IT was a highly anticipated matchup that did not disappoint. Both Logan McDonald and Denver Grainger-Barras are not only considered the best young players out of Western Australia, but loom as possible top five picks who have been mainstays in their respective League sides. They have both had some impressive performances, with McDonald second in the League for goals and Grainger-Barras closing in on the top 10 for marks in the competition.
In our latest Player Focus edition, we take a look at how the leading West Australian prospects fared as McDonald’s Perth took on Grainger-Barras’ Swan Districts in Round 8 of the WAFL League. The pair did not start on each other, as Nathan Ireland was tasked with manning McDonald early, but Swan Districts would give scouts what they wanted in the second half.
McDonald: 4 kicks | 2 handballs | 6 disposals | 3 marks | 1 tackle | 1 inside 50 | 3 goals
Grainger-Barras: 12 kicks | 4 handballs | 16 disposals | 8 marks | 3 tackles | 1 inside 50
Even when McDonald and Grainger-Barras did not start on each other, a lot of their possessions in the first half where linked in some form. The first player to get involved was McDonald, who would almost take a strong grab on the wing. He dropped the mark at the last possible moment but quickly recovered, receiving a handball from good mate Nathan O’Driscoll and in-turn handballing to a teammate running past. Not too long after that, Grainger-Barras almost took an impressive mark in defence, which he began to stick eventually as he snapped up a nice intercept mark before kicking long to the wing. The ball would come back though, and making the most of it was that man McDonald. After taking a strong contested mark at the 50-metre arc, he would go back and slot a long bomb for his first goal of the game.
A few minutes later, McDonald almost took a strong contested mark inside 50, but again it spilled out on the way down. Grainger-Barras was the one to capitalise, sweeping on the loose ball, jumping over McDonald in the process, and handballing to a teammate. Grainger-Barras would have some more good moments soon after on the wing; first doing well in a one-on-one marking contest to nullify it, and a few moments later attacking the ball hard at ground level to gather and release a good handball. About a minute later, McDonald returned to the fray, using good bodywork to work his opponent under the ball. He would run onto the loose ball inside 50 but was well pressured from behind, and sent the dribble shot on a tight angle through for a behind.
A few minutes later both players would be linked again. Grainger-Barras gathered nicely in the middle but his kick out wide was poor, leading to a turnover. Not long after, he went to spoil the next aerial ball but did not kill the contest, which lead to McDonald kicking his second goal further down the ground from 15 metres out directly in front. Grainger-Barras wouldn’t make the same mistake twice, spoiling a marking contest well late in the quarter.
The links between the two players continued into the second quarter, with Grainger-Barras attacking the loose ball hard from a defensive stoppage, but being met with a strong tackle. The ball would later be kicked to the leading McDonald, with Grainger-Barras working hard to come from the side to spoil but to no avail. It was a very strong lead and mark from McDonald, who would convert from the set shot nicely for his third and final goal.
At around the 17-minute mark it seemed the move had been made with Grainger-Barras going to McDonald. Grainger-Barras would earn a simple possession, being closest to an out-on-the-full kick deep in defence and booting the free kick long down the line. Late in the quarter, McDonald was very unlucky not to be paid a fantastic contested mark, contesting both Grainger-Barras and impressive ruckman Corey Gault on the wing.
Everything form here on out was purely McDonald vs. Grainger-Barras, with Grainger-Barras hot on the heels of McDonald wherever he went. McDonald played centre half-forward which may have been a mistake in hindsight, for as hard as McDonald worked to give strong leads and provide a good outlet, the delivery to him was very poor and very rarely to his advantage. The first notable contest was on the wing where Grainger-Barras used good bodywork to work McDonald under the ball, gather nicely, and get a a scrappy left-foot kick forward. Not long after, Grainger-Barras took a nice intercept mark and this was the point where that side of his game would really start to shine, as he does it better than anyone else in his draft class.
Grainger-Barras is a competitor and despite his light frame, he is not afraid to go in hard not just to win his own ball, but to also tackle hard. He laid a strong tackle and a few minutes later he applied a great spoil on McDonald at half-forward – letting his opponent know about it and further adding to McDonalds growing frustration. Grainger-Barras is not afraid to stir the pot and get under his opponents’ skin, and at the earlier half time scuffle he made sure to get involved in some capacity.
The frustration wouldn’t go away for McDonald because not long after the aforementioned spoil, he again found himself outdone by Grainger-Barras, who took a very nice intercept mark going back with flight and following with a nice kick inboard. You couldn’t blame McDonald for the frustration, with plenty of kicks certainly not to his advantage, but credit also had to be given to Grainger-Barras to still show his strength as an interceptor while also manning up the most dangerous forward on the opposition.
It did not take long for Grainger-Barras to get involved with a strong tackle on the wing that should have been rewarded, but he would get a free kick later on at McDonald’s expense. He would have to be considered lucky as their was not much in it, only further adding to McDonald’s frustrating second half. Not long after, Grainger-Barras again took a strong intercept mark on the wing and would kick long inside 50 to a one-on-one. McDonald did not drop his head and still competed hard, crashing one pack hard on the wing. A couple of minutes later, he would again compete hard in a marking contest inside 50 which would allow his smaller teammates to gather the crumbs. It won’t show on the stat sheet, but McDonald certainly worked hard to not only give an option on the lead, but also compete in the contest.
Grainger-Barras was in fine intercepting form for this quarter and he would take a brilliant intercept mark close to goal, before using the ball well with a long switch kick. Apart from his error early in the game, his kicking had been sensational, especially his longer kicks as he can really get under them. About a minute afterwards, McDonald would have another nice moment inside 50. Despite not getting a stat for it, he competed well inside 50 and a timely intercept from a handball would lead to his team gathering the loose ball and kicking a goal. McDonald really proved in the the last quarter that it’s his work inside 50 that’s most generous and advantageous for Perth and his final involvement, he would make a clean gather at ground level and handpass to a teammate close to goal. McDonald has proven this year that he is not only strong in the air but also nimble and clean at ground level for a taller player, and I expect he will hold more of his marks once he puts on some more size in the future. He was beaten by Grainger-Barras in the second half but you couldn’t have asked for more from him, and kicking three goals is certainly not a bad return.
Grainger-Barras wasn’t done yet though, as he had a really good two-minute patch not long after McDonald’s last involvement. He would take a lovely contested intercept mark flying in from the side in defensive 50, and again would release a long kick out from defensive 50 down the line. He competed really well on the wing where he took on a tackler and got a handball out in what was a great act of desperation, despite the game already being won. Not long after that he would put the exclamation point on his great game, taking an awesome intercept mark going back with flight and hurting himself in the process. That was certainly enough to give him a well earned rest anyway.
There was a fear going into the game that these two young guns wouldn’t line up on each other but not only did they line up on each other, they both managed to have very good games with Grainger-Barras perhaps having his best ever game at League level. He finished with 17 disposals and eight marks while McDonald again hit the scoreboard, kicking 3.1 as he firmly looks to finish among the top three in the WAFL goalkicking charts. Fellow draft fancy, O’Driscoll also had a great game backing up his brilliant outing last week, but this game was all about two young talents going head-to-head in McDonald and Grainger-Barras. They did not disappoint.
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Featured Image: Leading WA draft prospects Denver Grainger-Barras, Logan McDonald, and Nathan O’Driscoll | Source: Michael Willson/AFL Media