As the Bulldogs watched their finals hopes fade on Saturday, there was a cruel irony in front of them.
Plus the ‘five years with a mulligan’ theory that helps explain Collingwood’s year.
The big issues from Round 21 of the 2022 AFL season analysed in Talking Points!
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CRUEL IRONY AS FREO’S FLAG-WORTHY RECORD GROWS
Saturday was bad for the Bulldogs in 2022; their loss, combined with Richmond’s win, has them outsiders to make the eight (though Carlton’s loss to Brisbane keeps them alive).
But it might’ve been good for them in 2023 and beyond.
The irony wasn’t lost on Fox Footy’s commentary team as Rory Lobb, reportedly on his way to the Kennel in free agency on a deal of around $1.5 million over three years, dominated the game.
The Dockers key forward has always shown flashes amid an inconsistent career – this is the first season where he’s reached the 30 goal mark – his four big majors at Marvel Stadium showed him at his absolute best.
“First four kicks were goals, it looked like he could kick them from everywhere,” goalkicking legend Jason Dunstall said at three-quarter-time on Fox Footy.
Melbourne great Garry Lyon added: “If you believe everything that’s been said, the Western Bulldogs whilst they’d be shattered if they lose and Rory Lobb leads them (Fremantle) to victory, they might be rubbing their hands together, given many think he’s heading to the Western Bulldogs.
“That’s what they’re saying; he’s playing unbelievably well.”
Some have questioned whether the Bulldogs need Lobb, given they’ve got Aaron Naughton (three goals on Saturday), Josh Bruce, No.1 pick Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and father-son prodigy Sam Darcy, who made a strong debut with a team-leading eight marks and seven intercepts.
But as those intercepts suggest Darcy played in defence, where the Bulldogs desperately need tall help – while Luke Beveridge remains a Ryan Gardner stan and defends his backs when questioned, they’ve long struggled to defend one-on-ones.
So if Lobb truly is coming on board, that just adds more tall weapons to their armoury.
More magnets to spin for the AFL’s most prolific magnet-spinner can’t hurt, surely?
Meanwhile for the Dockers, their win on the road was yet another example of their terrific away record in the 2022 season.
They’re the only non-Victorian team to win more than one game in Victoria this season – and they’ve won five, plus that draw against Richmond.
Taking 22 premiership points from trips to the home of footy is a big reason the Dockers are actual flag contenders this season. After all, if they can win in Melbourne, they can win on the biggest day of all.
AFL’S BIGGEST SHOCK SURGE COME AFTER ‘FIVE YEARS OF GOOD FOOTY’ … WITH A MULLIGAN
Few experts pre-season tipped Collingwood to feature in this year’s finals series. Nathan Buckley, however, did.
And while the former coach didn’t expect his Magpies to be sitting second on the ladder with two rounds to go, he’s of the firm belief the side’s 2022 surge is a result of an exciting five-year build.
The Magpies’ destiny is in their own hands. Win two more home and away games and they’ll jump from the bottom-two last year to the top-two this year – a simply remarkable feat. Those last two games will be tough – Sydney at the SCG and Carlton at the MCG – but it seems nothing, not even the prospect of watching The Exorcist in the dark, scares this team.
While many outside the club had low expectations for the Magpies this year after a 17th-placed finish in 2021, Buckley said it was important to remember the build and list turnover in the previous three years.
“I’m going to suggest – and I’ve been involved in the footy club – but this is five years of good footy with a bad year last year,” Buckley told Fox Footy on Friday night.
“The nucleus of this side is established and we’re seeing some young players come in and play really big roles – and it’s brilliant and it’s exciting to see.
“This Collingwood side has exceeded my expectations. I thought they were 15 wins at the top end – and they’ve still got two more to go. What ‘Fly’ (McRae) has done has been amazing, but it’s been built off the nucleus of a senior core that have been there for five or six years doing this now.”
The Magpies on Friday night claimed a remarkable 11th straight win – the first time they’ve achieved the feat since 2011 – in another tantalisingly close game.
Asked how the Pies keep winning such tight games, coach Craig McRae told reporters: “Yeah, this group’s got some belief hasn’t it? We just get ourselves into positions where at three quarter-time, there’s a few smiles on their faces – like, ‘here we go again’.
“It’s just been our story. I haven’t been part of a team like it that gets themselves in a situation that they just think: ‘Here we go, we’ll get the job done.’”
The On The Couch team last week compared the profile of Collingwood’s 2022 team to the Richmond premiership side of 2017. Like the Tigers, the Pies aren’t a strong clearance team, but are among the top-four clubs for intercepts, pressure and opposition score per inside 50.
Brownlow Medallist Gerard Healy added to the comparison on Friday night.
“This could be a premiership built on pressure, like Richmond in 2017,” Healy told Fox Footy Live. “They didn’t win all the stats, but they won the flag, so there’s a lot to like about this Collingwood side.
“They are certainly in the conversation – you can’t win 11 in a row and beat last year’s premiers twice and not be a genuine chance.
“Collingwood and Sydney sit underneath most people’s favourites of Geelong and Melbourne, but we do know they are capable of beating the top sides.”
Asked if he’d reassess his message to his playing group considering the circumstances, McRae said: “We’re living in the moment of getting better. That’s always been our message. We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves.
“You look at the stats sheet (after the Melbourne game) and there’s a lot of red in it, so we’re not naive and we’ve got a little work to do.
“We don’t know where our ceiling is at – and that’s exciting. We’re in discovery mode … and that’s an exciting place to live.”
‘MORE OF IT’: ‘ALL DUCK NO DINNER’ LEADS TO FOOTY FEAST
Ed Langdon was something of a sitting duck when he was swamped only moments into Friday night’s epic between Collingwood and Melbourne.
We wouldn’t normally put so much time into dissecting a wingman’s game, particularly one as consistent as Langdon. But after the former Freo man spoke on radio about Collingwood being “all duck and no dinner” and a “one trick pony”, all eyes were on Langdon.
It created one of the most memorable moments of the season – and added some spice to a game that barely needed it.
Sitting second and third on the table respectively, Melbourne and Collingwood were playing on a Friday night for the first time since 2007, so the stage was already set for a dynamite contest.
Collingwood coach Craig McRae made light of Langdon’s comments pre-game, telling Fox Footy’s Kath Loughnan he had “duck for dinner last night”.
Pies assistant Brendon Bolton told Fox Sports News’ AFL Tonight he “loved it”, while Adem Yze reiterated the respect the Demons have for the Pies.
The 24 hours prior to the opening bounce were gripping as a football lover. All that anyone was talking about were those comments and how good the game was going to be. The AFL even bumped up their crowd estimates off the back of the comments.
And when Brayden Maynard and co. engulfed Langdon in a brutal gang tackle, we got one of the most memorable and electric moments of the season — and the game itself didn’t disappoint either.
Ex-Saints and North Melbourne star Nick Dal Santo suggested it might have been a slip of the tongue after similar language was used in a team meeting, but the triple All-Australian noted “we shouldn’t be knocking that down”.
“Our game needs more of that,” Dal Santo told Fox Footy Live after the game.
“Our game is a combative game. The people who least speak about that combativeness is the players.”
“We need to embrace the rivalry and the competitiveness. If someone is to put out a comment like that, brilliant. More of it.”
The Melbourne media department, privately, would’ve been scrambling after the comments were made. The beauty of it was being so close to bounce-down, everyone could just enjoy the ride — even Ed, who had a smile pre-game, got booed by Pies fans and performed solidly in the 7-point loss.
“All duck no dinner” made for a footy feast.
HOW DOES MCSTAY FIT INTO PIES?
Amid doubts already over whether Collingwood should be pursuing Dan McStay, just how does he fit into this Pies forward line?
The Magpies have been heavily linked to the Lions free agent on a five-year deal worth $3 million as the club looks to add another marking target in attack.
But this is a Collingwood side already firing on all cylinders, with Friday night’s epic win over Melbourne seeing it climb into second place on the ladder.
Jamie Elliott and fourth-gamer Ash Johnson were both instrumental with four goals apiece, while Brody Mihocek, who’s led the goalkicking in each of the last three seasons and is on track to do so again in 2022, chipped in two goals.
“Mihocek, Elliott and Johnson look so good — so where does Daniel McStay fit into all this?” Demons great Garry Lyon posed on Fox Footy.
Heck, if McStay was available to play for Collingwood next week, it’s hard to see him cracking into the 22, especially with star ruckman Brodie Grundy and young gun Ollie Henry already out of the side.
McStay has booted 16 goals from as many games this year and been held goalless on eight occasions, while the key forward’s 28 majors in 2021 mark his best-ever return.
There’s a possibility that Collingwood could look to play McStay in defence, although it still raises questions of whether he’s worth the $650,000-a-season price tag and at a club that’s only two years removed from a trade exodus due to salary cap pressure.
“They believe he can help the forward line like Josh Bruce has been able to help Jamarra Ugle-Hagan get better match-ups … Daniel McStay is coming to Collingwood, but it’s going to be some kind of juggling act, especially with Ollie Henry not in the side right now,” Herald Sun reporter Jon Ralph said on Fox Footy.
To which Saints great Nick Riewoldt responded: “Josh Bruce is a brave, brave workhorse. Is that Daniel McStay?”
Triple-premiership winning Lion Jonathan Brown believes his former club see him as the “workhorse, down-the-line guy”.
“They like to kick it long to him, put it on his head. Hipwood and Daniher tend to be more the runners,” he said.