round twenty
Swans star Isaac Heeney )Photo: Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Round twenty of the 2021 AFL season saw the top four start to separate themselves from the rest and the battle for the top eight take a number of twists and turns. Off the field, Hawthorn saw the very public and very messy removal of their iconic coach Alistair Clarkson. At this stage, he will remain until the end of the season, but events at Glenferrie Oval seem to be changing with the tides. It is yet another example of the ‘succession plan’ coaching model going bad.

Here at Vendetta Sports Media, we will be covering the entire AFL season for you. In case you missed it, all of our team previews and this writer’s ladder predictions are located here.

Match of the Week: Essendon Bombers vs Sydney Swans

The Swans and the Bombers played out the latest in a series of modern classics between the two clubs.

In 2019, Sydney secured a controversial five-point win when defender Dane Rampe climbed the post to distract Bomber David Myers after the siren shot and was not penalised. Two seasons prior, Gary Rohan marked and goaled late to steal a win at the SCG. In 2012, Courtney Dempsey marked and played on as the siren sounded when well in range for a set shot that could have won the game for Essendon. A year earlier, the great Adam Goodes missed a shot after the siren as the Bombers held on.

In this chapter, they may have just played out the best game of 2021. A match full of momentum swings, surges, counters, tight scorelines and topped off by a frantic comeback attempt.

The Swans, playing away from the SCG for the seventh consecutive week due to Sydney’s COVID restrictions, faced further upheaval as the match was moved from Brisbane to Melbourne at the last minute, allowing the Bombers the familiar confines of MCG.

Essendon got away to the faster start as the talented but enigmatic Jake Stringer continued to show off his newfound consistency with the opening goal, quickly followed by another to Kyle Langford.

The Swans responded through the lively Tom Papley before veteran megastar Buddy Franklin was awarded a dubious 50-metre penalty that brought him to just inside the Swans forward line. His set shot sailed through the big sticks to level the scores. The Bombers had the final say of the opening term with a Devon Smith major from the goal square.

Bomber Darcy Parish looked to be responding to his subdued performance last week with a 10 disposal opening term. Essendon, though, would be disappointed to have only led by eight points, given their ascendancy around the ground.

Sam Reid opened the second quarter with a goal inside 35 seconds before big ruckman Tom Hickey kicked truly to give the Swans their first lead of the match. It was a lead that lasted less than four minutes as Langford finished a brilliant end-to-end team goal, then Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti kicked truly restoring the Bombers advantage.

The Swans huffed and puffed but some inaccurate kicking for goal saw them unable to turn solid possession into scoreboard pressure. Dylan Clarke’s late goal for the Bombers only rubbing salt into the wound as Essendon led by 12 points at the main break.

The contest sprung into life after halftime, as both teams came out intent on winning the match rather than trying to not lose.

Will Hayward kicked the 1st for Sydney with a long snap before Zach Merrett answered. The Swans were able to get on a run, with a Sam Wicks major sandwiched by a pair of Luke Parker goals as the Swans again took the lead. Parker’s 1st began a run where both teams piled on 10 goals between them in 18 of the most scintillating, end-to-end attacking displays seen in a long time. Papley, in particular, was electric, kicking three in a row for the Swans in a virtuoso performance.

With the Swans leading by just two points at the last break, it was truly a game up for grabs. In this situation, some teams might go into their shells, trying to preserve the victory. Fortunately, the Swans and Bombers are not wired that way.

As they had in the second and third terms, the Swans scored early, this time through Hayward, before Tom Cutler answered for Essendon with a booming kick on the run from 55 metres.

Both clubs traded blows: Franklin getting one for the Swans; Dylan Shiel answering. Sydney kicked back to back majors through veteran hardmen Josh Kennedy and Nick Blakey. Nick Hind’s response for the Bombers was matched by a monster goal from Swan Errol Gulden.

Callum Mills – quiet to that point – pushed the lead out to 19 points before the Bombers mounted one final charge.

Giant forward Peter Wright converted a set shot to give the Bombers a sniff and when Devon Smith goaled with a little under two minutes remaining an epic comeback looked a possibility.

It was not to be, however. The Swans held out for a vital seven-point win in an absolute gem of a football match.

Papley was irrepressible for Sydney, kicking four goals, applying loads of forward pressure, and talking copious amounts of smack to anyone within earshot. Involved in eight of Sydney’s goals, the little man was huge on this day.

Parish rebounded well from a disappointing effort against GWS last week with 33 disposals and a series of lightning-quick handballs to set teammates off and running.

For the Bombers, this was a missed opportunity to get themselves into the top eight. They sit a game behind the current eighth-placed team, Fremantle, with a tough fixture against the top of the heap Bulldogs coming up next.

For Sydney, their surprising season continues. This win, combined with Brisbane’s surprise loss, sees them climb to fifth on the ladder and a very winnable match against the vulnerable Saints next Saturday.

Essendon Bombers: 16 Goals, 6 Behinds (102)

Sydney Swans: 17 Goals, 7 Behinds (109)


Essendon: Langford 3, Stringer 2, Merrett 2, Smith 2, Wright 2, Clarke, Cutler, Hind, McDonald-Tipungwuti, Shiel

Sydney: Papley 4, Parker 2, Franklin 2, Hayward 2, Blakey, Gulden, Hickey, Kennedy, Mills, Reid, Wicks


Essendon: Merrett, Parish, Stringer, Langford, Draper

Sydney: Mills, Parker, Papley, Dawson, Lloyd

Onto the other games of round twenty of the AFL season.

St Kilda Saints 12 goals, 9 behinds (81) lost to Carlton Blues 18 goals, 4 behinds (112)


St Kilda: King 4, Membrey 3, Sharman 2, Higgins, Jones, Marshall

Carlton: McKay 5, Walsh 3, Honey 2, Williamson 2, Cripps, Curnow, Dow, Kennedy, Silvagni


St Kilda: Steele, King, Jones, Dunstan, Marshall

Carlton: Walsh, Silvagni, McKay, Dow, Cripps, Kennedy

Unerringly accurate goal kicking saw the Blues keep their faint finals hopes alive, simultaneously putting a major dent in the Saints’ finals aspirations. The Blues just could not miss, only registering their second behind midway through the 3rd term as they sat with 14 goals on the board. That efficiency saw the Blues control this contest from start to finish, briefly alleviating the pressure on coach David Teague. The game was relatively close at the half, Tom Williamson’s goal on the siren giving Carlton a 28 point lead, but three goals to start the 3rd term saw the Blues blow the game open, at one stage leading by 51 points. A late surge from the Saints saw the margin come down, but it was a comfortable – and timely – win for Carlton. Sam Walsh continued his Brownlow worthy season with three goals from his 26 touches. He was well supported by Harry McKay with five goals and Jack Silvagni who had 25 possessions while pinch-hitting in the ruck.

Western Bulldogs 15 goals, 15 behinds (105) defeated Adelaide Crows 8 goals, 8 behinds (56)


Western Bulldogs: Bruce 2, Johannisen 2, Ugle-Hagan 2, Daniel, English, Naughton, Liberatore, Garcia, Hunter, Dale, Bontompelli, Weightman

Adelaide: Himmelberg 2, Walker 2, Fogarty, Lynch, Rowe, Murphy


Western Bulldogs: Dale, Macrae, English, B. Smith, Daniel, Schache

Adelaide: Sloane, Keays, Doedee, Himmelberg, Smith, O’Brien

A strong start by Adelaide saw them take an early lead through Tom Lynch and Elliott Himmelberg before the Bulldogs started to flex their considerable muscles, three late goals seeing them take back the quarter-time lead. Despite an early 2nd term goal, the Crows were outclassed from that point onward as the Dogs kicked four unanswered goals to close the first half, easing away to a 35 point lead. The game began to peter out in the 3rd, though thankfully a flurry of 4th quarter goals kept the game entertaining. The Bulldogs consolidated top spot on the ladder with a casual 49 win. Caleb Daniel (32 disposals), Jack Macrae and Bailey Dale (31 apiece) were amongst the Bulldogs best. Encouragingly for the Dogs, their powerful forward line didn’t need to click in this one, as 12 different players shared the goals. The Rory’s Sloane (26) and Laird (24) were the best of a Crows outfit that had to carry too many passengers.

North Melbourne Kangaroos 6 goals, 6 behinds (42) Lost to Geelong Cats 8 goals, 14 behinds (62)


North Melbourne: Larkey 2, Bosenavulagi, Davies-Uniacke, Ford, Taylor

Geelong: C. Guthrie 2, Rohan 2, Blicavs, Hawkins, Higgins, Narkle


North Melbourne: Davies-Uniacke, Simpkin, McKay, Hall, Ziebell, Goldstein

Geelong: C. Guthrie, Z. Guthrie, Bews, Tuohy, Close, Smith, Stewart

The much-improved Kangaroos made the fancied Cats work hard for their win at a cold and blustery Blundstone Arena. A late Nick Larkey goal gave North a narrow lead at the first change, though Geelong were able to slowly but surely assert themselves and when Mark Blicavs put them in front midway through the 2nd term, they would manage to keep the Roos at arms length. In difficult conditions, the second half was a genuine arm wrestle, with both teams trading goals and neither able to gain a true upper hand. The Roos were brave, but ultimately couldn’t match the Cats class as Geelong ran out 20 point victors. Cam Guthrie was best on ground with two goals and 28 disposals, younger brother Zach playing well after being a last-minute inclusion in the side. Tom Stewart was a wall defensively whilst gathering 24 possessions. With prolific ball-winner Ben Cunnington injured, Luke Davies-Uniacke and Jy Simpkin stepped up for the Kangaroos, with 23 and 29 disposals respectively, as well as a combined 13 clearances.

Collingwood Magpies 14 goals, 6 behinds (90) defeated West Coast Eagles 6 goals, 9 behinds (45)


Collingwood: Elliott 2, Mihocek, Bianco 2, Hoskin-Elliott, Sidebottom, Cameron, Ginnivan, Thomas, Grundy, Noble, Quaynor

West Coast: Cripps 2, Yeo, Darling, Kennedy, Sheed


Collingwood: Sidebottom, De Goey, Crisp, Maynard, Grundy

West Coast: Gaff, Sheed, Waterman, McGovern, Naitanui

The Eagles inconsistency again reared its ugly head in a shockingly lacklustre performance against the Magpies. To be fair, neither side looked up for the battle in the early stages, though when Collingwood finally broke the drought through Will Hoskin-Elliott it began a steady flow of Magpie goals as they kicked four unanswered in the opening term. They kicked another four on the trot to start the 2nd quarter before Jamie Cripps finally kicked truly for West Coast. Any thoughts of a comeback were quickly subdued through late 1st half goals to Trent Bianco and Brody Grundy as Collingwood held a commanding 50 point lead at the main break. Collingwood, unsurprisingly, took their foot off the gas just a touch in the 3rd term, though the Eagles own lack of intensity saw them unable to make any inroads. A late final term run of three Eagles goals was purely academic as the Eagles surrendered meekly in captain Shannon Hurn’s 300th appearance.

Fremantle Dockers 7 goals, 13 behinds (55) defeated Richmond Tigers 6 goals, 15 behinds (51)


Fremantle: Taberner 3, Schultz 2, Colyer, Serong

Richmond: Parker 2, Riewoldt, Lambert, Lynch, Mansell


Fremantle: Brayshaw, Mundy, Cerra, Serong, Ryan, Taberner, Young

Richmond: Cotchin, Prestia, Stack, Short, Rioli, Lambert

If the Tiger Empire had not fallen prior to this match, it surely has now after the Dockers – wearing their old school anchor guernseys – sunk the Tigers in a thriller. A fast start saw Fremantle lead through Matt Taberner and Travis Colyer before Rhyan Mansell got Richmond on the board. The 2nd term was a slog as neither team was able to find the goals, though that was more due to a wet football and intense defensive pressure more than poor football. Taberner’s 2nd, just 26 seconds into the 3rd term and a goal to Lachie Schultz saw the Dockers take a game-high 18-point lead in a low scoring game, though the Tigers were able to respond, cutting the margin to just 10 points at the last change. Richmond, perhaps sensing that their premiership defense was slipping away, hit hard in the last term. Matt Parker goaled 72 seconds into the term, then Kane Lambert gave the Tigers the lead. When Jack Riewoldt pushed the lead to nine, the young Dockers looked shell shocked. They recovered, however, as Schultz took a powerful pack mark, slotting home his set shot to get the Dockers within a kick before Caleb Serong snapped truly to snatch the lead back for Fremantle. With 10 minutes still remaining, the pressure immense, and the ball like a bar of soap, scoring proved impossible for either team the rest of the way. The win sees the Docker jump from 12th spot on the ladder all the way up to eighth, though their poor percentage relative to their rivals could still prove their undoing.

Gold Coast Suns 4 goals, 6 behinds (30) lost to Melbourne Demons 18 goals, 20 behinds (128)


Gold Coast: Burgess, Sexton, Corbett, Flanders

Melbourne: Brown 4, Jackson 4, Fritsch 2, Gawn 2, McDonald, Petracca, Oliver, Spargo


Gold Coast: Miller, Ballard, Rowell, Swallow

Melbourne: Petracca, Oliver, Brown, Jackson, Harmes, May, Viney

Last week, the Suns played a scintillating half of football before completely disappearing in a loss to Brisbane. In this contest (using the term ‘contest’ extremely loosely) they managed to show up for all of 10 minutes. After the Demons kicked a trio of early majors, the Suns responded with a pair of their own. When Josh Corbett goaled in the 20th minute of the term, the Suns trailed 20 to 24. That would prove to be the Suns last goal until the 21st minute of the final term. Over that span, the Demons outscores the Suns 102 to three. In a game as lopsided as this, analysis is difficult. The Demons dominated in all facets of the game. Their midfield pressure was immense, creating easy intercept opportunities for the best intercepting defence in the competition. The Demons recent attacking form has been patchy, but they seemed to make a concerted effort to get the ball into central areas rather than attacking from wide. It led to Melbourne’s marking targets dominating: four goals to Ben Brown and Luke Jackson, a pair to Bayley Fritsch and Max Gawn. For the Suns, this loss must be most dispiriting. For the Demons, it silences the critics of their recent performances.

Hawthorn Hawks 14 goals, 8 behinds (92) defeated Brisbane Lions 12 goals, 8 behinds (80)


Hawthorn: Breust 3, Wingard 2, Moore 2, O’Meara, Shiels, O’Brien, Phillips, Mitchell, Lewis, Worpel

Brisbane: McStay 4, Cockatoo, Lyons, Neale, Cameron, Bailey, Fullarton, Daniher, Zorko


Hawthorn: Wingard, O’Meara, Breust, Mitchell, Nash, Worpel

Brisbane: Lyons, McStay, Rich, Zorko, McCluggage

After a most tumultuous week for the most successful club of the millennium, the Hawks produced a stirring display for their departing mentor Alistair Clarkson, likely ending Brisbane’s hopes of a top-four finish in the process. The Hawks flew out of the gates, kicking four unanswered goals in the opening term to stun the high flying Lions and lead 27 to one. The 2nd term proved much more evenly matched as the Lions finally found their footing, though a quick-fire three goals from Hawthorn was a perfect answer to the Lions efforts. Luke Breust, with three goals at the half, was starring. Hawthorn erupted in the 3rd quarter, kicking the opening five goals of the term to push the lead out to 53 points. Though Brisbane was able to belatedly gain the ascendancy, an eight goal to one final term proved too little too late; Hawthorn holding on by 12 points. Chad Wingard, with 32 touches and a pair of goals, was immense for the Hawks. Jaeger O’Meara (35) and Tom Mitchell (34) were their usual prolific selves. Breust looked like he was going to have a day out, but was stretchered off in the 3rd quarter with a knee injury.

GWS Giants 11 goals, 7 behinds (73) lost to Port Adelaide Power 15 goals, 10 behinds (100)


GWS: Lloyd 3, Hogan 2, Greene 2, Ward, Taranto, Himmelberg, Mumford

Port Adelaide: Dixon 4, Ladhams 3, Georgiades 2, Boak, Butters, Amon, Marshall, Fantasia, Duursma


GWS: Kelly, Hopper, Haynes, Whitfield, Lloyd

Port Adelaide: Amon, Boak, Wines, Dixon, Rozee, Butters, Ladhams

Port Adelaide stayed in touch with the top three with a professional performance, taking the points over the GWS Giants. In a tight 1st term Jesse Hogan got the Giants underway before the Power kicked three quick goals late in the opening term to take a 15 point lead into quarter time. The 2nd quarter opened right up, with the teams sharing 11 goals between them as both teams played some sparkling football, the Giants reducing the margin to eight points. GWS continued to push the Power in the 3rd term, briefly taking the lead after Toby Greene kicked truly, though Todd Marshall’s reply ensured that lead was short-lived. Early 4th quarter goals to Charlie Dixon and Orazio Fantasia gave Port Adelaide some breathing space as they eased away late to claim a hard-fought 27 point win that was closer than the margin suggests. GWS lost the perma-crocked Phil Davis to an injury early, before Jacob Hopper was stretchered off after taking an accidental kick to the head, adding injury to insult for the Giants.

Coleman Medal leader board

Harry McKay (Carlton) – 57 (5 goals this week)

Taylor Walker (Adelaide) – 48 goals (2)

Tom Hawkins (Geelong) – 46 (1)

Jack Riewoldt (Richmond) – 45 (1)

Josh Bruce (Bulldogs) – 45 (2)

Ben King (Suns) – 43 (0)

Charlie Dixon (Power) – 41 (4)

Lance Franklin (Swans) – 41 (2)

Bayley Fritsch (Demons) – 39 (2)

#ClubMPts%ForAgtThis WeekProjectedNext
1W Bulldogs1960142.0 %18091274Won vs Adel
105 â€“ 56
1st: 68 pts, 140 %Saturday
vs Ess
2Geelong1960132.6 %16181220Won @ N.M.
62 â€“ 42
2nd: 68 pts, 132 %Saturday
vs GWS
3Melbourne1958131.5 %16311240Won @ G.C.
128 â€“ 30
3rd: 66 pts, 131 %Saturday
4Port Adel1956121.8 %16231332Won @ GWS
100 â€“ 73
4th: 64 pts, 120 %Saturday
@ Adel
5Sydney1952118.0 %16951437Won @ Ess
109 â€“ 102
5th: 60 pts, 117 %Saturday
@ St.K
6Brisbane1948124.6 %17461401Lost @ Haw
80 â€“ 92
6th: 56 pts, 126 %Saturday
@ Freo
7WC Eagles194095.9 %15381604Lost @ Coll
45 â€“ 90
7th: 44 pts, 93 %Saturday
vs Melb
8Fremantle193690.9 %13961536Won vs Rich
55 â€“ 51
10th: 40 pts, 91 %Saturday
vs B.L.
9GWS Giants193495.1 %14891566Lost vs P.A.
73 â€“ 100
12th: 38 pts, 94 %Saturday
@ Geel
10Essendon1932102.7 %16561612Lost vs Syd
102 â€“ 109
13th: 36 pts, 102 %Saturday
@ W.B.
11Richmond193298.0 %15041535Lost @ Freo
51 â€“ 55
8th: 40 pts, 101 %Saturday
vs N.M.
12Carlton193294.1 %15691667Won @ St.K
112 â€“ 81
9th: 40 pts, 95 %Saturday
vs G.C.
13St Kilda193285.9 %13731598Lost vs Carl
81 â€“ 112
11th: 40– pts, 87 %Saturday
vs Syd
14Collingwood192491.9 %13581477Won vs WCE
90 â€“ 45
14th: 28 pts, 92 %Saturday
@ Haw
15Gold Coast192481.1 %12751572Lost vs Melb
30 â€“ 128
15th: 28 pts, 83 %Saturday
@ Carl
16Adelaide192479.9 %14041758Lost @ W.B.
56 â€“ 105
16th: 28 pts, 80 %Saturday
vs P.A.
17Hawthorn192280.8 %13851714Won vs B.L.
92 â€“ 80
17th: 26 pts, 81 %Saturday
vs Coll
18North Melb191870.7 %12711797Lost vs Geel
42 â€“ 62
18th: 22 pts, 72 %Saturday
@ Rich

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