1. A review of Friday Night's game - the important lesson for Geelong
If you turned the TV off after quarter time on Friday night, you'd be hard pressed to believe that Geelong would come away easy winners. Yet, they were. What changed after a dominant first quarter display from Essendon?
Here's what we found…
In the first quarter, Essendon had the game at a pace that suits them – fast. They dominated the contested possession count yet were also the first to leave stoppages. It was apparent that Geelong’s midfielders didn’t bring enough pressure around the source of the ball.
Both teams looked to move the ball quickly which isn’t really Geelong’s M.O. Geelong fell into the trap of playing to Essendon’s pace, which resulted in shallow entries or forward launches where there forwards weren’t set up. Look at how Dangerfield takes off here and goes too quickly before his forwards can separate – leading to a Ridley interception. This is a shallow entry that should have been a shot on goal going the other way.
For the most part, Essendon took their opportunities going inside 50, resulting in 19 point lead at quarter time.
But like great teams do, Geelong made adjustments. They played at a slower pace and controlled the tempo of the game more through their patterned kick mark game. They were selective in their timing going forward and when they did - their entries were far deeper. This made it difficult for Essendon to counter attack like in the above clip.
A further interesting adjustment (initially out of necessity due to injury) was Geelong’s focus to isolate the forward match up on Stewart as much as possible. Cameron changed the game when he was given one on one opportunities against Stewart, beating him in a number of one on one contests (even with a strained hamstring). After Cameron went off with injury, they isolated Hawkins one on one, playing all their other forwards higher up the ground kicking 14 goals after quarter time.
As is the case with most great sides when they are challenged, Geelong's midfield intensity and pressure lifted as well. In the second quarter, they kicked five goals from clearances and won 8 of 9 secondary stoppages in the second quarter (Essendon are a statistically good defensive team against stoppage scores).
Essendon didn’t generate a single score from stoppages in the second quarter as Geelong either beat them outright (they finished the game +14 in clearances) or caused rushed disposals going forward. Of course, this has the secondary benefit of allowing Geelong’s defenders to intercept far more easily when kicks aren’t directed to their opponents advantage.
Geelong's deeper forward 50 entries allowed Stewart, Henry and the like to set up behind the ball. All of a sudden, Essendon were struggling with the slower pace of the game and the ball lived in Geelong’s forward half. It's far harder to launch from a defensive 50 compared to a midfield turnover. They had to absorb pressure so high up the ground that when they did win and looked to attack forward of center, they had no representation forward.
It was a masterful control of the game by Geelong after quarter time. Yet, we’ve seen already with Geelong that they won’t get away with poor defensive pressure and structural mistakes against a top 4 team like Brisbane. However, learning how to make adjustments and execute them in real time is what the finals is all about and Geelong had a nice trial of it on the weekend. Sometimes these are the games that seem meaningless on the surface but are crucial to the malleability of a team come finals time.
And what about Essendon? They are an exciting team to watch who can score quickly with talented young players to build around. But the media craze in the last month has stretched the reality of their predicament. For all the talk, they are 1-6 against top 8 sides. They have the list makeup to be a great team in the next few years. They just aren't a great team this year.
2. Is...is there signs of life for Paddy Dow?
Paddy Dow (#2). A name synonymous with Carlton's shocking drafting efforts over the years. Let's be honest, he has been underwhelming. For a former pick 3 in his 50 games to date, he has failed to show the usual attributes common amongst top draft picks.
Yet, the last couple of weeks we've seen some of those attributes appear. I've been pleasantly surprised and optimistic about Dow's ability to become a serviceable if not great AFL player. I think we are long past the days of expecting him to produce the output of other top picks or become an elite midfielder but who knows - maybe he can. Darcy Parish is a great example of a top pick that needed more time than most to develop. Now that he has matured and has the opportunity to play his best position - he is thriving.
Who knows where Dow goes from here but his confidence has certainly grown over the last fortnight (as well as his size? I swear he looks bigger). The first thing that jumps out right away is his disposal and touch - he isn't fumbling as much. This was a big knock on Dow early in his AFL career but was even still apparent earlier this year. The last two weeks we've seen a transformation to a one touch player. This is super important given the pace of the AFL and for Dow as a lighter midfielder to possess because he won’t get that extra time that other big bodied midfielders are afforded. He wasn't doing this kind of stuff earlier this year
In the last two weeks, Dow has amassed 20+ disposals and his clearance work against Fremantle was first class (He had a career high 8 clearances). Dow’s clearance numbers should continue to rise because he has two things traits that allow him to create space for himself - his quickness and a nice step. Dow is starting to leverage this quickness in stoppage scenarios.
Dow has a great change of direction, wrong footing the opposition on his exit points out of stoppages. It's subtle but look how he motions left when picking up the ball before stepping right to create enough space to give a handball out.
This was all in one quarter... it's a really positive sign.
But before we put Dow on a pedestal, lets all understand that it’s an incredibly small sample size. Although Carlton fans are (rightfully) rejoicing that Dow seems to be finding his feet, we’ll throw caution into the wind. Dow still has a number of deficiencies in his game with some serious red flags, like his inability to run out a full AFL game for a 50+ game midfielder (this has improved in recent weeks).
Dow’s still only 21 and has huge upside in his game. We might be at the beginning stages of a Darcy Parish (lite) improvement.
3. James Worpel - the makings of a star
Hawthorn's James Worpel (#5) has many so tools in his tool kit. Thankfully for Hawks fans, he’s starting find rediscover some of them, which made him a second year best and fairest winner. It's worth noting that it’s hard to replicate a best and fairest season in any year, let alone a young player still developing his craft. In the past four weeks, Worpel has averaged 20.5 disposals (including 10 contested), 6 clearances and 5 tackles.
Like most young players, progression isn’t linear and Worpel had a down year in 2020. This year, we’ve had a mixture of 2019 Worpel and out of form 2020 Worpel. The past two weeks are true a reflection of his best football.
Worpel plays with a level of brute force and physicality that you rarely see from young midfielders (Powell-Pepper is another that comes to mind). He is impossible to tackle. He shrugs players off like this on a regular basis.
Sometimes he crosses the line with his physicality, giving away unnecessary free kicks or even receiving costly suspensions.
Worpel at his best is impactful around stoppages with his strength and clearance work. Worpel’s integral to controlling supply of ball to Hawthorn’s outside midfielders (who have really struggled this year with Hawthorn’s ball movement). That’s been evident in the last two weeks, where he has averaged 8 clearances, far more than his season average of 4.8.
In his B&F year he averaged 6.5 a game, which is where he needs to get to the rest of this year. Here he is easily pushing off fellow midfield bull Ollie Wines to protect the space in front of him and win an easy clearance.
The reason Worpel can be a star of the competition is that he is more than just an inside midfielder. He has immense talent and capabilities on the outside as a goal kicking midfielder. An example on the weekend where he composes himself in a pressurised stoppage situation and finishes on his left.
The week before, weaving his way through congestion for a terrific goal.
Worpel has a ways to go to be considered a top midfielder in the AFL. But boy are the signs there. If he can creep those disposal numbers up to around the 25 a game mark and continue to develop his outside game, the impact Worpel can have on any game will be immense.
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