Sports

The crows’ young bookends make them dream big, but how in the name of god can the Dees be beaten?


It’s getting hard to remember a time when Melbourne wasn’t outrageously good.

But even this time last year, when they won their first nine games en route to a minor premiership and, eventually, the flag, they were rarely as good as they look right now.

The Demons’ 67-point win over GWS on Saturday night was about as close to footballing perfection as you’re likely to see. Virtually every box on Simon Goodwin’s checklist was ticked by the Melbourne juggernaut – the defense was unwavering early on when the Giants midfielder came to the top, then their forwards were ruthless in the third term when clearances began to arrive en masse.

Whatever the challenge, whatever the opposition, this side of the demons will strangle their lives, then go for the jugular.

Melbourne scored ten goals in a frantic third quarter – the nickname ‘Premiership quarterback’ so apt given what they did in last year’s grand final – scoring so consistently that it was embarrassing for a GWS team that wasn’t playing so badly. At one point they slammed three in 90 seconds of playing time. I counted.

The Demons know they won’t always have the upper hand in midfield. Even Clayton Oliver, Christian Petracca and Max Gawn won’t win every clearance. This is where their defense comes in.

Facing an inside 50s bombardment from the Giants in the first quarter (a whopping 19 overall), the Demons held them back every time. You couldn’t put a statistic on how easy it was felt for them either.

Steven May picked interception marks at will, Jayden Hunt bounced back like a man who missed last year’s grand final and is determined not to let that happen again, and the underrated Harry Petty covered Harry of the Himmelberg variety.

Then forward, the Dees were masters of efficiency. By the time Kysaiah Pickett scored his third goal of the night, they had only managed six eliminations inside the forward 50 for the quarter. Yes, every second touch they had in their attacking arc was a goal.

After a frustrating second quarter where the Giants’ ball usage improved greatly – three out of six goals inside the coming 50s as they split the Dees’ defensive structure – Melbourne then decided that it was time to flip the switch. Carnage ensued.

Surrounded and beleaguered, the Giants’ attempts to extricate themselves from trouble resulted in numerous turnovers, and Melbourne was in no mood to let them off the hook.

Goals from turnovers, goals from main forwards, goals from saves…you name it, the demons did it.

What’s remarkable is that the Dees midfield still had room for improvement. They narrowly lost the number of possessions contested, while being heavily beaten for clearances. The difference was that when the Dees won it after a stoppage, it was full steam ahead and good luck stopping them; while the Giants only found a brick wall named May, or Lever, or Petty.

So how do you beat the demons? You might win a quarterback, like the Giants did tonight, but their system will win you in the long run. If you dominate the midfield, their backline will hold firm and their forwards won’t let anything go to waste. If you don’t, well, might as well give them the four points already.

Perhaps the only thing that can beat Melbourne, much like the Omnidroid in the first Incredibles movie, is themselves.

As for Saturday’s other winners, none could hold a candle to the demolition work in Melbourne; but St Kilda and Adelaide have shown that the future and the present are much brighter than you would have thought heading into the season.

Despite all the Crows’ misfortune this week, they’re just a few kicks away from being 4-1 and sitting well right now. Had they picked up late wins over Fremantle and Essendon, we could talk about their triumph over Richmond in an even more impressed manner.

It was a real victory, as remarkable as their victories over Melbourne and Geelong last year. Adelaide Oval are a stronghold again: beat the Crows here this year and you know you’re a serious side.

Five goals, four in the first quarter and a substitution to roll the Crows, meant plenty of applause went out for Taylor Walker. Equally impressive, and even happier for Matthew Nicks, was his accomplice in the attack, Elliott Himmelberg.

Now 23 and in his fifth year in the AFL system, young Himmelberg has officially arrived, with his sure hands, precise set pieces and ground-level tracking all exceptional for a player of his size.

The Tigers backline, which looked so secure against the Bulldogs last week, couldn’t handle any of the Twin Towers on offense. They won’t be the only ones this season struggling.

In Himmelberg and Jordon Butts, who played perhaps their best game yet to put down the sinister Tom Lynch, the Crows have their bookends sorted for the next decade. In this age of interception marks and zone defenses, the sight of a good old-fashioned backman messing up first and asking questions later is magnificent.

Time and again in the final quarter, the Tigers pounced on the Crows; but where the wave swamped a reigning grand finalist last week, the home side held their ground. It was almost worthy of Melbourne’s defensive performance later that night, except with the desperation and maniacal intensity of a team that doesn’t yet know how good they are, but will be damned if they don’t. not find out.

The Tigers were 14 in the 50s last term, but a young Crows has six – Butts and Billy Frampton still objects, who would have thought? – was exceptional.

Likewise, when Richmond seemed to have opened the game with a four-goal streak to take the third-term lead, the Crows rose to the challenge, tied it, then dismantled the Tigers on the spread. With run and carry, a willingness to dare through the middle and a young man named Josh Rachele who goes fast, they kicked five in a row and never looked back.

A quick note on the Saints too, who did exactly what they needed against a sticky opponent in Gold Coast. Never quite able to shake off the Suns, but never looking likely to lose once they broke away in the third quarter, the Saints showed flashes of brilliance, but still underscored it with manic intensity at The source.

For every flashy run from Bradley Hill, or Jade Gresham snap from the pocket, there was an unyielding clearance from Brad Crouch after a stoppage, or a fierce contest from Jack Hayes against the greatest Jarrod Witts, or a gut race in the space to provide a Captain Jack Steele option.

Steel is a good word in itself to describe the Saints’ start to 2022, now with four trotting wins and as good looking as they have been since their final in 2020.

There’s a lot of substance – but yes, the style is also a lot of fun.




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