Home Australia AFL Round-Up: Gather Round delivers Carlton heist, powerful Port statement and key Demons breakthrough

AFL Round-Up: Gather Round delivers Carlton heist, powerful Port statement and key Demons breakthrough

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A group of Melbourne AFL defenders walk on the ground, while one sends a thumbs up signal.

The AFL Gather Round gave us one of the most controversial finishes in years, a midfield masterclass from Port Adelaide’s trio and more signs that Melbourne are ready to strike in 2024.

Here are the biggest talking points from each game in the fourth round.

The Demons have become efficient in attack

There hasn’t been much wrong with Melbourne in the two years since his premiership in 2021, but the most obvious thing holding the Demons back in key finals was profligacy in attack.

This year, the Devils have set out to remedy that with effectively the same personnel available. It is proving to be a flying success.

With Jake Lever and Steven May controlling the defence, a relentless attacking advantage was the final missing piece for Melbourne.(Getty Images: AFL Photos/Dylan Burns)

Some of that can be attributed to good kicking on goal, but it’s more than that. Melbourne have prioritized getting good ball users in positions to hurt the opposition as they approach the 50, and it’s paying off in the quality of looks they’re getting.

Add to that the ability of players like Christian Petracca and Jack Viney to score from midfield, and we’re certainly not looking at a team that has any real trouble scoring.

Against Adelaide, Melbourne’s scoring efficiency within 50 meters was 58.3 per cent. They scored 28 times in 48 innings. If that kind of ratio continued until the last Saturday in September, it would be difficult to see anyone else raising the glass.

ABC Player of the Year Votes:

3. Max Gawb (Demons)

2. Judd McVee (Demons)

1. Jake Soligo (Ravens)

Lions on cruise control, for better or worse

Brisbane have been kicked around enough this season and given they’ve just claimed their first win of the year (a huge one over North Melbourne, no less), we shouldn’t be too harsh.

However, there was something a little worrying about how the Lions took their foot off the pedal after the break against the Roos.

Two Brisbane Lions players shout and smile in celebration after a goal, as a Kangaroos defender walks away.

The Lions took care of the Kangaroos with minimal fuss.(Getty Images: AFL Photos/Dylan Burns)

Of course, the game was totally over at that point. And of course, they increased the margin even more after the long break and turned it into an adequate percentage reinforcement. For the rest of the game, the final margin probably should have been higher than the 70 points it finished with.

But there was a clear drop in intensity and quality on the part of the Lions, who dropped to North’s level and moved to second gear. It wouldn’t be a problem if those kinds of mid-game fades hadn’t cost the Lions a couple of wins this year.

It’s very nitpicky, but this is a team that wants to win a flag this year. Let’s hope this is the last such drop we see from the Lions this year.

ABC Player of the Year Votes:

3. Hugh McCluggage (Lions)

2. Lachie Neale (Lions)

1. Joe Daniher (Lions)

The three magnificent friends of the Port

Are Zak Butters, Connor Rozee and Jason Horne-Francis the best midfield in the competition? If not, they must be very close.

Against the Bombers, that trio combined for the most clinical midfield performance we’ve seen from any group this season. Rozee likely took Horne-Francis’ three votes by a whisker, but it was a true team effort.

Port Adelaide captain Connor Rozee roars in triumph as his teammate extends his hand in recognition after a goal.

Connor Rozee was absolutely incredible against Essendon.(Getty Images: AFL Photos/Michael Willson)

Those three complement each other perfectly, and their strengths cover each other’s minor weaknesses. Horne-Francis’ return this week added a physical edge that was missing against Melbourne last week and allowed Rozee to dazzle in space.

And they are all so young. A performance as impressive as that should have Port fans dreaming not only of what could come this year, but also for years to come.

ABC Player of the Year Votes:

3. Connor Rozze (Power)

2. Jason Horne-Francis (Power)

1. Jeremy Finlayson (Power)

Sydney stars step up

Even at three quarters, this was a live game. West Coast had squandered their surprise half-time lead, but with the wind at their back late on, there were realistic hopes of an upset.

Two men closed that door quickly, and they were Isaac Heeney and Errol Gulden. Sydney’s superstar midfielders took control of the game and ensured any hope of an Eagles miracle was short-lived.

They didn’t get their way all day, with Elliot Yeo fantastic throughout and Harley Reid frequently terrifying in his fourth game, but Heeney and Gulden showed the difference between players in their prime and those on either side.

There was composure in his contested work, the kind most Eagles are still looking to find. It was an encouraging display for West Coast, who in the end can collectively shake their heads and say they were beaten by two of the league’s best.

ABC Player of the Year Votes:

3. Isaac Heeney (swans)

2. Errol Gulden (Swans)

1. Jeremy McGovern (Eagles)

A minute of madness undoes Freo

It was like a Bond movie. Fremantle had Carlton pinned against the table, while the laser beam moved very slowly upward. But moments before certain death, the Blues somehow pulled a little sleight of hand and jumped out of the trap, leaving the Dockers dazed and broken on the ground around them.

The fear all day was that by trying to make the game difficult, the Dockers would fail to defeat their opponent. Freo’s mastery of clearances should have led to more goals and in the end they left the door open.

Carlton players celebrate in a large group

Matthew Cottrell kicked Carlton’s go-ahead goal late in the final quarter.(Getty Images: Mark Brake)

However, it took Carlton something pretty wild to get him through. The kick that landed in Matt Cottrell’s arms was clearly touched by James Aish, and if that had been the end of the story, they might have rightly felt aggrieved.

However, there was still time on the clock and the Dockers had been bathing them in the middle of the day. Jordan Clark’s quick decision to give the referee a bite took a difficult situation and turned it into a desperate situation.

The Dockers are still a very good team and this defeat does not change their aspirations at all. But in a season that will likely be decided by the finest of margins, this could be one they remember with regret.

ABC Player of the Year Votes:

3. Andrew Brayshaw (dockers)

2. Jacob Weitering (Blues)

1. Jeremy Sharp (dockers)

The bulldogs fall short but the sons of guns look good

The Western Bulldogs received a painful lesson from Geelong in their four-point defeat on Saturday night, but there were plenty of positive signs despite the loss.

The best thing from the Bulldogs’ perspective was that while some of the old familiar names kept them in the game (hello Bont and Libba), there were other familiar names that were mentioned at key moments.

Rhylee West (two goals and two goal assists) was already Generation Now rather than Generation Next at the Bulldogs, but seeing Sam Darcy taking on the Cats on Saturday night was something to behold.

A Western Bulldogs player clenches both fists in celebration while looking at a teammate after a goal.

Sam Darcy scored three goals for the Bulldogs, keeping his team in the competition against the Cats.(Getty Images: AFL Photos/Michael Willson)

Three goals, five goal involvements, three strong marks and six contested possessions in game number 10. The potential is real, the excitement is likely to only grow.

The Bulldogs were on the verge of suffering a major setback this week, and if they can overcome the Bombers and Saints in the coming fortnights, it will give their season a timely boost.

ABC Player of the Year Votes:

3. Jeremy Cameron (Cats)

2. Marcus Bontempelli (Bulldogs)

1. Tom Liberatore (Bulldogs)

Toby time teaches the Suns a lesson

It’s a surprise that in 2024 it took this long for Toby Greene to have a Toby Greene day, but the Gold Coast wishes it could wait another week.

The Suns were very good against the Giants, at times dominating the midfield battle and enjoying the emergence of some young defenders, most notably Mac Andrew.

But there were two things they just couldn’t get over. The first was the surge in GWS midfield performance in the final quarter, which reached a level that very few teams will be able to match.

The other was Toby, who was a constant attacking threat and provided the Giants with a clinical edge that the Suns couldn’t match. Greene was involved in 11 goals, five of them own goals, in a match-winning performance.

ABC Player of the Year Votes:

3. Stephen Coniglio (GWS)

2. Toby Greene (GWS)

1. Jesse Hogan (GWS)

Did Ross just tear the paint off the walls of the Norwood Oval?

We got really excited about St Kilda after their win over Collingwood a couple of weeks ago, and we hadn’t quite gotten off the wagon after the loss to Essendon last week.

However, the first half against Richmond was a true test of that faith. The Saints were terrible until halftime and were about 30 seconds away from a scoreless half.

One can only imagine what Ross Lyon did during the break, but as you might have guessed, it worked. The Saints rediscovered the physical advantage and fearless use of the ball that was their trademark in the early rounds of the season and took over the game.

At times it looked like the Saints would blow the game wide open, and it’s a great credit to Richmond that that didn’t happen. The pressure and pace of the Tigers forced the Saints to bring out the best version of themselves, just in time.

ABC Player of the Year Votes:

3. Jack Steele (Saints)

2. Shai Bolton (Tigers)

1. Jack Sinclair (Saints)

Hardwick’s haul nearly gave Hawks victory

He was Sam Mitchell’s ace, but when he decided to play him for all the money it seemed like he was too late.

Blake Hardwick had spent most of preseason training as a forward, but when the Hawks put together their first scoring streak in the first round, that plan was quickly abandoned and he assumed his usual position as defensive destroyer.

Blake Hardwick raises both fists and shouts in joy.

Blake Hardwick scored four goals in the second half after being launched forward.(Getty Images: Michael Willson)

But down 38 points to the Pies, Mitchell figured he might as well go silly. And he almost won the game against Hawthorn.

Hardwick looks like a completely natural striker, with the instincts honed during his junior football days clearly still in him. Hardwick provided the spark while Jai Newcombe did the dirty work, combining for a great Hawthorn comeback.

Of course, they didn’t get there as Collingwood’s worries were put to rest somewhat with a second successive victory. But for a Hawthorn team looking for small seeds that can grow into something bigger, Mitchell’s move to Hardwick gives plenty of food for thought.

ABC Player of the Year Votes:

3. Jordan De Goey (Magpies)

2. Karl Amon (Falcons)

1. Blake Hardwick (Hawks)

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