It was a glorious night for the Brisbane Lions as they handed down a severe beating to a woeful Essendon at Metricon Stadium.
The Lions had winners all over the park as they made Essendon look like statues at points in the game, their pressure way too much for the Bombers to handle and their effort far surpassing that of their opponents.
The Lions got huge games from the usual suspects – Lachie Neale with 33 disposals and Charlie Cameron with four goals, but it was the performances of several of their lesser-known players that were the standout in this one.
For the Bombers… reality sucks, doesn’t it? After a great start to the season, recent weeks have seen them slip back to the pack and find their place in the glut of teams that look to be making up the numbers. With seven of the bottom eight disposal winners wearing red and black, there were far too many passengers on this Essendon team, and a ten goal walloping was probably about the right margin.
How good were the Lions? How poor were Essendon? Who were these unsung stars of the Lions line up and who failed miserably for the Bombers?
That’s what I’m here for.
Here’s The Mongrel’s good, bad and ugly.
THE UNSUNG HERO
Noah Answerth, take a bow, mate.
Given one of the most daunting jobs in footy – stopping a player that, on his day, is unstoppable – Answerth took the bit between the teeth and went about his role with clinical precision.
He was attentive at stoppages, would shift across to help a teammate when the situation deemed it necessary, and irrespective of what the outcome was in contests, he would never, ever get too much separation from his man.
That man was Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti.
So good was Answerth’s job on the star Bomber forward that at half time, John Worsfold had seen enough and moved Walla into the middle. It was a huge feather in the cap of Answerth, who at 20 years old, could have been torn up by AMT and no one would have batted an eyelid. The fact that he was able not only to beat him, but to hold him without a touch for the first half is testament to just how good Answerth could be.
And it is testament to the wealth of developing riches the Lions are developing.
Listening to Luke Hodge on special comments, it was interesting to hear him speak of the Lions talent and the jockeying for position for the role Answerth occupied this evening. Whatever strings Chris Fagan pulled, they were the right ones as Answerth was obviously the right man for the job.
He finished with 17 disposals and delighted in running off McDonald-Tipungwuti to gather 417 metres for the Lions in a dominant display in defensive 50. Well supported by his bigs, he did the job that was required of him tonight, and did it so well that the Essendon coach could bear to watch him do it for another half.
Well done, Noah – you’ve more than earned your place in this team.
THE OTHER BACKMAN
It is intelligent to try to avoid the influence of Harris Andrews in defence, but so often this season when teams have attempted to bypass the influence of the reigning All-Australian full back, they have been surprised by Darcy Gardiner.
Well, tonight a third man bobbed up and made a huge difference, and it was his work inside defensive 50 that allowed Andrews and Gardiner to concentrate on their direct opponents.
That man was Alex Witherden.
It was just a few years ago that Witherden emerged onto the AFL scene and huge things were predicted for him. Running around the Lions half back line, he averaged 23.5 touches in his rookie season and looked to be the next Grant Birchall-type player back there.
In 2018-19 he seemed to be the player who suffered most with the recruitment of Luke Hodge to the Lions. Whilst previously, Witherden may have been the one to set up off half back and use his kicking skills to get the Lions out of danger, that role kind of moved to Hodge – at least for some of the time. As a result, in 2019, Witherden was averaging under 19 touches per game.
But maybe it was what he was learning that made the dip in production worth it?
After Hodge announced his retirement, I can remember speculating that Witherden will need to step into that “quarterback” role across defensive 50, making good decisions and zoning off when necessary to help his teammates. Man… did he ever deliver today!
He had 25 touches of the footy and ran at 85% efficiency for the night, and drove the Lions outside 50 on seven occasions. They’re numbers that Hodge would have envied.
I remember hearing Chris Fagan talk about Witherden not wanting to be at Brisbane when Fagan arrived but he has now embraced this team, embraced his role, and embraced the opportunity that sit before this side.
Witherden was enormous in this game, and if teams start to focus on keeping the ball from Andrews, then they’d better start factoring in the presence of Witherden as well. At 21, he has a lot of improvement left in him, and that should be enough to scare those in and around the league after tonight’s performance.
THE LINC MAN
One role that I didn’t hear at all spoken about on commentary (too busy with important topics, I’m guess) was the role of Lincoln McCarthy playing defensive forward and limiting the run and carry of Adam Saad.
Saad has been one of Essendon’s best players in 2020, and allowing him the space to run from defence almost always spells trouble. He is lightning quick and covers a heap of territory, often kicking long to a forward 50 and exposing a defence that is not yet set up.
McCarthy’s role in subduing Saad was always going to be pivotal, and he got off to the right start by slotting a goal early in the piece to force the Essendon running man to pay some respect to him. He could have had two, but for a trickle of blood that sent him to the bench and saw Dayne Zorko miss in his place.
Without Conor McKenna, and with Saad heavily occupied with the dangerous McCarthy, the run and carry from Essendon’s defensive 50 was shut down, further forcing them into a stagnant, kick-down-the-line gameplan which was right out of every poor team’s playbook.
McCarthy was by no means dominant, but really, he didn’t have to be. All he had to do was ensure that Saad never got those roadrunner legs going.
Saad had 11 touches for the game and was completely ineffective. McCarthy ended up with 14 touches and six tackles in a wonderful, sacrificial display of team-first footy.
I loved what I saw from Jarrod Berry in this one. I watched him quite a bit last season as he shadowed some of the best midfielders in the game at times, learning their tricks, their running patterns and educating himself as to how hard they work.
It has held him in good stead.
Whilst he didn’t rack up Lachie Neale numbers or anything, some of his clean disposals and good decision making led directly to Brisbane goals. Three times, actually. That’s how many direct goal assists he had on the night amid his seven score involvements.
Berry strikes me as a bit of a glue-guy at the Lions. By that I mean he has the kind of game that complements the others around him. He is a great tackler, can inside or outside depending on where the need is, and has a really good sense as to when he should give the ball off and when he should hold it for another moment or two to draw a defender.
With blokes like Neale, Lyons and Zorko in the middle, there is no need for Berry to be a star, but he is picking up more strings to his bow every time I see him and I have little doubt that if the Lions contend this season, Berry’s role in the finals will be vital.
NO RUN? NO CHANCE
So, who are Essendon’s prime movers?
Dylan Shiel? Andy McGrath? Adam Saad? Zach Merrett?
How many of them had good games?
You could throw McGrath’s name out there as I reckon he really battled hard, but so many of his touches came under immense pressure, as evidenced by his 14 handballs and six clearances. Credit to him – he was in and under getting the ball moving, but once he farmed it out, the run just stopped.
The Lions were so diligent in their defensive structures that the Bombers just had nowhere to go. Their build-ups were meticulous, yet completely non-productive, leading to just five marks inside 50 for the game. By the time the Bombers were able to organise themselves, Brisbane were able to flood back into defence and bring the footy to ground with ease.
You have to credit a couple of guys playing accountable football for this. Hugh McCluggage and Mitch Robinson both refused to be drawn to the contest on their respective wings, which meant their direct opponents (often Zach Merrett) were forced to hedge their bets and stay within the proximity of their man. This left the Bombers without loose run and carry players whenever they were looking to get the ball to the outside.
Guys like Tom Cutler and the emerging Brayden Ham could have used their run and carry to hurt the Lions, but the hard defensive work of the Lions mentioned, as well as that Zac Bailey completely negated any run the Bombers were trying to provide.
A tip of the hat to Chris Fagan for that one. They strangled the life out of the running Bombers and slowed them to a snail’s pace.
ANOTHER STEP TOWARD CHARLIE?
Personally, I’d love to see Witherden or Answerth get the votes in this game, but we all know the Brownlow is a midfielder’s award, and with 33 touches again this evening to go along with 14 contested touches, the work of Lachie Neale will no doubt be at the forefront of the umpires’ minds as they cast their votes for this evening.
Neale gave his opponent for the evening, Will Snelling a lesson in work ethic in the first quarter as he ran as hard forward as I’ve seen a midfielder in recent years. He kicked an early goal and slotted a second later in the game, but his first five minutes of the game was an absolute lesson in what it takes to be an elite mid in the modern game.
I will not be surprised when Gil McLachlan reads out “L Neale… three votes” for this game, but I will be a little disappointed for the blokes I mentioned earlier. They were huge as well. Neale is always great – I just like a little love for the other blokes now and again.
Do you know what I am talking about?
It was that tackle from Cam Ellis-Yolmen on Dylan Shiel.
Any wrestling fans here? If so, do you remember Ron Simmons? He was WCW’s first black world heavyweight champion all the way back in about 1991 and he had this finishing move called the ‘Spinebuster’. Yeah, he had others, but I liked this one the best because he would throw blokes down to the canvas like they were yesterday’s garbage.
Not that I think Dylan Shiel is yesterday’s garbage… I just like stealing lines from the great Gorilla Monsoon. Check out Simmons’ spinebuster below, and then CEY’s tackle on Shiel, complete with Jim Ross on commentary. CEY video credit goes to @ethanmeldrum_ on Twitter. Cheers mate.
THE ESSENDON DEMONS?
So, I watched the Port Adelaide v Melbourne game on Thursday night because… you know, I love footy. And the similarities between the way Melbourne and Essendon played were striking.
Long, slow kicks down the line to a contest they were never going to win – a stoppage if they were lucky, a quick kick forward and a turnover. That about sums up the gameplan of both Essendon and Melbourne this weekend.
The Dees were roasted in the media all day today. Players were scathing of their team’s performance and lamented not being more adventurous with the ball. Do you think the Bombers were listening?
Essendon came out in this game and flat out refused to do anything even remotely risky with the footy. They played timid, scared football, opting for safety each and every time, as though they were trying to protect a six goal deficit. Because that’s where they were at.
They gave themselves no chance to work back into the game and every time they got possession, they played right into the hands of the stingy Lions who had to be sitting back and wondering how they’d got this lucky.
We’ve seen three really poor performances this round so far. The Western Bulldogs, Melbourne and now Essendon, and they all have one thing in common – a shitty, kick down the line gameplan that rarely gets anyone anywhere.
Time to mix it up, show some dare and take the game on.
You know what? I think Antony McDonald-Tipungwuti gets a bit of a free ride in terms of criticism.
On Wednesday night, we had the spotlight shining brightly on a bloke named Billy Gowers. He had the first half from hell, making mistakes and basically unable to get into the play at all for the Western Bulldogs.
Following his admittedly atrocious first half, he was moved into the middle where he was able to find a bit of the footy and had what was really some “pity possessions”. He is a fringe best-22 player at best, yet endured the attention one would usually reserve for a star player.
It will be interesting to see whether the same attention I given to McDonald-Tipungwuti’s insipid first half performance after this game.
You see, unlike Gowers, AMT is an undoubted star of the game. he has done things to get his team over the line, and is capable of the brilliant.
Sadly, he is also capable of head-shakingly inept outings, and that’s what we saw tonight.
At half time, Walla’s stat line read like this – ZERO disposals and one tackle. As a pressure forward, you can understand not getting a lot of the footy, but the one tackle in the first half is concerning. We’ve all heard it before right? “Tackling is an effort stat”. It’s one of those things drilled into you by junior coaches.
So, where was the effort?
It was there in the second half when John Worsfold gave him the Billy Gowers treatment and moved him into the middle, and amazingly, McDonald-Tipungwuti responded with a similar output in terms of disposals, picking up seven touches… just like Billy Gowers.
I’ll happily concede that his tackling numbers went right up, and the pressure he applied around the footy was excellent, but then again… the game was gone by then. What good was it at that point?
If Walla struggled to get into the game so often, why not start him in the guts and then swing him forward? Get him a touch or three, make opponents look over their shoulder knowing he’s around and then have him drift down to a forward pocket once he has developed a feel for the game. Having him sit inside the forward fifty all the first half whilst never once looking threatening is both a waste of his talent, and a waste of everybody’s time.
I wonder whether Ben Waterworth at Fox Footy will pen an article on how poor McDonald-Tipungwuti was in the first half tonight, or whether we’ll get another “when Walla plays poorly, Essendon play poorly” article? Or maybe they can stop giving him a free pass when he turns in performances like this?
They wouldn’t give Billy Gowers one.
WHAT DID WE LIKE FROM THE BOMBERS?
Sam Draper showed plenty. From a first gamer, to see him position himself well, albeit against the Lions second and third choice ruckmen, would be a site for sore Essendon eyes. That hanger he took… it was lovely – I enjoyed it.
Jordan Ridley was pretty good again, and I thought Snelling fought back well against Neale for a quarter and a half after Neale got the jump on him in the first quarter. Of course, that run-with role was pretty loose and Neale got right away in the end.
HOW UNDERRATED IS JARRYD LYONS?
He is the grunt worker for Lachie Neale, and with Cam Ellis-Yolmen proving to be a very capable battering ram, it free Lyons up to do a few more things on the outside.
Lyons’ 22 touches and a goal were an excellent reward for his hard work, and the two direct goal assists capped off a pretty , pretty good night for him.
HOW GOOD IS CHRIS FAGAN?
He’s wonderful. Not just as a coach, but as a bloke, you cannot help but like him.
Basically everything he planned for worked to perfection this evening. The shutdown of Saad, the restriction of the Bombers’ run, the defensive work on McDonald-Tipungwuti… yes it’s great when they all come off, and I am sure there has been plenty of days where the best laid plans have not gone well, but it wasn’t this day.
This day, Fages had the Midas touch.
HAVE INJURIES COOKED THE BOMBERS?
Heppell, Hooker, Fantasia (who was adding nothing), Ambrose, Laverde, Stringer… the tall bloke with the moustache that doesn’t play footy anymore – the Bombers have been hit hard by injury this season, and I am sure we’ll hear all about it.
You know who else has been racked by injuries? Richmond, Fremantle, North Melbourne, Geelong and Sydney. Bomber fans, you’re not on an island here. Yes, it sucks to have players unable to get on the park, but good teams find ways to win.
And if they don’t, they’re not good teams.
IF TOM BELLCHAMBERS’ BUMP ON DYLAN SHIEL HAD CONNECTED WITH A LION INSTEAD, HOW MANY WEEKS WOULD HE GET?
That is a two week hip and shoulder. I don’t read up on the stupid classifications, but it was a bump clearly to the head and would no doubt see Bellchambers suspended had it connected with an opponent.
I reckon this footage should be used as evidence when players have inadvertent contact. Sometimes in contact sports, people run into each other. Even when they’re on the same team – you don’t need to punish them every single time.
DID THE BOMBERS GET STIFFED BY THE UMPS?
I’m sure Bomber fans will say they were. The holding the ball decision against Andrew McGrath was wrong – just dead wrong. And the holding the ball decision against Dev Smith was wrong too. If anything, that was in the back.
What a shame the Footy Show is no longer on. I could see McGrath going on as a guest and naming the umpire that called him for holding the footy. That’d work well. Expensive, but the last time it happened it stirred the namer to one of the greatest moments of his career, Call him out, Andrew!
Would a more beneficial run with the umpires have changed much? Maybe a goal or two, but when you get beat by ten goals, blaming the umpires is clutching at straws. You were beaten by a better team. Move on.
Four goals to Charlie Cameron, but it was his chase down of Aaron Francis that was probably his biggest highlight. I suppose the ONLY knock on Charlie is that he hasn’t been doing the really tough things. Kicking plenty of goals – yep, but the tough things… not so much. This changes that perception.
I haven’t really said much about Harris Andrews this week, which is a rarity when it comes to Brisbane games. He did what he had to in this one. As much as I heard Wayne Carey have him in the top four, I just think he was a player doing his job well this week.
A bit of a pity Mitch Robinson didn’t get more of it in his 200th game. 15 touches ins serviceable, and you’d take the win over big stats any day, but I was really hoping he could glove a mark and slot a goal late in the game to cap his night.
That’ll do me. The Lions have a marquee game against the Tigers next week which’ll be must-watch. Charlie v Grimes… what has the little man learnt since last season?
Meanwhile the Bombers are back at Metricon to face the Giants. To say they need to win this one is an understatement. They need a big scalp and despite their up-and-down form, the Giants are still a big scalp. They may need a few troops back to get the job done, however. It’s hard to fight battles with wounded soldiers.
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