Best of the weekly wraps

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Post by Lee on Mon Jun 26, 2017 3:25 pm

By Craig Little in The Guardian

This season of AFL football continues to unfold as an epic. On Thursday night, the Adelaide Crows lost a game at home that nobody thought they would. For the second time in three weeks, the top team dropped a game to that placed second-to-last. What happened? Mainly, the Crows got Burgoyned. From his goal in the opening minute, the 34-year-old Shaun Burgoyne was every bit as silky and running just as hard in the final quarter as he did in his prime – although this is a period becoming more difficult to pin.

When the then Port Adelaide vice captain requested a trade at the end of 2009, most pundits figured Hawthorn would get two, maybe three years out of the shopworn Burgoyne who required off-season surgery on his knee. But here he is in his eighth season for the Hawks, having played 175 games for the club – the last 96 consecutively. In terms of disposals, his output for 2017 is statistically better than any of his years at Port Adelaide and sits below only 2010 and 2014 for his career. A few more nights like Thursday and he might just pass both of those. He is not one for tiring.
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Richmond defeated Carlton, the Cats won a thriller over the Dockers and the Saints easily accounted for the Suns in AFL, while the Sea Eagles and Dragons won their NRL clashes
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At the burnt end of the following night’s game at the SCG, the Bombers grew tired of what their coach John Worsfold called “random, reckless, fast footy” – a style of game that had seen them turn a four-goal deficit into a 19-point lead – and decided to become as precautious as possible... except for when it mattered most.

With less than a minute to go and his team leading 85 to 79, Joe Daniher took a contested mark deep in the Bombers’ defence. While convention would appear to be the antithesis to the season so far, it would prescribe that Daniher kick long and defensively hug the boundary. He didn’t and his kick fell into the arms of Sydney’s Callum Mills. Moments later, Buddy Franklin marked. Franklin is a player who commands a special type of attention – even when he does go oh-for-five – but the Essendon defence allowed him to play-on and wheel onto his left-footTM. At that moment you sensed the game was on Franklin’s boot. But oh-for-five became oh-for six and the game was still Essendon’s to lose.

It was then the game shaded towards Greek myth. Brendan Goddard, a man known for his abruptness towards the mistakes of others, flew too close to the man on the mark and had his kick smothered out of bounds. The moment was a precursor to a worse one if you’re a Bombers fan or to 24-seconds of do-anything, joyful chaos for the red and the white.

At the boundary throw-in, Dane Rampe found space where it shouldn’t have been, threw the ball onto his boot and found Gary Rohan one-out against Martin Gleeson, an opponent fighting a weight division or two outside his class. Rohan’s one-handed mark and after-the-siren goal pulled off another extraordinary win for the Swans – one that even more remarkably had them sitting inside the top eight. That was until the Western Bulldogs’ one-point win the following night bumped them to ninth.

Like the Swans, the Bulldogs could consider themselves fortunate, albeit for a different reason. With just three minutes to go, and having conceded four goals in ten minutes, the Bulldogs found themselves five points behind when Ben Brown marked and goaled. But as Ben Fountain wrote in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, “If a bullet’s going to get you, it’s already been fired,” and the 50-50 calls had gone the Bulldogs’ way from the first bounce. And so it was that Brown’s goal was waved off after Mason Wood was called for an illegal block off the ball that a generous interpretation would read as questionable. Further demonstrating a sense of theatre, if not a liking for the macabre, umpire Chris Donlon paid a 50-metre penalty against Brown. While there is nothing in our game to suggest free kicks are doled out proportionally, a 15-2 differential partway through the second-quarter at the very least raises a few questions, even if the Bulldogs were winning the contested ball and making the most of the play.

“Our fans will demand answers, but unfortunately I can’t give them to them… that’s for others to talk about,” said North Melbourne coach Brad Scott in a manner that was tonally right for a man whose team could easily be 8-5 instead of 4-9 after losing to the same team that beat it by three points back in Round 4.

Scott had little to gain in making anything resembling a statement on the umpiring. Anything he may have said would’ve simply been viewed as either singing to the choir or howling into the void – and would’ve cost him a few thousand dollars for his trouble.

A comment that is worth making is that the prospect of another drought-breaking Premiership is in play after Melbourne go into July with a season defined not by despair, but by hope (the same could be said of Richmond, but that’s a piece for another time as you dare not confine the Tigers to a footnote).
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The last time Melbourne beat the Eagles in the west, John Howard was in The Lodge, Beyoncé was in Destiny’s Child and Jack Viney was in the Under-10s. Fifteen years on, Viney was playing like a man among boys. At the long break he’d already had the ball 23 times, and won the hard ball for all but seven of those. In the last quarter he had nine contested possessions among his 13, and supplemented this numerical violence by ironing out the 6ft1in, 96 kilogram Shannon Hurn.

Joel Selwood only had time to get off one handball before he too was ironed out in the opening minute by Hayden Ballantyne, who is to football what a second-hand jet ski is to a peaceful lake. Little more than 30-minutes later, the Cats found themselves 34 points down against a Fyfe-less Fremantle and in a hole not often found at Skilled Stadium. Turning into the last quarter 19-points down and short-handed on the bench with injuries to Tom Stewart and Darcy Lang, it looked like another premiership hopeful would drop a game that any other year it would have pencilled in – particularly against a team far from home and blooding two debutants.

In the last quarter Geelong showed the resolve personified by their injured skipper to erase the deficit and hold a three-point lead with a minute to go. But when Michael Walters found himself 25-metres out in front for the game’s final act, it appeared as though the round would take another unexpected – although by now a halfway expected – turn. Walters’ kick swung left and the Cats, like the Dogs, got away with one and made it four games for the round decided by a total of seven points.

The critic Daniel Mendlesohn didn’t know the half of it when he said an epic without a focus or a coherent plot is just a very long poem. That this year of AFL football lacks rhyme or reason after 14 weeks is what makes it such the compelling exception to a time where the mundane and mediocre appear to be enshrined as the national ideal.

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