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Barrett: No emotion in ice-cold Clarko's Roughy dilemma

The 10: round eight's best moments There were some brilliant highlights across the weekend

"LISTEN, we're a middle of the road side."

When a frustrated Alastair Clarkson said that after Hawthorn's loss to Melbourne in round seven, you just knew he – again  was about to do something dramatic. 

Clarkson doesn't coach to be middle of the road. That's for others. He coaches to win premierships, and every single match of football he coaches, and it means he lives every minute of every day with ice in his veins.

No player under his watch is able to get comfortable with his role in the Hawks' team. The trading out of Sam Mitchell, Jordan Lewis and Luke Hodge after the 2016 and 2017 seasons was brutal, AFL-unprecedented leadership, and his axing of Jarryd Roughead for round eight's match against GWS was the type of decision 99.99 per cent of others would be too scared to make. 

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Roughead-less, the Hawks smashed the third-placed GWS on Sunday at the MCG to reach a 4-4 scoreline in this wide-open 2019 season. 

An intriguing decision now presents itself to Clarkson before round nine's match against Richmond, which on Sunday night toyed with Fremantle in Perth.

Does he recall Roughead, who kicked five goals in the VFL, in an attempt to exploit the injury-hit Tigers' backline? Or stick with the combination which dismantled the Giants? 

The one thing we do know is Clarkson will determine his move without emotion.

Gaz does it again, both good and bad 

Another weekend, another Gary Ablett forearm to an opponent's head. 

Like round seven after his incident with Bomber Dylan Shiel, I don't expect Ablett to miss a week for his hit on North Melbourne's Sam Wright. 

But the clash will again soak up a lot of media space all day Monday before Match Review Officer Michael Christian officially reveals his decision.

Ablett could be back to the Tribunal on Tuesday, his 35th birthday.

The Tribunal would be obliged to dismiss the case, given its rulings this year and clear liking in 2019 of either reducing or removing MRO sanctions. And that's a topic for discussion on another day. 

Ablett was again among the Cats' best against North, booting four goals, one of them with maximum degree of difficulty. A third Brownlow Medal is beginning to emerge as a possibility in this stunning season for him and his club. 

 

In his past five matches, Ablett has accumulated 109 disposals and 13 goals. 

He will be rested for a match at some stage, but it would be a brave decision to make it next Saturday against the resurgent Western Bulldogs at GMHBA Stadium. Maybe the following week against his old side Gold Coast. 

And speaking of rest, Christian now has the initial power to determine the football calendar of Docker Nat Fyfe, who weirdly elevated an elbow seemingly with some form of force into the head region of Tom Lynch late in Sunday night's match against Richmond. 

For an all-time great of the game, Fyfe, who is again putting together a very nice season and who could earn even more Brownlow votes from Sunday night's match, does find himself in unnecessary Match Review moments. 

The best pure footy story of 2019

Just loving the Alex Keath story. Right now and for polar opposite reasons, he's vying with Richmond's Sydney Stack as the subject of the AFL's best story of 2019.

Keath is 27, has played 20 matches, and is quite possibly the Crows' most important player.

Super quick for a 197cm defender, Keath is a fantastic interceptor of opposition forward forays, is creative with ball in hand and is surely in All Australian selection discussions.

His winning of the best-player-afield award in Saturday's Showdown against Port Adelaide was greeted with genuine euphoria by his teammates, who have seen him progress from six matches in 2017, and six more in 2018 into the Crows' best key defender.

Alex Keath receives the Showdown Medal on Saturday night. Picture: AFL Photos

Incredibly, his outstanding form has helped two-time All Australian Daniel Talia through a really tough patch.

Keath was listed by Gold Coast in 2009 as a priority 17-year-old selection ahead of its inaugural AFL year (2011), but went and played cricket well enough to reach first-class level with Victoria.

Meanwhile, Stack, the formerly troubled 19-year-old overlooked by every club in last year's NAB AFL Draft, was again a key contributor in the Tigers' big win against the Dockers with 18 disposals, six tackles and a goal. 

Sydney Stack celebrates with Richmond fans after the win in the west. Picture: AFL Photos

The grey is the problem

The umpire doesn't pay a free kick against Swan Dane Rampe for scaling the goal post on Friday night, and the AFL endorses the non-call.

'PRACTICAL' CALL Gill backs ump's decision on Rampe post climb

Had the umpire actually paid the free kick, the AFL would've been able to endorse that call too.

And that is the problem. A game of football is too often run by the grey, that blurry area where nothing is ever clear-cut wrong or clear-cut right; never black or white. 

It was why senior umpire Shaun Ryan was able to argue the five contentious free kicks in the second half of the Essendon-Collingwood Anzac Day were all adjudicated correctly. 

'THEY WERE CORRECT' Senior ump defends Anzac Day frees

But so much wriggle room is available when applying AFL "rules" that had each of those five free kicks been reversed, Ryan also would have been able to say all were correct.

The AFL likes the ambiguity of its rules. AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said the non-decision on Friday night was "practical umpiring".

Surely, rules have to be applied at every occasion. No point having them if they're not. As per the rules, Myers should have been given another kick for goal, from the top of the goal square. 

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They just keep on hanging on

Credit to the Swans for that win, their second of the season, and also to Melbourne for a second victory in a row, against Gold Coast. 

Both wins were stressfully narrow, and could easily have been losses. But while both are longshots to figure deep in September because of unavailability to key players, they kept their seasons alive with gutsy football.

WATCH The thrilling last two minutes of GC v Melb

The depleted Demons (Michael Hibberd and Jordan Lewis the latest casualties) face West Coast in Perth on Friday night. Ouch.

The Swans have North Melbourne in Hobart. Buddy Franklin once kicked 13 – thirteeeeeen – against the Roos in Tasmania. He should be right to go in round nine. There's still a hint of 2019 life for Sydney. 

Western Bulldogs have done well to square their ledger, too. Two wins to open the season were followed by four losses, but Aaron Naughton-influenced victories against Richmond last week and Brisbane at Ballarat on Saturday have given them purpose.

Keen to see if they're real deal, and we'll know by Saturday evening after they play the Cats in Geelong in the twilight fixture.

Tigers, Dockers revert to type

Good football clubs respond positively to out-of-character poor performances. 

And questionable football clubs revert to questionable ways when the pressure is at its most intense.

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Which is why Richmond, after round seven's trouncing by Western Bulldogs, won on Sunday evening in Perth. And why Fremantle lost.

Even with injury adversity, the Tigers are a genuine premiership force. They just get things done most weeks – Shai Bolton, Dylan Grimes, Bachar Houli, Jason Castagna, Brandon Ellis and Josh Caddy among the most influential.

When you fly to Perth without Alex Rance, Trent Cotchin, Daniel Rioli and Jack Riewoldt, you're not expected to win.

And then when your ruckman Toby Nankervis and impressive first-year player Jack Ross are unavailable after half-time, the task becomes near-impossible. 

WOUNDED TIGERS Injury crisis continues for Hardwick's men

But, they are clearly real deal, the Tigers. Still hurting and even slightly embarrassed about only reaching a preliminary final last year, they are dangerously focused in 2019. 

As for the Dockers … they will be thereabouts for finals this season. But they remain the true definition of that ugly footy word: questionable. 

Nothing gallant about this loss, Blues

Carlton's loss to second-placed Collingwood on Saturday was every bit as bad as Carlton's loss to 17th-placed North Melbourne in round seven.

While the margin was 19 points compared with 58, the 58th loss of Brendon Bolton's career as coach was damning, due to the fact the Blues were 11 minutes clear 20 minutes into the final quarter. 

Damning, because it was inevitable what was to happen from that moment. No one associated with this club's on-field operations knows how to win, even when a win is all but guaranteed. 

In many ways, the narrow losses are worse than the big ones for Bolton. There's nothing gallant about them now.

Really feel for him. But unless he wins a minimum six of the remaining 14 matches of 2019, he is not going to be coaching in 2020. Harsh, yes. But, after four seasons and with the obvious quality on this list, at some stage the W has to be the only measuring device.

No excuses left, Dons

For the second consecutive year, a season being talked about as a premiership possibility is virtually over by round eight for Essendon.

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They were 2-6 in 2018, now 3-5 in 2019. There should be no excuses. The club chose to keep together a list which could have been dismantled, and recruiting has been fantastic. 

If Bolton is under immense pressure, then John Worsfold needs to be too. 

Twitter: @barrettdamian

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The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs