Sports

Langdon wasn’t wrong… but the Pies’ “one trick” is just awesome


Collingwood, huh?

Of all the Pies’ 11 consecutive wins, including the Queen’s birthday triumph over Melbourne that really got them talking, none was as good as this one.

In terms of home and away wins, it’s hard to remember the Pies having had a better one in a generation. Facing a team of in-form Demons who brutalized them in midfield, the Magpies found a way to neutralize them, then beat them on the counterattack.

This team, the one supposed to run on luck, is now second on the ladder. One of the most remarkable seasons in VFL/AFL history, let alone in recent memory, just keeps getting more and more amazing.

Better batten down the hatches and invest in a bulletproof front door, fellow Victorians. Many more wins like that, and surely the city can’t survive a frenzy of Magpie fans.

Of course, the outcome will mean plenty of Ed Langdon-directed vitriol for those Thursday night comments. In his defense, however, he wasn’t completely wrong.

Langdon’s assertion that the Magpies are a “one-trick pony” rings true in a way: The Pies play frantic, dangerous footy that can sometimes backfire without the pressure to go with it. Against Port Adelaide last week, that meant being consistently beaten early by a side eager to fight fire with fire.

It took them a quarter to adjust to that, but they did. If the Magpies are a one-trick pony, it’s only from an attacking perspective: their underrated defensive structure, which reaches all the way to midfield and results in a baseline under -sized with Jeremy Howe as a key back who could thwart a dangerously large Demons attack line in the second half not getting the credit they deserve.

And there was another thing Langdon lacked; something he will now certainly know all about. The Magpies’ incredible foot mark when shooting, mowing down the middle with a bold, exhilarating run and either hitting the lace forward or just running it over the top, it’s impossible for anyone to stop at full throttle.

If the Dees can’t keep it a secret, surely no one can.

If you’re trying to convince a friend to start following the AFL, I highly recommend you show them Friday night’s first quarter.

That was all there was to admire in our game: blistering pace, ferocious intensity, elite skill, goals galore and an intriguing tactical battle between two teams with very different styles.

For the picky, there was even an element of pantomime: Ed Langdon took 19 seconds to copy it to four Magpies eager to make a statement about his comments during the week. No wonder Brayden Maynard was the main antagonist in this little brawl.

Between that and Jack Ginnivan rolling up the crowd after finally winning a free kick, the content mill also had its pound of flesh. It was damn awesome.

Yet a pattern was emerging that would hold true for the next quarter-and-a-half: Melbourne brutal up close and comfortably watching the top outfit, the Magpies clinging in their wake and refusing to be blown out of the water like Fremantle were last week .

A 19-11 inside 50 differential is usually death against the Dees: you have to be exceptional to score on Steven May, Jake Lever and his friends with that kind of territory deficit.

The Magpies were exceptional. Electric with the ball in hand as they broke through the Dees’ intimidating high pressure and ferocious pressure on the ball carrier, spaces opened up inside 50 for the Pies to rack up five goals in a row for the term.

Between Ash Johnson and Jamie Elliott, they had all the bases covered inside 50: sure hands in the lead and reliable kicking from the former, phenomenal tackling pressure from the latter. At halftime, Elliott would have scored two of his three goals while holding the ball loose; for poor Michael Hibberd, there was no escaping him all night.

Notable how the Magpies ventured forward was their ability to neutralize or outright avoid May and Lever as they moved. The pair had just one mark between them at the main break, with the tough but determined Brody Mihocek, Mason Cox and Darcy Cameron desperate enough to bring the ball down time and time again.

All of this meant the Pies were still on the hunt at half-time, with eight goals from 18 starts inside the 50. In every other facet of the game, however, they were beaten.

This Melbourne side have only sporadically hit the highs of last September this year, but good luck matching them down the middle when firing on all cylinders.

The Dees didn’t even need the terrifying Gawn-Petracca-Oliver-Viney district to wreak havoc: with Angus Brayshaw a frequent presence in the bowels for the second week in a row and Luke Jackson doing much of the central rebounding work, he showed how many options Simon Goodwin has at his disposal.

Petracca didn’t even need a half-time clearance to put the Dees up 30-13 in that stat, 13-4 out of the middle. Brayshaw has integrated himself so seamlessly into this midfield group that he could be out of a half-back spot in the All Australian squad: his softness on foot and ability to intercept in defense have easy to forget that the man is as hard as the top of his helmet.

He and Oliver each had six clearances at halftime; Viney five after four in the first term. The only Pie who could even touch them in the middle was the dangerous Jordan De Goey, whose explosive power from the coal face made him a permanent threat.

That line-breaking power is the only way to explain how the Pies, for all their hardball erasure — 86-64 possessions contested at halftime, to be exact — matched Dees’ goal for the Lesser goal. stop scores. The halftime story was that for every ten 50s the Demons could muster, the Pies would only need three to have the same impact.

Say what you want about De Goey – and I’ve said plenty this year – but games like this make it clear why he remains in high demand both at the Magpies and elsewhere, all strings attached. Nine clearances for the night were more than double any other Pie, while he has that rare combination of strength and speed that has made Patrick Dangerfield, Dustin Martin and Petracca the best player in the league at different times of the last decade. .

For the past 18 months, De Goey has hinted that he is a permanent midfielder with an improved engine and has spent virtually all of his time there tonight. It is now imperative that the Pies find a way to retain him for 2023; otherwise, their midfield would have been splashed to the point of no return in the first half.

Brayden Maynard of the Magpies tackles Ed Langdon of the Demons. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Chief among the Dees’ plans was to deny the Pies the interception game that tore them apart on the Queen’s birthday: after 23 interceptions that day, they would muster just five in the first half . The Dees’ quick and precise ball movement, exposing the Pies’ fragile one-on-one defense, was a good plan, and with seven marks inside 50-three at halftime, it worked a treat .

Only the occasional bad miss in front of the big sticks, none worse than captain Max Gawn’s close-range stalk in the first term, prevented an even bigger Demons lead: yet 17 points down at halftime, some thing had to give way.

Either the Magpies’ effectiveness would drop to earth or the Dees would start to be paired up in the middle.

The turnaround was gradual at first – but when you’ve spent the first half getting bullied, even breaking even is an instant game-changer. In the third term, the Pies tied 8 clearances apiece – and suddenly found things in their favor.

It also helped that their frenzied tackling pressure kicked into high gear.

It wasn’t so much that they started to score more or dominate the turf battle – nine under 50 for the third term were perfectly in line with their first half 18 – but rather that their defense has had a chance to breathe. Instead of constantly messing, tackling and hanging on, they might start attacking.

Nothing sums up the Magpies in 2022 quite like the slingshot footing they’ve used in abundance in this third quarter, making mincemeat of even Devils. Where the hallway had been cut at every opportunity earlier, the Magpies began to find space, daring to land risky inside kicks. Fortune, as usual, favored the brave.

Scoring four of the last five goals and remaining ruthlessly, albeit unusually, precise, the Pies were exactly where they wanted to be: seven points down three quarters from time. It was only going to be close – and we know who is most comfortable in that scenario.

The standout part of each stat is that Melbourne remained dominant – but the Pies had the edge in the scores of said stats. Clearances? Melbourne Streets ahead, but the Pies 30-26 ahead for points from them. The center bounces? Again, the Dees outscored 16-6, but only took a slim lead in points thanks to an Alex Neal-Bullen goal midway through the last to regain the lead.

But then, the Magpies were inspired. A silky finish from Josh Daicos, after goals from that Johnson and Elliott pair again, meant the Dees would need to win it rather than lose it.

A free kick for Johnson in a one-on-one with a panicked Harrison Petty? Boom. Goal number ten directly from set pieces.

A quick word on Johnson, too: With each passing week, it becomes more extraordinary that a player of his attributes needs a midseason draft to stand a chance.

Blessed with great hands, a great right boot and – and this is key – absolute nerves of steel, he’s now a striker you need to prepare for rather than one you send your designated loose man to. The Dees seemed to be trying to scare Lever off on a regular basis, but Johnson was smart enough and the Pies’ ball was good enough for him to take full effect.

Four goals in a game like this, the only shortcoming of a wayward left-footed snap (you can’t have it all, can you?), was the game itself.

The Magpies needed to take every small chance in the first half to stay within contact distance. In the second, they did not, but still continued to do so.

There can be no greater praise for Collingwood than this: Melbourne, reigning premiers and owners of the game’s most brutal midfielder, had everything on their terms.

And the Magpies withstood it all, rose from the canvas and floored them with their one trick.

Langdon was right… but the Pies still gave him his just desserts.



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