It felt like this game was over ten minutes into the first quarter.

Port Adelaide came to play and they quickly realised that the team opposite them would not be able to compete – not in a meaningful way. Port slammed on the first five goals of the game before Essendon settled somewhat to start winning their own football. At one point, it was 60 disposals to just 22… it was a contender up against a pretender, and though the Bombers would go onto have a few highlights along the way, it remained a Port Adelaide kind of game.

And that will most likely be reflected as we work through this review.

The Port trio of Zak Butters… oh, we will get to him, Ollie Wines and Dan Houston terrorised the Bombers through the first quarter as the Power set up their win with a six-goal to one blast.

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

 

 

THE GOOD

 

THE HUNTER

How can you not like Zak Butters?

If you were creating a kid (as in like a science experiment… not just forgetting to use contraception) and wanted to put together the kind of player that can do everything, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better prototype than Nutters to use.

He can win his own footy, make space at the right time, has wonderfully clean hands, and reads the game that split second before everyone else.

Plus, he has some real mongrel about him, as well. Many players have that “see ball – get ball” mentality, but Butters has something else altogether. He likes to attack the body of his opponent, and whether applying physical pressure in the form of a bump, or latching onto them like a panicked cat, he relishes the gladiatorial nature of footy. He not only has that “see ball- get ball” nature, but also has a “see man – get man” mindset when the opposition has the footy. He doesn’t just chase them, or corral them – he hunts them as though his life depends on it.

There is an old saying that states “footy is not life and death… it’s far more important than that”, and when you watch Zak Butters hit the contest, take out the body of an opponent, only to recover, find the footy and dish to a teammate, you start to get the picture of what makes this bloke tick.

My hope is that, with the return of Connor Rozee next week, we see a bit of friendly competition between them. One does something and dares the other to top it – then the other does.

It’s an exciting time to be a Port fan, and with Butter roaming Adelaide Oval, there is plenty of excitement to come for the remainder of 2021 and beyond.

 

THE BULL

Ollie Wines has taken his game to another level.

After notching 30 touches in the opener, he topped that with 38 in this one as he bullocked his way around and through the Essendon midfield.

Wines’ clearance work was excellent, not just in getting first hands on the footy (five times) but in clearing a path for others and playing a valuable link role through the middle. He also managed to get out and drop the hammer a couple of times, smelling a bit of blood in the water and running forward with intent.

Wines drove the Power inside 50 on eight occasions and picked up three direct goal assists for his trouble as he made life enjoyable for Charlie Dixon, Georgiades and even Scott Lycett.

The former captain really stood up for Port last season and looks to be ready to top that effort in 2021. They were so close to the ultimate prize last season, and with Wines rampaging through the middle this year, this team will be even harder to contain. Between him and Travis Boak, the Power have a one-two punch that is capable of landing the knockout blow even early in the contest. With 15 touches in the last quarter, Wines gave every indication that he could be in career-best shape, running out the game better than anyone else on the field.

 

ASSASSINS IN FOOTY BOOTS

You’d be pretty happy if you were a forward leading to the Port Adelaide midfield. They seem to make a concerted effort to lower the eyes and look for the best option, only bombing long to the Charlie Dixon contest when absolutely necessary.

Two blokes in particular have the ability to tear the heart out of a defensive unit in the way they use the footy. Dan Houston and Karl Amon.

These two names would be in the centre of the whiteboard if I coached against Port because their skills by foot almost render defenders redundant. What good is it running with your man to the drop of the ball if the kick is perfectly placed to his advantage?

Karl Amon has really come over over the past 12 months, whilst Houston has long been regarded as a damaging half back who can pinch hit in the middle when required. The way they worked to find space in this game should be shown to all budding outside players. They are happy to do the hard running if it means that they’ll get a little bit of clear air – that’s all they need, a little bit of clear air – to spot up a target inside 50 and hit him in stride.

Houston finished this game with three direct goal assists and a goal of his own, whilst Amon was a little more subdued, with just one goal assist and a goal to his name.

If you give either of these two any space, it’s your funeral – they are flat out killers with the footy in hand.

Once Hamish Hartlett finds his feet again (pretty rusty in the first half) and if Trent McKenzie forces his way back into this side, it gives Port a four-headed monster in terms of pinpoint kicking, and you’d have to believe that Charlie Dixon, Mitch Georgiades and Peter Ladhams will be licking their lips whenever one of these blokes is running toward the attacking 50 with a bit of space.

 

THE LONE HAND

What do you think is going through the head of Jordan Ridley as he looks around at his fellow defenders at the moment?

The Essendon defence is under siege, and though Ridley once again stood tall in the face of mounting adversity, he cannot really be buoyed by what he sees around him in support.

Aaron Francis has been afforded the luxury over the past few seasons of taking the third best forward. With Michael Hurley, Cale Hooker and Patrick Ambrose back there, he has been permitted to come along at his own pace. But that time is rapidly ending.

Francis is now having to man-up on the best forward – in this case Charlie Dixon, and but for Dixon’s poor goal kicking (which he is fast becoming notorious for), he could have had a bag kicked on him. It’s anyone’s guess when Ambrose will get back, and Hooker seems to be the only one capable of taking a mark and kicking a goal in the Essendon forward line.

Throw in names like Mason Redman, Marty Gleeson and Jayden Laverde and what you have in support of Ridley is a C-Grade defence trying to stifle A-Grade mids.

The Bombers need help down back. Whether that is the return of Jake Stringer freeing up Hooker to help out, or Brandon Zerk-Thatcher coming into the team, it is obvious that something needs to happen. Having Ridley as the only genuinely good player back there can start to make a young man’s mind wander to “what ifs…”

What if he had better support? What if another club expressed interest in him? What if the Bombers don’t improve? What if he wastes the next three years holding together this defence with sticky tape and clag?

Ridley re-signed with Essendon last season. He is with the club until the end of 2024, at least and now it is up to the team to convince their young star that there is a pathway out of this funk, and that they’ll start to show him the way sooner, rather than later.

 

THE COMBAT SOLDIER

I think Scott Lycett might be my favourite ruckman.

Sure, he looks like a character from a bad western – and not a good character; more like a henchman or something who mocks the hero.

Only in this movie, the henchman doesn’t get cut down in the hail of bullets as the hero starts to save the day. In the movie of the Power v the Bombers, the henchman wades his way through the the opposition, cutting them down as though they were nothing.

Lycett is a competitive beast. He relishes the physical nature of the ruck, and seems fine copping one if it means he can give a couple in return. He will most likely not go on to pick up Brownlow votes for taking big intercept grabs like Max Gawn, or become the eye-catching face of the club like Nic Nat, but what he will give you, week in and week out is a genuine, down and dirty contest where he is unafraid to claw his way into the contest, take the space of the opposition ruck, and club the ball his team’s way.

Lycett gave the young Bomber ruck, Sam Draper, a belting in this one. The young fella has garnered a reputation of loving the contest and seeking body contact, but against Lycett, he was simply too easily beaten. Around the ground, Lycett notched 21 touches and became an important link in the Power chain.

If I see this bloke on the street and he is not wearing a black cowboy hat, isn’t chewing tobacco and doesn’t call someone partner, I am going to be bitterly disappointed.

 

 

THE BAD

 

VANISHING ACT

For quite a while, people have been critical of the Essendon midfield setup.

They show glimpses and amongst them you will find some games where one of the unusual suspects bobs up and has a big game. We expect good numbers from Dylan Shiel and Zach Merrett – that’s what they do, but expectations for the others vary from week to week.

And then there are the weeks that none of those unusual suspects step to the fore, leaving a huge void in the Bomber midfield, and leaving their onball division seeming disjointed and broken.

At half time of this game, Andrew McGrath – the great hope of the Bombers to lead them into their next era, had done bugger all. A couple of late touches in the second quarter elevated his disposal count to seven for the half. I reckon that number flattered the way he played.

There have been questions around Darcy Parish for years. Is he a midfielder?  Half forward? A nowhere man? It seemed like he was a nowhere man in this one, because if you were asking me where I thought his best position was in this game, that would be the answer you’d get – nowhere.

Parish made McGrath look like a veritable ball-magnet, picking up just two disposals in the entire first half, more or less wasting a position on the field.

Then we had Dev Smith, who contributed five touches in the first half, and just one tackle. Remember Dev Smith? He is the bloke who averaged 8.45 tackles per game back in 2018 to win the Bombers’ best and fairest award. He is a shadow of that player now, picking up a pay cheque and doing little else.

Too much was left to too few in the midfield for the Bombers. They were smashed in the contests that mattered and made to look second rate around the footy. Of the few willing to apply themselves (Shiel, Merrett and I’d throw in Caldwell before he was hurt), they’d have to look around and wonder how they ended up in this situation with so many damn passengers riding with them?

 

 

THE UGLY

 

GOING DOWN LIKE NINEPINS

If there is one thing a club struggling for depth does not need, it’s injuries… and you can bet your bottom dollar that the moment anyone talks about that depth, players will start dropping like flies.

And that leads us to the Bombers.

Dylan Shiel exited the arena with what was speculated as a medial strain and you’d think that would be at least a couple of weeks on the sidelines for him.

Jye Caldwell pinged a hammy trying to kick the cover off the ball to get his team inside fifty – another couple of weeks for an up and coming player.

And Sam Draper rolled his ankle inwards and was put on ice as well, probably putting him in doubt for next week at this stage.

It doesn’t paint a pretty picture, does it?

The Bombers lost captain, Dyson Heppell before the game after he assured everyone he’d be right to go this week, and have also got David Zaharakis and Patrick Ambrose and Michael Hurley on the sidelines. Their defence was already being tested and now they’ll be stretched in the ruck and through the midfield as well.

There was some genuine excitement about the Bombers and their get-and-go offence in the preseason. I’ll admit, I liked what I saw from them against the Cats in the AAMI series, but the wheels have fallen off quickly. The run has stopped and the belief has evaporated. With a date against the Saints looming, the Bombers look to be in trouble, and with every injury they cop, the talent pool, gets more and more shallow to draw from.

 

 

SOME QUESTIONS

 

HOW DID FANTASIA GO?

He was good, and could have finished with a pretty handy haul after squandering a couple of shots early in the game.

There was little of the supposed push and shove that Matthew Lloyd wanted to see from the Bombers, with Fantasia hitting the scoreboard to keep any antagonists at bay, and with Rozee returning, it will be interesting to see how well he fits into this forward line with even more firepower to draw defenders away from him.

 

DID MITCH GEORGIADES DO ENOUGH TO KEEP TODD MARSHALL OUT NEXT WEEK?

Yep – pretty difficult to boot him out of the side after he snags four goals, isn’t it?

Coming into the season, I thought the second marking forward spot was Marshall’s to lose. Aht I didn’t expect was for him to lose it in the second round due to injury. Sticks will have a hard time getting back in if Georgiades maintains anywhere near this level of form. He attacks the footy with an urgency Marshall simply does not have.

I reckon the role is now Mitch’s until Marshall pulls his finger out and demands it back with some big performances of his own in the seconds.

 

WHAT SORT OF PLAYER COULD WILLEM DREW BE?

Well, he is keeping Tom Rockliff on the bench as the medical sub, so he is doing plenty right at the moment. He had ten tackles last week, and then played a bit more of an inside/outside game in this one. That may have appeared the case due to the lack of pressure from the Bombers.

He is a strong body, can stand in tackles and deliver and has a fair bit of mongrel in him – he wants to take people down. He didn’t get much of a chance in this one, but he did collect 25 touches and register four clearances and eight score involvements. With Boak now 32 years old, Drew has the potential to blossom into a very good inside mid to power the next generation of Port inside mids.

 

WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST WEAKNESS IN THE ESSENDON TEAM?

It was their inability to defend in transition.

They were a mess. Whether it was lack of legspeed or a genuine case of not caring too much, the lack of coverage out the back at kick ins allowed Port to kick to a contest, win it and have options streaming forward without too much pressure on them.

I counted five times the Power were able to take the ball the length of the ground with little to no heat on them. A couple of times, Port’s own mistakes brought them undone, but for the most part, the Bombers were second to the contest… when they actually got to the contest. They looked broken in transition.

 

 

OTHER BITS

Harry Jones was completely outmatched in this game. He showed some real signs in the preseason and in Round One, but he had nowhere near the strength to compete with the mature bodies of the Power defence, and it was evident from early on that even when the footy was kicked to his advantage, he could not hold off players like Aliir and Jonas when they started pushing and shoving to get to the spot.

This was a really good game to give some time to Miles Bergman and allow him to work into the contest. With the heat off, he was able to generate some nice run from half back.

Second very nice week in a row from Steven Motlop. A word of warning… I’ve only ever seen him put together two weeks in a row of good footy – the third is usually a disaster, so I’ll be watching closely next week as Port play the Eagles to see what he can conjure.

Hamish Hartlett looked all out of sorts in this first half before settling back into his role. Interesting to hear the commentators mention that he starts doubting himself really easily. I’m sure he would be thrilled that they’re throwing that out there…

 

And that’ll do me. A resounding win by the Power to cement themselves in at the top of the ladder once again. They are looking very ominous.

As for Essendon… well, they did play a very good side, and I will be interested to see how their kids stand up when they play some of the lesser lights in 2021.

 

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