Thursday, March 16, 2017

Missing Tricks with Mr Blitz

I can’t help but think Geelong has missed a trick with Mark Blicavs. Or rather they saw the trick, learned the trick, and then pretended the trick didn’t happen. This is the same kind of thinking that leads to Hollywood making “Now You See it”, a movie about magicians, which removes all the stakes of magic to begin with – a movie is essentially magic – and then doubles down by producing a sequel that, impossibly, wasn’t called “Now You Don’t”. But I digress. Enough clunky metaphor. Facts: Geelong took a former Olympic level steeple-chaser and turned him into a best and fairest winning ruckman in 2 years. In the following two years they took a best and fairest winning ruckman and turned him into an average wing/defensive midfielder maybe…?

How highly should we value ruckmen? The Western Bulldogs just won a flag playing Jordan “not Jarryd” Roughead in the ruck, who was backed up by million dollar forward Tom Boyd. Their opponents on the day, Sydney, ran a similar set-up with Sam “who?” Naismith and million dollar forward Kurt Tippett. On the flip side, the 2000s Cats were clearly better once Brad Ottens was moved into the middle full-time; one could argue he was the key piece of the premiership line-ups. The cat has been skun several ways; Grant Thomas had a pretty successful run at St Kilda and refused to play any ruckmen at all. But he also ate nothing but walnuts and has 15 kids, so who knows.

With ruckmen, as with most things in life, there appears to be no hard and fast rule. Or, rather, the rule is this – “if you have a great ruckman, play him, but there aren’t many great ruckmen so maybe just make do with guys who are good in other areas and I think you’ll be fine”. Sure, it’s not catchy as the categorical imperative, but it’s accurate. To wit; the following is a list of 2016’s top ten ruckmen, according to Champion Data:

1. Nic Naitanui (West Coast)
2. Todd Goldstein (North Melbourne)
3. Max Gawn (Melbourne)
4. Aaron Sandilands (Fremantle)
5. Shane Mumford (GWS Giants)
6. Sam Jacobs (Adelaide)
7. Kurt Tippett (Sydney)
8. Patrick Ryder (Port Adelaide)
9. Ivan Maric (Richmond)
10. Tom Nicholls (Gold Coast)

I mean, look at that list. There are basically 5 good rucks in the entire league. Paddy Ryder came in eighth and he didn’t even fucking play in 2016. How far down that list do you go until you see Jordan Roughead? How far down for Zac Smith, or Rhys Stanley? How far down does it stop being relevant?

With Smith and Stanley in the 22, Blitz is being selected as a legitimate midfielder, a role that becomes hard to to justify when it's keeping Darcy Lang or Nakia Cockatoo or Brandan Parfitt out of the 22 - and becomes impossible to justify when he previously won the Geelong best and fairest playing as a ruckman. 

He's not a no. 1 ruck, he's not an A-grade midfielder, and he's not a key position player. But he is a perfect modern day utility who can fill gaps anywhere on the field and allow you to select another midfielder each week. With the way the sport is evolving, and with bench rotations being more heavily limited, Blitz’s versatility is a massive advantage The Geelong Football Club are failing to exploit. And it’s unclear why. I mean, they already know the trick works.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Gradually, then Suddenly

I don’t think much more need, nor can, be said about the career achievements of Jimmy Bartel. If you’d never seen him play at all, the accolades and statistics – the premierships, Brownlow medal, Norm Smith medal, various media awards, AA selections, the sheer number of games played and goals kicked – would safely, and correctly, tell you that he was an all-time great of the game. Watching him, and seeing the class, nous and unswerving courage with which he played the game, left you no doubt.

Instructively, no occasion ever seemed too big for Jim, and his best games often came on the biggest stages: Nullifying a rampant Lenny Hayes in the 2009 Grand Final; bagging 3 goals and the Norm Smith in the 2011 Grand Final; the countless clutch last quarter efforts and wet weather, long sleeve classics. The moment never got to Jim, because, typically, he got to it first.

Jimmy’s versatility saw him go from Brownlow winning midfielder to Geelong’s Mr. Fixit, plugging holes wherever a leak sprung up. And while this may have been detrimental to his own game late in his career, and even though he did it admirably and without complaint, it is worth placing him at his 2007 peak, the peak; the best player in the best team the AFL has ever seen.

Corey Enright’s greatness, conversely, initially required closer attention. Unnoticed, perhaps, rather than underrated, Enright’s greatness was the kind that once you saw it, you wondered how you’d missed it to begin with. And it was the kind that stuck around – Enright was amazingly and rightly named in the All-Australian team for 2016, his final season, eight years after making his first (which was overdue).

For us Geelong fans we knew Boris’ name was the first one on team sheet for over a decade. He was a mistake free footballer who was ahead of his time: A terrific ball user who rarely if ever turned it over; a defender who knew precisely when to attack; a player who didn’t halve contests but won them. Repeatedly.

These days we are quick to anoint the next big thing after 3 good games, but you probably couldn’t find 3 bad games among the 330-odd Corey Enright played. To put it plainly, nobody played better for longer.

Importantly, Bartel and Enright were both exceedingly fair on the field, and gentlemen off it. There was no scandal attached to these two, which may sound like scant praise but please remind yourself of the times in which we live. Enright has stayed out of the spotlight but is often cited as the consummate teammate behind closed doors. Jimmy has used his celebrity to become an inspiring voice in the fight against domestic violence.

Gradually the facelift of the Geelong Football Club has suddenly become a full-fledged transformation. The Cats have lost two all-time champions of the club, and two good people.

Thanks Jimmy. Thanks Boris.