The AFL’s Gather Round treated us to one of the most controversial finishes in years, a midfield masterclass from Port Adelaide’s trio and more signs Melbourne are ready to strike in 2024.

Here are the biggest talking points from every game of round four.

The Demons have become efficient in attack

There hasn’t been much wrong with Melbourne in the two years since their 2021 premiership, but the most obvious thing that held the Demons back in key finals was profligacy in attack.

This year, the Demons have set about remedying that with effectively the same personnel available. It is proving to be a flying success.

With Jake Lever and Steven May controlling defence, a ruthless attacking edge was Melbourne’s last missing piece.(Getty Images: AFL Photos/Dylan Burns)

Some of that can be put down to good kicking for goal, but it’s more than that. Melbourne have prioritised getting good users of the ball into positions to hurt the opposition when they go inside 50, and it’s paying off in the quality of the looks they are getting.

Add to that the ability of guys like Christian Petracca and Jack Viney to hit the scoreboard from midfield and you are certainly not looking at a team that has any real issue with scoring.

Against Adelaide, Melbourne’s scoring efficiency inside 50 was 58.3 per cent. They scored 28 times from 48 entries. If that sort of ratio was to continue until the last Saturday in September, it’s hard to see anyone else lifting the cup.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Max Gawn (Demons)

2. Judd McVee (Demons)

1. Jake Soligo (Crows)

Lions in cruise control, for better or worse

Brisbane have copped enough of a kicking this season, and given they’ve just come off their first win of the year — a massive one over North Melbourne, no less — we shouldn’t be too tough.

However, there was something just a little concerning with how the Lions took the foot off the pedal after half-time against the Roos.

The Lions took care of the Kangaroos with a minimum of fuss.(Getty Images: AFL Photos/Dylan Burns)

Sure, the game was totally done by that point. And sure, they went and increased the margin further after the long break and turned it into a proper percentage booster. On the balance of play, the final margin probably should have been more than the 70 points it finished as.

But there was a clear drop in intensity and quality from the Lions, who came down to North’s level and moved into second gear. It wouldn’t be an issue if those sort of mid-game fades hadn’t already cost the Lions a couple of wins this year.

It’s so nitpicky, but this is a team that wants to win a flag this year. Let’s hope it’s the last such dip we see from the Lions this year.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Hugh McCluggage (Lions)

2. Lachie Neale (Lions)

1. Joe Daniher (Lions)

Port’s magnificent three amigos

Is Zak Butters, Connor Rozee and Jason Horne-Francis the best midfield in the competition? If not, they must be mighty close.

Against the Bombers, that trio combined to put together the most clinical midfield performance we’ve seen from any group this season. Rozee will likely take the three votes by a nose from Horne-Francis, but it was a true team effort.

Connor Rozee was absolutely incredible against Essendon.(Getty Images: AFL Photos/Michael Willson)

Those three complement each other perfectly, with their strengths covering for each other’s minor weaknesses. The return of Horne-Francis this week added a physical edge that was missing against Melbourne last week and allowed Rozee to dazzle in space.

And they’re all so young. A performance as stunning as that must have Port fans dreaming not only of what could come this year, but for years in the future too.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Connor Rozee (Power)

2. Jason Horne-Francis (Power)

1. Jeremy Finlayson (Power)

Sydney stars step up

Even at three-quarter-time, this was a live game. West Coast had coughed up their surprise half-time lead, but with the wind behind them in the last, there was realistic hope of an upset.

Two men shut that door quick smart, and they were Isaac Heeney and Errol Gulden. Sydney’s superstar midfielders took control of the game and made sure any hope of an Eagles miracle was short lived.

They didn’t have it their own way all day, with Elliot Yeo fantastic throughout and Harley Reid frequently frightening in his fourth game, but Heeney and Gulden showed the difference between players in their prime and those on either side of it.

There was composure to go with their contested work, the kind most Eagles are still searching to find. It was an encouraging display for West Coast, who in the end can shake their collective heads and say they were done in by two of the league’s very best.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Isaac Heeney (Swans)

2. Errol Gulden (Swans)

1. Jeremy McGovern (Eagles)

A minute of madness brings Freo undone

It was like a Bond movie. Fremantle had Carlton pinned to the table, with the laser beam very slowly moving its way up. But moments before certain death, the Blues somehow worked a little sleight-of-hand trick and sprung from the trap, leaving the Dockers stunned and broken on the ground around them. 

The fear all day was that in trying to make the game a grind, the Dockers would fail to put their opponent away. Freo’s clearance dominance should have led to more scoring, and in the end they left the door open.

Matthew Cottrell kicked Carlton’s go-ahead goal late in the last quarter.(Getty Images: Mark Brake)

It took something pretty wild for Carlton to walk through it though. The kick that fell into Matt Cottrell’s arms was clearly touched by James Aish, and had that been the end of the story they could have rightly felt aggrieved.

There was still time on the clock though, and the Dockers had been giving them a bath in the middle all day. Jordan Clark’s snap decision to give the umpire a gobful took a tough situation and made it a hopeless one.

The Dockers are still a very good team, and this loss doesn’t change their aspirations at all. But in a season likely to be decided by the finest of margins, this could be one they look back at with regret.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Andrew Brayshaw (Dockers)

2. Jacob Weitering (Blues)

1. Jeremy Sharp (Dockers)

Bulldogs fall short but sons of guns looking good

The Western Bulldogs received a painful lesson from Geelong in their four-point loss on Saturday night — but there were plenty of positive signs despite the defeat.

The great thing from a Bulldogs perspective was that while some of the old familiar names were keeping them in the game (hello Bont and Libba) — there were other, familiar names being called in the key moments.

Rhylee West (two goals and two goal assists) was already Generation Now rather than Generation Next at the Bulldogs, but to see Sam Darcy standing up to the Cats on Saturday night was a thing to behold.

Sam Darcy kicked three goals for the Bulldogs, keeping his side in the contest against the Cats.(Getty Images: AFL Photos/ Michael Willson)

Three goals, five score involvements, three strong marks, and six contested possessions in game number 10. The potential is real, the excitement is only likely to grow.

The Bulldogs were close to taking a big scalp this week, and if they can get past the Bombers and Saints in the next fortnight, they will give their season a timely boost.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Jeremy Cameron (Cats)

2. Marcus Bontempelli (Bulldogs)

1. Tom Liberatore (Bulldogs)

Toby time teaches Suns a lesson

It’s a surprise it has taken this long in 2024 for Toby Greene to have a Toby Greene day, but Gold Coast would have been left wishing he could have waited one more week.

The Suns were very good against the Giants, at times owning the midfield battle and relishing in the emergence of some young defenders, most notably Mac Andrew.

But there were two things they just couldn’t overcome. The first was the lift in performance from the GWS midfield in the last quarter, which reached a level that very few teams will be able to match.

The other was Toby, who was a constant attacking threat and provided the Giants a clinical edge the Suns couldn’t match. Greene had 11 score involvements, five of them his own goals, in a match-winning performance.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Stephen Coniglio (GWS)

2. Toby Greene (GWS)

1. Jesse Hogan (GWS)

Did Ross just tear the paint off the Norwood Oval walls?

We got pretty excited about St Kilda after their win over Collingwood a couple of weeks ago, and hadn’t entirely jumped off the bandwagon in the wake of the Essendon defeat last week.

The first half against Richmond was a real test of that faith, though. The Saints were dire up until half-time, and were about 30 seconds away from a goalless half.

One can only imagine what Ross Lyon got up to during the half-time break, but as you might have imagined, it worked. The Saints rediscovered the physical edge and brave ball use that was their trademark in the season’s opening rounds, and took over the game.

At times it looked like the Saints would bust the game open completely, and it’s to Richmond’s great credit that that didn’t happen. The pressure and pace of the Tigers forced the Saints to dig out the best version of themselves, just in the nick of time.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Jack Steele (Saints)

2. Shai Bolton (Tigers)

1. Jack Sinclair (Saints)

Hardwick’s haul nearly swings it for the Hawks

It was Sam Mitchell’s ace in the pack, but when he decided to play it for all money it seemed like it was coming too late.

Blake Hardwick had spent most of preseason training as a forward, but when the Hawks coughed up their first run of goals in round one that plan was swiftly abandoned, and he took up his usual position as defensive destroyer.

Blake Hardwick kicked four goals in the second half after being swung forward.(Getty Images: Michael Willson)

But down 38 to the Pies, Mitchell figured he may as well get silly. And it very nearly won Hawthorn the game.

Hardwick looks a completely natural forward, with the instincts honed during his junior footy days clearly still in him. Hardwick provided the spark while Jai Newcombe did the dirty work, combining for one hell of a Hawthorn comeback.

They didn’t quite get there, of course, with Collingwood’s concerns patched over somewhat by a second consecutive win. But for a Hawthorn team searching for little seeds that could blossom into something greater, Mitchell’s Hardwick gamble gives serious food for thought.

ABC player of the year votes:

3. Jordan De Goey (Magpies)

2. Karl Amon (Hawks)

1. Blake Hardwick (Hawks)