Tom Liberatore in action during the Western Bulldogs' win over Essendon in round 19, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

IN THIS week's Nine Things We Learned, we discover Libba is the soul of the Bulldogs, Buddy still has the goods plus much, much more.

Check out what we learned from round 19 of the 2023 season.


1) Jamie Elliott is the AFL's king of clutch moments

OK, we already knew this before Saturday night but it's worth spelling it out again - there is simply no better player in the game to take the match-winning kick than Jamie Elliott. The veteran small forward proved it again on Saturday night by not once but twice putting Collingwood into the lead in the dying minutes of its win over Port Adelaide. The second and final goal was what can only be described as pure Elliott. Kicking from 48 metres against the left boundary line, it was almost identical to his after-the-siren matchwinner against Essendon last year. The Magpies pride themselves on being a team of role players, and Elliott has the best, and maybe most important, role of all - The Closer. - Howard Kimber


2) Bont is the heart of the Dogs, but Libba is the soul

A warning to opposition teams - allow Tom Liberatore free rein at your own peril. The Bulldogs midfielder once again set the tone for his side in Friday's important win over Essendon, tearing the contest apart. With 36 disposals and 12 clearances for the game, he was instrumental in the Bulldogs' clearance dominance as a variety of Bombers spent time matching up on him. One of Liberatore's strengths is his spread and aggressive attack once the clearance is won, which sees him involved repeatedly in passages of play and allows him to set up his side time and time again. Marcus Bontempelli is absolutely pivotal to his side, but limiting the run of Liberatore is fast becoming priority No.1 when it comes to beating the Bulldogs. - Gemma Bastiani

Tom Liberatore and Jack Macrae after the R19 match between Western Bulldogs and Essendon at Marvel Stadium on July 21, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

3) Josh Dunkley has been just what the Lions needed

When Josh Dunkley made his way from the Bulldogs to the Lions in the dying minutes of last year's Trade Period, not even Brisbane could have envisaged how perfectly he would complement its midfield. After missing two weeks with a calf injury, Dunkley returned against Geelong on Saturday in emphatic fashion, gathering 27 disposals and seven clearances in the 11-point win. Not for the first time, it was the defensive intent of the 26-year-old that meant so much to the Lions. Two moments perfectly summed up Dunkley's value; when he encased Tom Hawkins before the big Cat could complete a trademark goal from a stoppage after he had shed his opposing ruckman, and a vice-like tackle in the dying minutes on Tom Atkins to win the ball back in the middle of the ground, just as Geelong were threatening. – Michael Whiting


4) Buddy remains the key to a late Swans charge

At 36 years old and in his 18th season, champion forward Lance Franklin remains crucial to anything the Swans hope to achieve in the final five rounds and beyond. That was the inescapable conclusion after a performance against Fremantle that was far more significant than his three goals suggested, with an equal game-high nine score involvements better reflecting his magnetic performance during crucial periods. While Logan McDonald showed superb skill at ground level for two goals, fellow tall Joel Amartey was held scoreless by the Fremantle defence. It remains Franklin, whose selflessness was another feature on Saturday night, who will determine the Swans' fate from the forward line. - Nathan Schmook 


5) Forward-thinking has young Giant flourishing

After starting his AFL career as a defender, Irish import Callum Brown has come alive at the other end of the ground this season. Dropped in round 10, Brown has spent more time forward since round 12, kicking 10 goals from six games and becoming another point of difference in the Giants' forward line. With no Jesse Hogan in the line-up to face Gold Coast on Sunday, Brown's ability to get in position and take a mark came in handy, with the 22-year-old kicking two goals. It's all coming together for the Giants at the moment, with Brown's move indicative of how the Giants are doing more with what they have. – Sophie Welsh

Callum Brown celebrates a goal during round 19, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

6) The Crows are fighters

Sunday's loss to Melbourne may have left Adelaide six points outside the top eight, with many subsequently putting a line through their finals hopes, but that game alone showed they won't go away without a fight. The Crows rallied from a 24-point three-quarter time deficit to square the game in the last term. It blew out to 20 points again before they fought back within a kick late on, led by veteran Taylor Walker. It was similar to the loss to Essendon a fortnight ago, where they just kept coming, and the narrow defeat to Collingwood in round 15. With home games against Gold Coast and Sydney, plus a trip to West Coast among Adelaide's final five fixtures, there's still some flickering hope for the Crows, although their fate will likely be decided against Port Adelaide and Brisbane (away). - Ben Somerford


7) Noah Balta is the League's intercept mark king

Noah Balta had a few years where he was constantly thrown from one end of the field to the other, but he has well and truly been settled in the backline this season. He'll turn 24 in October and is just starting to enter his prime as a key tall, but he is already averaging 15.4 disposals and 4.2 intercept marks a match, with his previous best being 13.1 and 2.5 in 2021. That intercept mark count is the highest in the League, ahead of Darcy Moore, Charlie Ballard, Harris Andrews and Sam Taylor. While he'll have to see off some stiff competition to earn an All-Australian position, could a spot in the squad be on the cards? – Sarah Black

Noah Balta is tackled by Tyler Brockman during Richmond's clash against Hawthorn in round 19, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

8) North needs to prioritise Ben McKay's signature

There's a lot of issues at Arden Street after the Roos' losing streak extended to 16 with Sunday's loss to St Kilda, but one that should be at the top of the 'to do' list is getting Ben McKay to put pen to paper on a contract extension. In a defensive unit that has been under fire all season, McKay is often the only thing between North Melbourne and decimation. While there's a lot of good young talent around the ground for the Roos, their defence relies on McKay, and should he leave it will be hard to see results turn around for Alastair Clarkson's side next year. – Howard Kimber

Ben McKay in action during North Melbourne's match sim against Richmond on February 24, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

9) Noah Long is a diamond in the rough

The Eagles have a long and painful rebuild ahead, but if they can uncover some more gems like Noah Long along the way, it's a surefire way to fast-track it. The nimble forward was taken by the Eagles with the second-last pick of last year's draft – pick No.58 – but he's proven to be quite the draft steal in his first season. The 18-year-old was one of the few shining lights for West Coast in Saturday's loss to Carlton, quietly amassing 10 disposals (five contested) at 90 per cent efficiency, in addition to his six score involvements and three goal assists to go with a major of his own. He doesn't rack up huge numbers like some of his more experienced counterparts, but his understated presence on the field will hold the Eagles in good stead well into the future. – Alison O’Connor