Nic Martin, what's wrong with GWS and the things I like and don't like

Another edition of Footy Talking Points. This week, we discuss a young star in the making for Essendon, GWS's collapse and the things I like and don't like in the AFL

Lachie Neale, Jake Bowey

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Things I like and don’t like

Inspired by the great NBA columnist Zach Lowe, the things I like and don’t like from my viewings in the last few weeks:

Lachie Gollant flying for everything

I love Lachie Gollant’s enthusiasm to fly in the air. Gollant’s a hybrid mid-forward who has an eerily similar physical build to a young Jack Gunston. He has a wiry frame but has great athleticism, which allows him to play tall in the air.

Gollant flys for everything. This is a good thing. Mid-sized forwards who can consistently win or even contests in the air like a key forward are an integral part of a functioning forward line because they bring the ball to ground and place enormous pressure on opposition defenders. Gollant plays as if every ball is gettable. He tracks kicks that aren’t intended for him and makes them his own. Look how far back off the contest he is here but gets to the front.

Like any 20 year old, he can be over exuberant. Gollant sometimes contests for the ball when he’s in an undeniably worst position and spoils his own teammate. But I love the attitude and confidence to believe he can mark every ball that comes his way. Great signs.

Players that dissent an umpires indecision to pay a 50 metre penalty for dissent

I’m not going to get into a debate about the AFL’s new interpretation of umpire dissent– we’ve all heard enough about it. But I just find this straight up hilarious.

What actually happens if a player dissents an umpires indecision to penalise an oppositions dissent?

Because I swear that’s what happened on the weekend with Taylor Duryea and Rachele, where the latter argued with the umpires decision against him and that umpire didn’t penalise him for dissenting. Look at Duryea.

Does Duryea’s dissent counteract Rachele’s? Is it a free kick reversal? Brad Scott, please explain!

Handball receives from a player with a set shot on goal

Players who demand a handball receive from a teammate having a set shot at goal is a bad trend that needs to stop. It’s especially poor when it’s a senior player who is practically coercing a younger teammate into giving it off.

Devon Smith is a known culprit for his hunger around goals. Smith has shown a desire to attempt difficult goals even when teammates are in far better positions to pass to. To demand this handball receive from 12 gamer is a bad look to begin with. But it doesn’t even get a better shot at goal, instead it's a snap on his non preferred foot. It’s selfish with a tinge of cringe.

They can also be complete momentum killers.

Why Flynn gave this off after nailing two set shots in the same game is mind boggling. But for Himmelberg to actually call for this with a bunch of players, including teammates surrounding him, is wild. GWS would have been a goal down in the game but this decision destroyed the Giants momentum (and Leon Cameron’s spirit). This needs to stop.

Where do GWS go from here?

GWS are the other disappointment of 2022, currently sitting at 1-5 alongside Essendon. After making a semi final last year without a full strength team, GWS were one of the teams to watch in 2022 as a potential dark horse flag contender. It’s apparent six rounds in that is no longer the case.

Their fixture hasn’t been a gauntlet by any stretch. They’ve played teams such as St Kilda, Gold Coast and Richmond who were considered at best on a similar trajectory heading into the season.

Honestly, GWS look like a team with zero soul or energy. They go quarters at a time without looking like scoring. Even when they do score, everything is hard work. GWS rank 16th for points per game and are 11th for inside 50’s. They ranked 16th for goals per I50 heading into Round 6 (19.5%). They aren’t generating a sufficient number of I50’s but also aren’t potent enough to make the most of their limited chances. They’ve mustered scores of 60, 53 and 54 in the last three rounds. Arguably decent scores from an AFL team in the 70’s – woefully poor in 2022.

There’s a lot that isn’t going right. Here are some of the key reasons for GWS’s drop off:

Stagnant and unadventurous ball movement

GWS play with little dare or adventure when exiting their D50. Off turnover, they are slow to transition into offense, often electing to go long down the boundary side rather than explore the corridor. For the number of talented ball users and line breakers out of their back half, there's no speed on the ball with the Giants. The lack of kicks through the corridor or overlap run with handball receives is staggering at times. No one expects GWS to play like the Western Bulldogs, but some handball chains from the likes of Whitfield, Ash, Kelly, Perryman and Kennedy are few and far between.

It’s disheartening the amount of times GWS switch the ball from one side of their D50 to the other, losing territory in the process, before it ends up with a Keefe or Haynes who can’t do anything but kick long.

The other issue is that GWS don’t generate enough R50’s. They rank 12th in the AFL averaging 38 per game, even though they are 8th in conceding I50’s. This a culmination of two factors. GWS are the worst team in the AFL at forcing turnovers (63 a game) and generating intercepts (67 a game). Both of these are massive focus points in the modern game because they help teams generate easy scores in their forward half and also help create transition opportunities out of the back half. When the ball enters GWS’s back half, it usually doesn’t come out.

Ultimately, it means GWS struggle to generate sufficient scores from their back half. This limits their scoring upside outside of the common avenues to goal. When other aspects of GWS's game are taken away from them and they don't have back half scores to lean on, we start to see the scores we've seen in the last three weeks.

The Midfield Shuffle

GWS pride themselves on being the ‘bulls’ on the inside, winning contested possession and playing a territory game in their forward half. GWS are the best clearance team in the AFL and it seems to be the only way they look like winning right now. The problem is, GWS don’t know what their best midfield mix is and quite frankly, play too many similar skill set players together.

Why Leon Cameron plays Josh Kelly on a wing for a portion of the season before remembering that he’s the one midfielder who provides a point of difference on the inside with his class and vision is beyond me. Taranto has shown to be quite one dimensional but he’s been elite this year as an inside, defensive minded midfielder. Yet against St Kilda, he played predominantly as a high half forward and sometimes even deep forward, attending only 32% of CBA’s.

But that's the difficulty, Taranto's similar to the other midfielders in Green (who’s gone past him), Coniglio, Ward and Hopper. It's a logjam and they lack pace as a midfield group and it shows.

It gets back to a broader issue with GWS where it seems like offensive creativity isn’t celebrated or endorsed.

What has happened to the exciting run and dash from Lachie Ash that we saw in his first few years? Right, he’s now playing as a nullifying tagger. What about Perryman’s ability to be a dangerous, goal kicking wing who worked the angles well on either side of his body? He’s now a lock down defender. Coniglio and Whitfield, whilst both have looked better in recent weeks, are shells of their former dynamic selves.

Defensive lack of discipline and organisation

For all of their scoring issues, GWS aren't defending the ground well either. Some of it’s structural, other times it's odd coaching moves, like deciding to play Keefe on King rather than Taylor, but some of it’s just a lack of concentration and discipline.

I’m certain GWS would have reviewed throughout the week how much St Kilda like to use handball receives from their back half to get pace on the game. GWS would have also been aware that they are practically the worst team in the AFL at conceding points from defensive half chains (17th - 42.2 points a game).

But sure enough, GWS paid St Kilda zero respect with it. This is from two of their leaders and it's inexcusable:

First, Whitfield turns his back on Sinclair and allows him to tick lead into dangerous space for a mark. At the same time this is occurring, Coniglio lets Paton walk right past him while he defends grass in a nothing area of the ground. Patton then runs unattended for the handball receive and has the time to kick over GWS’s press to Membrey, resulting in an easy goal. This was in the first 10 minutes of the game. These errors happen weekly.

This 2022 version of the Giants is a far cry from the ‘Ferrari’ we used to label GWS. Albeit personnel has changed, but there are still a number of players from that prelim side with a crop of talented youngsters around them.

Personally, I think it’s time for Cameron to go. I hate making the coach a scapegoat for a teams poor performance but it’s clear GWS need a breath of fresh air. He’s been at the club for 9 years now and took them to a grand final with many other finals appearances. But GWS are battling. It’s time for a change and for GWS to explore a shift in play style. Get back to what made them so tantalising to watch and difficult to game plan for.

Adelaide in Adelaide doesn’t get any easier.

Nic Martin

Essendon’s had a rough start to the year as detailed here. However, a shining light has been Nic Martin, who Essendon seemingly found out of thin air in the supplemental draft. Less than a month after joining Essendon, he debuted in Round 1 and posted this absurd stat line:

27 disposals, 10 marks and 5(!) goals

That alone could warrant a mention and discussion piece. Yet, a one game sample size can be an illusion in the AFL and could come back to haunt me if I analysed the next Ryan Fitzgerald (sorry Fitzy).

While five games doesn’t scream a surety by any measure, I’ve seen enough to know that Martin’s a legit player. His height at 190cm and vision allows him to often see over congestion and find handball options outside of his general vicinity. Instead of electing to handball to Kelly, he has the lateral vision to see a better, more attacking option in Shiel. This should have amounted to a shot on goal.

He’s disciplined in holding his width and it’s rewarded him a number of times this year with shots on goal.

This is an especially important trait for a wingmen to possess because they generally have that extra second to assess their options that an inside midfielder isn’t afforded. Instead of a long kick under pressure, a handball that releases a teammate into space creates a far more dangerous offensive drive.

Martin has a knack of finding pockets of space as a connector forward of center. It’s reflected in his per game mark numbers (6), which are ranked elite for his position. In his five game career, he’s had 10, 8 and 7 mark games already.

It’s a difficult skill to teach but more importantly it’s incredibly valuable for an Essendon team that struggles to play with different gears. Martin provides that important bail out kick to allow Essendon to control tempo and relieve pressure. His proficiency to kick on either side of his foot also means he’s incredibly valuable as a connector forward of center because he has both sides of the ground available to him in an instant.

Size and versatility matter in the AFL when assessing a players ceiling. Martin has that with his improved aerobic capacity. He still needs to put on more size given at times he struggles with the physicality at AFL level.

But smart players who can kick on both feet and have the agility at 190cm don’t grow on trees. His determination to get onto an AFL list after two years of missing out also says a bit about his character. He’s now easily one of Essendon’s best young players and has a chance to grow into a high level AFL footballer.

That's it for this week. Please subscribe if you enjoy the content

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