Once again, in the wake of another victory, a lot of us are no doubt dealing with some conflicting feelings about our performance. We were lucky to escape with four points as opposed to just two in the end, but that luck is only in the context of a single decision in the end. A lot will be made of that final forward entry by St Kilda and the decision that saw Harry O’Brien barely manage to ice the game, but ultimately we were the better team over the course and should have had the game sewn up long before.
Personally, I don’t believe it was a free kick, especially not for a non-existent chop of the arm. Frontal contact perhaps, but being a fan of the game it was the sort of decision that I hate seeing. I’m a Collingwood fan first and foremost however, so as much as I can be objective and state impartially that I didn’t agree with the decision, I certainly enjoyed it all the same for several reasons.
First and foremost, I felt Harry had played a very solid game and it would have been a shame for that dropped mark and inevitable goal to be the lasting moment on what was an otherwise pleasing performance. Harry does struggle overhead at times, but earlier in the game he took some excellent marks – in some cases going back with the flight – to relieve the pressure on our defence.
Secondly and perhaps the most pleasing part of the decision, is that it came at the expense of the detestable Stephen Milne. Harry and Milne were in each other’s faces from start to finish, so it was good to see Harry get the last laugh.
Watching the game on Saturday night was like watching the replay of a so-so movie that we’ve seen a few times already this year. At the end of the second quarter I was bubbling with satisfaction at what I had just seen: a Collingwood side who identified it was in the midst of a final’s like arm wrestle and responded in kind. Our pressure and intensity was at a level we haven’t reached in recent times, elevating us to a dominant level which saw much of the second quarter play out in our half of the ground.
Unfortunately, as we’ve seen plenty of times before, we didn’t capitalise as well as we should have and kept the door ajar for a Saints team who had been smashed in every position. Kicking 5.8 for the quarter, had we converted even a few more opportunities we would have gone a far way in smothering the spirit of St Kilda, perhaps avoiding the comeback that followed in the third quarter.
Entering half-time, I felt an eerie feeling despite remaining hopeful that this was the contest where we would signal our entrance into a much improved phase ahead of finals. Sadly, as we’ve seen a few times before this year the Saints bounced back hard in the third quarter and we failed to arrest control once more, watching as a 5 goal lead turned into a 4 point deficit entering the final quarter.
To the team’s credit we once again stood up in a game that went down to the wire, even though we provided the Saints with plenty of opportunities in the final quarter through a lack of composure. There were critical errors in the final term from our youngsters and senior players alike, Jamie Elliott comes to mind in particular.
With roughly a minute left to play, Elliott anticipated the kick in brilliantly to take an intercepting mark within range. The youngster – who has to this point shown a maturity and temperament beyond his years – had a rush of blood, playing on when he should have eaten up a chunk of the clock, settled and hopefully slotted the goal. I don’t want to be too hard on Jamie, who was more than solid for four quarters and had some very good moments, but that will be the first thing the coaches take him through during the review this week.
I get the feeling that it’ll be somewhat superfluous however, as I imagine Jamie knew instantly he had erred and should he find himself in a similar situation again, things will be much different.
Elliott wasn’t alone though, the likes of Swan and a few others were guilty of lacking composure in tight situations, often throwing the ball onto their boot blindly or firing off unguided handballs – relinquishing possession almost every time. Jarryd Blair coughed the ball up in the most dangerous of positions at centre half-back late in the last and even Harry O’Brien sent the ball out on the full with his last kick for the night – mere seconds remaining – when he just needed to put it to a contest close to the line but safely within play.
The bottom line is that we should have iced the game in the second quarter. Regardless of how the victory came – and the initial feeling at the final siren was a slightly hollow one – we should take a lot from our performance in the second quarter and our grit, as shaky as it was at times, in the last. We’ve made something of a habit of winning close ones this year, in fact I think we may have won them all so far, which could serve us well should we find ourselves in a similar situation in September.
We were treated to some truly breathtaking passages of play in the second quarter, specifically some of our quick and creative handballing in close. The piece that saw Fasolo kick a terrific goal on the move from long range was one of the best we’ve put together in a while, several players combining – including young Elliott – to find space when there seemed to be none, Fasolo finishing like the class player he is.
Darren Jolly deserves ample praise for his heroic performance from start to finish, exposing McEvoy more than once in the first half by drifting forward to take strong marks and convert truly. His work in the ruck was exceptional, whilst his second efforts and work around the ground were of the 2010 vintage. Jolly’s game was most pleasing and if he can remain fit and at that level, our chances will be much improved.
Our midfield was solid once more, managing to get on top and remain in that position for longer periods than in previous games. Dayne Beams continues to make a claim for a Copeland Trophy, although I felt Pendlebury was a little less influential than he’s capable of being. Sidebottom bounced back from some quieter games to find plenty of the ball once more, although he does need to address some of his delivery at times as his passes of late do have a tendency to drop short.
Dale Thomas and Sharrod Wellingham will be better for the run after returning to the side, Wellingham being quieter than Daisy. Thomas, although not at his 2010/2011 best just yet, worked hard all night and bobbed up at crucial moments – none more so than his inspiring goal in the last that proved to be the match winner. If we can find a way to inject Daisy into the heat of battle a lot more often, our ability to generate clean and fast ball from the contest should increase.
One point of contention I had during the third and early stages of the final quarter, was that I was a little mystified as to why we were persisting with Dane Swan deep forward for as long as we did. I understand that Buckley was trying to save Swan for the final ten minutes, where Dane could gut run and waddle all over a tiring St Kilda midfield, but with the game slipping from our grasp in the third and up for grabs in the last, Buckley was playing with fire.
I’m well aware of how dangerous Swan can be one out and he did take a fantastic contested grab, followed by a brilliant checkside finish from the pocket, but given our forward entries in the second half we probably weren’t getting much reward for the move. I like the idea of running Swan through the forward line for periods, it’s one we should persist with, but we probably leant too far in that direction and nearly tipped over as a result.
I’m not going to be too critical of the move in the end though and not just because we got the points regardless. Frankly, our forward line needs some shaking up as it just isn’t functioning. There’s two parts to the problem, the first being the forward line itself and the second being the way we’re constructing and delivering the ball in our forward entries.
As for the forward line, the form of our key targets remains an issue, although Chris Dawes had one of his best games for the year, benefitting from the umpires finally seeing some of the treatment he receives from undersized defenders. Dawes was far from a dominant presence, but he did win some critical contests when outnumbered and will gain some confidence from the game, hopefully building on it next week and beyond.
Travis Cloke had another quiet evening, suffering at times due to our delivery but more than that, he doesn’t seem to be the same workhorse as he was last year. Outside of our talls, we’re also suffering for a lack of instinctive crumbers on the deck. Fasolo gets caught between going for the mark or remaining on the deck, several times finding himself at the wrong spot of the contest which enabled St Kilda to mop up once the ball came to ground.
Ben Sinclair worked hard up the ground and his chasing is a feature, but he has been cruelled by losing some continuity earlier in the year during a period when he was becoming a regular contributor on the scoreboard. Sinkers has demonstrated some very good work when getting front-and-centre, but just didn’t find himself at the right spot at the right time within 50 on Saturday night.
Jamie Elliott is more a lead up player than a ground level opportunist; we’re currently not playing the sort of football that brings his qualities into the game as often as we’d like, but regardless I’d like to see him work on his knowledge of positioning and sharking in crumbing situations heading forward. It’s his first year and his efforts to date have exceeded expectations, but we just need him to become a little more dangerous.
Our forward line has become a little predictable, somewhat expected given how shaken up it has been through injury, inexperience and poor form from seasoned players. Our forward aren’t really working in unison to spread the opposition defence, often clogging up each other’s space by leading to the same spots or simply through not moving at all. We need to start hitting up leading targets, even if we’re not sending the ball as deep as we’d like, to at the very least keep our opposition on their toes as to it being a prospect.
In regards to the ball carrier and our delivery forward, our kicking has been a bit of a worry this year and continued to be so on Saturday night. Through failing to be as clean as we should be when transitioning the ball – quickly and with the slow build – we’re allowing the opposition to clog up what little space we often have to work in.
We let ourselves down continually in the first quarter and second half with ill-directed long kicks within 50; we’re not keeping our heads and being composed in our decision making. In some ways it’s a remnant of 2010, where our objective was to get the ball deep as quickly as possible and bank on locking it in there. Unfortunately, through a mixture of the personnel available and the new substitute rule, we just don’t quite have the same reserves of energy and will to lock the ball in as intensely as we once did.
Our forward setup and our ball movement is an area that needs a lot of work at this point, although we should keep in mind that for much of this year we’ve been carrying out of form and inexperienced players. The optimist in me likes to think that all things being even – free of the horror run with injuries we experienced early in the year – things might have been a lot different.
Andrew Krakouer for example would be a very handy addition to a forward line that currently lacks an edge.
A harder approach to selection might have also paid some dividends, but we’re too late in proceedings now to meaningfully explore that avenue. Opposition teams have our forward setup along with how the ball is likely to come in pegged from the outset, we’re no longer keeping opponents guessing. We need to find a way to rekindle the unpredictability that we once had, using the personnel we have rather than lamenting those we don’t.
On a bright note, our defence seemed a lot more organised this week, keeping us in check during periods when things could have got a lot uglier if not for some excellent defensive efforts. Heath Shaw pushed himself to the limit to spoil or curtail several forward forays by the Saints, whilst Ben Reid seemed to have his best knocked back into him after a heavy knock from Koschitzke that should see him sidelined for at least a week.
Of the youngsters, Seedsman and Young probably proved that they’re not quite ready to hold up an end at senior level. Seedsman’s issue is largely a physical one, as he just doesn’t have the core strength just yet to remain in the contest, being easily pushed off the line by much stronger opponents. I do like the way Seedsman kicks the ball though, I’m usually confident that he’ll find and hit the target with a fast travelling pass when he has enough time to deliver.
Tom Young struggled with the tempo and intensity, coughing the ball up more than once. He held his own in a few contests and was strong in the clenches once or twice, but his option selection left a bit to be desired. In one instance he fired off a blind handball to the side of the contest that was dominated by St Kilda jumpers, allowing them to run it out of our forward line when we had them stressed.
Probably the most notable instance that bothered me about Young on Saturday night though, came directly after what was his best effort in holding up a renowned hard runner at half-forward in Clinton Jones late in the last. Young played it very well, but after preventing Jones from gaining possession he looked to just power down and give up on the ensuing play, the ball nowhere near the boundary line and still very much alive.
Given the occasion, he needed to be a lot more desperate.
All in all, we’re still yet to find four quarter consistency within our game although we shouldn’t undersell the intensity and tempo of the contest on Saturday night. St Kilda were playing to keep their finals hopes alive and certainly had a red hot crack, it wasn’t pretty in the end but given the result on Friday night, those four points were extremely important.
By winning we’ve significantly improved our chances of securing a top four spot, but still have a lot of work ahead of us before we can lock the double chance in. There’s a lot of work to be done, but we should take a fair bit out of that second quarter and our resilience to come back after losing the lead at the end of the third quarter.
Regardless of the finish, we had 31 scoring shots opposed to 20 on Saturday night and were deserving winners no matter what anybody says. Obviously we need to get better and maintain our concentration over four quarters, but given the way this year has panned out, anything can happen.
Next week presents a huge challenge against a Sydney side who have been travelling extremely well this year, but it’s a fresh four quarters for us to prove our credentials in.
The roller coaster continues…