Four of the nine AFL round 14 contests were decided in the final 3 minutes as Sydney, Western Bulldogs, Geelong, and the Melbourne Demons came out winners, while St. Kilda moved into the top 8, and GWS Giants returned to the top of the ladder.
The Sydney Swans led most of their close contest with Essendon on Friday, but trailing late, they had to pull off a big comeback to emerge 86-85 winners. Sydney scored the final 20 points of the contest, and one fewer would have resulted in a draw, Lance Franklin kicked a pair of behinds, Nic Newman and Oliver Florent had goals, and Gary Rohan kicked the game winner past the siren to give Sydney the win, and a legitimate case to finish top 8 by the end of the year.
Deserving winners, Josh P. Kennedy led the Swans with 36 disposals, Jake Lloyd had 31, and the Swans had nine goalscorers, led by Newman and Isaac Heeney, who had a fantastic game as the Swans leading forward. Zach Merrett and Michael Hurley had 30+ disposals for the Dons, Shaun McKernan and James Stewart combined for four goals and the Bombers had ten goalscorers in what was a respectable performance for a now 6-7 Essendon side that will need to post a winning record the rest of the season to make the top 8.
Western Bulldogs stayed at the #9 slot in the ladder and dashed North Melbourne’s finals hopes with a one point win against the Kangaroos 107-106. The Bulldogs led throughout and barely survived a Kangaroos comeback attempt, thanks to Jake Stringer’s late behind. The umpiring also favored the reigning Premiers, generating more controversy about how Bulldogs games have been umpired, and the Bulldogs free kick advantage. Jack Macrae had 32 disposals, Liam Picken, Bailey Dale, and Jack Redpath all had multi-goal games as the Bulldogs got enough solid performances from a diverse cast to win the game, and show their depth as a side.
North Melbourne got a huge game from Ben Cunnington (28 disposals, and 2 goals), Mason Wood, Majak Daw, and Jarrad Waite all had multi-goal games as well, in one of Daw’s better performances of his career. Despite all that, North is now firmly looking to next season where they have the cap space to bring in one or more stars. Ruckman Todd Goldstein was again disappointing, and there have been calls for him to be dropped in the rounds to come.
Melbourne continues to look solid, they traveled to Perth and led a late comeback against West Coast in a thrilling contest, the Demons won 99-96 thanks to an incredible late goal from Tom McDonald. The Demons had more of the footy, and were able to negate the Eagles advantage with inside 50’s. Jack Viney and Dom Tyson notched more than 30 disposals, , and McDonald had 5 goals, while Alex Neal-Bullen kicked a pair. The return of Max Gawn further helping Melbourne control the middle of the ground.
The Eagles got four goals from Drew Petrie, and three from Jeremy McGovern, but it wasn’t enough, Andrew Gaff and Sam Mitchell led the disposal count, as Josh Kennedy’s return should help West Coast finals chances by a big margin.
Geelong avoided a shocking upset at the hands of Fremantle trailing for two quarters, the Cats nipped the Dockers 74-72 as Tom Hawkins kicked the final goal, and a pair of behinds prevented a draw. Strong over the final term yet again, Mitch Duncan and Patrick Dangerfield combined for more than 60 disposals, Daniel Menzel, Zach Tuohy, and James Parsons all had multi-goal games, with Joel Selwood going out early with an injury, Tom Stewart and Darcy Lang suffering as well.
The Dockers came close in a sloppy game, Lachie Neal, Michael Walters, Darcy Tucker, new ruckman Sean Darcy, and veteran Hayden Ballantyne all having solid games, as Ballantyne kicked two goals in his return.
St. Kilda won their second straight, easing past Gold Coast Suns 103-72 in a fantastic outing. The Saints made better use of their chances, and kept the Suns forward line in check as Jack Billings and Jack Steven combined for 59 disposals, and Nick Riewoldt was influential, kicking three goals and showing what a threat he is when healthy. For the Suns Peter Wright had 2 goals, Jarrod Harbrow had 29 disposals in his return, and Jarryd Lyons had 26, as the Suns were sorely missing Gary Ablett, who was held back with an injury. The Suns are now 2 wins off top 8, and their finals hopes are also nearly gone.
At 5-8, Hawthorn are likely done this season as well, but they are a pesky side to face, as the up and down Adelaide Crows found out. The Crows gave up their lead and lost 96-82 to the veteran Hawks, losing their top spot on the ladder in the process. In a huge upset built on the back of the Crows wasteful inside 50’s, Tom Mitchell and Ricky Henderson had more than 30 disposals, while Henderson, Shaun Burgoyne, Tim O’Brien, Ryan Burton, and Paul Puopolo all had multi-goal games. 3 goals from Josh Jenkins, and 60+ disposals from the Crouch brothers wasn’t enough for the Crows, as Rory Sloane was again kept in check, and both Eddie Betts and Tex Walker needed to be better (just three goals combined).
Richmond beat underdogs Carlton for the second time this season, it wasn’t the prettiest game to watch but an 84-58 win is a solid win, and the Tigers dominated the contest. Two of the Tiger’s stars, Dustin Martin (30 disposals), and Jack Riewoldt (3 goals) were key, young Tigers Dan Butler and Jason Castagna both had two goals, and Bachar Houli had 28 disposals on the backline. The work of Sam Docherty and Bryce Gibbs wasn’t enough for the Blues, despite their best on ground performances yet again.
Port Adelaide continued their undefeated run against teams outside of the top 8, the Power thumped Collingwood 93-62 despite the game being much closer in terms of stats. The Pies were wasteful with the footy despite Darcy Moore’s 3 goals, the Collingwood midfield grouping of Steele Sidebottom, Adam Treloar, Taylor Adams, and Scott Pendlebury were all great, but their backline was soft as Robbie and Sam Gray combined for seven goals, and eight Power players kicked goals.
GWS Giants returned to the top of the ladder with a 146-86 win over Brisbane, Dayne Beams was injured for the Lions, who will be hoping to be where the Giants are with their young list in a couple of seasons. Archie Smith, Ryan Lester, and Ryan Bastinac combined for six Lions goals, and Rhys Mathieson had 32 disposals to boost Brisbane. Dylan Shiel had 38 disposals for GWS, and twelve goals were generated from a deadly Giants forward line that features Jeremy Cameron, Toby Greene, and Jonathan Patton, with Stevie J adding a pair of goals along with Sam Reid. As they get healthier, GWS looks like the team to beat this year.