How Carlton curbed Essendon’s star captain

“He’s task focused, ‘Cincs’. He’s powerful, strong over the ball, doesn’t get knocked off it – he’s hard to beat. [Making Cincotta a tagger] was something we thought about as a match committee over a month [ago, or] maybe a bit longer than that because he’s been doing it for the last three weeks, hasn’t he?

“He’s been able to take on those jobs and do them very well.”

Michael Voss, senior coach of the Blues and Alex Cincotta celebrate their win.

Michael Voss, senior coach of the Blues and Alex Cincotta celebrate their win. Credit:

As for Hollands, Voss quickly figured out in the pre-season what he had in the highly talented No.7 pick from the 2020 draft.

“He showed a really high level to be able to understand the game, with his decision-making and thinking through roles like that,” Voss said.

“So, we had an enormous amount of confidence about what he could do coming into the year, and he’s been able to execute that extremely well and as a result of it, hopefully our system is benefiting from that.”

There were various reasons why Hollands, the older brother of fellow Blue Ollie, failed to realise his potential on the Gold Coast, but he admits he did not perform well enough in a wing role and could not break into the Suns’ forward line.

As a result, on top of the ACL setback that held him back in his debut season, Hollands played only 14 games for his old club before making the move back to Victoria last year. There was, of course, a very public hiccup.

Hollands copped a two-match ban to start this season and a $5000 suspended fine for breaching the AFL’s illicit drugs policy, after landing in court on a drug possession charge when he was caught with 1g of cocaine in his wallet on a night out.

That occurred while he was still on the Suns’ list, but hit the headlines after his trade to Carlton.

“I’m very grateful for the footy club giving me the opportunity to come across and have a crack,” Holland told The Age.

“I needed to show that with a strong summer, and I thought I was able to give him that, which helped, in terms of me, obviously missing the first two games. Being able to come in with the trust from the group and play my role has been helpful.”

Hollands played down his part in the Merrett match-up as little more than “pushing him a couple of times at centre bounces”, but is pleased with how things are going. He is already up to 11 games in navy blue.

“It’s just a bit of fluidity,” he said.

“‘Cincs’ was doing a job, obviously, around stoppage and around the ground, which we think he is doing a fantastic job with, and it just allows me to be able to roam to some centre bounces and roam forward post-[clearance], and hopefully lose some opposition in transition, and we think it’s working really well.”

However, judging a match-up is subjective, particularly in this case once you dive into the rest of Merrett’s numbers.

Beyond his 21 disposals, he laid a match-high 11 tackles – no other player had more than eight – 14 contested possessions and six clearances. But his 237 metres gained were his second-lowest total for the year.

Bombers coach Brad Scott was defiant afterwards about Merrett’s contribution.

“I’m clearly very biased, but I can’t think of a better pressure midfielder in the game at the moment than Zach,” Scott said. “He adds so much to our team, outside the obvious, which is possession rate, ball use, those sorts of things. I can’t think of a game this year where I’ve looked at his kicks, marks, handballs.

“He can influence the game with ball in hand, obviously, really well, but he’s equally important, if not more important, on the defensive side of it, so a tagger can’t stop you defending.”

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