AFL H&V Round 21: Clarko's mind games; Essendon's absolute stinker

In Round 21 there was snow, there was rain, and predictably, some very low scores... but Essendon's paltry tally of just four goals came under the roof of Marvel Stadium.

Here are this week's Heroes & Villains.


Clarko's good cop, bad cop routine: The best coaches often have a streak of eccentricity to go alongside their ruthlessness.

Think Kevin Sheedy, Malcolm Blight, Mark Williams and Mark Thompson in years past, and Ross Lyon and Luke Beveridge in the current era.

But Alastair Clarkson is also in that conversation and his antics in the buildup to Friday night's upset win against GWS in Canberra showcased it brilliantly.

Despite Baltic conditions being forecast ahead of the match, Clarkson quashed rumours that he would soften on his policy that no Hawthorn player can take the field wearing long sleeves.

And as the Hawks trained at Manuka Oval ahead of the match, the four-time premiership coach stripped off his shirt for an impromptu lap of the oval, much to the delight of his players.

Who knows if the motivation worked but with their season on the line, the Hawks started on fire despite the snow, hail and icy winds, booting the first three goals of the match and never surrendering to keep their finals hopes alive.

Oh, and Clarkson's ruthlessness was also on display after the superb win, making it clear former captain and club favourite Jarryd Roughead was unlikely to receive a farewell game, saying: "He knows he has had his time in the sun and it is time for the next generation of players to come through."

Talk about the old good cop, bad cop routine!

Fast-finishing Power: They've been (rightly) potted for being an incredibly inconsistent team in 2019, but Port Adelaide might yet have a part to play in September.

Cam Sutcliffe's goal after the siren lifted the Power into the eight even before Adelaide's result against the Eagles on Sunday, but importantly for Ken Hinkley's side, they won back-to-back games for the first time since Round 6.

Charlie Dixon's return to form was fruitful - the big forward defied the slippery condition to kick three majors, while likely Rising Star runner up Connor Rozee also contributed three in the 15.13 (103) to 7.14 (56) victory.

It's a good time of the year to be playing consistently good football, and after their 59-point road drubbing of the Bombers last week, this week's 47-point win over the Swans has us starting to believe the Power could be a wildcard in finals.

At their best, they're incredibly tough to beat; their contested game is hard to stop (just ask the Eagles and Cats!), the exuberance of youth is a thing of beauty and their X-factor is obvious.

Having said that, we've foolishly placed our faith in the Power more than once this season, so perhaps we'll let the last two rounds play out before we make any big calls...

Jack Steven: He's had time off this year, and by his own admission is "still a bit unfit and a bit fat", but Jack Steven's return to senior footy was a sight to behold.

In his first game for the Saints since Round 6, when he stepped away from the pressures of AFL footy to work on his mental health, Steven was instrumental in orchestrating St Kilda's epic come-from-behind three-point win over Fremantle.

In addition to extinguishing any hopes Freo had of making finals, the win, unbelievably, keeps St Kilda's season alive, but Steven is just happy to be back playing footy (and under the roof of Marvel Stadium!)

"I was blowing a bit early - all game really, but it's better than running around in the twos in two degrees. I was pretty rusty but it feels good," Steven told Fox Footy post-match.

If 22 touches, seven marks and three goals is rusty by "Stuv's" standards, Saints fans would take that every day of the week.

As an aside, Brett Ratten has to get the coaching gig, for if he isn't signed up by the Sainters, another club will come knocking and will be very, very happy.


Bewilderingly bad Bombers: Well, what can you say? It's almost too unbelievable to be true.

Against the Bulldogs on Saturday night Essendon's Dylan Shiel slotted the game's first major within 20 seconds of the first ball being bounced. They looked red-hot and ready to atone for their disappointing loss to Port Adelaide the week before.

But in one of the strangest, most insipid and heartless displays of Australian rules football in recent memory, the Bulldogs piled on the next 21 majors to leave Essendon at 1.8 (14) with five minutes to play - they had gone goalless in almost four quarters of football.

If not for Essendon's three junk (and we mean JUNK) time goals, it would have been their worst performance in more than a century. Conversely, the 104-point result was the Bulldogs' biggest ever victory over the Bombers.

So bad was this showing by a top eight team that by three-quarter time, the crowd resembled that of one you'd find at local footy.

We're not sure which part of the Dons' horror show is worse: the fact that 41,816 fans had to endure a second straight week of getting spanked on their home deck, or that their percentage dropped almost seven points over the course of the match to -- stunningly -- put their finals aspirations in doubt.

Of course, the Bombers have been undermanned in recent weeks, but all teams are at one point or another - the Tigers were missing a number of prime movers early in the year and are well in the premiership hunt come the pointy end. On the night, Essendon were slaughtered in the possession count (-124), inside 50s (-29) and contested possessions (-36).

North Melbourne and newly-instated coach Rhyce Shaw can almost thank their lucky stars that Essendon threw up one of the worst ever outings under the roof at Docklands - they managed just one major for the night in arctic conditions down in Geelong.

May needs to repay Dees' faith: Steven May's woeful first season at Melbourne is almost certainly over after another soft tissue injury and he needs to have the preseason of his life or risk wasting his career - and the Dees' investment in him.

The former Gold Coast captain hurt his left hamstring early in the final term of Saturday's sloppy loss to Collingwood in his first game back from two weeks out with a similar concern.

Injuries are an unfortunate part of sport -- and some players are more injury-prone than others -- but May needs to do absolutely everything he can to get his body into the right condition this upcoming summer.

May's first year isn't pretty reading.

He joined the Demons on a huge contract -- alongside the 'steak knives' of the deal, Kade Kolodjashnij -- for pick No. 6 as part of the complex Jesse Hogan trade, but began his first summer with the Demons with higher-than-acceptable skinfolds and came last in a 2km time trial. He then suffered a hamstring injury during the preseason, missed the opening round of the season through suspension before playing in Round 2 against the Cats and injuring his groin, missing nine weeks. Infamously, he was then pictured drinking pints at a Melbourne pub during his rehab.

Once he returned, he strung six matches together, showcasing the aggression, kicking skills and defensive prowess that is expected of him, before missing two more games with a hamstring concern. Recalled for Saturday's clash, he lasted a bit over three quarters.

The Demons invested heavily in May, who has never played a complete season in nine years in the league, and he will be 28 by the time next season starts.

For his sake, and that his new club, he must find a new level of intensity and professionalism ahead of the 2020 season.

North's unwanted records: Essendon's putrid efforts on Saturday night will steal the limelight this week, but down the highway on the same evening, North Melbourne were almost as bad.

The Kangaroos managed just one goal in their outing against the Cats at GMHBA Stadium; yes, three fewer goals than Essendon, but the Dons had one goal to their name with just minutes left in their clash AND played in perfect conditions under the roof.

North Melbourne's sour performance brought about a couple of unfortunate records for the proud side - 1.8 (14) is the lowest ever score in the club's 94-year history and it's the first time they've kicked just one goal in a match.

Admittedly, the Cats are a well drilled team -- especially at home -- and conditions were icy and rain fell late in the piece; but Geelong managed to pepper the goals with 24 scoring shots.

No doubt the Kangas will be happy to be back under the Marvel Stadium roof next week against the Power!