The GWS Giants reeled in the Bombers after coughing up a five-goal lead early in the third quarter.

A lacklustre first half had me wondering whether we were about to see the Giants slip into the same mode that saw such a chasm between their best footy and their worst in 2019, but to their credit, they turned it around to charge home and get over the Bombers by four points.

Essendon would be left scratching their heads as they let a game that was well in-hand slip away, costing them a place in the top eight and casting doubts over their finals chances.

The Giants, on the other hand, now sit in seventh with a week off upcoming. In this one they showed some true grit and fought back into a game not with finesse, but with hard work.

This was a Giants team without the sizzle after half time. They were all steak.

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

 

THE GOOD

 

THE LITTLE THING

We’ll see the highlight of Harry Himmelberg outrunning Brandon Zerk-Thatcher, kicking long out the back to the space where Jeremy Cameron outruns Aaron Francis to snag the goal that gave the Giants the lead.

And we’ll see it plenty of times. It was beautiful football, but I want to take you back and highlight a little moment that made it all possible. Yes, the run down the wing, the Giants taking the game on to grab the win was breathtaking, but none of it happens without an intelligent little tap on inside defensive 50.

And it just so happens that the little tap on came from a bloke that was the best player on the park when it mattered most.

You’ll have to excuse my shoddy video-editing skills, which in this case include recording it straight from the television, but the intelligence of Tim Taranto to simply tap the ball to advantage under pressure, rather than pick it up, be caught in a tackle and have the ball trapped in kick-started the push forward that ended with the Cameron goal.

Take a look below… I’ll even add a bit of commentary for your amusement.

If you’re the sort of person that enjoys the little things the mainstream media miss, you will have loved that. That was the bloody good footballer making a bloody good football play and I have zero doubt that Leon Cameron will be showing that to his team as an example of a player doing the right thing not for his own stats, but for the betterment of the team.

There are a lot who could learn from him.

 

TARANTULA

Whilst on the topic of Taranto, let’s touch on his game this evening.

Some will look at his disposal efficiency and disregard what he did, but after coming back from that shoulder injury incurred in Round One, he has started to find his form, and 32 touches in this game is an indication that his Best and Fairest form is not too far away.

People forget that before the Giants picked a really bad day to have a really bad day last year, Taranto was in the lead for the Gary Ayres Medal. What he brings to this team is a level of belief and self-assurance they have been missing at times this season. Down by five goals early in the third quarter, Taranto was one who put his nose to the grindstone and worked the Giants back into the contest.

His clearance work in the last quarter, and willingness to throw his body into the fray were vital in dragging his team over the line.

Future captain?

Possibly. He is just 22 years old, and given the way he has gone about his footy and the level he is capable of, the Giants could do a lot worse once Coniglio ha had his time in the job.

 

MERRETT

He was the leading disposal winner in each of the first three quarters of this game, and added five in the last, putting in the kind of effort the Bombers have needed from him this season.

Whilst the Bombers had a few bob up and take on the responsibility in the second quarter, it was Merrett’s influence that enabled them to establish a four goal lead at half time, and if we’re being honest, I was getting ready to write the GWS eulogy after seeing the way Merrett was working off the wing combination of Josh Kelly, Lachie Whitfield and Harry Perryman.

The Giants threesome got back into the swing of things in the second half, with Whitfield in particular lifting his workrate significantly, but Merrett did not fade at all, finishing the game with 33 touches as he continually got to the outside and ran the legs off the GWS mids.

Merrett had the rare combination of 5+ in both Inside 50s and Rebound 50s this game, indicative of his work ethic and willingness to play both ends.

 

THE COMEBACK

As mentioned above, I was starting to think about who on the Essendon team I was going to be writing about at half time, and when Sam Draper went forward and kicked the first goal of the third quarter, I wondered how long it would take before the wheels fell off the GWS wagon.

I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong about it.

Many have criticised the Giants over the journey for not doing the hard stuff, but this second half was all about the hard stuff. They cracked in, put their head over the footy time and time again, and actually started taking the game on.

After a first quarter where neither team looked as though they wanted to win… but both teams looked terrified they may lose, the Giants were forced to attack with vigour. Heater Shaw ran forward hard, Phil Davis had a couple of nice moments, and Brent Daniels did what he has now done plenty of times in becoming dangerous on the flank.

As the Giants tried to win it, Essendon fell into the trap of trying to save it. And you know the result when that happens… hell, I watch my team fall into that trap all the damn time. Strangely, no matter how much screaming at the TV I do, they don’t seem to listen.

This was not a spectacular comeback. It was not the Bombers against the Kangaroos in 2000, or the Miracle on Grass in Brisbane. This was a workmanlike, no bullshit comeback built on hard work and hard footy.

And really, that’s the sort of comeback you’d like to see if you’re a Giants fan. You’ve seen enough of the sizzle in the past. This was the steak.

 

WHITFIELD

Coming out of halftime, the Giants needed a list from basically everyone on the park.

For mine, it was Lachie Whitfield that gave them the most.

With 15 second-half disposals (13 of them effective), Whitfield started to work into the role of outside runner in the manner that has made him one of the best wingmen in the game when he plays there. Teaming with Josh Kelly (ten second half disposals), his link play from half back through the middle was vital to the Giants comeback.

He finished with 26 touches whilst running at 81% efficiency and in doing so, managed to curtail the influence of Zach Merrett, who was forced to start paying some defensive attention to his opponent.

Whitfield has a point to prove this season. He was hurt in last year’s finals and just days after an appendectomy, was playing in a Grand Final. He was obviously a shell of himself in that game but with the kind of grit and determination he displayed in the second half of this one, he looks like a man on a mission to right some wrongs.

 

SIGNS

Amid all the craziness of the last quarter, it would be easy to forget that the Bombers had some real positives come out of this game; the form of Sam Draper being probably the biggest.

Against a seasoned ruck bully, Draper held his own and ran hard to impact the scoreboard. He was beaten by Mumford in the hit outs on the night, but what you’re looking for are signs from the young bloke that he will be able to mix it with the big boys the more he develops and refines his craft.

I don’t know about you guys, but I have seen enough at this stage to realise that the Bombers have a keeper here. St Kilda made a run at him at one stage, from memory but the Bombers were keen to keep him, and for good reason. He hits the packs, took the ball out of the contest himself for six clearances and made himself dangerous on a couple of occasions.

As you lament what could have been this evening, perhaps all is not lost. Draper took another step – it’s been a while since the Bombers had a seriously good ruckman, but this young bloke has all the weapons to be the next one.

 

THE INTERCEPTOR

With Phil Davis hurt and playing forward, and Sam Taylor out after his nasty illness, the Giants had one bloke to look to in defence in the second half.

The markologist, Nick Haynes.

I got called out by someone the other week who said he was my love child. Haha… seriously, I don’t really know his mum. Just joking, Shelley…

But that doesn’t mean I don’t love the way he goes about it! Five of his seven intercept possessions came via marks as he towered above the Essendon forwards in the second half, taking several telling grabs to stop the Bombers in their tracks.

I’ll happily admit that he is one of my favourite players in the league, and it is hard not to like him when he is pulling down grabs like he was in this one.

 

THE BAD

 

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO…

Well, it iced the game, but the decision to award Callan Ward a free kick in the last minutes, 40 metres out from goal casts a bit of a shadow over the game. Actually, the horrible first quarter cast a shadow over the game, but this will probably be remembered a little more.

I’m not sure what else Shaun McKernan could have done. He turned his body, contested the ball and made contact with what looked to be Ward’s upper arm and shoulder.

You would not have known that by Ward’s reaction, spinning through the air like he was Shawn Michaels selling a Hulk Hogan move. It was an elaborate stage to win a free kick, and the umpire fell for it, hook, line and sinker.

When we look at this play in isolation, you have to feel for the umpires. I do. They are told to protect the head at all costs and here we have a player who is one of the toughest we’ve seen in the modern game obvious exaggerating contact to earn the free kick.

It’s such a shit spot to be in.

Would the Bombers have won if that free kick was not paid? Look, who knows, but they hadn’t been doing themselves any favours up until that point – I’m not sold they had it in them to go forward and hit the front.

Regardless, an action like that having such a huge say in the final result leaves a bit of a bitter taste in your mouth. I am a neutral supporter in this one and I didn’t like it – I reckon Bomber fans have the right to feel quite aggrieved.

 

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH…

I reckon you learn a lot about your team and its players when the scores are tight in the last quarter. Who puts the bit between their teeth and takes the game on. Who plays it safe? Who goes missing?

I’ve already spoken about a couple of the Giants that put their hand up and made a difference, but what about the Bombers? When the game was there to be won, where were their stars?

Dylan Shiel – Three touches in the last quarter. Maybe he though Matt de Boer was actually playing?

Andrew McGrath – One touch in the last quarter. Playing opposite Taranto, he was left to tackle as he was not first to the footy.

Conor McKenna – Don’t get me started on this bloke… ah screw it, I’ll do a whole section on him in a minute.

Darcy Parish – One touch in the last quarter. If he is the future of the Essendon midfield, they might want to consider reassessing.

The Bombers left too much to too few, and when you do that in a close game, you pay dearly. These four points would have seen them sitting nicely in the eight. Instead, we now sit and question whether this team will make finals at all this season, and if they do, will they have the players that will stand up when required to do so.

 

EXPERIMENT OVER

The Irish experiment, huh?

Righto Bomber fans; it is time to let Conor McKenna go home. He is not worth the time or hassle anymore.

Here’s his list of accomplishments in recent times.

Got homesick.

Dyed his hair.

Went home in the middle of the season to his brother’s wedding.

Played Gaelic football whilst overseas.

Didn’t tell the club.

Got homesick again.

Embroiled in covid-related issue that suspended the season.

Doesn’t want to be a defender.

Missed a game due to homesickness.

Gave away an idiotic 50 metre penalty after being sucked in by Heath Shaw and gave the Giants a goal that aided them in winning the game.

Also allowed Shaw to run off him to kick another goal earlier in the game.

So, the GWS leading goal kickers in this game were Jeremy Cameron, who plays full forward. And Heath Shaw, who plays deep defence, on Conor ‘Fucking’ McKenna!

Oh yes, but McKenna kicked a goal of his own, remember? How good was that! As part of the Essendon second quarter surge where he picked up three touches and two score involvements, it looked as though the most recent chapter in ‘This is Conor McKenna’s Life’ was going to be a good one.

But… well, in the other three quarters, he kind of… sucked.

He had zero touches in the entire second half as Heath Shaw led him a dance… maybe it was a jig, who knows?

Bomber fans, I know you might love what the guy has brought your club over the past few years… or the past few years prior to last season, but enough is enough. He doesn’t want to be there, is acting like a dick on the field and tonight, he cost you.

Are you going to tell me that it was Shaw’s fault? That McKenna was just retaliating? That he has a bit of a temper? So does my three year old and she is learning to control it. Maybe it’s time Conor tried it as well.

Shake hands, thank him for his service and let him go home. You’ll be better off for it.

 

THE UGLY

 

COLLAPSE

How did this happen?

Five goals up a few minutes into the third quarter, and after kicking six goals to two in the second quarter, all the momentum was with the Bombers. And then… they stopped.

They just slammed the handbrake on and ground to a complete half as the traffic coming the other way got a little more hectic.

All week I was eyeing this game off as possibly the most important of Round Ten. This was where the Bombers would either stand up, or fall down. It was to be the game we all got a glimpse as to whether Essendon (yes, Essendon with their injuries) would stand up and take a big scalp.

And they were!

They were so damn close, but when they started hitting the boundary line, started looking for stoppages in 50-50 situations instead of searching for wins, the wheels well and truly fell off.

Why do teams do this? Why go away from what got you to the dance in the first place? This was Essendon’s chance to silence many who have been harping on about how they can only beat struggling teams. Hell, even had they emerged victorious in this game, some of those people would probably state that GWS weren’t at their best, either.

But it doesn’t matter, because a Giants team that played a half of footy was good enough to shatter the confidence of a fragile Essendon team to the point they went into their shells and coughed the game up.

Not to take anything away from the Giants – I loved what they were able to accomplish, but five goal leads don’t evaporate. They either lost this game, or it was snatched away from them. In either case, it’s not good enough.

 

INNER CIRCLE MEMBERS – Round Ten Defensive Rankings

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

TIME OVER AGAIN, MCGRATH OR TARANTO?

Yes, we might get this thrown up a bit over the years.

I’ve been on the Taranto train for a while now. He was excellent last season and injury-aside, could have a huge influence on the way his GWS team head into the finals this season.

McGrath has been slower to come on that Taranto after the first year. He has had 30+ disposals on three occasions in his career. Taranto achieved that 12 times last season. I still think that McGrath could make the jump to be Essendon’s best player, but Taranto did that last year at GWS, picking up their B&F.

Gimme the Tarantula, please.

 

HOW LONG CAN HEATH SHAW PLAY FOR?

He can go around again – definitely. If the Giants don’t want him, I’ll take him at Hawthorn for a year!

I love the way he goes about it. Heater never shirks an issue and the way he crept forward for one goal, then suckered Conor McKenna into gifting him another was footy genius. He was playing chess and McKenna was still trying to open the plastic wrapping around his checkers pieces.

 

OUTSIDE MERRETT, WERE ALL OF ESSENDON’S BEST PLAYERS IN DEFENCE?

It certainly seemed so.

Hurley was good, as was Ridley. I thought Francis did an admirable job on Cameron, and Saad’s run and long kicking made the Bombers’ forward line look dangerous.

How far is Jake Stringer away? The Bombers need some real mongrel up forward to ignite them. It can’t all come from the back six.

 

WHERE IS DEV SMITH AT?

A couple of seasons ago he was like a junkyard dog. He would tear your arm off in a tackle as soon as look at you if he had half the chance and now…

… his bark seems to be a lot worse than his bite.

His Best and Fairest season was a belter. He averaged eight tackles per game that season. This year, he is sitting on four and seems to be content to chirp away at opponents when in 2018 it was his actions doing the talking.

 

WAS THAT A LIFT?

Last week I gave Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti a bit of a bake about looking disinterested and being towelled up by Brayden Answerth of Brisbane.

Well, this could be considered an improvement, I suppose. He had nine touches in this game and a goal and four tackles to the mix a well. However, when I look at what he is capable of and what he actually produces… AMT is doing nowhere near enough.

One touch in each of the first and third quarters once again indicates he goes missing for way too long at a time.

 

OTHER BITS

 

That Heath Shaw hit on Jacob Townsend in the first quarter was brutal. Good, hard footy, but brutal nonetheless. The sound it made on TV was so loud you could almost feel it (I get hamstring twinges getting off the couch so the noise of two players running into each other is almost enough to win me).

Say what you want about Shaw, but he is a solid unit – Townsend does not often stay down.

Liked what I saw from Xavier O’Halloran, particularly early in the game. Loved that BT called that he hadn’t had a touch and by my count he was just picking up his third when he said that. Classic BT.

What a horrid first quarter. Just a terrible display of negative tactics and timid gameplay. If that was the first game of footy you’d elected to watch, there would not be a second.

Lovely smack in the mouth from Sam Draper to Mummy in an early ruck contest. That’s on oldie but a goodie, pretending to swing at the ball and “accidentally” whacking the opposing ruck in the face. If you’re a big fella, it is an art worth your learning.

Interesting to watch John Worsfold handing over the reins to Ben Rutten at three quarter time and allowing the new fella to take control. I wonder what Woosha would have done differently in this one if he had his time over again.

 

And look, it’s late and I’m tired. As great as the Giants’ comeback was, the Bombers kind of blew this one as well. Next week the Giants get a week off, whilst the Bombers head into a do or die clash with the Suns. Didn’t think I’d be saying that as we head to Round 11…

 

 

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