From The Notebook, Round 8: Josh Dunkley with ‘one of the great games’

In the first seven rounds, Patrick Cripps’ low point for clearances in a game was six. Against Brisbane, he had three.

In the first seven rounds, Patrick Cripps’ low point for score involvements in a game was five. Against Brisbane, he had two.

Those low points against the Lions were thanks to the work of Josh Dunkley, who had a role nullifying Cripps…

And then went and collected 33 disposals (14 contested), 13 tackles, 6 clearances and 555 metres gained himself. No wonder Chris Fagan called Dunkley’s performance ‘one of the great games I’ve ever seen’, and it’s the sole focus of this week’s Notebook.


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Chris Fagan summed it up succinctly post-match:

“I’ve got to say, it’s one of the great games I’ve ever seen if you weigh it all up.

“He played on Cripps all night, he had 33 touches, he had 13 tackles, and he kept Cripps to a quiet game.

“I would have settled for Cripps having a quiet game to be honest with you, but Josh’s influence on the contest was exceptional.

“His leadership since he’s been at the club has been outstanding. He’s happy to roll his sleeves up and do a role for the team.

“He sets a great example to everybody else in that regard. He studied Cripps all week … and Josh did one of the really great defensive and offensive performances I reckon.”

To drill in and analyse the ‘defensive and offensive performances’ part of the quote, we have to split the game into two phases.

The first phase is defensive, starting around the contest. So much (read: nearly all, an unhealthy amount) of Carlton’s game is based around contest wins, and for that to happen they need a firing Cripps.

It meant Dunkley’s first priority was to neutralise Cripps at stoppages. Right from the start, watch how they interact at the opening centre bounce:

Defend first, ensure Cripps doesn’t get free rein, then move on from there. It was the same mentality at around-the-ground stoppages:

To take a slight detour and explain why the defensive part of Dunkley’s role was so important, we need to understand where Carlton’s game is at.

There are plenty of issues with their full-ground ball movement. It’s stilted, disjointed, and too often devolves into possession for possession’s sake.

Where the Blues can still hurt teams is if they win contests clean, an important distinction to make. Even if opponents can force their contest wins to be scrappy, that’s the battle all but won; Carlton don’t have the method to benefit from territory gained in a messy fashion.

That’s how they end up with gaudy numbers but scrappy performances:

Round 2 v Geelong: +13 contested ball to QT, 2.6 to 2.1
Round 3 v GWS: +23 contested ball after QT, 5.14 to 4.7
Round 6 v St Kilda: +25 contested ball to HT, 6.7 to 6.3

So with Dunkley cutting off a – or arguably the – main source of clean contest wins for Carlton, the Blues’ remaining possessions out of congestion would be even lower quality, allowing Brisbane – and Dunkley – to capitalise in other phases.


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The offensive part of Dunkley’s ‘defensive and offensive performances’ came in the second phase of the game immediately after a stoppage.

Every player, even someone as good as Cripps, has a weakness in their game. For Cripps, there’s a window where his opponent can find space in the moments where he has to switch from offence to defence, using space to their advantage.

(To be clear this shouldn’t be taken as some sort of referendum on Cripps given the immense responsibility he has to shoulder offensively. It’s a relatively common theme amongst all inside bull ball-winners)

Little moments like this, where teammates put in a hand to allow Dunkley to be the next link in the chain, all add up over the long run:

There were plenty of these types of plays, but in the interest of keeping it snappy I won’t show clips of every single one.

Dunkley had 19 uncontested possessions, a high-water mark for his early time at Brisbane. While he’ll never be someone who breaks a line with his kicks like Daniel Rich, not everyone has to be.

Being a link man in the chain can be just as valuable in the right situations, gaining territory and keeping play ticking.

Besides, Dunkley has his strengths in open play. One of the best marks for a midfielder in the competition, he used it to his advantage in contests…

…and reading the play to cut off and intercept mark, putting a cap on close to the perfect game.

There’ll be plenty of other individual performances that capture the headlines this year, with more eye-popping stats accompanying it. But in terms of a complete, two-way game, Dunkley has the lead in 2023.


If you’ve missed any recent posts on The Shinboner, you can catch up on the last five here:

Round 8: North Melbourne’s match analysis v St Kilda
From The Notebook, Round 7: Power movement, Fremantle shift, Giant comeback
Fortnightly Focus: Sam Taylor, Esava Ratugolea, Noah Cumberland
From The Notebook, Round 6: Status updates (Gold Coast, GWS, Sydney)
Round 6: North Melbourne’s match analysis v Gold Coast


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