AFL Heroes & Villains Round 15: Essendon's major problem, ripping Riccardi

Wait, Round 15 is already over? Yep, Footy Fest 2.0 is back and in full swing, and this round saw the Crows notch win No. 1, a young key forward deliver when needed and a side continue its horror first quarters.

Here are this week's Heroes & Villains.

HEROES

Adelaide: They say there's nothing quite like your first time, and for Adelaide coach Matthew Nicks, his breakthrough first win as Crows coach must have felt oh so sweet.

Faced with the embarrassing prospect of being the first AFL/VFL team to post a winless season since Fitzroy in 1964, the Crows were, frankly, running out of chances to notch their first win for 2020. Fortunately, the Hawks, who have also struggled this year came to town to 'host' Adelaide.

That 'home game' may have been Hawthorn's undoing; a small but raucous crowd helped the Crows overcome an inaccurate start -- one which had many wondering if they were going to blow their best chance to secure four points -- and run over the Hawks to the tune of 35 points -- no mean feat.

It wasn't perfect, but it was a win, and judging by the reactions of skipper Rory Sloane and ex-captain Taylor Walker, it was inevitable that Nicks would get the Gatorade shower he did in the rooms following the win.

And let's face it, no matter which team you barrack for, it's never good to see a club, its player or fans endure a winless season. Soak it up, Crows.

Jake Riccardi: How on earth has this guy not been playing until now!?

In his first game he impressed with 16 disposals and two goals, while in his second outing he earned a Rising Star nomination by kicking four goals in a big win over the Dockers. Now, in just his third match, Riccardi dragged the Giants over the line against the Blues.

It was a real struggle for both GWS and Carlton on Thursday night (continue reading...) and the Giants were in serious trouble at the final change, trailing by 15 points. A loss could have been catastrophic for their finals chances, and Riccardi knew it.

He stepped up in a big way in the final term, kicking two excellent long-range goals to help wrestle back the lead. Riccardi also clunked a number of marks on the wing and halved several other contests, playing as the most dangerous Giants forward.

"Riccardi, a third-gamer, has shown the way," former Lions great Jonathan Brown said after the game. "A third-gamer is showing the highest-paid player in the competition (Jeremy Cameron) the way to do it and they play the same position."

Seems like you can still unearth some serious talent in the state leagues.

Hoodoo-breaking Lions: When you're part of a side that's second on the ladder, but hasn't beaten your lower-ranked opponent in six years, old habits sometimes die hard.

The Lions have had a wretched recent history against the Pies, having lost their last six, and nine of the last 10 to Nathan Buckley's men heading into Friday night's clash. But, as good teams do, they put history behind them to usher what they'll hope is a new era in that rivalry.

It wasn't pretty and the Lions showed early signs of the yips which have haunted them at times this season (in the first quarter alone they scored just two behinds and had three shots register no score), but Chris Fagan's men were able to produce a second term blitz that set up a much-needed eight-point win over the Pies - their first since 2014.

In fact, the Lions posted two goalless quarters -- the first and the fourth -- but managed to close out the win without star backman Harris Andrews for most of the second half.

As far as hoodoos go, this was a big one for the Lions to break. The next one? Well if they post a top-two finish, it's not losing two home finals in the same season...

VILLAINS

Essendon's first quarters: The sad reality for Essendon fans is that most weeks the Bombers are playing from behind the eight ball, and it's their own doing.

On Tuesday night in their 15-point loss to the Eagles, John Worsfold's men could again manage just one goal in the first term while their opponents skipped away to an early 15-point quarter time lead - the eventual margin in the match.

It must feel like deja vu, after all, the Dons have only led twice this season at the first break, in Rounds 1 and 2, which were both wins. Since then, they've broke even with their opponents three times, and in the remaining nine matches have trailed at quarter time. Little wonder they've won just four of their last 12 matches.

Looking at the last seven weeks in particular isn't pretty. Not since Round 8 against bottom-of-the-ladder Adelaide have the Bombers managed more than one first quarter goal. In fact, in the past seven rounds of footy, the Bombers have been outscored 20 goals and 20 behinds (a total of 140) to just six goals and 16 behinds (a total of 52) in first quarters.

The loss to the Eagles also means the Bombers more than likely won't play finals, and their infamous stretch of 'days without a finals win' is sure to tick over 6,000. Ouch.

GWS vs. Carlton: It's very rare an entire game deserves villain status, but anyone who tuned in on Thursday night to watch this clash will agree it was an absolute shocker.

Both sides desperately needed to record the W, yet neither really looked or played as if they wanted it. But the major talking point to come out of the game was the woeful goalkicking.

From quarter-time to three-quarter-time, just two goals were kicked. How many behinds, you ask? 14! Players from both teams were guilty of fluffing golden opportunities, perhaps none more so than emerging Blues key forward Harry McKay, who could easily have kicked a bag of four or five goals.

In the end, the Giants tidied up their work around goal and recorded a nine-point win to move inside the top eight. For the Blues, their finals dream is over.

Inaccuracy seems to be the story of 2020...

Sam Weideman: We could very easily have gone with the entire Melbourne team after a shocking loss to Sydney which now puts their finals chances in jeopardy, but Weideman's game was so poor he well and truly deserved a whack.

The young forward had just two disposals for the entire match (a career low), didn't kick a goal and didn't lay a tackle. It was a horror afternoon for a player who has enjoyed a solid 2020.

The Dees once again won the territory battle, finishing +9 in inside 50s, so Weideman had plenty of opportunities to get involved in the game. Unfortunately for fans of the red and blue, he didn't get near it and produced his worst performance, maybe of his career.

After the game, Demons coach Simon Goodwin blasted his side for their inconsistency, saying it's simply not good enough.

"We can't have games, or halves where [effort] is non-existent," he said. "We had a half that wasn't to the [AFL] level. We have to play better."