FOOTBALL comebacks don't get any better than Paddy McCartin's. Or Sam Docherty's.
In 2022, the AFL world has been privileged to witness their returns against seemingly impossible odds. Simply playing again after their shattering life experiences was one thing. The high-end impact they have been able to achieve respectively for Sydney and Carlton is placing their stories into the near-unbelievable.
McCartin was brilliant in Sydney's upset win against Melbourne at the MCG on Saturday night. In the immediate aftermath, he was magnetically drawn to his younger brother, teammate Tom, who was also influential in the stunning victory.
There are many facets of operations contributing to Sydney's surge this season, and the work of the McCartin duo is as important as any aspect. It is allowing coach John Longmire to dream big, for the two big men have been standing up in the biggest moments. Just before three-quarter time, Tom, all 193cm and 98 kilograms of him, somehow went stride for stride and side-step for side-step with Melbourne magician Kysaiah Pickett. In the final minutes, with Melbourne surging forward, Paddy took a big contested mark. Effectively, game over.
Paddy McCartin is not listed in the official 2022 AFL Season Guide. He was only added to the Swans' mix as a rookie in January. He has played 11 of 12 matches this year, the most recent at least in the conversation for being his most impactful of the 46 he has played, beginning at St Kilda in 2015 as a full-forward where he entered the big time as the No.1 overall pick from the 2014 national draft.
Eight concussions ruined his time as a Saint. Prior to round one this year, he had not been seen in the AFL since round 16, 2018. He was to never be seen again on an AFL list, now he's influencing results for a team which has a genuine chance at winning the 2022 flag.
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Docherty, this weekend enjoying Carlton's bye, like McCartin has returned after seemingly the most insurmountable of turmoil. Two episodes of cancer have not been able to stop him, and like McCartin, his actual comeback is not the main chapter in his 2022 story. A major role in the shaping of an exciting season at his club is.
Take the two weeks and run, Bailey
Instead of spending parts of Saturday night and Sunday seriously considering appealing Bailey Smith's two-week ban for a headbutt, the Western Bulldogs football department should have been focused on other matters, such as the team's inability to compete in the big matches of 2022.
At 6-6 heading into the bye, the season is in the balance. Against Geelong in round 12, another big opportunity was missed when Tom Stewart was ruled out with concussion early in the game.
THINGS WE LEARNED Tom Stewart is Geelong's best and most important player
The incredible intensity of late 2021 which took the Bulldogs all the way to the Grand Final has not been evident. They have been here before under Luke Beveridge, and have often found a way through the mess. But the problems are obvious. The forward line is a mess, unless Aaron Naughton runs amok. Without big-man support, he is struggling for regular impact. The backline is ordinary. The much-celebrated midfield is struggling, too.
Smith was given a two-week ban for his headbutt on Zach Tuohy. He was very lucky. In my eyes, it should have been a four-match sanction. There is no dispute this was a headbutt. If that is OK in your eyes, then it is not in mine. And if the Bulldogs dare to take it to the Tribunal, I would hope that body would hear the case and increase the penalty.
Can't believe they are even considering taking this on. They should, instead, be saying thank-you for the leniency. But it illustrates the worries they have. They desperately need Smith. In this season where Marcus Bontempelli has badly struggled with foot, shoulder and illness problems, Smith has become their best performer.
Touch of Dee-ja vu for the premiers
Before you get too alarmed about Melbourne's drop-off in the past two matches, remind yourself this happened last year, too.
In 2021, wins in the opening nine matches were followed by nine matches which produced a 4-4-1 win-loss-draw outcome.
This season, the Demons had 10 wins to start the year. Consecutive losses have come in the past two weeks, both at the MCG, to Fremantle and Sydney. Steven May's unavailability due to concussion since the first quarter of the round 11 loss to the Dockers has been the main reason for those losses. And they had comfortable leads in both games, respectively by 30 and 26 points. So there are valid reasons.
But, the past fortnight has proven Melbourne is very beatable. Max Gawn could not have played better against the Swans, and that's saying something given he has already secured five All-Australian jackets. Without May, Melbourne's backline looks very ordinary, Jake Lever nowhere near the presence he is with May, and Adam Tomlinson badly beaten in round 12.
There are fears forward Tom McDonald has suffered a dreaded Lisfranc foot problem. Ben Brown hasn't kicked a goal in three matches, Sam Weideman is back in the VFL.
Excitedly looking forward to next Monday's annual Queen's Birthday match against Collingwood.
Flying Pies have finals in their sights
And on that game, there is zero reason the Pies can't win.
They will be massive underdogs, but their form of the past three weekends is arguably competition-best for that period.
Big wins against Fremantle, Carlton and Hawthorn proves Collingwood will at the very least cause a lot of damage in the run-in to finals. And with a 7-5 scoreline, there is no reason they won't finish top eight.
In Sunday's hard-fought win versus the Hawks, its second consecutive MCG Sunday afternoon nail-biter, Collingwood withstood a blistering comeback when young guns Nick Daicos and Ollie Henry seized moments often beyond players of their youth.
There is soooo much to like about the Pies under Craig McRae, particularly the no-ceiling approach he has introduced to all aspects of operations.