AFL Round-Up: Swans star's demons resurface, a brutal Hardwick spray, and Dons pass major test (2024)

Logan McDonald the culprit again as Sydney drops two straight, Damien Hardwick's big reality check to the Suns, and Essendon ticks a massive box.

  • FRIDAY: Bombers move a step closer to ending 23-year drought
  • SATURDAY: Giants bring Blues back down to earth with scintillating comeback
  • SUNDAY: Saints topple Swans, Brownlow favourite faces potential ban

Here are the key talking points from every game in Round 17 of the AFL season.

1. Essendon proves finals credentials to the AFL and themselves

Essendon has sat inside the top four of the ladder for the last few months, yet almost everyone watching doesn't believe this team is a legitimate chance of making the finals, let alone winning one.

That has been with good reason - the Bombers faded out horribly last season and hadn't beaten a genuine finals contender ... until Friday night's masterclass against Collingwood.

After a disappointing loss against Geelong, losing against the reigning premiers would've seen the negative view on Essendon being justified, but the young Bombers stood up tall in front of a crowd of over 81,000.

Inspirational skipper Zach Merrett was front and centre once again for the Bombers, particularly early when Collingwood was on top, and finished with 30 disposals and a whopping 15 score involvements.

AFL Round-Up: Swans star's demons resurface, a brutal Hardwick spray, and Dons pass major test (1)

Merrett has been the lone soldier in Essendon's midfield for years, but the Bombers are now a more formidable outfit because he has proper running mates.

Jye Caldwell continued his impressive form, finishing with 30 disposals, seven tackles and a team-high eight clearances, while Sam Durham added 25 touches and seven inside 50s while spending large amounts of the game tagging Nick Daicos.

The emergence of the likes of Caldwell and Durham as walk-up starters in Brad Scott's midfield has relegated Essendon's old big free agent signing Dylan Shiel to the VFL for much of the season, and after waiting patiently, Shiel exploded with 26 touches and six clearances on his return to the AFL.

The most important aspect of the Bombers' win is not proving to the wider AFL community that they belong at the pointy end of the ladder, but also proving it to themselves that they are a force to be reckoned with.

ABC Sport player of the year votes:

3. Zach Merrett (Essendon)

2. Nick Daicos (Collingwood)

1. Jordan Ridley (Essendon)

2. Port keeps Hinkley alive with a signature win over Bulldogs

It has been a tough old season for Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley, who has come under increasing pressure with every loss over the last month.

A week after he fought back tears following a tense win over St Kilda, Hinkley was able to relax a little courtesy of what was arguably his team's best performance of the year.

Saturday's clash against the Bulldogs loomed as another great test for Port's finals credentials, and it was a test that Hinkley's men passed with flying colours as they led from siren to siren.

Skipper Connor Rozee was front and centre when the game was there to be won, picking up a ridiculous 18 of his 36 disposals in the opening quarter - the highest single-quarter mark of any player this season.

AFL Round-Up: Swans star's demons resurface, a brutal Hardwick spray, and Dons pass major test (2)

Rozee was ably assisted by his running mate Zak Butters, who had 33 touches, six clearances, eight score involvements and a goal before he was subbed off in the final quarter.

Despite his side's convincing win, Butters cut a frustrated figure after being checked off the ball by Tom Liberatore, and needed to be calmed down by Hinkley, with the pair getting into a heated conversation on the bench in the second quarter.

While the tense scenes on the bench may have been uncomfortable watching for some, Hinkley wasn't phased by the exchange at all, declaring that often conversations with Butters mid-match can be tense.

After suggestions that his players may have given up on him at certain points this season, Hinkley will welcome the passion being shown by his star men as he aims to keep his job.

ABC Sport player of the year votes:

3. Connor Rozee (Port Adelaide)

2. Mitch Georgiades (Port Adelaide)

1. Zak Butters (Port Adelaide)

3. Dimma drops F-bomb as Suns frustration tips over

Who would want to be a coach?

Damien Hardwick found it hard to contain his emotions after the Suns wasted chances in their four-point loss to the Kangaroos at Docklands on Saturday afternoon.

It must be acknowledged the Kangaroos deserved their win, but the Suns did not help themselves in a performance that has put a dint into their finals hopes.

Hardwick let fly in his post-match media conference, making sure no-one could be confused about how he felt after the defeat.

"Our connection, our contest work inside 50 was poor, our clearance work was poor — I'm angry, to be fair," Hardwick said.

"As a footy club, we have to grow the f*** up, to be perfectly honest. Excuse the language, but we've been in this situation too many times.

AFL Round-Up: Swans star's demons resurface, a brutal Hardwick spray, and Dons pass major test (3)

"You put on a Suns jumper, you have to play a certain way. You don't get to pick or choose. At the moment, we're not where we need to be … enough is enough."

The Suns finished the round in 12th place with an 8-8 win-loss record but a victory over the Kangaroos could have had them level with the eighth-placed Giants on 36 points, albeit trailing due to an inferior percentage.

ABC Sport player of the year votes:

3. Harry Sheezel (North Melbourne)

2. Colby McKercher (North Melbourne)

1. Luke Davies-Uniacke (North Melbourne)

4. Cats staying grounded after form reversal

Is Geelong back?

Consecutive wins over Essendon and Hawthorn have breathed life into the Cats' campaign, helping them secure fifth place on the ladder.

Their performance against the Hawks, in which they won 51 points at Kardinia Park, was among their best and has them firmly in the running for a top-four finish to the home-and-away premiership season.

The Cats opened with seven consecutive wins but six losses from their following nine matches left observers questioning their premiership credentials.

AFL Round-Up: Swans star's demons resurface, a brutal Hardwick spray, and Dons pass major test (4)

Even when they were going through their form slump, Cats coach Chris Scott wasn't too concerned.

But he is also not refusing to get carried away with their back-to-back victories over the Bombers and Hawks.

"I wasn't too flat with how we were going, disappointed and a bit annoyed, but not overreacting," Scott said after beating the Hawks.

"And we're not going to overreact now we've had a couple of wins.

"Its reasonable to say that the signs are good."

The Cats have a six-day turnaround before they face defending premiers Collingwood at the MCG next Friday night.

ABC Sport player of the year votes:

3. Mitch Duncan (Geelong)

2. Sam De Koning (Geelong)

1. Jeremy Cameron (Geelong)

5. Blues rue missed opportunity against Giants

After five wins on the trot, the Blues had every right to back their chances when they headed to western Sydney to face the Giants.

And when they led by 39 points in the first quarter, it was understandable their confidence was sky high.

But a stunning turnaround from the Giants – who fought back to win by two goals – has left Blues coach Michael Voss with more questions than answers.

AFL Round-Up: Swans star's demons resurface, a brutal Hardwick spray, and Dons pass major test (5)

Finding consistency was one area Voss highlighted during his post-match media conference.

"We knew coming up here what sort of challenge GWS would be," Voss said.

They're a good footy team, and we were playing on their home venue. So it was always going to be a challenge.

"But we're trying to be able to become a very, very consistent football team and that's what we're still trying to achieve.

"I feel like we've got, I guess, some confidence from the public that we can perform, and we can perform when we need to.

"But we let ourselves down today, we absolutely let ourselves down."

Despite the loss, the Blues still sit in second place on the ladder behind the Swans.

But a defeat to the Bulldogs in round 18 could see the Blues slip down the ladder, with the Dockers and Bombers nipping at their heels.

ABC Sport player of the year votes:

3. Jesse Hogan (GWS Giants)

2. Brent Daniels (GWS Giants)

1. Keiran Briggs (GWS Giants)

6. Dockers give themselves 'seven out of 10' rating

Perhaps it's a sign of Fremantle's desire to go deep in September that coach Justin Longmuir found fault in a 51-point thumping of Richmond in Perth on Saturday night.

Josh Treacy starred with a career-high five goals and Andrew Brayshaw was a menace in the midfield with 35 disposals, as the Dockers posted a third straight win.

Coming off their upset victory over the ladder-leading Swans at the SCG, the Dockers consolidated their hold of third spot on the ladder.

AFL Round-Up: Swans star's demons resurface, a brutal Hardwick spray, and Dons pass major test (6)

It wasn't that Longmuir was upset with his side's performance against the Tigers, but rather he saw there is much room for improvement.

"We had some good moments and some things that would be a little bit frustrating," Longmuir said.

"I thought we played to probably a seven out of 10.

"The second quarter was frustrating. I thought we were unpredictable. Especially our intent to pressure dropped off. But we stuck at it.

"I think our best tonight was very good. And then some of the mistakes we made and the unpredictability, it just took a little bit of gloss off it for the way we want to play.

"To win by [51] points you don't want to be Debbie Downer, but I just think we've got so much improvement left in us."

ABC Sport player of the year votes:

3. Andrew Brayshaw (Fremantle)

2. Josh Treacy (Fremantle)

1. Toby Nankervis (Richmond)

7. Simpson unfazed by 'football mortality'

The pressure is only mounting on West Coast coach Adam Simpson after the Eagles recorded a sixth straight loss of the season.

The Eagles were on the end of a 54-point hammering from the Demons at the MCG on Sunday afternoon, the result leaving them third-last on the ladder.

Not for the first time in recent weeks, Simpson – whose contract runs until the end of 2025 — was grilled about his future as Eagles coach during his post-match media conference.

AFL Round-Up: Swans star's demons resurface, a brutal Hardwick spray, and Dons pass major test (7)

The 2018 premiership-winning coach remains resolute that he will continue to do his job until he's told his time is up.

"I'm here to do a job as best I can and I'll do that until I get tapped on the shoulder," Simpson said.

"That's not really a question.

"I know how long the road's going to be and I'm up for it, but if the club's not then they're not.

"That's fine. I'm OK with my football mortality."

The Eagles next face the Lions on home turf on Sunday.

ABC Sport player of the year votes:

3. Trent Rivers (Melbourne)

2. Jacob van Rooyen (Melbourne)

1. Caleb Windsor (Melbourner)

8. Young Saints dig in for Ross the Boss as Swans star misses shot at redemption

For two and a half quarters, the clash between St Kilda and Sydney appeared to be going exactly to the script.

Despite their lofty ladder position, the Swans have been notoriously slow starters this season, and it proved to be the case yet again.

As they have done to opponent after opponent, the Swans overwhelmed the Saints in the second quarter and led by 30 points midway through the third before the game flipped.

Questions have been asked over whether Ross Lyon is the right man to lead St Kilda forward amid a disappointing season, and the veteran coach will be thrilled with the efforts of some of his young charges in this win.

Liam Henry, who was acquired in last year's trade period, played a crucial role in wrestling back the momentum St Kilda's way as the Saints rammed home four straight goals.

AFL Round-Up: Swans star's demons resurface, a brutal Hardwick spray, and Dons pass major test (8)

After Henry had hauled his side back into it, much maligned young gun Mattaes Phillipou drove St Kilda home.

Phillipou has struggled this season, and spent the last month in the VFL, but showed exactly why he was such a highly touted prospect in the 2022 draft.

The 19-year-old's final term consisted of 12 disposals, five score involvements, 348 metres gained, four inside 50s, three clearances and a goal. There is no doubt the Saints have a special, special player on their hands, but you just have to hope they can harness his talent.

Meanwhile, it was a case of Déjà vu for Sydney's Logan McDonald, who once again missed a shot at goal with the game on his boot inside the final minute after doing the same last weekend against Fremantle.

Sydney won't be panicking after two straight losses, but the Swans will be concerned if McDonald begins to shy away from game-winning opportunities in the future after blowing the last two.

ABC Sport player of the year votes:

3. Rowan Marshall (St Kilda)

2. Mattaes Phillipou (St Kilda)

1. Callum Wilkie (St Kilda)

9. Lions continue slow and steady ascent after early-season woes

The teams at the top of the ladder will be watching the Brisbane Lions slowly approaching like the villain in a horror movie.

It looked like 2024 was going to be a lost season for last year's grand finalists, who started the season in nightmare fashion and were shrouded by off-field controversies.

Brisbane finished Round 9 in 13th spot on the ladder with a percentage of just 100.3, but is now suddenly in seventh with a percentage of 120.4 and they look every bit like the team that went within a kick of winning the premiership last year.

The Lions certainly didn't have it all their own way against a very gallant Adelaide side at the Gabba on Sunday evening.

AFL Round-Up: Swans star's demons resurface, a brutal Hardwick spray, and Dons pass major test (9)

Brisbane has made a habit of overwhelming opponents of late, and looked well on its way to doing so yet again with the first three goals of the match, but Adelaide steadied, and the result was a brilliant contest.

As he has been countless times since joining Brisbane, Lachie Neale was once again the best player on the park.

The two-time Brownlow Medal winner is back to his very best after a slow start, and finished the match with 36 disposals, three goals and 12 clearances.

While it was an impressive performance for the Crows, they will be sweating over the MRO's verdict after Izak Rankine flattened Brandon Starcevich with an off-ball hit in the second term.

If the MRO's previous rulings are anything to go by, the Crows are likely to be without their star man for an extended period.

ABC Sport player of the year votes:

3. Lachie Neale (Brisbane Lions)

2. Josh Dunkley (Brisbane Lions)

1. Oscar McInerney (Brisbane Lions)

AFL Round-Up: Swans star's demons resurface, a brutal Hardwick spray, and Dons pass major test (2024)

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