Some games are relatively by-the-book and there’s not a lot which stands out to catch the eye.
Sunday … Sunday was not one of those days.
There was plenty going on, and we’ll try to touch on as much as possible here. Another reminder, this is all coming through the lens of what can be gained for next year.
If you missed why, here’s the post explaining it.
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By and large, this will be a positive post. The pressure around the ball was good, which then covered up much of the well-talked-about limitations with ball use, and it’s only a slight oversimplification to say the ultimate difference between North Melbourne and Geelong was the kicking for goal.
Let’s start with Kayne Turner and his role back on Gary Ablett. His performance seems to have divided opinion. On paper it looks grim – Ablett kicked four goals, including a couple at key times. But here’s Ablett’s goals, one after the other:
- The first goal comes from a great kick out into space, which not many defenders would have been able to stop
- Ablett comes from higher up the ground for the second and third goals; he’s not Turner’s responsibility for those
- The fourth goal comes from a strong mark, as Ablett absorbs contact to mark at the top of the ball’s trajectory
It wasn’t as if Ablett was teaching Turner a lesson in general play either. Of course he had his moments – he’s Gary Ablett, just in case you weren’t aware – but by and large Turner kept him quieter than normal against North*.
(*Note: I’m aware it’s a low bar to clear, but it’s meant as a compliment)
There appears to be enough raw tools – basic willingness to think defence first, attack on the ball, tackling pressure – to keep persisting with Turner as a small defender.
However, the question has to be asked: Is it something to be persisted with at AFL level, or is Turner better suited to hone his craft in the VFL for a few weeks?
Marley Williams is likely to be back next week, you’d imagine Luke McDonald is close to full fitness, and they’re both currently better options in the defensive unit than Turner.
Let’s move further up the field and highlight a strategy Geelong used at a handful of centre bounces against Jared Polec.
As we’ve covered before, North largely asks Polec to hold his wing, in theory creating space and another option as an outlet if they do win the clearance.
When Jordan Clark was opposite Polec at a handful of centre bounces, Geelong asked Clark to go into the contest, gambling that, a) Clark would help the side win the ball, and b) Polec wouldn’t burn them going the other way.
It was the tightest of tightropes to be walking, but it paid off. Here are the three clearest examples of it in action:
It shows how fine a line there is between success and failure. In the first example, North had two opportunities to spring Polec free in space. The second example usually ends with Tarrant taking the mark deep in defence. And the final example, to be a little harsh, probably should have ended with Simpkin being able to get the ball out to Polec.
Perhaps of note, Simpkin was also responsible for Tim Kelly at the next centre bounce. Kelly won first possession, Geelong went inside 50 and we barely saw Simpkin at another centre bounce for the rest of the afternoon, replaced by Shaun Higgins.
Elsewhere in the midfield, North’s balance in having the right amount of players around the ball, compared to the outside layer, was off kilter. To be clear, it wouldn’t have been a problem against most teams; the issue was Geelong being the best in the competition right now.
In lieu of a(nother) video, here’s a gif to detail what happened multiple times:
Some of the balance issues come down to simple reaction time, and reading the play. It’s a talent which separates the best from the rest, as shown here.
Kelly knows the field position means he has more freedom to take an attacking position, and uses the advantage nicely.
Here’s another screenshot to end this topic on. If you’re losing the ball from this position, you’re gonna have a bad time:
From the defence, to the midfield, and ending down forward with Ben Brown and Nick Larkey.
I want to highlight one small, selfless play from Brown. It’s not necessarily a game-changer, or anything which merits an over-the-top celebration.
But it does show how Brown and Larkey are learning to work together, with the bonus of doing so against an elite defence such as Geelong’s.
Brown knows Larkey has a favourable matchup against Tuohy. Brown also knows if he takes Blicavs to the ball, that favourable matchup disappears.
So Brown does just enough to keep Blicavs away without conceding a free kick, and it allows Larkey to mark relatively untroubled.
Sometimes it’s the little things which help the most.