That was a fun weekend of football.
A front runner for game of the season in Fremantle v St Kilda, a stunning comeback by Geelong against Brisbane and maybe the biggest surprise with Carlton v Western Bulldogs being so free flowing in suboptimal conditions.
Even the bad – Richmond v Sydney – was so hilariously terrible it created cranky Damien Hardwick at his post-match press conference. Personally, as a connoisseur of bad football – Adelaide v North Melbourne in 2004 where the score was 2.17 to 2.10 at three quarter time on a Friday night would cause conniptions if it happened now – these types of games have their own … ‘appeal’.
On to this week’s Notebook topics.
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Collingwood using ‘the front of stoppages’
“It definitely was a focus for us going into this game, trying to come out the front of stoppage or the front of congestion.”
Those were the words of Adam Treloar to Jude Bolton after Collingwood defeated Hawthorn, indicating a recognition the side had fallen into its semi-regular trap of being too complacent with ball movement the previous week against Essendon, even allowing for the Bombers’ fantastic pressure.
So instead of flicking the ball around sideways and backwards and then maintaining possession while not hurting defences, it was all about taking ground and putting Hawthorn’s defence under pressure even if it wasn’t the prettiest football. Examples:
In other words, ‘out the front of stoppage’ means ‘win ball, go forward’. Collingwood was helped by a Hawthorn team seemingly disinterested in doing anything threatening of its own, but that point is for a future edition of the Notebook.
Fremantle v St Kilda
We’re going to try something with this game.
From early in the second quarter to the halfway point of the last, Fremantle kicked 10.5 to St Kilda’s 1.3, turning a 37-point deficit into a 19-point lead.
The final few minutes probably deserves another thousand words of its own, but what I want to do here is specifically zero in on the Fremantle comeback, why it happened and what it says about both teams.
To try and make sure every angle is explained – we’re going to look at it with a Fremantle hat on and then a St Kilda hat on to cover the perspective of both teams. Here goes…
Part 1: The Dockers’ comeback
As we know by now, St Kilda wants to try and move the ball as quickly as possible every time.
Before Fremantle started hitting the scoreboard, first it had to find a way to stop St Kilda piling on goal after goal.
An improvement in both pressure on the ball and structure behind the ball got things going. In this example, even though St Kilda win possession it’s unable to transition cleanly, Seb Ross instead rushed into a turnover before Fremantle find a mark to control tempo.
Here, Dougal Howard attempts to clear but Sean Darcy gets back to make a two-on-one and take the intercept mark.
In lieu of countless further examples of similar passages, combine those two and you have the defensive blueprint set. If St Kilda can’t move the ball from either open play or set play, clearly there’ll be no further damage to the score.
Offensively, Fremantle amped up its work in winning the ball. A -34 disposal count in the first quarter became +43 in the third, including repeated crucial contest victories. In this example, watch Darcy Tucker – circled at the start of the gif – remain threatening before he’s rewarded via a tap from Bailey Banfield and a snap goal.
Then the final part of Fremantle’s key – controlling possession after winning it. In this example it all comes together.
First pressure forces a rushed St Kilda kick, where Fremantle’s setup allows it to mop up and start moving forward, getting an inside 50 to a dangerous position.
Then with the ball at ground level, a contest win by applying the tackle, winning the free kick and earning a shot on goal. They’re the ingredients which fuelled an astounding comeback.
*Please ignore how/why it was paid as holding the ball and then it all comes together
Part 2: St Kilda’s blown lead
For St Kilda, a common lamentation of Brett Ratten in losses has been ‘going too quick’, and it came up again post-match on Saturday.
“That’s a little bit of our game, where we’re going a bit too quick at times when we can cool our jets a bit and control the footy. We didn’t do that today through the game.”
Going too quick can often be thought of as running too far forward and committing too many numbers, but it also means taking a more aggressive option than needed and allowing opponents to force turnovers in dangerous positions. For example:
That kick is the highest of risks but also with a low reward – a combination which doesn’t work and strays from choices St Kilda chose in the first quarter. Unsurprisingly in this instance the turnover results in a Fremantle goal to kickstart its third quarter dominance.
These types of plays have played a large part in both big leads given up by the Saints in 2020. While they’re formidable in open play and transition – where going quickly pays off handsomely – they’re still not the most skilled team going around.
It means when sides ramp up the pressure to slow games down, it’s those same skills which St Kilda have to rely on to progress up the field, leaving a razor thin margin for error.
To add to it, when there’s no Dan Hannebery and Fremantle preventing any sort of influence from Brad Hill, it’s suddenly a short list of players to trust with ball in hand when moving it is a grind. This passage felt like the final seconds of a game of Jenga, just waiting for a collapse:
While there were four factors in Fremantle’s comeback, it was simpler from a St Kilda perspective – it took the wrong decisions in possession and struggled to move it with any fluency.
It’s the conundrum the Saints have to overcome to take the next step forward. In open play and transition they’re already one of the best sides in the competition. But when it slows down, how do they manage?
Explaining Sydney’s tactics against Richmond
Jimmy Bartel: “The Swans have been taking the free one on. They’ve got so many uncontested marks … they’re taking what Richmond’s giving them, they’re trying to avoid kicking long to a contest. That’s why the game’s been slowed down, because Richmond’s sitting back in defence and the Swans are keeping the ball.
“It’s Sydney avoiding the risk because of Richmond’s defence, they’re so good at turning it over and they hurt you on the rebound.”
Luke Hodge: “I agree there with Jimmy. Sydney blokes are getting the ball, they’re looking long down the line and they’re seeing undersized forwards so they’re waiting for all their numbers to squeeze across so they can make a contest. Otherwise they’re kicking it long to Richmond numbers and Richmond just rebound off the half back line.”
Bartel: “Because that’s what happens if they quick kick it forward.”
Although that exchange couldn’t sum it up any better, one thought prompted from this game and likely without a true right or wrong answer:
What’s the best way to coach a side in a game when you’re significantly outmatched? Sydney barely had a functioning forward line and may not have even had a height edge playing against a TAC Cup defence, let alone Richmond’s who control the ball so well in the air. Then Josh Kennedy went down in the opening stages, depriving the midfield of its best ball winner. How was Sydney supposed to move the ball in the wet anything close to cleanly?
Using other sports as examples, some teams opt to play as open and fast as possible, attempting to fast track the offensive side of their game. Other teams opt to slow things right down, thinking if there are fewer chances in a game, there’ll be more of an opportunity to steal a win. Soccer is the best example of the latter, but it can also happen in basketball where teams try to make it as low a possession game as possible.
Against Richmond, Sydney clearly chose to slow it down in possession, not willing to play in the Tigers’ comfort zone by putting speed into the game ala Melbourne last week. Perfectly acceptable!
It’s not as if this will be an every week occurrence for Sydney, although with the current state of its forward line there may be matches where it gives off a similar vibe. Longmire set up his side in a one-off manner in the way he believed gave it the best chance of victory. Nothing wrong with that.