Umps’ Ginnivan treatment officially gets ridiculous, and shocking North takes must be called out

From Friday night to Sunday evening, it seemed the order of the week was teams having a look at September and deciding it wasn’t for them.

St Kilda, Port Adelaide and Gold Coast all threw away gilt-edged chances to push their way into the eight, leaving Richmond, who themselves bottled it gloriously against North Melbourne, breathing a little easier.

The race for the top four, too, is suddenly becoming complicated, with Carlton and Fremantle both squandering opportunities to prove their worth while Sydney are suddenly back in the hunt.

Then, of course, we saw the goal of the year, at 7pm, in the last quarter of a game already decided between two sides that won’t be appearing in the finals. What a league.

1. The Magpies are lucky – but they’re also good

After all the talk this week about Collingwood’s extraordinary record in close matches in 2022, it was only fitting that it was another thriller that secured them an eighth win in a row on Saturday afternoon.

Call it clutch. Call it the experience of proven champions Scott Pendlebury, Steele Sidebottom and co. Call it sheer dumb luck. The important thing is that the Pies are only percentage out of the top four, with a 12-5 record that surely nobody expected when Craig McRae took the reins at the end of a tumultuous 2021.

So, are the Magpies lucky, or are they good? The short answer is: both.

The data shows that, historically, there is no definitive causation that explains why some teams win close games and some don’t, other than pure chance. The same things being said about Collingwood’s 7-1 run in games under two goals this year were being said about Port Adelaide last year following a run of tight wins: from 5-0 in games under two goals in 2021, they’ve regressed to 2-5 this year.

Not all close games are alike, either, which is what you’d expect to see if there was any method to what the Pies are doing. They were clearly better than GWS in Round 15, but missed a bunch of chances, fell asleep in the last quarter, had a few questionable calls go against them, and in the end escaped with an 11-point win.

They led virtually from start to finish against Carlton and withstood a last-minute fightback; ditto Essendon on ANZAC Day. Against Adelaide, they had the game in their keeping with five minutes to go, only for the Crows to make a game of it with a pair of quick goals.

In a match that ebbed and flowed, the Pies were simultaneously probably the better side for longer, and fortunate that they were the ones with their noses in front when the full-time siren blew.

They overran North Melbourne and Gold Coast in last terms, but also hit the lead well before the finish line; equally, they themselves were hunted down against West Coast and Geelong, which nicely cancels those two wins out.

Lucky? Sure, and it’s definitely not sustainable in the long term. The Pies deserved to win every single one of their six recent tight games, but going five-zip in 55-45 games isn’t a reliable bedrock to build a team upon.

But equally, it’s important to note that in this game, you make your own luck a lot of the time. The Pies don’t make dumb, coach-killing mistakes like Richmond do, which is why they’ve avoided comedy losses in those tight games. Sensible footy, rather than anything brilliant, is often the difference when things get tight.

On a wet day, the Magpies did brilliantly to escape the clutches of a desperate Crows outfit that left nothing in the dank; they’d have beaten many a top-eight side with that aspiration, especially with the wet conditions nicely equalising their foot skills.

What happens in the last minute might be a coin-flip, but to even get in that position as many times as the Magpies have is very much a skill. Improve a smidge next year, and suddenly they’ll start to seal games well before they go down to the wire.

And even if they don’t, the Pies only need to look at 2020 St Kilda as inspiration, who had a 1-4 record in close games after going 5-2 in 2019. Their improvement was stark enough to overcome the luck barrier and make it to the second week of the finals.

Some teams will always be luckier than others. But unlike some, the Pies are good enough to make the most of it. Fortune, as they say, favours the brave.

Scott Pendlebury of the Magpies celebrates a goal.

Scott Pendlebury of the Magpies celebrates a goal. (Photo by James Elsby/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

2. Ridiculous North takes can get in the bin

I’m surely not the only one who got as invested in North Melbourne’s thrilling win over Richmond as any neutral fan has any right to be.

Sorry, Richmond fans, but as the siren sounded and Marvel Stadium went bonkers both on and off the field, I was as thrilled for the Kangaroos and their supporters as I would have been of my own team. Considering the depths they’ve plumbed this season, it was as close to pure joy as you will get from a side that still has a monty on the wooden spoon.

What’s been incredibly disappointing, though, has been the reaction from two known critics of the Roos (I’m being charitable in not outright calling them ‘North-bashers) in Damian Barrett and Tom Browne, who both moved quickly to try and put a damper on the elation.

“I’m rapt for North. But their bullishness on their list worries me. They are in more trouble than I realised… and Zurhaar hasn’t resigned yet,” Browne tweeted (I’m not going to share it here and give him the engagement), while quote-tweeting Roos president Sonja Hood’s heartfelt tribute to her playing group.

He also felt the need to point out, in an example of groundbreaking journalism only because it burrowed through the earth and hit rock bottom, that Richmond had 11 extra scoring shots, as if people hadn’t worked out that the Tigers threw the game away like yesterday’s jam (if you don’t get that reference, here ya go).

Barrett – who’s apparently a North fan? – was more circumspect, but was quick to imply that this was a false dawn, as if the barest bit of light at Arden Street at the moment isn’t a significant improvement on what has come this year.

“This is what they did in 2020, when they got rid of Brad Scott [that was actually 2019, but sorry, go on Damo]… Rhyce Shaw had similar moments,” Barrett said on the Sunday Footy Show.

“I’m just saying, Rhyce Shaw had the same reaction, they had the same results. It happened last year, too.”

I agree with Barrett more than the average punter, and I’m mostly willing to tolerate Tom Browne existing, but this is, in a nutshell, the problem most people have with sports media, and in particular AFL media.

There’s a time and a place for criticism, but it’s surely not when a team has just enjoyed a win as meaningful as what North just did. It also deeply annoys me that somehow North have copped as much criticism out of Saturday as Richmond did for possibly the dumbest four minutes of footy for the year.

Talk about how the Roos, under Leigh Adams, finally took the game on and played some aggressive, exhilarating football – I’ve thought all season that they played footy as if self-aware that they’re a bad side, looking to limit damage rather than ever truly threaten, but that was far from the case against the Tigers. Analyse what they changed, and how it worked – Ricky Mangidis has even done most of the work for you – rather than how they celebrated afterwards.

Talk about how brilliant Zurhaar was all afternoon, how superb his clutch dribble under pressure to take back the lead late was; then, if you can’t scratch the itch, urge North to re-sign him quick smart rather than suggesting that the bloke who thumped his jumper like the TV when the screen goes fuzzy after that winning goal has one foot out the door.

Or just stay quiet. Either way.

North have had just one win in front of their home fans since late 2019. They deserve the chance to celebrate without instantly being dragged back into negativity.

I’m begging you guys, turn it off for one day.

North Melbourne players celebrate defeating Richmond.

North Melbourne players celebrate defeating Richmond. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

3. Jack Ginnivan needs to change, because the umps aren’t backing down

I wrote a few weeks ago that the natural, fair answer to the free-kick-winning techniques of players like Jack Ginnivan was for the umpires to begin to treat incidents involving him with a grain of salt.

I don’t necessarily walk that back completely, but after watching the disgraceful way Ginnivan was treated by the umps on Saturday at the Adelaide Oval, I’ve probably got to admit that the league is incapable of handling situations like this with the appropriate level of action.

Forget Ginnivan losing the benefit of the doubt and occasionally missing out on a free: it seems now there’s a pact in the umpiring fraternity to not give him anything, even from the most obvious of high tackles.

Look at 0:45 in the player below: Ginnivan gets tackled high by Rory Laird in a manner that is a free for any other player in the game. No whistle. And it’s surely not a coincidence that this has happened to him at least once or twice a match for the last couple of months.

The most frustrating thing about all of it is that no other player in the game is being umpired in this way. Scott Pendlebury did the same thing later in the Pies’ win over the Crows, and won himself a free kick. There were dozens of other examples this weekend alone – Michael Walters versus Sydney, for instance – and Ginnivan seems to be the only one getting the rough end of the stick.

Hell, Joel Selwood has been doing it for 15 years; Luke Shuey won an elimination final after the siren doing it; every single team has one or two players who are masters of the craft, and most go under the radar because they’re not peroxided-blonde goalsneaks playing for the most headline-grabbing club in the game.

Is the uproar just because Ginnivan isn’t a tough inside midfielder like Selwood getting his frees from the centre bounce, but rather someone who kicks goals from then?

This is trying to crack a walnut with a sledgehammer; it’s trying to combat crowd violence by putting behavioural awareness officers in every row and ejecting people for yelling too loud (can’t imagine the AFL doing that). It’s treatment far disproportionate to the ‘crime’ of trying to win free kicks via mildly dubious reasons.

That being said, while Ginnivan is getting stitched up at the moment, he’s also got a few things to fix. As unfair as the umpiring towards him is, the way he plays makes it a difficult job to officiate him correctly, and you end up getting slammed by fans and the media either way.

I don’t think there is any doubt that he plays for free kicks – he said as much on the Goes Alright podcast during the week.

“I learnt it in under-15s. There’s vision of me doing it in under-16s,” he said.

“I feel like it’s just a great way to kick a goal. I reckon I’ve kicked 10 goals from free kicks or something like that.”

If he’s not going to get frees to the degree everyone else in the AFL does – and the way this league works, he’ll probably get 15 next week as the umpires massively over-correct – then he needs to get it out of his system.

In the incident below, he has Beau McCreery wide open for a handball, yet chooses to use the time in which he could have fired one off to drop the knees and try and win himself a set shot and near-certain goal.

I’m actually fine with this not being paid in principle – mostly because I think frees as a rule shouldn’t be something to be one, but rather something to be given away by clumsiness from an opponent. Patrick Parnell isn’t setting out to catch him high, and doesn’t really have a hope in hell of not with the way Ginnivan suddenly lunges into his tackle rather than trying to dodge it.

But it needs to be consistent. Pendlebury and Walters’ incidents were almost identical, and both won free kicks. So did Liam Ryan and Kozzie Pickett on Sunday.

Ginnivan is a fine young player in his second year, and is good enough to impact a game even without a steady supply of free kicks.

He’s got time on his side to rebuild his reputation in the eyes of the umpires, and when the hubbub dies down, then maybe he’ll be treated fairly again.

Jack Ginnivan of the Magpies is tackled.

Jack Ginnivan of the Magpies is tackled by Patrick Parnell of the Crows. (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

4. Buddy is worth whatever he asks for

Footy fans – and the industry as a whole – have this strange obsession with judging a player’s performance by the value of their contract.

A player on high money underperforming then becomes a serious crime, while players shopping themselves around and attracting top-dollar contracts get hit with the Darryl Kerrigan ‘Tell him he’s dreamin”.

Which is what makes Lance Franklin’s contract scenario absolutely fascinating. Some seem to think Buddy owes the Swans too much, by virtue of his nine-year, $10 million deal that expires this year; others argue his asking price of up to $800,000 for next season is too much for a soon-to-be 36-year old well past his best.

Here’s the thing, though: Buddy would be mad to leave the Swans. But not because he should be content to be paid whatever table scraps they can afford him, or that he doesn’t deserve a big payday elsewhere if he can find it, but because the Swans are on the verge of something seriously special and he’s a big part of it still.

If the Swans and he can’t see eye to eye, then fine – that’s the nature of a salary-cap league. Sydney have good reason to want to put more focus in keeping their talented core together without risking losing two or three of them for another few seasons of Buddy brilliance.

That being said, if Franklin is on the open market, there would be more than a few clubs who should move heaven and earth to get him in their colours.

Look at his games this year against Richmond, or Brisbane, or Geelong – all excellent sides – and tell me he’s not still one of the premier forwards in the game. With 35 goals for the year, he’s on track for another 50-major season with a couple of near-certain finals thrown in.

If someone’s willing to pay bulk coin for Buddy, then it’s not the worst investment: his presence would instantly make Collingwood, Fremantle or Melbourne significantly more dangerous in attack, which in an extremely even competition, could be the difference between a flag and a bare cupboard.

Even at 35, Franklin is still extraordinary. And having given so much to this game, even more than his hefty price tag, he’s got more right than anyone in the game to ask for whatever he likes.

Lance Franklin celebrates a goal.

(Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

5. Mid-season stars prove the talent pool is far from diluted

For a league that supposedly doesn’t have the talent to cover a 19th or 20th new team, there sure have been a lot of success stories coming out of the mid-season draft, haven’t they!

Patrick Parnell is now a staple in Adelaide’s best 22; Massimo D’Ambrosio has hardly missed a beat at Essendon; in previous years, Marlion Pickett, Jai Newcombe, John Noble, Ryan Gardner and many others are now first-choice at their respective clubs.

Josh Carmichael and Ash Johnson are the latest success stories, after playing their second and first games respectively for the Magpies against the Crows. Both were crucial to the result: 2022 recruit Carmichael had a whopping 24 kicks at the Adelaide Oval, while Johnson sunk a clutch goal in the final term that ultimately proved the match-winner.

Carmichael’s disposal efficiency of 25 per cent belies the fact that, in the wet, sometimes you’ve just got to bang the ball on the boot and see what happens. As for Johnson, he kept Ollie Henry, a youngster with the world at his feet, out of the team, and would be unlucky to make way for him next week.

There is so much untapped talent out there in the wilderness of state leagues, amateur football, and the like: players that fell off a pathway at some point, or were dismissed as too small, or were just late bloomers. Now, thanks mostly to COVID’s impact on the development of more traditionally sourced draftees, they’re getting their chance – and flying.

Put together a team of all the mid-season recruits, supplementary selections and other unusual AFL signings from the last two years, and I reckon you’d have a pretty reasonable side at your disposal. Good footballers are everywhere – and if a 19th and 20th team means giving them their shot, then how can that be anything but good for the game?

6. Kozzie covers glaring Dees’ deficiencies

Melbourne don’t leave Alice Springs with the four points without Kysaiah Pickett.

In a clash with Port Adelaide far tenser than even a 14-point final margin suggests, the livewire goalsneak was the difference and then some. Six goals from a small forward is absolutely unbelievable, and doesn’t even take into account the sphincter-tightening effect he has on opposition defenders.

The ease with which he made difficult kicks for goal appear was mind-boggling; case in point, Sam Powell-Pepper up the other end missed shot after shot from mostly easier opportunities.

Spreading up the ground towards stoppages, and then out-sprinting whoever had the misfortune of being manned up on him at that point, it was one of the great performances by a small. Watch his full highlight reel if you haven’t already.

Pickett’s wonderful game papered over some sizeable cracks in the Demons’ once-lethal arsenal. Minus Clayton Oliver, they were savaged in the clearances 40-26, with Christian Petracca’s 10 the only thing even keeping it that close. Moving forward, they continually butchered passes, particularly early, either banging it in haphazardly or sending the ball way over a leading forward’s head.

They remain imposing as ever in defence, and are good enough that even one player catching fire is good enough to win them most games. But this was a side that was an unbackable premiership favourite only a matter of weeks ago, and is now being matched in areas that used to be their bread and butter out of the midfield. Not even Max Gawn and Luke Jackson could dominate bit-part rucks Charlie Dixon and Jeremy Finlayson like they really should have.

The Dees now have five weeks to get their act together. They can’t count on Kozzie carnage to get them out of jail all that often.

Random thoughts

– I take back everything I said last week about Nick Daicos. The kid is outrageous.

– That being said… any danger someone stands next to him at some point?

– As epic as North’s win was… it’s kind of dodgy that Nick Larkey could hobble around on a rolled ankle for an hour but it suddenly became too much deep into the last with the game on the line, right?

– Daicos probably has it sewn up, but I’m adamant Sam De Koning has been at least equally good. Straight up shut the reigning Coleman Medallist out of the game on Saturday.

– I feel like nobody talks enough about how ridiculously good Hugh McCluggage is.

– Damien Hardwick should just run the tape of Sydney’s last five minutes against Freo. Absolute masterclass in preserving a late lead.

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