'Mighty Macs' set for Cats
Lions to field 8th different ruck combination
The Lions will field their eighth different ruck combination of the year against Geelong at Shell Stadium (Geelong) on Sunday. And itll be the Mighty Macs Beau McDonald and Dylan McLaren.
Lions coach Leigh Matthews breathed a sigh of relief that could probably be heard all the way to Geelong when McDonald was passed fit tonight after No.1 follower Clark Keating had earlier been ruled unfit with a minor adductor strain.
Matthews was faced with the prospect of having 19-year-old second-gamer McLaren, his fifth-choice ruckman this year, team with a non-specialist follower in the ruck division against the Cats if McDonald didnt come up.
But McDonald, who missed last weekends win over Fremantle in Perth with a back/hamstring worry, got through training without any problems and was passed fit to take his place in the side.
So, in final selection, McDonald returned to replace Keating, Martin Pike was recalled to replace the suspended Darryl White, and Jason Akermanis is back at the expense of Ashley McGrath.
Shane Morrison, a regular standout in the Reserves recently, was added to the emergencies after Keatings withdrawal, joining Damian Cupido and Matthew Kennedy as the standby players.
Pike, dropped in Round 19 after playing 17 of the first 18 games (and missing one through illness), returns after 37 and 28 touches in the past fortnight with the Reserves in the AFLQ competition.
Akermanis resumes after being a late withdrawal last weekend against the Dockers with a mild aggravation of a long-term hamstring condition.
McDonald and McLaren face the big assignment of tackling Geelongs Steven King, the 2000 All-Australian ruckman and Geelong B&F winner, and his promising 208cm off-sider Peter Street, who is second only to North Melbournes Matthew Burton among the tallest players in the AFL.
It will be an individual contest critical to the outcome of the match in which the Lions can put a stranglehold on a home qualifying final against Port Adelaide with a victory.
A Brisbane win over Geelong will see them at least one game plus percentage clear of the Power going into Round 22, and it would take a Lions loss to Sydney and a huge Power win over West Coast in Adelaide to reverse the order of the second and third-placed sides. And that is presuming Port Adelaide get over the top of the Western Bulldogs in a Round 21 danger game at Colonial Stadium tomorrow night (Saturday).
The ruck position has been one of remarkable change in the Lions ranks this year despite the fact that Keating (16 matches) and McDonald (18 matches) have been permanent fixtures in the top side whenever fit through the first 20 weeks of the season.
Coach Matthews fielded a Keating-McDonald ruck combination through the first three games of the season, but when Keating missed the first of four games in a row with a groin problem it took on a different look.
McDonald carried the ruck division solo in Round 4 and worked in tandem with first-gamer Jamie Charman in Round 5. Then it was McDonald and Trent Knobel in Rounds 6-7 before Matthews fielded a three-pronged following group against Carlton in Round 8.
Keating, who today (Friday) signed a new three-year contract to stay with the Lions until at least the end of 2004, was reunited with McDonald in Round 9 before Charman joined Keating in a one-off partnership in Round 10. Then it was Keating and McDonald together again for nine games in a row in Rounds 11-19.
Then, with McDonald, Knobel and Charman all injured last week, McLaren, who had only been swung into the ruck in the Reserves three weeks earlier due to injuries to Knobel and Charman, got his chance as the fifth-choice ruckman of the year.
And now, in the eighth different following team of the year, itll be the unlikely pairing of 21-year-old McDonald, a 47-gamer from Swan Districts in Perth, and McLaren, a 19-year-old from Sale in eastern Victoria in just his second AFL outing.
So, the final Lions side to meet the Cats at Geelong on Sunday is:-
B: Jason Akermanis, Mal Michael, Chris Johnson
HB: Brad Scott, Justin Leppitsch, Marcus Ashcroft
C: Chris Scott, Michael Voss, Tim Notting
HF: Luke Power, Jonathan Brown, Nigel Lappin
F: Craig McRae, Alastair Lynch, Daniel Bradshaw
R: Beau McDonald, Simon Black, Shaun Hart
I/C: Robbie Copeland, Des Headland, Dylan McLaren, Martin Pike
EMERG: Damian Cupido, Matthew Kennedy, Shane Morrison.
In: Jason Akermanis, Martin Pike, Beau McDonald.
Out: Clark Keating (adductor), Darryl White (suspended), Ashley McGrath (omitted)
Matthews said it was good to have Keating signed up for the next three years. I dont think he was ever going anywhere to be honest, he said.
Matthews took umbrage at media suggestions that it had taken a while to thrash out a contract.
No, thats crap what did you expect him to do, come in overnight and sign it? he said.
Keatings abdominal strain occurred during last weeks game and has not cleared up as quickly as was expected. It was something that popped up last week I wasnt even aware of it during the game, Matthews said. He pulled up a bit sore, but given that he finished the game last week you would think it should settle down.
Matthews admitted prior to training that without Keating, McDonald, Charman and Knobel the Lions would really have been stretching the resources, but expressed a strong vote of confidence in McLaren.
He (McLaren) was very, very good last week. We go in with what weve got. Youre better with every one of your list in, but if not we do our best with what weve got.
Matthews ruled out any chance of two-gamer Charman being rushed back after a month on the sidelines with a foot fracture. Jamie is only barely ready to play again and I dont think they (the medical team) want him jumping and landing as hes had a stress fracture to the foot, so hes not really an option, said the coach.
The loss of Keating and the suspended Darryl White leaves the Lions a little stretched in the height department, although Matthews felt that the height was subjective.
Heights valuable if the height marks the ball, he said. Fremantles height in the forward line last week was part of the reason why we kicked 21 goals because the ball rebounds out very quickly when they dont get it.
You notice height when theyre marking the ball, but you often dont notice it when its slow chasing. Whether heights a strength or an Achilles heel, youre never quite sure until the day comes.
The weather conditions at Shell Stadium will also impact heavily on the height factor. It has rained continually in the seaside city for three weeks and, although it was fine there today, the forecast for Sunday is for showers and 16 degrees.
Matthews even indicated his side might appreciate some tight, wet conditions, similar to those in which they mastered West Coast in Perth in Round 11.
We like to think we want to play in the manner that allows us to play in high, pressure finals games, when the pressures on the ball carrier all the time, Matthews said. Wet weather only adds to that pressure, so in some ways we slightly look forward to it because it makes you play in the really disciplined, high percentage manner.
We feel the way we want to play we can play okay in wet conditions. And in wet conditions heights harder to be a strength, he said.
Matthews wouldnt mind a slog in the wet even accounting for his team having travelled the longest distance in football last week to play Fremantle.
We got off the Perth game pretty well I think and thats always an issue, getting off the long travel, he said. All the energy levels seem to be bright and bubbly.
Sunday looms as the Cats grand final for the year considering they are now out of finals reckoning, but have a huge Shell Stadium farewell planned for the clubs favourite son Garry Hocking.
However, Matthews believes it is the Cats who have the question mark over how they will deal with the day rather than the Lions. It will be a noisy and emotional environment for Geelong, he said. Those kind of things are much less to do with us how Geelong react to such issues is their concern. We just go out and play.
We go out expecting the opposition to be absolutely switched on and absolutely desperate every time we play, he said. How desperate and how switched on can you be?
I dont think its an issue for us. It is an issue for Geelong. We expect them to be trying the hardest, but we do every week. Weve got to work out how we want to play the game and what we want to do, and concentrate on those, and we cope with the opposition the best we can.