lead reached 20 points before three quick goals to Gold Coast put the game back on even terms. But again the Eagles reciprocated their opponent’s efforts. Three late goals kept them 12 points in front at half-time.Gold Coast showed how far they’ve come this year in the second half, refusing to yield despite the game slowly slipping through their fingers. Some inspired running goals cut West Coast’s margin to under a kick, though the Eagles won the ensuing arm-wrestle to extend their lead to 22 by the final change.The last quarter summed up the game beautifully: Gold Coast got a run on early, thanks to the silky skills of their youngsters, and were twice within two points of West Coast. But the Eagles settled to kick three of the last four goals of the game and win by 17 points.Cox’s 44 hit outs and 19 possessions for West Coast were top notch, while Kennedy’s five goals takes his season tally to 59 and puts him in the box seat to win the Coleman medal. We’re used to Ablett (27 touches) firing for Gold Coast, but now we may start to expect Prestia (27 touches) and Bennell (28) to do the same.West Coast 20.10.130 def Gold Coast 17.11.113 Carlton vs FremantleIt was a tough match from the first bounce, with players from both teams having to constantly dispose of the ball under pressure. Carlton jumped to an early lead with the first two goals, but Fremantle came home strongly with three goals just before quarter time. They led by eight points.By the second term, the contest resembled a boxing match, with the teams trading blows on the ground and on the scoreboard. Fremantle’s lead was still only nine points at half-time, a reflection of the evenness of the game overall.Carlton made their move the start the third term, and that move was Zach Tuohy. The bearded Celt twice charged to the 50 and unloaded a gun-barrel straight drop punt, eventually putting his team three points up. At this point the match was there to be won, and it was Fremantle that seized the moment. An onslaught of five consecutive goals temporarily opened the floodgates before three late goals to Carlton kept the margin at 10 for three-quarter time.But in the last term Fremantle were even less ruthless. The Dockers locked the ball in their forward half and, with a combination of irritation and crippling forward pressure, finally broke Carlton’s resolve. A five goal to one final term secured Fremantle’s fifth straight win at Etihad Stadium by 36 points. They now face the three bottom teams in their last four matches, and must surely be thinking of securing a top four spot and a home final.Carlton’s elder statesman Scotland topped the disposal count with 31 touches and 12 marks, while Fyfe (26 touches) Barlow (30 touches) and Walters (four goals) were best for Fremantle.Fremantle 17.14.116 def Carlton 12.8.80 Brisbane vs St. KildaIt was an even contest early, with the teams trading goals from long range. Critically, Brisbane won this arm-wrestle thanks to a late goal by Docherty putting them seven points in front at quarter time.From there, Brisbane looked the stronger team, even in the absence of their skipper and key forward Brown. They doubled St. Kilda’s score for the second term to lead by four goals at half-time, effectively retained this lead at three-quarter time, and were 44 points in front late in the final term after a spate of four early goals. Their final margin was trimmed to 32 points in junk time, but it was still a solid win and a sort of consolation for Brisbane, who won’t make the finals having won the pre-season cup earlier this year.The maturation of Brisbane’s next generation midfielders Rockliff (39 touches), Redden (32 touches) and Hanley (27 touches) was another highlight. Dal Santo starred for St. Kilda with 31 disposals.Brisbane 16.12.108 def St. Kilda 11.11.77 Western Bulldogs vs Sydney (Sunday, August 4)The Dogs came out barking with the first two goals, but then struggled to find a bite to match. Sydney retaliated with four consecutive goals and took a six-point lead into quarter time.Sydney still looked a side three goals better than the Dogs in the second term, making much more of their opportunities; though the Dogs had their measure for overall possessions. The reigning premiers were 18 points ahead by half-time.Two quick goals — including a Beckham-esque goal of the year contender from Giansiracusa — put the Dogs within a kick of Sydney, where they would remain until three late goals to Sydney extended their margin to 26 points at the final break.By now, the Dogs’ pluckiness had worn off, and in the last term they played the role many had expected them to the whole match: watching Sydney extend the margin. They weren’t passive onlookers, however, and in fact scored four last-quarter goals to Sydney’s six, such that the final margin was 35 points.Sydney forward Tippet looks like a superhero, and with six goals he put in a performance to match. Meanwhile, captain Jack notched up another 30 disposals, helping Sydney to second position on the ladder. With another 41 disposals, Griffen cemented himself as the Dogs’ best player of the year and a dark horse for the Brownlow.Sydney 21.8.134 def Western Bulldogs 15.9.99 Adelaide vs Port AdelaideThe 35th showdown, and the last to be played at Football Park, could well be the best yet.The two early goals Adelaide got were just as quickly made back by Port, and it set the tone for a rivetingly competitive, highly skilled, see-sawing contest. Adelaide were seven points in front by quarter time.A goal to Johnston built on this lead early in the second term, before Port slammed on six consecutive goals on their way to their best ever scoring quarter against their crosstown rivals. They had a handy buffer of 21 points at quarter time. Petrenko switched Adelaide on with two goals in the first four minutes of play resuming, and by the nine minute mark they had taken the lead. Though Port briefly got it back with two goals, Adelaide were irresistible, and another three goals gave them a 12-point lead for three-quarter time.The momentum swung back to Port to start the last term, and with two quick goals they cut Adelaide’s lead to a solitary point. But as had been the case all day, the momentum swung the other way when one team looked to be getting a run on. Goals to Johnston and Dangerfield (who both finished with four) put Adelaide 14 points in the clear, and with 10 minutes to play it looked to be enough. It wasn’t. A classic crumb goal by Gray put the margin back to eight, and it set up a thrilling finish. A desperate kick forward was scooped up by Monfries, who turned his opponent inside out and fired for goal from 50. It was always on line for a point, but two metres before the line it bounced at right angles, a la Shane Warne’s “Ball of the century”, through the goal posts, putting Port only two points behind. The next centre clearance fell Port’s way, and eventually Wingard marked 30 metres out with 30 seconds to go. His kick was always online and with his fifth goal he sealed his place in the All-Australian side, sealed a four-point win for Port, and all but sealed their spot in the eight for the finals given the win gave Port a two game advantage over ninth place.Cornes (31 possessions) and Hartlett (25) were Port’s major ball winners, while Crouch (28) was Adelaide’s.Port Adelaide 17.5.107 def Adelaide 15.13.103 Collingwood vs EssendonDare I say it, is the supplements scandal finally taking its toll on Essendon’s on-field performance? You couldn’t help but wonder given Collingwood disposed of them with the ease of a club far less accomplished than the Bombers.Collingwood’s five goals went without reply in the first term, and though Essendon got on the board in the second the margin was still 38 points at half-time.With the aim of reviving its form in time for the finals, Collingwood came out even harder in the second half. They piled on the tackles and the goals, leaving Essendon eating their dust and 55 points down at three-quarter time. Another six goals to two in the final term handed Collingwood a 79-point win, one of many positives the match provided ahead of September.The other positives were the form of their key players: Cloke kicked five goals, Swan had 30 disposals, and Pendlebury and Beams 27 each. Essendon’s usual suspects weren’t too shabby either, with Jobe Watson racking up 31 possessions and Goddard 27.Collingwood 20.13.133 def Essendon 7.12.54 It’s good to have had a round like this so close to September; when the top three teams in the league go down to fellow finals competitors, you can’t help but think anything might be possible in the Alexander Darling

August 5th 2013
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