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Eddie Betts’ powerful point gets lost in camp fiasco, and Cripps must get two weeks

With only two rounds to go, the race for the eight is still wide open in this extraordinary, bonkers 2022 season.

The top two are on 11-game winning streaks – one with a percentage of 137, the other at 106, totally normal things – there’s four per cent between third and fifth, and seemingly nobody wants eighth.

And it wouldn’t be a typical AFL weekend without some off-field drama – everything from Ed Langdon’s ‘all duck no dinner’ dig at the Pies, to the revelations about the Adelaide camp that dominated the headlines all week, giving everyone around the water cooler plenty to discuss.

Then, of course, there was Joshua J. Kennedy, who in his final AFL match, produced the greatest bag of farewell goals since Fred Fanning dobbed 18. And in a losing side, because that’s just how West Coast roll this season.

Who the hell knows what’s to come this season – but one thing’s for sure, you can’t rule anything out.

1. Langdon fallout moves us one step closer to the death of personality

The reaction to Ed Langdon’s ‘all duck and no dinner’ comments before Friday night’s game have been, by and large, perfectly reasonable.

Magpies supporters had a pantomime villain to boo for the night, the footy media had an angle to pump up an already keenly anticipated game even further, and Langdon and the Pies both handled things with perfect theatre during the game.

Then, afterwards, Craig McRae made a point of praising Langdon for his candour and advocating for more players to show their character in dealings with the media; while the industry in general likewise all lapped it up.

But I think we’re about to find out that regardless of what everyone wants to see from the game, there is nothing to be done to stop the growing death of personality in the AFL.

There is surely next to no chance that Simon Goodwin was thrilled with Langdon revving up the Pies even further; while he laughingly revealed pre-game that he’d done a spit-take with a Carlton Draught when he heard what his winger had said, I’d be shocked if Langdon is that open about the opposition in future.

He surely can’t have enjoyed the media attention, the scrutiny, and the social media abuse – some friendly banter, some decidedly not – that comes for any player that dares to tread beyond the status quo. Jack Ginnivan has dealt with it plenty this year; Angus Brayshaw got lambasted for being ‘cocky’ when he said the Dees could ‘beat anyone’ at their best at half time of an eventual loss to Essendon in early 2019.

It seems to be that, though everyone involved in the game loves the drama associated with players showing a bit of character – and the Pies’ targeted attack on Langdon 19 seconds into Friday night was just glorious – what we really love is seeing karma unfold.

Media and fans alike love to sink the boots into players when their comments backfire – for all the praise for Langdon going around, just about every headline and social media post from press featured some reference to ducks, dinners or one-trick ponies.

All of that is fine – it just makes it perfectly understandable why players would not want to put their heads on the chopping block and just stick to the cliches. If we want to see more personality in the game, then the best course might be to not make such a big song and dance about it when it happens.

Ed Langdon of the Demons in action

(Photo by Daniel Carson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

2. Attention on Crows’ camp fiasco misses Eddie’s point

There isn’t anything I can say about the Adelaide camp debacle that hasn’t already been said far better this week by Eddie Betts, Josh Jenkins and Bryce Gibbs, among others.

What is worth adding, though, is that the intense spotlight on the events of early 2018 focusses on only part of the story Betts was trying to tell with the excerpts released from his new book, The Boy from Boomerang Crescent.

Lifting the lid at last on the sordid details of the camp – many of which had already been revealed, just without names and faces attached to the story – isn’t the reason Betts is coming out with a book, nor is it the main story held within.

In my eyes, his experiences on the camp serve to illustrate a greater narrative – that of his struggle against racism in all parts of his life; of which the offensive use of his Indigenous culture while on it was just one example.

The headlines this week about his treatment at the hands of police as a private citizen, the many instances of racial abuse he copped throughout his career, and even the chilling moves by the Crows to prevent him speaking out about receiving a racist letter, have all been lost in the growing snowball that is the camp drama.

And that can be a problem.

In sport as much as any walk of life, we’re always on the lookout for villains. It’s easy, in light of the details of the week, to paint the Crows, and their football department, and Don Pyke, and Mark Ricciuto, and Collective Mind, as such, without considering that few things in real life are as black and white as they are on an AFL field, where your team are the heroes and the opposition the bad guys. That all we need to is ensure those wrongdoers are brought to account for the ship to be righted.

The focus has shifted away from Betts’ story and his message, and on to demanding accountability from everyone involved in the sins of four and a half years ago. No doubt action should be taken, but we shouldn’t also be lured into thinking that if Ricciuto resigns, or the AFL Players Association is jolted into finally getting its act together, then suddenly everything will be hunky-dory.

The truth is, as we saw last week with Adam Saad and continue to see on a regular basis, racism is still far too prevalent in the AFL landscape. That, I think, is the point Betts was trying to address, more than just finally outing that camp for what it was.

Not everything is so blatantly tone-deaf and disgusting as Ricciuto urging Betts to let it go; there is something in Betts’ book for all of us to take heed of, whether we’re important industry figures or just a random fan like you or I heading along to the footy on the weekend.

Betts’ story has the capacity to start a conversation as profound and wide-reaching as anything the game has seen before – if we choose to have it.

Eddie Betts

(Photo by Morne de Klerk/Getty Images)

3. It’s time for every team to bring back the tagger

The tagger isn’t quite ‘back’ – but as more and more teams are showing in 2022, it’s becoming quite a string to your bow if you have someone capable of locking onto the opposition’s key players and not letting go.

GWS’ upset victory over Essendon, and Hawthorn’s simultaneous triumph over Gold Coast, could not have been managed without the efforts of Harry Perryman and Finn Maginness respectively, who each shut down the Bombers’ and Suns’ premier midfielder in Zach Merrett and Touk Miller.

Coming off 38, 38, 36 and 31 disposal games, Merrett has been as crucial as any Bomber to their recent form surge – but with Perryman watching his every move, he could manage only 18, with just two clearances, allowing the Giants’ on-ball brigade to dictate terms from the outset.

Miller gave more of a yelp than Merrett in fighting off his Maginness tag, but 21 disposals, zero marks and just 82 metres gained is another significant scalp for the young Hawk to add to Ed Langdon, Jy Simpkin and several others. With Miller curtailed, Hawthorn were able to break even out of the centre against a powerful Suns midfield, a notable weakness throughout this year.

Spare a thought for Mitch Owens and Marcus Windhager too, with the Saints’ first-year duo brilliantly restricting Tom Stewart and Cameron Guthrie on Saturday night. Geelong were still far too good in the end, but with Stewart almost unsighted to half time and ending with only two marks, the Saints remained well and truly in the hunt for far longer than anyone expected.

Throw in Swan Ryan Clarke’s recent career renaissance as a defensive forward, nicely coinciding with their form surge, and Jye Caldwell’s influence in a lockdown role for the Bombers that was proven beyond all doubt as important when his absence against the Giants saw Lachie Whitfield and Stephen Conoglio run riot, and it’s pretty clear how vital a run-with player can be in modern footy.

If Melbourne had been able to restrict the influence of Jordan De Goey or Nick Daicos with a tagger on Friday night, perhaps that would have been what tipped them over the edge in a narrow defeat.

That the Giants have been able to turn Perryman, a natural ball-winning outside player, into a more than capable stopper who will surely only improve with time, should also give confidence to any team that tagging isn’t some rare lost art, but a technique that with a bit of coaching and elbow grease, an elite AFL talent will be able to pick up.

With varying success, other teams are following suit – West Coast are exploring run-with roles for Xavier O’Neill, who was handed a lesson in work rate by Miller against the Suns last week.

It’s not always going to work, but when it does, the rewards are just too great for teams to simply claim it interferes with their structure. Perryman, Maginness, Clarke and co. have suddenly become among the most feared players in the competition, and are winning games for their teams.

4. Patrick Cripps must get a two-match suspension for bump

The Patrick Cripps bump that knocked Callum Ah Chee senseless is everything the AFL have been trying to stamp out of the game for years.

The Carlton captain lines up the Lion from a few metres away, leaves the ground, and clobbers him. Whether the concussion occurred from when Ah Chee hit the ground or when Cripps’ elbow came through to catch him high is, surely, immaterial.

Unsurprisingly, as is the case with most stars of the game, the commentary team quickly moved to defend him, with both Leigh Matthews and Luke Darcy claiming Cripps was going for a spoil and should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Poppycock. Cripps’ arm never extends, the contact with Ah Chee over the ball is from the shoulder, and the arm only extends to brace his fall. Bumps don’t get much more clear-cut than that.

The question isn’t whether he should be suspended – it’s how many weeks we should get. And the AFL has a precedent on this, too.

In the pre-season, Collingwood’s Brayden Maynard received a two-game ban for this spoiling attempt on Daniel Lloyd.

Crude though it was, Maynard’s hit was actually far more of a spoil than Cripps – at least he clearly extends his arm.

Even in the best-case scenario, Cripps can’t get any less than two weeks as well, given Maynard’s suspension. The moment Ah Chee was assisted from the field and took no further part in the game, his fate was sealed.

The MRO (and the AFL in general) have long been intensely scrutinised when it comes to their treatment of star players. Cripps escaping sanction, or even getting a solitary week, would only intensify that.

Callum Ah Chee is attended to by Brisbane trainers.

Callum Ah Chee is attended to by Brisbane trainers. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

5. We’ll never see a trade as good as Kennedy-Judd again

Josh Kennedy’s retirement announcement during the week, naturally, reignited the debate over who won the infamous ‘Kennedy-Judd’ trade of 15 years ago.

The answer, of course, is nobody: that trade is absolutely unimprovable, a shining example that not every deal needs a loser. A building Blues received a champion of the game in Chris Judd, who would go on to lead their on-ball brigade for half a decade, win a Brownlow and surge them to the cusp of real success in 2010-11.

A declining Eagles received a key forward to build an outstanding near-decade of permanent success around, culminating in his key role in the 2018 flag, plus pick 3 in the draft that was used to net the more than handy Chris Masten.

From the moment he arrived at the club, until he bade farewell with yet another ridiculous haul of eight goals, Kennedy has been nothing short of sensational. So, too, it must be remembered, was Judd at the Blues.

And this is where I feel more attention should be directed: instead of endlessly debating who won that trade, more should be made of the fact that we will never see anything that fair again.

Since Kennedy-Judd, the draft and trading landscape has changed dramatically: the points system, bid matches and father-son picks make the draft a complex nightmare to work out, while teams being able to trade future picks has also opened up more doors for securing talent.

The drawback of that – and in my view, it’s close to outweighing the benefits – is that the culture around trading has changed considerably. Back when Judd was on the move, it was required of the Blues to give up something substantial to get him; they certainly did.

Nowadays, clubs chasing similarly highly-rated players to Judd – think Jeremy Cameron to Geelong, Lachie Neale to Brisbane, and probably Tim Kelly to West Coast at a stretch – require a much less substantial sacrifice from the buying team.

Yes, the Cats still had to part with three first-round draft picks to get Cameron, while two were enough for Neale and Kelly to switch colours – but given those picks were always going to slide when academy, father-son and other draft concessions were added, it’s smaller than you might think.

A draft pick is essentially a lottery – more picks give you more chances of hitting the jackpot, but it’s still an inexact science. Trading a proven star player for one, two or three goes at getting it right is clearly to the advantage of the team getting the Cameron or Neale.

Imagine, hypothetically, if future picks hadn’t been added: if Brisbane had been forced to part with, say, Hugh McCluggage to get Neale across. Or if the Giants had demanded, say, Sam De Koning as part of any Cameron deal. Or if the Cats had agreed to trade Kelly, but only if Oscar Allen was sent back their way?

More chillingly, imagine if Carlton had been able to trade their future first-rounder instead of Kennedy, who was perfectly happy at the Blues? Suddenly their last decade begins to look a whole lot rosier.

Call it nostalgic grumpiness all you like, but with the odd exception – Ryan Burton heading to Port Adelaide so Hawthorn could get Chad Wingard, for instance – it’s now the accepted way of doing business that picks and picks alone are enough to get star players over the line.

It means that a trade as even, as mutually beneficial and as iconic as Kennedy-Judd will probably never happen again. And the game is poorer for it.

Josh J Kennedy

Josh Kennedy of the Eagles celebrates a goal during the 2018 AFL grand Final. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/AFL Media/Getty Images)

6. Cats – and Pies, and Swans, and Lions – have made footy fun again

Scoring isn’t up – the average total in 2022 hovers just below 83 points – and yet footy this season is the most exciting it’s been in years.

It’s proof that free-flowing, end to end footy doesn’t need scoring to be thoroughly compelling stuff – and it feels like the game, thanks to a few high-quality teams leading from the front, is returning to its chaotic, attacking roots, after years of dour play.

The most notable example is the Cats. Bridesmaids for much of the past decade, and in recent times unable to shake their brand of risk-free, painstaking play that simply couldn’t cut it against teams bringing desperation and ferocity in cutthroat finals, Chris Scott’s style shift leaves the Cats comfortable flag favourites heading into the final fortnight of the home-and-away season.

The Cats of the past were death by a thousand cuts – 2022’s Geelong don’t even bother with a sword, they just take out a nuclear warhead and blow you to smithereens with unstoppable attacking footy. It would be a treat to watch if it wasn’t so darn terrifying.

Melbourne’s onslaught in the 2021 grand final appears to have shifted the goalposts; teams knew heading into the season that they had to be prepared to score quickly, otherwise the Demons’ capacity to dominate from out of the centre, capitalise on the 6-6-6- rule and pile on the goals was going to be impossible to curtail.

If the Cats picked up that gauntlet, Collingwood and Sydney are running with it. With excellent foot skills in transition, the Swans have been cutting up teams on the rebound for 18 months now; for the Pies, it’s with blistering pace ofof half-back and a Richmond-like intent to force the ball forward at all costs, that has claimed them 11 straight victories and counting.

That pair’s looming clash in Round 22 is going to be unmissable: it might bring about the most exhilarating footy of a most exhilarating year..

Brisbane have long been the AFL’s masters of all-out attack – but the threat of the Cats, Pies and Swans means they’re now not a clear standout when it comes to scoring, and that has cast the spotlight on their vulnerable defence.

An even competition, top-four and top-eight spots consistently up for grabs, form slumps and surges, and thrilling finishes galore have made this season’s narrative utterly compelling.

But best of all? The footy has been bloody fun to watch, too.

Jack Ginnivan and Jamie Elliott of the Magpies celebrate.

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Random thoughts

– Ben Cunnington and Sam Docherty’s returns from cancer this year have been as good as the footy. And the footy’s been pretty good.

– If Sam De Koning doesn’t get five votes from at least one Rising Star judge I will be very cross.

– I think we’re sleeping on how good a year Jack Gunston is having after 18 months of injuries.

– Full credit to Dem Panopoulos for owning his ‘Pies for the spoon’ pre-season tip. Reckon a lot of the people who’ve slagged him off for it would have thought the same.

– Rory Lobb will be a useful pick-up for the Bulldogs, if only to ensure they never again have to find an opponent for him.

– If nothing else, the Commonwealth Games this week has made me really, really miss Bruce McAvaney.

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