Essendon lined up against Fremantle in what one might call a do or die game. Sitting at 13th and 8th respectively going into the game, each team was eager to pick up a win and better sure up their spot in what will be a very tight top eight come season’s end.
Both teams had lost their previous two games and this game stood as a litmus test to their overall season, which already sits on the edge of knife. A win here and the team gains some confidence and momentum leading towards the mid-season bye, a loss and suddenly they’re in the sand, heading towards another bogey season.
How the war was won
The game was played without a lot of sting or excitement. A relatively low scoring affair, it was not without its pressure, but it lacked in skill and control. Both teams were strongly relying on moving the ball quickly but not allowing their opponent the chance to do so. The last 10 minutes, though were absolutely scintillating with Fremantle piling on the last three goals of the game to bring the margin from 26 points back to seven points in the last 10 minutes of the game.
Essendon were the better side all day. Through their midfield, Dylan Shiel went at 90% efficiency, and Zach Merrett was everywhere with 35 touches including 13 contested. They clearly won the inside ball and were clean and fast on the outside. Fremantle’s pressure and quality defence was probably the only thing that stopped them kicking a big score.
Jake Stringer played one of his better games. He’s a hot and cold type player, but at times he ran with Fyfe and although they spent little time close to each other, he was able to create from clearances and forward of centre. Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti was almost best on ground- not in terms of pure numbers, but when he did get the ball, scores were created, and the entire Fremantle side felt the pressure whenever he was near the ball. His first two kicks of the game started and ended a string of play and ended with a goal to him, which kicked off the scoring to the Dons and lifted their confidence after not being able to score for the first 15 minutes of the first quarter. It was a confidence they fed off all night.
The Bombers were faster and stronger, they won the contested possession game and controlled the ball on the outside. They were efficient inside 50 having a shot from every second entry, which allowed them to get on top on the scoreboard despite losing the inside 50 count 50-56.
Fremantle on the other hand were scrappy and were once again awful inside their forward 50. The moment that best exemplified their last quarter was a beautiful passage of play which ended in a mark to Brennan Cox, about 40 metres out. Cox, who’s easily able to kick it 40 then tries a dinky 15m pass, which ends in a turn over and a shot on goal at the other end. It is a pattern that has plagued Fremantle all season. Their lack of confidence on goal is their own worst enemy, and it is largely what killed them tonight.
The Dockers’ third quarter was all but a carbon copy of last week’s third quarter where they scored behind after behind while the opposition piled on goals at the other end. They had five shots on goal to score 0.3 until some class from Mundy broke the drought. But to Freo’s credit, they never allowed themselves to be out of the game completely, and some momentum (and a couple of dodgy umpiring decisions) allowed them to close the margin.
The good players (in no particular order)
Hurley was terrific down back with 23 disposals. He cut off thrust after thrust and Essendon dominated out of their back line from the supply he offered them.
Merrett was a clear best on ground. He ran amok with 35 touches, 13 of which were contested. His ball use was instrumental to setting up the team inside 50.
One of my favourites. I can never get upset watching him at his best, even if it is against my mob. His three goals came from only ten disposals and he has that Rioli-type ability to influence a game despite few disposals. Defenders panic when he’s around and it was no different tonight.
Heppell was immense in the middle with eight clearances to go with his 27 touches. The Essendon Captain led from the front and destroyed the dockers with his in and under game. Only Mundy and Fyfe had more clearances than him with nine.
The hot and cold Stringer got to share his time between playing on his old teammate in Hamling and Nat Fyfe. On a bad day, both those opponents would tear him to shreds, but tonight the Package was at his absolute best. Although Fyfe had him for clearances in total, Stringer ended up with four himself and was able to break free from those clearances with pace. Up forward, the Fremantle defenders had few answers for him and while he only ended up with 1.1, his eight inside 50s set up his team mates beautifully.
If Freo had won this game, it would have been back on the superb individual performance from David Mundy. He has been one of the more classy players over his 300 game career, and tonight was no different. When the game was on the line, he was the one who stood up. A classy goal in the third quarter brought them back within touch, and his nine clearances kept Fremantle in touch around the contest.
Shiel as been criticised from all areas of the footy community for his poor execution. Tonight was the answer to those critics, his 25 touches went at an impressive 90% efficiency. He was clean and composed and his two goals early in the last quarter put a bridge too far for Freo on the scoreboard.
The Bad Players
Cox came in to replace Cam McCarthy who had a lean run of form since starting the season so well, but tonight’s performance was worse than anything McCarthy has dished up at the club. He only had five touches for the night and was often out of position when the ball came near him. He had one redeeming chance to score a goal late in the game, but elected to pass the ball short, butchered the kick and it ended up with Stringer at the other end of the ground. Cox has talent, but he needs to be able to impose himself more on a contest to keep his spot in the side.
Hogan is very much a confidence player. He has had a pretty lean run of form since donning the purple jumper, which is somewhat forgivable given he’s come off a pretty long injury, only had half a pre-season and is in a new environment. Still he needs to be better in front of goal, and with the ball in general. His 11 touches only went at 53% which is not nearly good enough for a player who’s often delivering the ball inside 50. He ended up with 1.4, which means he’s getting the ball enough in the right areas, but he needs to start kicking straight.
Daniher apparently was learning from Hogan’s goal kicking. He was very close to imposing himself on the game, and for the most part got the better of his opponent in Pearce. But his goal kicking boots weren’t on tonight, and he ended up with four behinds.
The injury room
Hamling came off early with a bad cut to the head but was strapped up and sent back on.
Stringer appears to have injured his right knee in the final quarter. Went off for treatment, but came back onto the field.
Walters got a high bump to the head shortly after a centre bounce, from an Essendon player who overran the ball, in the second quarter. I couldn’t catch the Essendon’s player’s name unfortunately, but it will likely be looked at. Not much in it, though.
The Essendon fans love a good boo, and I could completely understand it. I had no idea what the umpires were on about all night. They seem to ignore obvious free kicks and pluck out ones that are very 50/50. Fortunately it was terrible both ways, though Freo were given a few late dodgy frees in front of goal which, well, left me pretty bemused. It’s time that umpiring became a full-time profession where they can look more closely at the decision they’re making.
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