Two wins in the row for the Blues as they dodged a last gasp set shot by Jacob Townsend.

In a scrappy game, that wasn’t exactly the kind of contest you’d showcase to highlight the great skills of our game, Carlton overcame a rare quieter game from Patrick Cripps and got some fantastic contributions from a few of their lesser lights to overcome a two goal deficit and record another win.

The Bombers looked tired in the last quarter, but a gifted 50 metre penalty to Adam Saad gave them one last gasp. Sadly for Jacob Townsend, those tired legs didn’t have the distance in them, and his kick fell about a metre short.

Here’s The Mongrels, good, bad and ugly.

 

THE GOOD

 

THE CASBOULT

What has happened here? Remember the days when you’d hear the name of Casboult and you’d wait for the mocking laughter?

Pepperidge Farm remembers, but those guys at Pepperidge Farm will also now be remembering a bloke that is becoming more of a threat in the air than he’s ever been.

Three contested marks in this game, in the absence of both Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay gave Carlton a solid target deep in attack, and when he wasn’t clunking the marks, he was having a red hot go at them.

Casboult finished with three goals straight (but he did have two complete misses including an out on the full) to be the most effective forward on the ground. Wow, there was a stage I never thought I’d be typing that – you’ve got to hand it to the big fella; he has put the work in to improve his game, and it is now paying dividends.

 

DAVID CUNINGHAM

I was waiting for him to fade out of the game. Yep, I was genuinely thinking that David Cuningham, who annoyingly spells his name with just one ‘N’ would slot into a forward pocket and that’d be the last we saw of him.

Whilst he did have a lot less than his blistering 19 first half possessions, Cuningham was obviously riding high, and went on to better his career-high, with 28 touches for the night.

Working hard up to half back, the 23 year old won the footy and took off back toward goal, gaining 510 metres for the team in the process.

His was not a name I expected to be writing about tonight. We had a host of players in this game that could take it by the scruff of the neck and shake the life out of it – Cripps, Shiel, Stringer, Docherty, Weitering, Merrett… but here we are talking about how bloody good Cuningham was.

Was he best on ground? He was in the first half, but a slower second may have dragged him back to the pack a little. Still, his run and carry was incredibly important for the Blues, and with 29 games now under his belt, there is plenty of good things to come from him.

 

 A FEW MINUTES OF MURPHY MAGIC

I have to come clean here – I have always had a little bit of disrespect for Marc Murphy. I’ve always felt that he was the sort of captain that I would have a hard time following; not one whose example would inspire me greatly.

Yes, I am aware he isn’t the captain and hasn’t been for a while now, but tonight he showed some genuine leadership in the fourth quarter, and when the ball was there to be won, he went hard, won it and used it well. In five minutes of play, he was able to help the Blues pull back the two goal margin the Bombers had built and gave his team a sniff.

And man, the Blues started breathing in the belief with Murphy attacking the contest like I haven’t seen since he got banged up by Luke Hodge all those years ago.

He spotted Jack Martin inside to set him up for a goal, attacked a contest on the boundary with Aaron Francis with a ferocity I haven’t really seen in a long while from him, and then retrieved the footy for another inside 50 delivery to Big Levi for another goal.

Two direct goal assists and one ripping contest against a bigger bloke in the space of a couple of minutes – Marc Murphy, if I was wearing a hat I would tip it in your direction. Well played, sir.

 

A GREAT RUN WITH ROLE FROM LANGFORD

How many people have been able to stop Patrick Cripps over the last couple of seasons?

Matt de Boer did it once. Young Dylan Clarke from the Bombers did it last year, too (I have a theory that Cripps had kind of checked out of the Bolton era at that stage and just couldn’t bring himself to kill himself for a coach on death row. That, in turn, hastened the axing of Bolton).

But outside those two, it has been pretty slim pickings, hasn’t it? That’s why the efforts of Kyle Langford were so good in this game.

Cripps still managed 20 touches, but Langford was able to body him and pressure him so well around stoppages that the Carlton co-captain was restricted to just seven contested touches. Hell, sometimes he gets that in a quarter!

He also restricted Cripps to just three clearances, whilst matching that number himself.

Langford often cops a little bit from Bombers supporters. He is one of those players who shows a bit here and there and then undoes that good work by showing nothing in the next game. Against a big-bodied mid, Langford was able to match it for strength and endurance. Worsfold and Rutten should be looking at him as a viable option now whenever Essendon find themselves matched up against Ben Cunnington, Nat Fyfe, Josh P Kennedy or maybe even a young man named Matt Rowell.

 

WALSH’S BEST GAME OF 2020

There have been a few people jumping off Sam Walsh this season. Not because they dislike him or don’t rate him, but because a couple of other kids have been playing pretty well over the first few rounds.

Bailey Smith and Connor Rozee will always be compared to Sam Walsh. All taken high in the 2018 draft, they will all develop into top-tier players in this game, but early on, Smith jumped out of the box this season, and Rozee did some wonderful things as well. Walsh had been a little quieter.

He rectified that tonight.

With 24 touches, Walsh worked tirelessly up and down the ground. Playing primarily on the wing, he was able to use that huge tank to work both ends of the ground, dropping into the hole to cut off some Essendon attacks, as well as some powerful run forward to give the Blues a chance to score.

Was it his best game? No, his best comes in the longer version of the game when he can run people into the ground. It was amazing that he was able to do that last season and I reckon he is one of the players hurt the most by the shortened version of the game.

But tonight showed he can still be very effective. Whilst his 67% efficiency remains a worry, I saw enough tonight to know that Walsh will be just fine. Blues fans, if you look over at Smith or Rozee, I don’t really blame you. I know you can’t help but have your head turned when you see something attractive… but make sure you come back to Sam Walsh. He will be a star, and if the games were running at their normal length right now, your head wouldn’t be turning at all.

 

THE GENERAL

During the week I penned an article about Sam Docherty and his wonderful return to the Carlton Football Club and to football in general. In it, I highlighted the magnitude of this comeback and how easily he has picked up where he left off in the 2017 season. He was an All-Australian that year, and after tonight he has staked his claim for the return to that role.

Docherty was brilliant, rarely putting a foot wrong as he continually positioned himself as the deepest defender and was able to impact contest after contest. Whether in the air or on the deck, his ability to win the ball and use it well was a highlight in a game that didn’t have a heap of highlights.

On the night, he ran at 91% efficiency whilst collecting a game-high 32 touches. He added nine intercept touches and eight rebound 50 disposals to his tally.

It kind of makes you wonder why nobody bothered to man-up on him, right? I mean, surely Essendon could see what was happening? Surely the thousands of people screaming at their TV for someone to pick him up weren’t the only ones to realise he was having a party back there? Maybe… oh, I don’t know, a couple of Essendon coaches may have noticed it?

And we’ll get to them in a little bit. It’ll be in the ugly section.

A Star Is Reborn

 

CURNOW TO MERRETT IN THE LAST QUARTER

Here’s one you won’t hear much about, but it was crucial to Carlton gaining the ascendancy in the last quarter. Of course, the usual suspect can pinch it for his part on the weekly footy show… one day you might even give us some credit for it. 🙂

At the start of the last quarter, after having his attention directed mostly to Dylan Shiel at that point, Ed Curnow – one of the best two-way mids in the game – turned that attention to Zach Merrett. The Essendon star started the game well on the wing (great way to avoid attention early on) and moved into the action quickly, racking up seven touches in the first. Of all the Essendon mids, he looked the most likely to cause damage.

And so it was that David Teague shuffled the names on the whiteboard and set Curnow a task – stop Merrett.

How did he go?

Well, fatigue may have played a big part in the absence of Merrett from the stats page for the last quarter, but my guess it was the efforts of Curnow that kept him to a big, fat goose egg in terms of disposals.

Yep, Essendon’s prime mover was held to donuts in the last quarter with the game on the line. He did manage one tackle, but as we celebrate the marking of Casboult, the brilliant defence of Docherty and the surprise packet that is David Cunningham, spare a thought for Ed Curnow. He was allocated one of the toughest jobs in the game – to put the brakes on someone who is looking to drop the pedal to the floor.

He did it, and did it beautifully.

Again, he will not get the credit as a match winner, but if you look at that last quarter again, he was just as important, if not more important than any other bloke on the park.

 

SAAD TIMES AND SPS

WE didn’t quite get to see the traditional Saad “chicken with its head cut off” run in this game, but this was a very solid game from the Essendon small defender.

With news leaking this week that he is a fair way off in terms of agreeing to a new contract with the Bombers, there’d be a few teams casting an eye over the way he put himself in the right positions this evening, racking up 11 intercept disposals and seven rebound 50s.

It was Saad’s long ball inside 50 in the dying seconds that gave the Bombers one last sniff, but the dream was not to be.

At the other end, Sam Petrevski-Seton matched up on another hyphenated name, but a much more difficult one to spell.

I was really impressed with the way SPS stuck to his task in keeping Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti quiet, to the point he was actually making AMT look really poor. His close attention saw the livewire moved off him up onto the ball in the last quarter, and whilst it resulted in a goal, this was not Petrevski-Seton’s fault – he had to move across to the equally ineffective Orazio Fantasia.

AMT was restricted to just four touches for the game, and though I had my doubts about SPS as a defender, he showed tonight that he is highly capable to playing a shutdown role.

I am quite sure that he will have moments where I question him back there again, but tonight he made me shut my big fat mouth, and he tore McDonald-Tipungwuti a new one in the process.

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THE BAD

 

INNOCUOUS?

Do you know I can never spell innocuous the first time? It really pisses me off.

Anyway, it’s looking more likely that Zach Merrett will have a case to answer of some sort for whacking Jack Silvagni in the ribs in the opening minutes of the game. Even now, looking at it, there doesn’t seem much in it, does there?

Silvagni looked hurt, and the whack must have got him right in the sweet spot, as to sit out the rest of the game for something that appeared… so trivial, it just makes me shake my head.

Of course, I am not judging JSoS here. I broke a couple of ribs trying to clean a bloke up once – what a mistake. Got him really good right down the front, and he actually got up before me. He was a bit of a tank, though.

So, what do we think will happen to Merrett? If Silvagni has a cracked rib, he has to get a week. It was a closed fist, and the match review officer seems to focus way more heavily on the outcome than the intent. Still, it would be hard to argue on the basis of intent as well, because it did seem like the intent of Merrett was to put Silvagni off his kick by punching him in the ribs!

I hate typing this as I think it’s soft, but he’ll get a week because it is the AFL. They don’t like when stuff looks like stuff.

 

SMALL FORWARDS – SMALL RETURNS

I touched on the performance, or lack thereof from Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti when I wrote about Sam Petrevski Seton, but the Bombers got bugger all from both of their “gun” small forwards in this game.

Add another sub-par performance to the CV of Orazio Fantasia, who managed just six touches for the game. He had just one touch inside forward 50 as he once again looked lost and disinterested at times. Sure, he conjured one remarkable kick inboard kick to Dev Smith, which led to a goal for Stringer on the three quarter time siren, but his last year and a bit has been a waste of his vast talent, and Essendon have not got value from him at all.

When two players with the combined skillset of AMT and Fantasia combine to give you ten touches, one goal and three tackles inside 50, it is nowhere near enough, and Bomber fans would have a right to be pretty pissed off about it.

 

THE UGLY

 

ARE YOU BLIND?

This has been happening for a couple of weeks now.

Are opposition coaches just not rating what Sam Docherty is doing? Is the lack of staff in the footy department causing them to miss things that are so bloody obvious to everyone else?

At half time, Docherty was doing as he pleased in the Carlton defence. He had 16 touches at 81% efficiency, six rebound 50s and six intercepts. Basically playing the loose man role, he was allowed to roam free and pick off any forward 50 entry he wanted.

Up on the coaches box, or down on the boundary, between the two of them do you think John Worsfold or Ben Rutten may have noticed this and possibly thought about doing something to… you know, stop it?

Nope.

It didn’t look like it entered their head.

Docherty continued to do as he pleased and made life miserable for the Essendon forwards. If you want to know why the Bombers couldn’t score effectively, I can point to three reasons.

One was Docherty.

Two was Worsfold.

Three was Rutten.

Put them all together and you have a monumental coaching error. They’re not the first this season to make that mistake, and they probably won’t be the last, but they are the most recent.

Memo to Brett Ratten for next week – play a defensive forward on Docherty – he will murder your hopes and dreams if you leave him alone.

 

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SOME QUESTIONS

 

WHEN WILL ANDREW MCGRATH PLAY A FULL FOUR QUARTER GAME?

He threatens and threatens, but then has a quarter where you’re watching the game and think “what’s happened to McGrath?”

It is happening less, but it’s still bloody happening. After an excellent first quarter, he was almost unseen in the second, with just two touches. He has to work harder to remain involved.

 

WHO LEADS THE NEXT GENERATION OF BOMBER MIDS?

When you look at each team, you can kind of see the heir apparent in the midfield. At Gold Coast it’s Rowell. At Hawthorn it’s Worpel. At Freo it’s… errr, well, maybe not all teams. Sadly, Essendon is in the “errr…” category as well.

Tonight we saw McGrath flash in and out, Parish with a cameo, and I’m struggling to think of anyone else. Zach Merrett is 24, so he has quite a few really good seasons left in him, but the lack of a consistent option coming through in the 20-22 age group worries me.

 

HAS MITCH MCGOVERN TURNED THE CORNER?

I’m not sure he’s turned the corner, but at least he hasn’t stalled whilst approaching the intersection this season.

As a matter of fact, his first quarter was possibly the best I’ve seen him look for the Blues. He had five of his ten touches in that quarter and slotted a nice goal from the boundary. One of these days he will have a game where he takes two marks per quarter and kicks four goals…

… but I am not holding my breath while I wait. Until then, he is still creeping up in traffic toward that intersection. At least he’s got his blinker on.

 

WHO WOULD HAVE BEEN THE PERFECT OFF-SEASON PICK UP FOR EACH TEAM?

Essendon – Cam Ellis-Yolmen. The Lions got him, and though they held him back because Chris Fagan didn’t think he was applying himself as much as he could have, he debuted last week and smashed out the lazy eight clearances. The Bombers would love that.

Carlton – Tom Papley. He is really demonstrating his worth this season. Imagine him running at the ball from deep forward or running inside 50 with the ball under his wing? The more I watch him, the more I wonder how much the Blues would be willing to give up to get him now?

 

 

OTHER BITS

I know at least one Essendon man that would be absolutely dying to get Patrick Ambrose back into this side. A couple of seasons ago the combination of Hurley and Hooker looked amazing, but right now, the word ‘slow’ leaps to mind… albeit quite slowly when I am thinking about them.

I thought Dylan Shiel really worked hard to escape the defensive attention from Ed Curnow. Not a standout game, but any time you can collect the footy with Curnow hanging around you, you’re doing well. If we were doing a poll on the best taggers, I reckon only Blues fans would have him as one of the top 2-3 in the game, but he is a seriously determined man when he is assigned a task.

Eddie Betts… nice to see him snag a goal. I am just enjoying the Eddie farewell tour this season.

I was pleasantly surprised by the game of Michael Gibbons, who up until tonight, I viewed as a player getting a game only because the Blues had very little in the way of small forwards. I’ll admit when I’m wrong most time… maybe this is one of those times.

 

And that’ll do for tonight. Second win on the trot will have the Baggers all smiles, but it was almost brought undone. Love the fact they were able to pull this one out without Cripps being a monster. They get the Saints next week in what should be a belter.

The Bombers, well they get the Pies and will want to be a lot better than they were in this one, or things could get messy real fast.

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