After absorbing an early Collingwood onslaught, the Bombers moved to 3-1, powering past the Magpies with a level of desperation we had not yet seen from Essendon this season…
… and seeing it for the first time tonight was scary.
Even with winners all over the park, the Bombers looked like they may get rolled early in the last quarter, with Collingwood kicking four straight goals before Jacob Townsend stepped up, nailed Darcy Moore in a crunching tackle and converted to steady the ship.
This was an impressive outing from the Bombers, who looked lost at sea early in the piece. Their pressure, attack on the ball and the man, and refusal to allow any easy possessions gave them the space they needed to get home, and they were aided by some wonderful individual performances along the way.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
WALLA V MAYNARD
That’s two weeks in a row that Brayden Maynard has had a marquee match-up. No rest for the wicked. Tonight, he had the task of limiting the influence of Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, and whilst there has always been talk of Walla having quiet ones, one thing you can always rely on is the fact that he will hit contests hard and if you leave yourself open, he’ll make you pay.
This was an enthralling battle, with Maynard gathering plenty of the footy, but McDonald-Tipungwuti exerting the kind of physical pressure that can change games without actually touching the footy.
But he did touch the footy as well, and added a couple of goals to his name in the process.
If I was sitting in judgment of this duel, the smart thing to do would be to go with the player whose team was victorious, however I reckon this was as close to a draw as you can get. Maynard was able to find space and was damaging off half back, whilst AMT applied the kind of pressure that exemplified the way Essendon attacked the contest overall.
Last week, Toby Greene clearly had the edge on Maynard. Tonight… geez, I’d be tempted to give it to Maynard.
But I wouldn’t. To the victors go the spoils, and the physical pressure of AMT is something that may not be reflected on the stat sheet, but was definitely noticed when applying the eye-test.
THANK YOU MR HOOKER
Well, I suppose you could argue that he was only playing on Mason Cox, right?
Hooker must have thought all his Christmases had come at once when the rain started tumbling. Mason Cox has not set the world on fire in 2020, and despite getting a gig here or there on the Pat McAfee show, his efforts on-field have left a lot to be desired.
And in the rain, those efforts would prove to be relatively futile at best.
Hooker collected eight intercept possessions and added a handful of big spoils to his night as he continually read the ball better than Cox in the air and was able to zone off and help when it became apparent the Pies’ mids were losing a bit of faith in Cox’s ability to convert their hard work into a scoring opportunity.
Hooker combined well with Jordan Ridley and Michael Hurley to secure the defensive 50 and used the conditions to his advantage.
On the conditions, I watched the Bombers a couple of weeks back (I watch most games) and Hooker looked very slow in the dry conditions, but the wet weather almost dragged others back to his pace, which allowed him to really impact the contest.
Sadly for Mason Cox, he ended up with just two touches and one of them was from a mark I really didn’t think he had good enough purchase on. Mr Hooker did a number on him in this one.
THE DIFFERENCE MAKER
Jake Stringer, take a bow.
We have all loved taking a bit of a light-hearted shot at ‘The Package’ here and there over the journey, haven’t we? He’s given the footy world plenty of ammunition, but tonight the only thing you could do when assessing his game is nod and appreciate just how good he was.
Stringer had three telling goals but was instrumental in so many other ways.
His work in the centre square was excellent, and his willingness to chase and tackle, both when having a run on the ball, or deep inside 50 were a genuine highlight. With just ten touches for the game, you could be forgiven for thinking he didn’t have too much of an impact.
You’d be dead wrong.
Stringer was the most influential player on the park with the minimal touché he had . I had someone mention to me just today that footy is “not about the stats” and never has that been more apparent than in watching Stringer this evening.
He nailed tackles inside 50 (four of them) as he terrorised the Collingwood defence. It might be the best ten touch game of the season, and it was such a shame to see him hobble off in the last quarter after landing awkwardly in a marking contest.
Stringer has had a lot asked of him over the last couple of years and when combined with the pressure the media has levelled at him, you could understand him going into his shell a little.
But that’s not the Jake Stringer way. On this occasion, he welcomed the heat. He chewed up the pressure and spat it back out on the form of tackling pressure and he was the catalyst for the Essendon resurgence half way through the first quarter.
I heard a couple of people stating that Andrews Phillips was the best player on the ground in this game. I’m not quite sure I agree, but what he did do was provide a riveting contest with one of the best big men in the game.
I say “one of” because right now, Todd Goldstein is THE best big man in the game. It’s not sexy to say, but it’s true.
Anyway, the way Andrew Phillips was able to body up to Brodie Grundy meant that we had a consistent tangle or arms, legs and bodies at stoppages. If anything, the most impressive aspect of Phillips’ game was his steadfast refusal to concede against Grundy.
The Collingwood ruckman tends to wear his opponents down to the point where they capitulate, but Phillips took the bit between his teeth and fought it out. It was his great tackle on the fleeing Taylor Adams, directly after competing in the ruck, which opened the door for Dylan Shiel to kick the sealer.
Brodie Grundy is a monster, and when you look at his game, I find it hard to state that Phillips was the best on the park. Grundy was +24 in hit outs, +4 in clearances, leading the game with ten, and was +9 in disposals. When you add in that Grundy had better numbers in tackles and contested touches, I think you’ll find that Grundy is more a victim of his own high standards than a player who was beaten on the day.
Don’t get me wrong – Phillips was excellent. His 11 touches and six clearances, combined with plenty of tough stuff both in the air and on the deck made for a wonderful debut in the red and black – I just think people got a little carried away with a bloke taking it up to Grundy.
THE NEXT STEP – DYLAN SHIEL
That’s twice this season that Dylan Shiel has put his stamp on the game.
The first time came in Round One, where Shiel had the best game I’ve seen him play for the Bombers. And he backed that up tonight with the kind of game Essendon fans would love to see from him in the wet.
He was a livewire at stoppages, picking up seven clearances to lead his team, and his long, penetrating delivery inside 50 made for some very difficult times for the Collingwood defenders.
Matched up on Scott Pendlebury for large parts of the encounter, Shiel took home the chocolates, with a display of ferocity combined with the ability to know when to run and spread. His tackling was wonderful and the goal he kicked to secure the win for the Bombers is the thing that has seemingly been missing from his repertoire forever.
If Shiel can slot a goal two out of every three games, he becomes the kind of midfielder that can tear games apart. He’s almost there… and he was damn close to best on ground in this encounter.
HAMMING IT UP
When the heat was on, I was really impressed with the way Brayden Ham stepped up to the plate. Occupying the wing, Ham was instrumental in gaining valuable metreage for the Bombers in the last quarter. And it seems as though the opposition didn’t do their homework on him, consistently falling for his feints to go right, only for him to curl back onto his left foot at every opportunity.
Ham took a few hits in order to benefit his team, and if was his efforts, and those of Will Snelling in the last quarter that aided the Bombers in steering the ship home.
He still looks like a string gust of wind could blow him away, but if he is going to run his guts out like he did this evening, you could see him filling the kind of role for the Bombers that the team requires. They have a fair few one-speed mids, but with Ham on the outside becoming a 70-metre player, the Bombers may have really found one here.
What have the Bombers found here?
Watching the replay back as I write, I am not sure I have seen him cleanly beaten at all (I haven’t seen the whole game on replay yet… but from first viewing I can’t recall an instance).
Rarely wastes it, and at just 21 years old has a long career ahead of him. He could become an anchor in that Essendon backline over the next couple of seasons and as he fills out, I wonder whether he has the capacity to hold down a key position?
He’s 195 centimetres tall, and reads the ball really well in flight – I reckon we’ll see him as a regular member of this Bomber back six for the remainder of the season, and he might even keep a handy player or two out of the side if he continues to perform like this.
We cannot get this right, can we?
Look, to me it seemed as though it was a possibility that the ball was going to hit the post on the long bomb from Jordan de Goey in the third quarter. The Pies were being starved of a goal at that point and de Goey looked to have broken the drought.
However, the umpire was positioned up against the post and the ball bounced at a strange angle, hitting the man in… green, was it? Yellow? I can’t remember details. I was always under the impression that when the ball hit the goal umpire it was considered over the line, but then again I may not have any idea what I’m talking about.
It was referred to the score review and the decision came back really quickly.
It was the exact opposite of the decision I expected, and the Collingwood goal drought continued as a result.
How would a goal right then have changed the game? Would this have given Collingwood the momentum earlier? Would it have lit a fire in the belly of de Goey?
I guess we’ll never know, but what we do know is that this system is weird at the best of times, and untrustworthy at others.
It has caused as many issues as it has solved, sadly.
VARCOE HALF-ARSES IT
Late in the second quarter we had a situation that you encounter multiple times per game. A bit of a miskick opens up the opportunity for a defender to run back and spoil the marking attempt of a forward.
In this case the forward was Jake Stringer, forced to move toward the footy after a poor kick inside 50 from Jayden Laverde. The defender was Travis Varcoe, back into the side for his first game of the year. It may be his last for a while.
Varcoe tracked the ball back and though nobody likes to be in the situation where you have to go back with the flight, players do it regularly. It is part of their job – courage in doing that is inherent in the role. Varcoe did go back, but seemed to trail off a little, and whilst a full-chested attack on the contest may well have resulted in a free kick, what it wouldn’t have resulted in was a mark to Stringer.
Varcoe stretched out his arms and failed to impact the contest. Stringer took the mark, turned around and goaled.
You may think I am being harsh – I am not out there running around and putting my body on the line so I will leave it to someone who never failed to put his body on the line to describe it for you.
“Trav Varcoe; he wouldn’t want too many more contests like he had late in that second quarter, either where he didn’t commit himself wholly and solely to the contest. He won’t be playing much footy in the back and white, that’s for sure.” – Jonathan Brown.
DANGEROUS GOD DAMN TACKLES
How many times are we going to allow this amateur hour guesswork have a huge say in the result of games? How many times are we going to sit back and allow an umpire to pull a free kick out of his backside based not on what he saw, but on what he thinks might happen if he doesn’t blow the whistle? as in, he’ll get in trouble for allowing a dangerous tackle.
I understand the trepidation, but this was not a dangerous tackle. This was just a shitty, panicked decision.
In the last quarter, Will Snelling laid a good, hard tackle on Callum Brown in the Collingwood forward line. There was no slinging, no second action… just a good tackle that should have been rewarded with a free kick for holding the ball, or at worst, a stoppage.
But the umpire had other ideas, and somehow managed to pluck a free kick for a dangerous tackle out of… somewhere. But where? What prompted it? Brown’s head was nowhere near the ground and I reckon I was putting my three year old daughter in more danger of a head injury when I tackled her off the edge of the couch this afternoon.
Please don’t call child protection.
Seriously though, these kinds of guesses paint the league as some backwood competition that does not take itself seriously (unless of course it wants to tell you what you should think on social issues… in that case they’re not backwoods at all). There is no way Will Snelling should have had a free kick paid against him. The decision was made at a point in the game where the Pies were desperately trying to peg the Bombers back. It gifted them a goal and drew them close enough to strike.
All is well that ends well, I know, but can you imagine the uproar had the Pies got over the Dons by a point or two? Essendon fans would have hit the roof, and I could not blame them if they did.
As it stands, the AFL got out of jail on this one and a guess by the umpire didn’t end up having an influence on the game. It was very lucky that it didn’t, particularly after the toilet water-bad state of the umpiring on Anzac Day last year. People would start to think something was up…
MASON COX SELECTION
Probably don’t have to say too much here, do I?
I don’t think he should have been picked to play in this game. Conditions not playing to his strengths at all. This was a selection failure and as much as people will want to whack Cox (tee hee) more responsibility should fall on the shoulders of selectors for this error.
WHAT IS THE ANSWER TO THE STEELE SIDEBOTTOM QUESTION?
Long term, I reckon it might be Josh Daicos.
Whilst he will still be up and down for the next little while, he is demonstrating to ability to get out into space to create options, and also push forward to hit the scoreboard. Whilst not anywhere near Sidebottom’s level at the moment, Daicos is starting to work nicely into his role on the wing, and he has started to look really confident with the footy in hand.
HOW MUCH DO YOU LOVE JACOB TOWNSEND?
What a pick up this guy has been. He was two metres away from being the hero last week, and some of his attacks this week were almost maniacal in their rage.
I reckon Jacob Townsend knows this is his chance to make things good. He must have pondered whether his professional career was coming to an end following his stint with the Tigers, but right from the outset he has looked like he will be the one to provide the Bombers with the forward line mongrel they miss when AMT has a quiet one.
He’s been an excellent pick up thus far.
IS THAT THE MOST IMPRESSIVE FORWARD LINE TACKLING DISPLAY WE’VE SEEN THIS SEASON?
Look at these numbers.
Jake Stringer – seven tackles
Jacob Townsend – seven tackles
Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti – seven tackles.
They’re all forwards and they were all willing to attack the opposition and make extracting the ball from their attacking fifty borderline impossible.
These three players led the game in tackles. Not just forwards – everyone! Between them they laid 12 tackles inside 50, and when you throw Snelling into the mix, that’s 15 inside 50 tackles between four blokes.
For context, last week only one entire team had more than 15 tackles inside 50 – Brisbane as they tightened the screws on the Crows.
This was an impressive outing by the Bombers to maintain the rage and keep the ball in their vicinity.
ANY DANGER STEPHENSON MIGHT PLAY FOUR QUARTERS?
Well, at least he bobbed up and kicked a goal later in the game in this contest. Prior to that, all six of his goals had come in the first quarter.
He loves the fast start, does Stephenson, but it is always consistency that eludes the brilliant players. The disappearing act will get old pretty quickly if it continues. The Pies need four quarter performers.
WHERE IS ORAZIO FANTASIA AT?
Half back, apparently.
He’s a weird one, Orazio. Has looked ultra-dangerous up forward in the past but played most of the game down back tonight… to mixed results.
Finished with just nine touches and was a non-factor, but I wonder where his head at, and I have for a while. Last season was a shit show for him and I was hopeful that he would step up and have a big season in 2020. I’m not sure he will, and I am really not sure where he fits in with this group. Do they play him forward and hope he finds form? When he’s on, he’s brilliant, but he just doesn’t seem to be “on” very much at all lately.
I’m not sure Collingwood can play both Brown boys in the team at the same time at the moment. I don’t think they do enough between them, and though I happily concede they’ll both be good players, the Pies cannot carry both of them currently.
Time’s up for David Zaharakis. I reckon the Bombers know it, too. Nowhere near it at times.
Nice return for Matt Scharenberg, especially with the big shoes of Jeremy Howe to fill. I reckon Maynard took a lot of the responsibility Howe left behind, but Scharenberg is a solid unit, and after his injury-riddled career, he deserves a clear run at it for the remainder of the year.
Nice return for Adam Treloar, doing what Adam Treloar does and amassing disposals. I thought he wasted it a little tonight, and no, that is not the standard Treloar line the media trots out every week. I think overall his disposal has really improved – just not this evening.
Dev Smith adds some nice aggression to this Bomber team. They missed him last year. Between him, Townsend, Walla and Stringer… that’s four angry tackling blokes you have to deal with against the Bombers.
What the hell was BT talking about, mixing up Will Snelling and Brayden Ham, then calling Snelling “Snell”, and then switching to call Ham “Snell” as well. It sounds like a bloody Dr Suess rhyme! Pretty poor effort from BT – I am sure Mr and Mrs Snelling and Mr and Mrs Ham weren’t all that appreciative of BT completely cocking up their kids’ names like that.
Finally, there was one piece of commentary from Bruce during this game that I think summed up the Bombers. He called them “unrelenting” and I cannot think of a better way to describe them. There were some passages of play where the tackling just did not stop. One after the other players pinballed from one magpie to another, meaning the string of handballs out of trouble actually resulted in more trouble. It was a thing of beauty, and after a pretty ordinary coaching effort last week, I reckon the two-headed monster might be smiling tonight.
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