AFL H&V Round 18: Put away the bow and arrow, Xavier

In Round 18 we witnessed an epic Essendon win and Carlton string two together, but it's fair to say Xavier Duursma and the umps didn't have the best of weekends...

Here are this week's Heroes & Villains.


Zach Merrett: Much like the Bombers themselves, Zach Merrett had a pedestrian start to Friday night's huge clash with Adelaide. Essendon needed a win to keep in touch with the eight, while Adelaide was desperate to fend off the challengers nipping at their heels from below.

But after emerging from the change rooms after the half-time break, something clicked for the 23-year-old. After finding the footy just three times in the first term and six times in the second, Merrett's third quarter kick-started the Bombers' comeback.

He racked up 13 touches in the third, but it was his line-breaking ability, sharp vision and precise field kicking which really helped the Bombers claw back the 30 point headstart they gave up.

And not a minute into the last quarter, with scores level, Merrett kicked the first of two team-lifting goals - the second of which sealed a huge road win for the undermanned and out-of-favour Dons.

While everyone lauds Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti (13 lively touches and a goal) as the Bombers' ultimate barometer, Merrett stepped into that role on Friday night, and consequently helped drag his team across the line and well into September calculation.

The Carlton Football Club: We're not just talking about the players, and we're not just talking about caretaker coach David Teague. Everyone involved in the Carlton footy club deserves kudos after they won their fourth match in six starts under Teague.

From born-again half forward Matthew Kennedy (four goals against the Suns on Saturday), who at one stage in 2019 seemed to be keeping warm a list spot for someone fresh, to supplementary selection Michael Gibbons (20 disposals and a goal), the men in navy blue are playing with a new sense of freedom.

Kennedy and Gibbons aren't the only ones playing with a new intensity under caretaker coach Teague; Marc Murphy continued his strong formline in the midfield with another 22 touches and a goal, Ed Curnow racked up 31, and Lochie O'Brien and Will Setterfield relished in their new roles as true wingmen.

What Teague and the coaching staff have managed to do in just over month is ensure that opposition teams don't take the Blues lightly - and it has shown, with the Blues' two losses under the interim coach coming by just three and five points to the Dogs and Dees respectively.

The fans, too, deserve a pat on the back: 31,765 turned up to Marvel Stadium in what was the third largest crowd the Suns have played in front of in 2019, while it was also the largest home crowd the Blues have ever had against the Suns, eclipsing the 30,207 that saw them clash in 2015.

In fact, Blues fans have been incredibly loyal through tough times this season. Carlton boasts the fourth biggest average home attendance behind Richmond, Collingwood and West Coast - all teams expected to feature at the pointy end of September.

With recent performances offering a glimpse into the Blues' future, perhaps those rusted-on fans will have more to cheer about in 2020.

Next-gen Hawks forwards: A lot of the focus on Hawthorn this year has been on its ageing list and veterans such as Jarryd Roughead, but Hawks fans would have liked what they saw from the 'next generation' during Sunday's important win over Geelong.

20-year-old key forward Mitchell Lewis continued to impress in what has become a breakout year, snagging an equal career-high three goals in the 24-point win. What's more, Lewis found himself with an unlikely partner in the forward line, with Tim O'Brien making a strong case that he could be the man to fill a spot in front of the big sticks.

While not quite as young as forward partner Lewis, O'Brien is still just 25 years of age but is clearly starting to understand what he is capable of. His contested marking was superb, while his accuracy in front of goal (3.1 on the day) was also noteworthy.

Combined, the pair clunked seven marks inside 50, while O'Brien also took two impressive contested grabs on the afternoon.

As for Lewis, he has now proven he isn't a 'flash in the pan' forward prospect; he's played nine games in 2019 and has hit the scoreboard in every outing, while in his past four matches he's kicked two, two, three and now three again.

Perhaps we shouldn't be so concerned about Hawthorn's ageing list profile - at least in terms of tall timber up forward.


Xavier Duursma: He's just a kid, and far be it for journalists to criticise a professional footballer -- and we love what he's been able to produce in his debut season -- but someone at Port Adelaide might need to pull young gun Xavier Duursma aside to have a chat to him about when he pulls out his bow and arrow celebration.

With his side four goal in arrears of Tigers midway through the third term, Duursma marked in the forward pocket and slotted an admittedly tough chance. But when he decided to show off his now familiar celebration, it raised the eyebrows of those both at the ground and watching from home, because to that point of the match, Port had been nothing more than very average.

The Tigers also didn't miss his antics; they went on to add five of the next six majors to put the game beyond Port's reach, and Duursma was left with a little egg on his face.

Coach Ken Hinkley was measured when speaking about the 19-year-old's celebration in his post-game press conference, saying while the Power want to encourage their young stars to play with some flair and personality, there might be a "time and place" for such a celebration and midway through a 38-point loss is not one of them.

"Let's be really clear, this is a really humble kid, and he's doing some stuff he thinks excites his teammates and it's part of the younger generation," Hinkley said.

"We don't want to shut everyone down and be boring, but we do need an understanding of what it looks like."

Less is more, Xav. Bring it out when you kick a sealer.

The slow-starting, sloppy Magpies: If Saturday's GWS vs. Collingwood encounter was supposed to be some sort of finals preview, then the Magpies will be worried about their September prospects after the insipid first quarter they produced in Round 18.

Coming off a stunning upset of West Coast in Perth and against a Giants outfit which had dropped four of their past five games and was missing the likes of Phil Davis, Stephen Coniglio, Josh Kelly and Callan Ward, the Magpies should have been well and truly sniffing blood with finals footy approaching.

Instead, once the first ball was bounced to open proceedings, they put up possibly their worst quarter of football for the year. The manic pressure and intensity showcased against the Eagles was nowhere to be seen, with a multitude of Pies wilting under the Giants' ferocity.

The quarter-time stats were damning: the big one was of course the scoreboard, with the Giants racking up 8.2 (50) to 1.1 (7). But it was a dominance all over the park that effectively decided the contest after just one stanza, with GWS controlling the disposals (108-74), contested possessions (51-32), inside 50s (19-11), clearances (13-7) and marks inside 50 (6-1), as well as leading the tackle count (21-19).

Game over after a bit over half an hour.

It was a brutal reminder of just how good the Giants can be when they play at their best, and a reminder to Nathan Buckley and Co. that they need to bring the heat every single week in this most even of seasons.

And the result could prove incredibly costly considering the logjam of teams underneath ladder leading Geelong. Instead of solidifying a top-two shot with a win, the Pies now face a fight to secure a top-four berth with games against Richmond, Gold Coast and Melbourne (all at the MCG), the Crows in Adelaide and then what's shaping up as an enormous Round 23 clash with Essendon to come.

Saturday's umpiring: More often than not, criticising the umps is low-hanging fruit for any footy fan - media included, but collectively, the men in green had a dead-set shocker on Saturday.

One particular call was so bad, the AFL moved quickly to admit it was the wrong decision. The costly last-minute free paid against North Melbourne's Scott Thompson for a 'block' on Oscar McInerney was judged to be a mistake, but it will prove little comfort for North Melbourne, who, as a result of the decision, lost the game.

That's not to say the Lions wouldn't have won anyway; speculating on the result had things gone differently is always fraught with danger, but the Roos have every right to feel aggrieved.

Unfortunately it wasn't the only head-scratcher to come out of the dying minute's of Brisbane's win; a few minutes earlier, North big man Ben Brown won (and converted) a dubious free kick in a ruck contest. First (and second) glances would suggest Brown was simply out-muscled, and opposing ruck Oscar McInerney had -- in the words of the great Max Gawn -- simply outduelled his opponent in "ruck craft, big boy".

And while it was the Lions who ultimately benefitted from a last-minute howler on the east coast, over in the west, another poor decision might have cost the Swans a late chance to snag a road win over Freo.

With scores locked at 51 apiece with just more than a minute left in the game, young Docker Ethan Hughes picked up a loose footy in the centre square, looked around, then ducked his head and drove into a tackle - a clear holding the ball decision.

So obvious was the call that Swans players started streaming forward, but it was called a stoppage and the rest is history - the Dockers willed the ball forward and Ed Langdon kicked the winning behind.