There are reasons Geelong are one of the flag favourites, and there are reasons Essendon are not.

We approached this game with the Cats looking to get their game cherry-ripe heading into the last couple of weeks of the season, and a huge clash against Richmond. And we also approached it with the Bombers needing a win to salvage their season and stay in the hunt for finals.

What we got was a massacre. A footballing lesson was handed down by the Geelong Football Club in a display that ripped the heart from Essendon and their supporters. In a blistering opening half, the Cats kicked a whopping 12.3 to put the result beyond doubt, and played out the second half as they cruised to an 11-goal victory.

Geelong had winners all over the park.

Menegola owned a wing yet again, Hawkins had his way inside 50, whilst the Cats’ half back line had a party, running off their direct opponents to build a wall across the centre of the ground and hit the scoreboard.

Make no mistake – this was a systematic dismantling of a tired and seemingly over-it Essendon team, who look as though they are keen for the final siren to blow on season 2020 in order to limp off and lament another year of mediocrity.

Beware Bomber fans – there is not much in the way of positivity for you guys in this review – how could there be? I can sum up your positives really quickly – Merrett was okay and Draper tried hard. That’s about it, sadly. If you’re a masochist, read on. If not, I’ll catch you next week.

Cats fans… this one is for you.

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

 

THE GOOD

 

THE RUTHLESSNESS

An 11-goal win in a season like this is brutal. It is the kind of victory that would easily translate to a 100-point pounding in a normal season, and today we saw a team getting ready for their assault on the flag by assaulting a team of pretenders who’d had enough.

That was harsh, I know – the Bombers have been nowhere near as bad as some other teams this season, but against this Geelong outfit, they were made to look slow, weak and disinterested.

After the dreadful McDonald-Tipungwuti turnover in the infancy of this game, the Bombers looked useless. As soon as it became apparent they were “off” the Cats started circling them like sharks around live bait. The Cats attacked and refused to give the Bombers any room. In contrast, Essendon could not get near Geelong.

19 of the 22 Bombers failed to register a tackle in the first quarter. Yep, you read that correctly. Only Heppell (1), Redman (1) and Merrett (3) managed to wrap up a Cats player. In contrast, the Cats had 12 players laying a tackle.

Those who have played football know when they’re playing a team whose hearts are not in it. It’s almost as though you can sense it, and Geelong sensed it early in this one.

The game was over by quarter time, but just to make sure, the Cats rammed home six second quarter goals to lead by 59 points at the main break.

It was a display reminiscent of dominant teams of years gone by. The put the foot on the throat of Essendon and even managed a smile or two whilst doing it.

Some hunt out of necessity, but others enjoy the kill. Watch it again – the Cats enjoyed this kill. Greatly.

 

THE PRESSURE

Geelong had 70 more disposals than the Bombers, yet still managed to win the tackle count. That is either a huge positive for the Cats or a massive smack in the chops for the Bombers.

Maybe it’s both.

A lot will be made of the travel time and lack of preparation for Essendon before the game, but what happened in this one is the Cats smelled blood early and went in for the kill. Rather than fight back, the Bombers rolled over and died.

And they died under the weight of the relentless Geelong pressure in the first half.

I am a bit wrap for the player Brandan Parfitt is becoming. I thought we may see him morph into a running, goal-kicking star in 2019 but his development has taken a little longer. It has also gone in a bit of a different direction. Parfitt’s tackling this season has been incredible. With another seven to his name in this game, his average for the season is around six and a half per game.

He has not got more of the footy, but he has applied more pressure than I thought he was capable of.

Add to his effort those of Mark Blicavs, Mitch Duncan and Luke Dahlhaus and you have a group of players that look like they are more than willing to do the tough stuff to improve the team as a whole.

As we have trekked through this horror schedule of games, it is Geelong that have stood up and embraced the test with open arms. They have accepted that this is not easy and have shown they’re up for the challenge. Quick turnarounds – no probs. No complaining from the Cats – they just do what good teams do. They apply the pressure and leave the excuses up to others.

 

THE UNSUNG HEROES AT HALF FORWARD

Earlier this week I wrote about the presence of Jordan Ridley across half back for the Bombers, and how he seems to start games really well. Last week, he had eight disposals and five intercepts in the first quarter. He reads the play so well and loves to get under the guard of the opposition whilst players are still feeling the game out.

As a result, Ridley has owned a few first quarters this season.

But not today.

Between Tom Atkins and Mark O’Connor, both starting the game around the half forward line, they were able to stifle the run of Ridley and cut the Bombers’ intercept game off at the knees before it even got started.

With Ridley unable to impact kicks inside 50, and the Cats ready to swoop at ground level to create for teammates, the Bombers looked in disarray. Dahlhaus and Rohan looked dangerous. Dangerfield drifted forward and the Bombers were chasing tail right from the get-go.

In last week’s Essendon game review, I asked the question whether teams should lock down on Ridley to prevent him from having an influence. The answer was yes, but only for the first quarter as that is when he does most of his damage.

There was no damage done in this one.

Ridley finished with four intercepts for the game, way below his production of the previous round.

If you’re looking for reasons for the fast start by the Cats I am sure you’ll find plenty, but do not discount just how much some well-executed defensive forward structures can influence a game.

Hats off to blokes like O’Connor and Atkins – they make life difficult for those who sometimes make footy look easy.

 

CONTROL

It’s been quite a while since we have seen someone look so in control in the goal square as we’re seeing with Tom Hawkins right now.

Bruce McAvaney may have gone a little far when he compared him to Plugger, but such is the commanding presence of Hawkins inside the Cats’ forward half that it lends itself to making big statements.

Not only is he kicking goals; he is making those around him better and more dangerous. He picked up nine score involvements in this one – four of them goals of his own, as he continually brought teammates into the game.

Even in the last quarter, he was attempting to dish off to get Josh Jenkins on the scoreboard in his debut for the team, such is his intent to ensure this game remained about the team and not about how many Hawkins could kick.

It is a quality I have come to admire in Hawkins as he has matured as a player. He is now operating like a man who knows his own value and how he can amplify that value at team level. His work in the ruck continues to be of high quality (just two clean take aways this game… they keep allowing him to do it, so why stop?) as he controls those inside 50 stoppages, using his body and strength to get rid of whoever they choose to throw at him.

Last season, Hawkins missed the most important game of the season. He will not be making that mistake again this season. As good a team as Geelong is, Hawkins makes them so much better. With him in the team, the Cats look like the premiership frontrunner right now.

This coming Friday will teach us a hell of a lot.

 

THE KING OF THE WING

Like a WWE fan with a speech-impediment, huh?

Each week here at The Mongrel Punt, we have a wingman ranking system. It’s for members, so if you haven’t seen it, that’d be why.

However, if you have, you would know that Sam Menegola has been the standout in the position this season. It’s good that the mainstream media has caught on finally – up until about Round 10, they were still telling you Mitch Duncan was the best wingman in the game. For the record, at that point he’d played just two games on the wing all season.

So, as they spewed misinformation that Duncan was all that (he’s a good player – don’t get me wrong… he’s just not playing on the wing!) we were telling anyone who’d listen that Sam Menegola was miles ahead of anyone else in the game. Better than Gaff, better than Higgins, better than anyone!

And he was at it again in this one.

He had a blistering start, notching 18 touches in the first half with 15 of them hitting the target. His efficiency dropped off after half time to finish at 67% for the game, but when the damage was being done, Menegola was into it up to his eyeballs.

He slammed home two goals as he got involved in the party up forward and basically put the Wingman of the Year award to rest with this performance. Of course, I still have to do all the maths after the round, but with Zach Merrett avoiding the wing like it has a disease, he won’t be catching him, and it will take something special from Gaff as well.

All hail Menegola; the King of the Wing!

 

A-BEWS-ED

There is nothing worse for a forward than seeing the player you’re responsible for run forward and boot a goal.

Yes, there is – seeing him do it twice!

The Cats half backs were lining up across the centre in the second half, looking to get a bite of the cherry and hit the scoreboard. Essendon were cooked  – their little men weren’t chasing and their mids had given up the ghost. The ball wasn’t going to fly over the head of players like Bews or Tom Stewart, and they ran around with impunity.

Bews did what Stewart could not, and kicked two goals for the first time in his career.

With Snelling, McDonald-Tipungwuti and Townsend camped out inside forward 50, Bews celebrated in style with his teammates whilst whoever his direct opponent was (AMT for a while, Mosquito for a while and Snelling for a while) made sure not to go stand next to him as the ball was bounced.

It didn’t really matter- for the game Bews actually outscored all three combined, anyway.

 

THE BAD

 

THE MISTAKE

There is being unselfish and being silly. Sometimes you can be both, and in the case of Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, he was in the first quarter.

After marking less than 20 metres from goal, AMT decided that a handball to the running Irving Mosquito was the best option. However, his handball was behind the first-year player and in the ensuing scramble, Essendon managed to cock up a golden opportunity to hit the scoreboard.

Looking at the game in overall, what would that goal have meant to Essendon? Given their play for the rest of the contest, probably not much, but momentum in footy is a crazy thing. One goal early, then another from one of the set shots from Cale Hooker or James Stewart and maybe Essendon settles into the game and starts competing?

Instead, Walla more or less throws away a goal in a contest where the team kicks five for the entire afternoon and the Cats take it away.

Of course, we all understand wanting to bring the young fella into the game, but at what cost? This was a game where the Bombers needed everything to go their way. Handing back a goal when the situation should have seen AMT take responsibility and kick the goal would have had the Essendon fans dropping their heads, and/or throwing things at their TV.

And given where they’ve been for the past ten years and where they seem to be headed at the moment (nowhere) I cannot say I blame them.

 

MOZZIE…

There is not a footy fan whose heart didn’t go out to Irving Mosquito when he crumpled to the turf after a rather innocuous incident that saw him try to change direction to tackle Tom Stewart.

These non-contact moments are the sort that are the worst. This is simply someone’s body betraying them, and when you see it happen to someone like Mosquito, it kind of drains the life out of you.

I felt like this when I watched James Sicily go down a few weeks ago. Not only did it ruin the remainder of his 2020 season – it has completely smashed his 2021 season as well. It looks as though it’ll be the same for Mozzie.

From all at The Mongrel, we wish him the absolute best in his recovery.

 

THE UGLY

 

THIS TEAM DOES NOT COME AS NOT AS ADVERTISED

Have you ever bought things off the internet, and when they arrive you feel a bit ripped off?

It’s not quite as good as the listing that prompted you to hit purchase – maybe the colour is wrong, it doesn’t work quite the way you thought it would, or you are just plain unhappy with your purchase.

I reckon that’s how Essendon members must feel right now.

After their first five weeks of footy in 2020, Essendon sat at 4-1 and looked as though this could be the season they made finals and finally took a scalp. We were whacked at The Mongrel when we released our first Rolling All-Australian team and no Essendon player made the list. Bomber fans shouted from the rooftops about Saad’s efforts and how deserving Dylan Shiel was of a place in the side.

They’d been tricked into thinking the Bombers were better than they were. Essendon have been quite adept at those kinds of tricks in recent seasons.

Their wins had come over Freo, North, Sydney and Collingwood.

The Collingwood win was impressive, but with the benefit of hindsight, the other victories weren’t anything that most of the competition couldn’t do. The Bombers were flat-track bullying teams, but against more seasoned opposition, they were capitulating too easily.

After that great start, there were quite a few who bought what the Bombers were selling. I mean, a 4-1 record is hard to ignore, and they had a game in hand due to the game against Melbourne being postponed. It looked as though things could start happening for them.

However, for things to start happening, teams need to make them happen, and after selling us on their first five weeks of footy, what Essendon has delivered has been a massive disappointment.

This season, Essendon has been the AFL equivalent of an order from China that not only fell apart when you opened the package, but also caught fire and burnt half your house down. Since their 4-1 start, they have won just two more games, adding a draw against Gold Coast into the mix. Their supporters are irate, frustrated and looking for answers.

The more they look, the more they’ll find. The midfield is weak in the clinches, seasoned veterans are way off the level of play that they’re used to seeing, and their key backs move like glaciers. Their best inside players are actually suited to outside positions and there has been no movement to address this for years. They have players on the list who want out (Daniher, Fantasia and McKenna) and they’d be best to start with letting them go.

From there, look at finding an inside mid and a key back that can actually move quickly when the ball comes in.

Then we can start talking about the Bombers improving. Then we might be tempted to make another purchase of what Essendon are selling. And then we can possibly be okay with what we receive as opposed to what we thought we were purchasing.

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

HOW GOOD WAS THE DANGERFIELD V RIDLEY CONTEST?

Danger gets the win as he a) kept Ridley busy in the second half, and b) because he kicked two goals, but it was great to see a future star of the game in Ridley taking the responsibility for Dangerfield up forward.

Ridley reads the ball beautifully, but is still susceptible to a good body-on-body contest, and when it comes to overpowering an opponent, Danger is a monster. I loved Danger’s contested mark in the last quarter against Ridley, but he was far from disgraced, and as a neutral, it was great to see the current and the future go head to head.

 

WHO WINS THE CATS’ B&F?

You’d have to say Hawkins, right?

I suppose but B&F awards have the habit of coughing up surprises. Mark Blicavs is a two-time Carji Greeves Medallist and he is not out of the running for a third. He does whatever job is put in front of him week after week, and does it well.

Menegola would be right up there with Hawkins, but how about Cam Guthrie? He has been wonderful this season and has done plenty of heavy lifting for Geelong both in winning the pill and playing defensively. I reckon he’d be a great chance for a top three finish.

 

GRYAN MIERS KICKS THREE AND DOESN’T GET A MENTION?

And now he does!

He was at his destructive best, kicking three goals straight and making life very difficult for the Essendon defence. Truthfully, the Bombers’ defence looked slow because their midfield was allowing too much easy ball to come into their area, but when Miers is up and about, someone needs to have a body on him at all times.

He was up and about in this one, and no bodies were to be seen in his vicinity.

 

HOW DID JOSH JENKINS DO ON DEBUT?

Serviceable without setting the world on fire.

Playing in the ruck probably didn’t play to his strengths, but the Cats would be wise to maintain the space up forward Hawkins to work his magic. I’d like to see him get a run against the Tigers – he has a bit of a history of playing well against them. Give him a shot at them!

 

WHY CAN’T DEVON SMITH TACKLE ANYMORE?

Two seasons ago he was the best tackler in the game. Today, he registered one, to average just 3.6 for the year.

In 2018, he was averaging 8.5.

Injuries? Desire? Opportunity? A combination of all three? You tell me – I honestly don’t know.

 

And that’ll do me. What a win for the Cats, and what a set up for the game against the Tigers this Friday. They might be coming off a longer break, but the Cats have not hung onto that excuse all season – no reason to start now. Bring it on; it may be a Grand Final rehearsal!

 

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